Wren's Week: Climate change denialism sparked the fires

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The Government was warned about what might happen, yet didn't act accordingly (Screenshot via YouTube)

The Coalition continued to ignore warnings about the results of climate change and now must bear responsibility for our bushfire catastrophe, writes John Wren.


And what a start to the year it’s been. The last few weeks have seen the biggest bushfire conflagration Australia has seen since European settlement. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Coalition colleagues have been found seriously wanting. Morrison has shown himself to be little more than a mid-level marketing manager. The epithet “Scotty from Marketing” is entirely appropriate. He has shown zero leadership, zero compassion and even now touring the fire zones, his body language says he’d rather be anywhere else. Hawaii, probably.

He has become an object of ridicule and pity. It’s terminal. Morrison will be toppled by either Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton or Attorney-General Christian Porter. It’s a matter of when, not if. Neither will act, though, until the bushfire crisis abates. They will let Morrison continue to flounder then sweep in as new brooms. Both have been spectacularly absent from the fire zones. Clearly, they are letting Morrison take the literal and metaphorical heat.

But how did it come to this?

The culture of climate change denial within both coalition parties is the root cause. It is part and parcel of their political DNA, hard-wired into their MPs and senators. Even the moderate ones are bullied into submission to the greater groupthink. Morrison’s predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, wanted to act but couldn’t muster the numbers and eventually, Morrison knifed him.

To demonstrate how ingrained climate change denial is within the Liberal Party, one must go back to Tony Abbott as Opposition Leader loudly exclaiming that “climate change is absolute crap!” He based his entire 2013 winning election campaign around the fallacy of removing the carbon tax (Julia Gillard’s ETS).

The ETS was working exactly how it was meant to work. It was reducing our carbon emissions with little additional cost to consumers, yet Abbott and his climate change-denying henchmen (and women) repealed it anyway. They actually celebrated on the floor of Parliament when the vote was taken. I said at the time that removal of the ETS was the single biggest act of economic and environmental vandalism ever wreaked on the Australian people. We are only now seeing the results of that.

Tony Abbott, to his credit, has reputedly spent the last few weeks fighting the fires as a volunteer RFS member. He has been on the frontline constantly and has not sought publicity. One wonders if his views on climate change have changed as a result of this experience.

There are many coalition MPs and senators still in Parliament who voted to repeal Gillard’s ETS. We know who you are, we know what you are responsible for. You will be targeted at the next election. It won’t be pretty. Many have described it as criminal negligence.

But wait, there’s more. The culture of climate change denialism means that important reports commissioned by Labor and paid for by taxpayers, such as the Garnaut Report have been completely ignored. This report, in particular, stated categorically that if the climate continued to warm, we would experience earlier, longer and more intense bushfires by 2020. Ross Garnaut and his team have been utterly vindicated. The shame of it is that if one does not believe in climate change, one will ignore the report’s recommendations which is exactly what has been happening.

Climate change denialism has meant that money was cut from the NSW Rural Fire Service budget, meaning fewer firefighters on the ground with fewer resources at their disposal to act when the massive fires predictably arose.

Climate change denialism has meant that Australia did not have enough aerial water bombers and helicopters to deal with the fires despite requests to increase the size of our fleet years ago. Morrison belatedly has had to call up extras from overseas that, even as I write this, are still not in the country.

Climate change denialism has also meant many residents and tourists were unaware of the potential of the bushfires and thus were caught out — hence the thousands sheltering on the beach at Mallacoota and elsewhere. The Murdoch media has been running climate change denial propaganda for years in support of their Liberal Party. Rowan Dean, one of the Sky News After Dark nutjobs, is one of their primary exponents of the myth.

When one is bombarded by denialism, many people start to believe the lies. That’s the whole point of propaganda. Propaganda kills people.

Morrison’s climate change denialism meant he refused to meet with senior former fire Commissioners back in March. They wanted to warn him of the conditions in our forests, how they were primed to explode as they have. They wanted to give him time to prepare resources, allocate funds, seek international assistance in advance. Yes, Morrison refused to meet with them. He knew better, apparently. And when the fires did commence, Morrison’s denialism meant he treated them like run-of-the-mill bushfires and went to Hawaii on holiday.

There is little doubt that much of the severity of the fires, the property destruction, the deaths and the decimation of our wildlife is the direct result of the Coalition’s climate change denialism. These fires will be known – are already known, in fact – as “the Morrison fires”. This is Morrison’s legacy. He can wear the crown of thorns with pride.

Labor conversely went to the last election with a comprehensive bushfire strategy. A strategy that included expanded water bomber fleets, a dedicated national rapid response firefighting team and, of course, a comprehensive strategy to reduce our emissions and play our part internationally. It's too late to reflect on what might have been.

Today, the Australia Institute released research that says almost two-thirds of Australians now want the government to declare a climate emergency. The electoral tide has turned dramatically against denialism. The Liberal Party will need to adapt or perish. They can’t, of course.

Knowing the writing is in the wall, we saw a full-on propaganda misinformation campaign blaming arsonists for the fires and not climate change. The Murdoch press and media predictably led the charge. The bottom line, though, is that fires need both a fuel and a spark to ignite. Climate change and denialism meant the fuel loads were enormous and we were underprepared. Even if arsonists were to blame, they still need something to burn.

The fires aren’t over. They are predicted to worsen again over the next week. Stay safe, people.

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