Despite warnings and scientific advice, our Government hasn't budged on the issue of climate change so it's time to strike back, writes David Ritter.
IT IS THE FIRST DUTY of any government to protect the citizens of the nation.
But in the context of the climate emergency, it is a duty that our political leaders are dismally failing to fulfil. Australia’s political leaders have been warned by experts of the potential for climate disaster since the 1990s.
These warnings have become more urgent as the climate crisis has deepened, the science has become stronger and the damaging impacts have begun to land even faster than expected. Yet throughout, our politicians have for the most part been resolutely stubborn in their failure to act.
Let’s take just one warning from the multitude. Ten years ago, the CSIRO warned the Commonwealth Parliament that
'... the impact of climate change is likely to be an increase in the frequency of “Extreme” fire danger days.’
An appropriate response then – as now – was planning to rapidly reduce Australia’s emissions, particularly by phasing out the coal industry that is our number one driver of climate damage.
Instead, at least since the repeal of the carbon price in 2014, we have seen no credible effort by our federal politicians to bring our emissions down. Meanwhile, the climate damage becomes ever more severe, with the latest being the spring of fire that has engulfed parts of northern New South Wales and Queensland. As then acting Premier of Queensland Jackie Trad acknowledged, scientists had been warning of more frequent and more ferocious fires for quite some time, so these severe impacts come as no surprise.
Australian politicians have displayed a kind of negligence in the face of the climate crisis that it is hard to imagine would be tolerated in any other sphere of life. They have had the best expert advice on the planet for decades that, in order to protect the citizens and the nation of Australia, we need to urgently reduce our emissions. And they have ignored that advice, with terrible consequences which are now becoming more dreadfully apparent every day.
It seems hard to imagine that the same kind of gross irresponsibility would be tolerated in, say, a doctor, school teacher, builder, company director or chef — or anyone else owing a duty of care and responsibility.
And there is little sign that this reckless indifference to duty on the part of our federal political leaders will change any time soon. Despite Scott Morrison and Angus Taylor's attempts at fudging their failure, our emissions are increasing and there is no credible plan for doing anything about it.
Indeed, Angus Taylor who, despite being Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, continues to countenance the possibility of new coal projects and will not rule out public money being used to extend the life of existing dirty coal power stations.
When elected representatives do not fulfil their most fundamental duty and face no accountability for their failure, even while the consequences of their inaction become worse and more deadly, then those same politicians will inevitably begin to lose their legitimacy within the community that they are meant to serve. As extreme climate damage rips through our country in the form of floods, fires, storms and heatwaves and Morrison and company continue to dither, deny and double down on coal, they cannot expect to be taken seriously as custodians of the national interest. This spring of fire is a bonfire of Scott Morrison’s legitimacy.
And so it is that the shameful dereliction of duty by our political leaders is now being met with an emphatic response from frustrated citizens both in Australia and around the world. This Friday 20 September, millions of people around the world will take their frustration to the streets as part of the global climate strike being led by the student strikers.
The strike is being driven by brave young people – the student strikers – but all Australians have been invited to participate. And charities and NGOs, businesses, unions, church groups and institutions of all kinds, as well as numerous parents, teachers, carers and community members, have said that they will join the kids on the streets.
The shared resolve is clear: the current crop of Australian federal politicians must be held accountable for their collective negligence in the face of clear and present threats to the future of the nation.
There are enough scientific warnings and stories of everyday experiences of climate damage to fill every politician’s reading time one thousand times over. They have no excuse, they are not doing their duty. And on Friday it is time to tell them so.
Click HERE to see details of strikes taking place in Australia.
David Ritter is CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, adjunct professor at Sydney University and an honorary fellow of the Law Faculty at the University of Western Australia. You can follow David Ritter on Twitter @David_Ritter.
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