Amidst the responses to the burgeoning COVID-19 crisis, it’s somewhat easy to forget that just a blink of an eye ago, Australia was ground zero of the global climate emergency, as the nation bore witness to 20 percent of its mainland forest being engulfed by flames.
And while the current virus pandemic is bound to pass in a matter of months, the climate and ecological crisis facing humanity isn’t going to go away. Indeed, it’s only going to get worse.
As renowned US political dissident MIT Institute Professor Noam Chomsky put it during an address he gave at Boston’s Old South Church last April, our species is now facing an unprecedented question: “Will human society survive for long?”
The father of modern linguists went on to name two major threats to our existence. The first being the seven decades-long prospect of nuclear war, while the second is global warming, which the academic described as being “on its inexorable course”.
Chomsky told the crowd that humanity is fast approaching “conditions of 125,000 years ago”, when sea levels were 25 feet higher, with the consequences of this being “almost unimaginable”. And he added that under Trump, the US has become the world leader in fossil fuel production.
So, in light of all this, we reached out to the professor to ask his thoughts on the form of the Morrison government in regard to climate.
The main offenders
“Anyone with eyes open knows that we are now facing a potential environmental catastrophe that may literally end organized human life in any tolerable form,” Professor Chomsky said. “Most countries of the world are doing something about it, in a number of cases quite a lot.”
“There are three states that are not only refusing to join in these efforts but are acting to accelerate the crisis: Trump’s United States, which is in the lead; Bolsonaro’s Brazil, which is destroying the Amazon; and Morrison’s Australia,” he continued.
Chomsky further told Sydney Criminal Lawyers that the Morrison government makes it to the list of top three political offenders as it “continues to rely on production and export of the most dangerous of fossil fuels”.
Australia is currently the world’s largest exporter of coal. In terms of emissions, coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel that can be burnt. And according to the Australia Institute, per capita, Australia’s emissions – both domestic and exported – are only below a few small oil rich nations.
An IPCC report released in late 2018 warns that emissions need to be cut by 45 percent of 2010 levels by 2030, and net zero by 2050, in order to prevent a temperature rise above 1.5°C. This will limit the great changes already coming, as they’d be much more catastrophic at a 2°C rise.
And looking at the likely results that the current activities of the American, Brazilian and Australian governments are giving rise to, Professor Chomsky makes certain that these are criminal acts on a scale never seen before.
Crimes against life itself
Scott Morrison was wheeled in to stand before reporters as the Liberal Nationals new leader in August 2018, so as to replace outgoing PM Malcolm Turnbull, who made the political mistake of supporting a national energy plan that would have seen the nation’s emissions drop slightly.
The newly-minted prime minister was a politician that fossil fuel barons could rely on. He’s the man who, as treasurer, turned up in federal parliament in February 2017 with a lump of coal in his hand, screaming at the chamber, “This is coal. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared.”
Greenpeace’s 2019 Dirty Power documentary outlines that the Morrison government’s staff is stacked with representatives from the fossil fuel industry. The PM’s own office includes a chief of staff and a principal private secretary that are both former fossil fuel lobbyists.
And as the Morrison government plummeted towards an election that forecasters swore it would lose last May, it ensured that the final federal approval on the Adani mine was signed off the month prior. A move that opens up the Galilee Basin to five or six other huge coal mines.
Responses to a climate catastrophe
Although, it became apparent something had changed in August last year, as the bushfire season commenced early. It continued periodically over the coming months, as scientists began to cite climate as the cause, but this didn’t stop the PM from spruiking new laws to prevent coal boycotts.
Morrison addressed a Queensland Resource Council luncheon on 1 November, at which he announced he was drafting new laws to prevent secondary boycotts of fossil fuel projects. “We’re not interested in closing down the mining industry, but building it up,” the PM told the room.
About a week or so later, bushfires on a scale never seen before started to kick in along the eastern seaboard and continued on into early February, when Australian parliament reconvened for the new year. More than 12.6 million hectares were lost and around a billion animals perished.
And on the third sitting day of parliament, right before the rains came to sweep away the remaining fires, the Morrison government appointed a new resources minister – one that’s just itching to heat things up a little more.
Fresh resources minister Keith Pitt appeared in the press two days after the heavens extinguished the final fires, and declared that the nation needs more coal, more gas and more uranium exports to lift standards of living – as Extinction Rebellion would say, it was “business as usual”.
For the crime of ecocide
Of course, Chomsky – one of the world’s leading public intellectuals – makes clear that Morrison’s Australia is hardly alone, as our nation’s government is only one of the three most destructive climate criminals on Earth.
The climate change-denying Trump administration began formally withdrawing from the Paris Agreement last November, while the environmentally hostile Bolsonaro government has been presiding over the destruction of “the lungs of the planet”.
“These are criminal activities,” Professor Chomsky ended, “considering the consequences, the worst crimes in human history.”
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.