Climate Change Is Science Not Politics. So Can We Talk About It Yet?



The time to talk about and act on climate change is now. While the corporations are still polluting, while the politicians are still delaying, and while the fires are still burning. We have no other choice, writes Rosie Latimer.

Australia is under attack from unprecedented bushfires, which are decimating our country, leaving a trail of physical, mental, and emotional destruction. Many have lost loved ones, homes, and some of our native plants and animals are facing extinction.

People are suffering under the toxic smoke that is billowing throughout Australia and the Pacific.

Yet in the face of this, our government and the Murdoch media contend this is not the time to discuss climate change, because the discussion of climate change is a political issue. 

Climate change is not a political issue.

There is overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is occurring, caused by humans emitting greenhouse gases. The world has drawn links between Australia’s love affair with a coal-based economy and the bushfires ravaging our great nation.

This should be a bi-partisan issue, an issue that unites us all. So why is it a Liberal calling card to deny climate change, and a Labor calling card to let them?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, addressing media after disappearing for a family holiday to Hawaii during a national bushfire emergency.

In 1991, USA coal, fuel and electrical associations banded together to form the ‘Information Council on the Environment’ (ICE). The trick was in the name. Whilst called an information council, it was a public relations front run by Bracy Williams & Co, a PR firm.

ICE aimed to ‘reposition climate change as a scientific theory – not fact’. They aimed to reduce the impact of climate treaties on their business interests, and they have been very successful in their endeavours.

Gas companies like Exxon were allowed active involvement in the Kyoto protocol by the US government, in exchange for financial support.

A British research group, InfluenceMap, has found the five major oil companies spend $US200 million ($288.6 million) annually on direct lobbying activities, with a similar volume of capital being put towards branding initiatives.

In Australia, the same thing has happened. These American PR companies established a presence Down Under, aimed at intense lobbying of our government. Millions have been donated by these companies to Liberal, Labor and National parties. Additionally, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA), which InfluenceMap says opposes several attainable climate policy initiatives, spent $5.5 million on climate-related ‘advocacy’ in 2015, with majority of this going to “Obstructive spending”, i.e. actively stopping progressive climate change policies.

Our politicians have sold their moral compasses, and our environment, for years, in exchange for donations to their respective political parties. They care more about re-election than the future of the country they wish to be re-elected to. They know these fossil fuel companies, and the Murdoch media, are actively undermining progress on climate change, and yet they endorse this in exchange for funding.

Opposition leader, Anthony Albanese.

Scott Morrison is correct in saying Australia is only responsible for 1.3% of climate emissions, however Australia represents 0.3% of the global population. Australia is the second largest emitter per capita of greenhouse gases in the world. We account for more than 30 percent of world trade in coal, which are not included in our carbon emissions.

Australia’s response to climate change has been ranked one of the worst in the G20. We use complex accounting tricks of including old reductions to meet our current emission reduction goals.

Our actions blocking significant action on climate change at the recent convention in Madrid were received in horror by the rest of the world.

Many fossil fuel companies pay no tax and receive government handouts for help with new projects, which directly increase Australia’s CO2 emissions.

The politicising of climate change has come from the government duping us into believing that this issue is too costly to deal with. That imposing regulations needed to lower emissions and move our society away from dependency on fossil fuels will affect predominately lower-income workers and pensioners, who can ill afford to bear the expense.

But what is the cost of not acting? Why is the devastation of our country a price worth paying to maintain a fossil-fuel based economy?

More than any other wealthy nation, Australia will bear the brunt of climate change. We are in the midst of a historic drought. We are in the midst of unprecedented bushfires. We are in the midst of many country towns running out of water, or feed for their animals. Half of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached to death since 2016 and will never recover.

Our Giant Kelp Marine Forests off Tasmania are being lost due to changing oceanographic conditions. Our rainforests, among the world’s oldest, has many species facing extinction.

According to research, these once-in-a-lifetime events are the new normal for our country. The New York Times has contended right now we are ground zero for the climate catastrophe, and that Australia is in the midst of ‘climate suicide’.

Manly Beach, pictured during New South Wales’ Summer 2019 bushfire crisis. (IMAGE: Laurie Wilson, Flickr)

Why are the fossil fuel companies not paying the tax that could be used to deal with this issue? We have the fifth strongest economy in the world. We have the capability to deal with this. To adapt our economy, to pivot to a renewable energy-based economy.

Now is the time to act. Now is the time for fury. Now is not the time for bipartisan politics, or politics guided by fossil fuel companies.

The climate change crisis does not care if you are Liberal, Labor, Nationals, Greens or from The Fishing Party.

I urge all Australians to write to their MPs, to demand they prioritise their constituents instead of being beholden to coal lobbies. To put our country first, to put our lives first, to put our children first.

Now is the time for action on climate change. If not now, will it ever happen.

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Rosie Latimer is a final year medical student and PhD candidate at Monash University.