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.
Looking out my office window in early January, the smoke haze blanketing Melbourne CBD blocked all sight of the city. It made visibility on the roads a problem and venturing outside a dangerous activity.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is fond of saying that Australia only produces 1.3% of global greenhouse emissions. He says this to bolster his climate denialist position that his government does not need to take a lead on cutting carbon emissions. This position is fundamentally wrong.
At the height of the fire crisis over the New Year an Aboriginal elder, who had evacuated from Lakes Entrance to Bairnsdale in Victoria, joined other evacuees in registering for emergency relief. But he was told by a St Vincent de Paul staffer that the agency had “helped enough of your people today”, given a $20 fuel voucher and told not to tell other Aboriginal people about it. The elder walked out, humiliated, and asked his niece to return the voucher.
As the bushfire emergency drags on, with large parts of the country devastated, unions are demanding the government provide greater support for the firefighters, more assistance to the affected communities and to confront the climate change reality.
Poll results released on January 9 by the Australia Institute think tank show that even before the bush fire emergency peak around the week following New Year's eve, 66% of people in Australia believe the country "is facing a climate change emergency and should take emergency action".
There are two positive things to come out of the horrific bushfire crisis ripping through our country: recognition of the connection between global warming and more frequent and intense bush fires; and the inspiring courage and generosity of volunteers and emergency service personnel to protect their communities, despite being hugely under-resourced.
Around 100 people formed a circle at the Queen Victoria Building on January 5 to call for urgent government intervention on the fire emergency, support for the firefighters, and real action to combat climate change. The vigil was organised by Extinction Rebellion Sydney.
Sydney Extinction rebellion began an indefinite vigil outside NSW Parliament House on January 6 to demand that the NSW and federal governments declare a climate and ecological emergency.
"Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the fire crisis had escalated to an unprecedented level.