The nation’s largest city, Sydney, became the frontline of the climate crisis for the first time ever in recent days, as floods that have been wiping out people’s lives and entire towns right along the eastern seaboard, suddenly gushed through suburbs like Dee Why, Chipping Norton and Roseville.
Meanwhile, NSW premier Dominic Perrottet and PM Scott Morrison conducted press junkets at ground zero of the disaster, the Northern NSW town of Lismore, to inspect their handywork, as they feigned shock that decades of greenlighting fossil fuel projects had resulted in such devastation.
One can only imagine what went through the Liberal leaders’ minds, as, not long ago, Coalition fossil fuels policies were only destroying poor people’s lives in far off lands, without much media coverage to bother about.
But now, how in the hell are they going to sell multiple Galilee Basin coalmines, as well as the gas-fired recovery?
Especially, as the national emergency that is the floods, comes just 24 months after 20 percent of mainland forest burnt to the ground due to unprecedented climate-driven megafires, which sprung up as the southeast was still gasping for water after the effects of a years-long drought.
Selling climate-denial was easy when the effects were elsewhere. But now, as they’re right upon us, rather than admit it’s time to halt the human activities causing these crises, Morrison is still referring to them as “natural disasters” and advising we get used to Australia being “harder to live in”.
“Unfortunately for human civilisation and the ecosystems on which all life depends, world leaders have chosen to ignore the memo and prioritise the carbon economy which,” Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Larissa Payne makes clear, is going to “kill us”.
Payne, who regularly organises XR direct actions, pointed to a leaked draft of an upcoming IPCC report, that – much to the chagrin of the likes of Morrison – outlines that greenhouse gas emissions have to be reined in within the next few years, while ongoing economic growth is no longer viable.
“Capitalism is killing us. Surely this warning can no longer be dismissed as a message of leftist idealogues when it’s coming from the scientists?” the climate advocate suggested. “Humanity will not survive unbridled capitalism, whether we live in Dhaka or Manhattan.”
According to Payne, the reason Morrison and Perrottet are turning a blind eye to the suffering of quiet Australians is because “the fossil fuel industry basically runs the place”. And this is why successive governments – both Liberal and Labor – have actively passed laws enhancing the crisis.
This capturing of the state by corporations, Payne further told Sydney Criminal Lawyers, is the reason for the “lack of support throughout the fires and floods”, as instead, “the government has chosen to spend billions on nuclear submarines and archaic tanks”.
“There is no political leadership”
“How can you look someone in the face who has lost everything in a climate-related disaster and have the audacity to piss off to Hawaii, let alone approve new coal and gas projects?” asks Payne.
“In the contemporary Australian context, political leadership is an oxymoron.”
The XR rebel then listed a series of atrocities perpetrated by ministers, who’ve scrambled to the top of the heap and maintained power due to fossil fuel ties, as well as their remarkable ability to smile amiably as they pass laws that advance corporate profits at the expense of human lives.
Take last July’s Federal Court finding that the federal environment minister has a duty of care to “avoid causing personal injury or death” to children, when deciding on fossil fuel projects. This determination was based on research that asserts extreme weather will soon spiral out of control.
First posited in a 2018 paper co-written by Earth Science Professor Will Steffen, the Hothouse Earth scenario outlines that if temperatures rise above 2°C on pre-industrial levels a “planetary threshold” could be crossed that unlocks “a continuing rapid pathway toward much hotter conditions”.
Current environment minister Sussan Ley took affront to the court’s determination, and challenged it last October, arguing that courts cannot weigh up “competing public interests” in political decision-making, and the minister is hardly responsible when a company is digging up the coal.
The outcome is still pending.
Payne’s ire was further drawn by Ley’s mid-pandemic European jaunt to ensure the UN didn’t embarrassingly list the Great Barrier Reef as in danger, and by former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian’s overseeing of land clearing to the point that koalas are now endangered.
“We don’t have a prime minister, we have a prime narcissist who is incapable of authentic empathy,” the climate advocate continued. “Until our democracy is freed from state capture, we won’t see real political leadership in Australia, not from the major parties anyway.”
Green power balance
While the rain bombs that hit the eastern seaboard were shocking, they weren’t exactly unexpected. As we were all sitting in lockdown last winter, the same excessive rainfalls hit parts of Europe and China, while in Canada, the floods followed directly on wildfires that wiped towns off the map.
But with the pending election, we have a slim chance of change.
Morrison is currently wearing an even deeper hole in the carpet beside his bed, as he’s down on his knees praying for another miracle win. And Clive Palmer is out there purchasing the PM as many backdoor votes as possible, while he claims he’s doing it all for our “freedoms”.
The lesser of two evils, Labor, will pull us back from the brink of hell, but only momentarily, with its policies.
Indeed, the most favourable outcome is that the Australian Greens take out as many seats as possible to hold the balance of power, so it can push for the much-needed just transition to renewables.
But as Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Payne advises what’s needed is a completely different economic system to prevent the destruction of the planet, as she explains that the emissions present in the atmosphere already have us locked in to a 2.3°C rise.
“That’s a very different world to the one we know today, even with the current frequency of extreme weather,” she maintains. “So, while we can prevent the worst from happening, we need to get serious about adaptation as well.”
XR calls for citizens assemblies that guide societal decision-making, as the role of government morphs into something radically different. And Payne asserts that the wisdom of living in harmony with Earth, which is preserved by Indigenous cultures, must be brought to the fore once more.
“While we can’t abandon electoral politics, we don’t have time to rely solely on governments either,” the Extinction Rebellion member continued. “They’ve proven that we can’t trust them. The social contract is broken. Australia is a captured state.”
“This is why we need people from all walks of life to organise and escalate an internationalist rebellion against extinction,” she concluded. “This response is proportionate to the degree of the emergency.”