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Morrison's condescending response to kids and climate

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Scott Morrison at the UN General Assembly (screenshot via YouTube).

The best you can say about Prime Minister Scott Morrison is that he doesn’t get it.

He and his conservative colleagues in the Coalition do not understand the science of climate change despite what our own scientists are telling them. The only way to explain his behaviour otherwise is to believe that he is deliberately setting out to deceive us.

First, there was the visit with U.S. President Donald Trump. No one would argue that good relations with the United States are not positive for Australia but his closeness to Trump tells us something about his mindset.

Trump is the President who vowed to revive coal, opened up federal parklands to oil and gas, attempted to reverse Obama’s plan to limit coal pollution and California’s vehicle pollution laws, decimated the U.S.  Environmental Protection Agency, and withdrew from the Paris Agreement.

At least, French President Emmanuel Macron when visiting Trump raised climate change with him as Morrison surely would have if he understood the science.

Then it gets worse. Morrison continues his sojourn in the U.S. visiting an Australian owned cardboard factory while leaving Foreign Minister Marise Payne to attend the UN Climate Conference.

Had he himself gone he might have learned what the IPCC had to say: that in the last five years climate change has accelerated, a matter of some importance to Australia you might think, given the evidence from our own scientists. They tell us heat waves will increase, sea levels will rise, perennial droughts and a more severe bushfire season.

The Prime Minister was out of the country during the school strike for climate on September 20th and he missed the spectacle of 300,000 citizens marching, led by teenagers and supported by concerned parents, grandparents, and community groups. The kids draw inspiration from 16-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, who spoke to the American Congress and the UN Climate Summit.

Her message to Congress was simple: “listen to the science”. At the UN she was more passionate, saying “you have stolen my dreams and my childhood” in a speech which went for a  little over four minutes but will go down as a rallying cry for the generation who will bear the consequences of our fossil-fuelled destruction of earth’s bounty.

Our PM had a plan. He would talk about plastic pollution and everything would be ok. Everybody knows about plastic waste, how bad it is in the oceans, how it kills marine life. Surely that would secure his environmental credentials, look good in the press and settle the kiddies down? However, they will see his ploy exactly for what it is, a side issue to the looming climate crisis. Certainly, plastic is part of the problem, but it is a symptom, not the disease itself.

Asked to respond to Greta’s speech, Morrison spoke of “needless anxiety”, of the need to provide context and perspective, of letting kids be kids, of not allowing his own to “be contorted into one particular view”.

When he did finally get to address the UN Morrison wanted to set the record straight. He said everyone had it wrong about Australia, we are doing alright on emissions (we are not), we are taking real action (we are not), that our critics ignore our contribution because it doesn’t fit the narrative they wish to project (fake news?).

His attitude to the kids was dismissive and patronising. What he ignores is that many of their leaders – and indeed most of the children – understand what is happening to their world. They know the physics, chemistry and biology that underpins that understanding, and they have access to reports which pour forth from NASA, the World Meteorological Organisation, and the IPCC, and they see the images of melting glaciers, drought and bushfires.

It is difficult to ignore when medical authorities declare a climate health emergency, defence experts are concerned and insurance and business are sounding the alarm bells.

One of the striking students responded to the question should we be exposing children to the risk of anxiety by discussing climate change? Her answer was direct and reassuring. Yes, they are anxious but the best way to deal with that anxiety is to take action. That is exactly what they are doing and the PM and his climate change deniers in government should understand that, even if they don’t “get” the science.

But then, this is the man who brought a lump of coal into the Parliament.

Dr Graeme McLeay is a retired anaesthetist and member of Doctors for the Environment Australia. You can follow Doctors for the Environment Australia on Twitter @DocsEnvAus.

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