Climate change: the elephant in the room

February 5, 2011
As global warming accelerates, so will the frequency and severity of these extreme weather events.

As category five tropical cyclone Yasi approached the north Queensland coast on February 3, a political cyclone was already sweeping Egypt. For days, Australian TV news was dominated by these two stories.

Incredibly, in Egypt the main government TV station news failed to report the fact that millions of Egyptians had taken to the streets in a huge February 1 protest against the Hosni Mubarak dictatorship.

Hiding the truth is what you’d expect from an iron-fisted dictatorship that has long sub-contracted its services to the CIA to torture victims of the “war on terror”.

But surely we wouldn’t expect such a whopping elephant in the room to be ignored in a Western democracy like Australia?

Think again.

As thousands of ordinary Australians struggle to pick up the pieces of their lives in the wake of a season of historic flooding and cyclones, most politicians and the corporate media have barely mentioned the huge elephant in the room — climate change.

As global warming accelerates, so will the frequency and severity of these extreme weather events. This is the overwhelming scientific consensus, and it is now our shared experience.

So what is our society doing about it?

Are we making the urgently needed major investment to transition to renewable energy, a radical shift away from our petrol-based transport and a transition to sustainable agriculture?

Labor and Coalition leaders are trying to suppress the debate we need to have about responding to climate change.

With the help of far-right radio shock-jocks and other conservatives, Australia’s mainstream politicians have even tried to intimidate people from making this obvious connection.

They have said that even talking about climate change is unseemly, a slight to the casualties of these catastrophes that unacceptably “politicises” the disaster.

Meanwhile, these same “mainstream” politicians are loudly squabbling over who is to pay the clean-up bill.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Labor government even plans to axe some of the few environmentally friendly programs it has to pay for the disaster clean-up.

Returning to Mubarak, it is easy to understand his motive to suppress reports of the giant February 1 protests.

He is defending his own selfish interests. He wants to hang on to power, and the ill-gotten gains that come with it.

In Australia, powerful interests are also trying their hardest to hold back a big shift in the consciousness of the Australian people that should come out of our common experience of the latest extreme weather.

It is in the interests of the giant coal, oil and gas companies (and the banks that have invested in them) to turn our eyes away from it.

Ironically, self-interest did move one corporation to refer to the elephant in the room last week — though the story was relegated to the business pages of most newspapers.

“One of the world’s biggest reinsurance companies [Swiss Re] says Australia has become a riskier place to do business following a string of big natural disasters over the past two years,” said the February 3 Sydney Morning Herald.

Reinsurance companies make money by underwriting insurance companies that want to offset their risks from extraordinary insurance claims.

Major reinsurance companies such as Swiss Re have charted the rising cost of extreme weather events and they have long acknowledged the serious impact of climate change.

The immediate victims of the Queensland-NSW-Victoria floods and Cyclone Yasi have shown great courage and tenacity as they begin to rebuild their lives.

The explosion of human solidarity that came with these disasters has bolstered their efforts. However, we cannot leave it at that.

Unless we address climate change, there will be ever more severe and more frequent extreme weather events.

These latest catastrophes have hardened the resolve of Green Left Weekly to speak up even more loudly in 2011 on the need to seriously address climate change.

You can help us keep pointing out the elephant in the room by making a contribution to our $250,000 Fighting Fund appeal.

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