Australia is in the grip of a climate emergency – that seems pretty clear. And, according to all the available science, it’s only going to get worse – and soon.
But you won’t hear much about this in the mainstream media. There’s a deafening silence when it comes to what is causing all the heatwaves, floods and wild fires. This refusal to name the problem stems from a fear of being seen to ‘politicise’ tragedy.
Tellingly, the other day on the ABC’s News Breakfast, a climate expert was finally wheeled in from the Bureau of Meteorology. Over the course of several long minutes she managed to soft soap the unfolding calamity, saying that, yes, climate change is having some influence on what’s occurring, but, of course, we have to remember that Australian summers are always hot, and that the polar vortex in North America is just part of the winter up there!
I was so infuriated by this puerile commentary that I called BOM to remind them of what the science is really telling us.
Had Professors Will Stefan or Lesley Hugh’s from the Climate Council been invited onto the show, we may have got a sense of gravitas rather than jolly hockey sticks.
Some climate commentators are suggesting that 2019 will define the debate on the climate emergency. Predictably, the lunar political right will deny there’s anything to worry about, and many others (including folk in Mullumbimby!) will assert that climate change is either fake science or a conspiracy by the organised left to roll back capitalism.
Yet others will argue that we have to go back to the core problems of the economy and the financial system, and that what’s needed is resilient and strong localised communities.
This narrative omits some discomforting realities.
The way things are heading there may not be a planet to which we can apply the word eco (home), let alone economy.
The finance system may become increasingly irrelevant as displaced peoples seek other means of transaction and places to live. The proposition that we can live in little self-contained hamlets also ignores the realities of climate devastation, namely, as has been noted by the IPCC and many other organisations, large tracts of the planet may be uninhabitable due to extreme weather and radically reshaped topographies.
Displaced, angry and hungry people may be on the lookout for food supplies, a roof over their heads and some sense of safety. So, little enclaves of localised nirvanas may quickly come under threat. Add to this the somewhat awkward fact that the very idea of ‘community’ in an increasingly disconnected, fragmented world cannot be taken for granted. Displaced, pissed off people might not be keen on the idea of being part of a community of strangers even though, paradoxically, that may be the only route to survival.
We need to start thinking about such scenarios. They’re very likely, and imminent. Don’t take my word for it – read Dhar Jamail’s new book and anything by the likes of Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein or NASA scientist, James Hansen.
Increasingly, it feels like a luxury to continue raking over the vicissitudes of neoliberal capitalism and the rapacious nature of fossil fuel companies, rather than focusing on what we can do collectively in the here and now to prevent the worst that climate change has to offer.
If I’m right in describing the current situation as an emergency – ‘disruption’, ‘change’ etc. just doesn’t cut it – and assuming that politicians and their cronies will continue to lie and vacillate, then the only alternative seems to be the further and rapid expansion of a grassroots movement capable of giving the plutocrats no choice but to act on the climate emergency.
The time for begging bowls and reasoned conversation is well and truly over. Sure, all of us can and should continue with our alternative practices, but if fossil fuel extraction is not stopped, and soon, then all our regenerative aspirations may come to nought.
Yes, we need to understand the causes of the climate emergency, the bigger picture, but time is against us and what we need now is urgent and robust resistance to what is wilful climate violence on the part of the rich and the powerful.
Legal action taken by NGOs, protests by school kids and others, direct action by the likes of Extinction Rebellion, voting out the denialists, divestment, creating cooperative cultures and regenerative systems of production are all part of an emboldened global movement.
But perhaps we need to up the ante by changing our language. Maybe we should be talking about violent policy making and climate criminals and criminality, asserting that plutocratic elites are a direct threat to national security, that the perpetrators of the climate emergency should be identified and held to account by citizens assemblies, and that civil disobedience should become key to a more assertive global social movement.
The fact is that we are facing a deep crisis of political legitimacy in which governments, in cahoots with the rich and powerful, are engaging in practices that are way out-of-step with what people want – urgent action on the climate emergency.
To repeat, the global environmental justice movement should seek to give the political, economic and financial elites no choice as to what the next steps should be.
Richard Hil PhD
Adjunct Professor, School of Social Work and Human Services
Griffith University (Gold Coast Campus)
Convenor, Ngara Institute