Scott Morrison's religion and the bushfire crisis

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As firefighters in four Australian states struggled to contain unprecedented bushfires that threatened life, property and wildlife, Prime Minister Scott Morrison argued that there is no direct link with Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

Morrison claimed there is no “credible scientific evidence” that cutting our emissions could reduce the intensity of bushfires.

The Prime Minister even went so far as to suggest that we could

“... increase our emissions without making the current fire season worse.”

This last claim is a bizarre one to make, obviously calculated to appeal to a base that apparently doesn’t know very much about these matters. Yes, we likely could increase our emissions without impact on the current Australian bushfires. However, emissions must be accounted for on a global scale and, while central, are one part of the complex story of the impact of climate change.   

Morrison was swiftly contradicted by Climate Council head of research Dr Martin Rice. Dr Rice stated that there is indeed a direct link between climate change and heightened bushfire risk. CSIRO research scientist Dr Pep Candell agreed with Dr Rice. Morrison did not cite any scientific research to back up his claim that the two are not linked, leaving the impression that it is little more than his opinion. If politicians do have evidence to back up their claims, they are not usually coy about revealing it.  

It is well established by major science agencies that while climate change does not create fires it can and does make them worse. The above link is an excellent explainer of a complex situation.

It’s high time that any statement by Morrison on emissions and their effects on climate is required to include a disclaimer noting that the Prime Minister is a follower of the evangelical Pentecostal religion. This sect is not known for its interest in science, and some followers believe the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

As James Boyce wrote in his Monthly essay, 'The Devil and Scott Morrison':

Belief in Satan and the imminent return of Christ also helps explain the Prime Minister’s less-than-passionate response to the most pressing environmental issue of our time. It is not surprising that Pentecostal activism about climate change is non-existent — the end of the known world is not a matter for mere mortals to decide. When Morrison proudly showed off a piece of coal in parliament, there is no reason to doubt that he believed what he held in his hand was a gift from God.

Morrison also shares the Pentecostal belief in "divine providence" — that is, everything under the sun – past, present, and future – is the will of God, including natural disasters, such as we are currently experiencing in four states.

This goes some way to explaining why

... taking further action on reducing carbon emissions to counter the environmental damage wrought by climate change may have little intellectual purchase with the PM. If the end of the world through climate change is part of God’s providential plan, there is precious little that we need to or can do about it.

Given these beliefs are core contributors to the Prime Minister’s environmental agenda it seems reasonable to demand they be disclosed whenever he comments on climate, emissions, bushfires or other natural disasters. A man who is convinced that everything is God’s will is unlikely to take any action he perceives might thwart that will.

He is also unlikely to be overly troubled, and there is no doubt that since the first bushfire broke out, Morrison has appeared largely untroubled, even going so far as to post this jolly tweet as people in four states endured all manner of horror and fear:

It’s tempting to conclude that Morrison is too stupid to understand the magnitude of what we are facing this summer, however, I’d argue that his belief in the tenets of Pentecostalism has granted him immunity against mere human concerns, particularly when they don’t directly affect him and his family.

But that’s not all. In Morrison, we see the confluence of religious belief and venal profitability that results from his passionate belief in the fossil fuel industry. This is one example of how neoliberalism and evangelical Christianity most conveniently complement one another. Coal is "God’s will".

In the Prime Minister we encounter a most unholy alliance of the fossils fuel industry and religion, perfectly captured in the images in this tweet:

Morrison is in deep with the coal industry — many of his closest advisors come from that industry.

We have not seen any leadership from the Prime Minister during this current outbreak of bushfires. Leadership might include immediate consultation with a wide range of experts in an effort to prepare as best we can for the coming conflagrations, of which there are likely to be many across the country. It might be a commitment to the purchase of more aircraft capable of dumping fire retardant. It might be a commitment to a system of payment for volunteer firefighters, who currently give up their jobs, holidays and family time to do their absolute best for the rest of us.

I cannot think of one reason why women and men who do a far more significant, dangerous and essential job than Scott Morrison should be expected to continue to do it for free. Given the horrific projections for the coming summer, volunteer firefighters are going to be busy. While he’s at it, Morrison could organise some one-off payments to the states to fund the purchase of equipment for the volunteers, so they don’t have to send what time they have left between fighting fires, doing their day jobs and being with their families, organising cake stalls and raffles to raise money for some new hoses.

One odd thing about Morrison’s attitude is that most politicians do not turn down the opportunity to appear heroic, especially in catastrophes such as this one. He has not availed himself of any such opportunities. One can only conclude that the combination of his religion and his commitment to the coal and extraction industries take precedence over his desire to shine. Sadly, he must rely on carrying water for football teams.

None of this augurs well for our future. If, like me, you are affected by the bushfires in any way, you may have the sense that you have been utterly abandoned by Coalition politicians, on a state and Federal level. No word of what these governments plan to do over the coming summer — no word because they haven’t planned anything. It beggars belief. It breaks the heart. And it fills any sensible person with foreboding. Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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