The latest fire emergency in four states has rammed home the meaning of the words “catastrophic climate change” in the minds of most people in Australia. Most now realise that this is a climate emergency and our society should mobilise all its resources to address it.
This puts majority opinion totally at odds with the traditional governing parties. It puts us at odds with a criminal Liberal-Labor determination that Australia must continue to be one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel exporters, no matter the cost.
Thousands of Australians have become climate refugees over the course of the past few weeks. Their homes have been destroyed and it is unclear how many will have the resources to rebuild. The most vulnerable may decide to leave their home towns for bigger cities, where they will face higher housing costs.
The full story of the painful post-fire adjustment will never hit the corporate media headlines, like the fires did at their last peak (the fire season being far from over).
But then again, this climate catastrophe in one of the world’s richest countries has already received a far bigger share of global media attention than the ongoing climate catastrophes in the world’s poorer countries.
As the latest Oxfam briefing paper on inequality, prepared for the annual World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland, reminds us: “Climate-related disasters result in more than 60,000 deaths a year and, with the impacts worsening, they could lead to an additional 250,000 deaths each year between 2030 and 2050.”
It adds that 300 million people are at risk of displacement by sea-level rise and, by 2025, up to 2.4 billion people could be living in areas subject to periods of intense water scarcity as water supplies are affected by floods and droughts or become more saline due to sea level rise.
As the fire emergencies were grabbing international attention, catastrophic floods in Indonesia displaced some 28,000 people and killed at least 67.
One of the countries most vulnerable to catastrophic climate change is Bangladesh. Perversely, it is also a country being hungrily eyed as a major importer of Australian coal. The fossil fuel billionaires who run Australia want to sell more coal to Bangladesh even though, as SBS News reported, a half-metre sea-level rise by 2050 could leave 11% of the country's landmass underwater and 15 million people displaced.
So as we assess the human, ecological and economic costs of the fire emergency across four states, we should look at the global costs of letting the billionaire class continue to run this country.
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