Australian Prime Minister Too Tone Deaf To ​Fiddle While His Country Burns
Victoria state government photo

Australia's record-setting bushfires are still burning, and there are months remaining in the fire season. The fires are known to have killed 28 people so far, as well as over a billion animals, with a B. The smoke has reached South America. The EU's climate agency estimates the fires have released "400 megatonnes of carbon dioxide" into the atmosphere so far, and notes satellite data showing the planet's highest concentration of CO2 on January 2 was found over the normally "clean" South Pacific, generated by the fires in New South Wales.

The Australian government, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Liberal party, which in Australia is actually very conservative, possibly because of the Coriolis effect, seems stuck in George-Bush-After-Katrina mode, blandly insisting that everything will be fine and there's no need to get all upset about climate, because what even is that?

Thousands of Australians took to the streets of major cities last week for "Sack ScoMo" rallies, where they got rained on. Heavy rains are forecast for some of the fire-affected areas this week, which is a huge relief to overworked firefighters, although the rain isn't likely to extinguish all the blazes. New South Wales Rural Fire Service spokesperson Anthony Bradstreet said the rains were very welcome. But:

With the period of drought we've experienced, we'd need to get extended periods of consistent rainfall in order to get the moisture content up enough for it to put out fires … which is unlikely.

And heavy rain on burned areas will lead to new problems, like the potential that so much sediment and ash flowing into rivers and lakes could cause die-offs of fish and other aquatic life, which happened after huge wildfires in Victoria state in 2003.

Maybe Rupert Murdoch's newspapers and rightwing trolls will blame that on a wave of unlicensed fishing.

The Australian government, as Slate explains in painful detail, was warned about the fire risks of global warming. Not only did successive leaders fail to take action to curb emissions, they also ignored calls to beef up the country's firefighting capacity.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported, "The nation's aerial firefighting centre called four years ago for a 'national large air-tanker' fleet to confront a growing bushfire threat but was turned down in a federal government ruling that the task was one for the states."

Two years later, in May 2018, the center called for an increase in funding to improve its aerial firefighting capacity. The federal government only agreed to that request last week, when the public was outraged and the fires burned out of control.

And just six months ago, then again in September, Morrison refused to meet with a delegation of former fire chiefs who warned that a disaster was on the way, if not in 2019-20, then soon.

Morrison's response to the fires hasn't bought him a lot of goodwill from the exhausted volunteer firefighters, either. Last week, Morrison's attempt to salute the firefighters' can-do willingness to carry on backfired when he told the Guardian there was no need to change how Australia fights bushfires, because look at the brave volunteers:

"[The] fact is these crews, yes, they're tired, but they also want to be out there defending their communities … And I thank them all for what they're doing, particularly all those who support them."

He said the government was not considering professionalising the service, and he did not address concerns that crews were crowdsourcing donations for food, water and equipment.

That would be the full context for this viral clip of a New South Wales firefighter yelling at a TV reporter that Morrison is cordially invited to go fuck himself. It's both NSW and NSFW!

Are you from the media? Tell the prime minister to go and get fucked, from Nelligan! We really enjoy doing this shit!

Another firefighter, before lying flat on the side of the road and taking some water, added, "I've lost seven houses already in Nelligan, and I'm not going to lose any more, you fuckhead!" A third firefighter told Morrison to resign already. "You don't deserve to govern. You knew this was coming, it's been coming for a few years, you've been totally ignorant of it. And now we're wearing your problems."

And yes, the scientists have chirped and keeled over after warning Australia was headed for a climate disaster, only to be met by idiots calling Al Gore fat.

Numerous studies have projected dramatic increases in the annual number of extreme fire weather days—despite Australia already being one of the most fire-prone regions in the world. In 2008, a major independent study into the impacts of climate change warned that Australian fire seasons would "start earlier, end slightly later, and generally be more intense" in a way that should be "directly observable by 2020" [...]

In 2009, a CSIRO (Australia's national science research agency) and Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre study warned that the kind of rare weather event fueling the current fires—a particular low-pressure system colliding with a particular high-pressure system—would be up to four times more likely under forecast climate change–related warming. [Emphasis added by Yr Wonkette]

In a blog post for the Union of Concerned Scientists, Australian climate researcher Melanie Fitzpatrick was livid at the politicians who've preferred to live in the pocket of industry instead of doing anything to change -- and at all of us, really, because why the hell did we have to let it get this bad before demanding action?

Fitzpatrick points out that the damage to Australia's native fauna may well be irreversible.

Some of these native fauna may now be on the brink of extinction. Even those lucky to survive the fire front will likely perish because the ecosystems on which they depend may be struggling to recover for years and may never succeed. A burnt landscape offers little in the way of water, food and shelter. Across the country, decades of conservation efforts have been undone by these unprecedented firestorms.

She says that she and her fellow climate scientists have tried for decades to explain exactly what the world faces if humans continue to use fossil fuels, for all the good it's done.

In all this, I've found that words are useful . But nothing we scientists have done could wake people to the climate threat the way that seeing the places you know and love destroyed has done. And having to tacitly acknowledge that we all have played a part in that.

But coal is big money in Australia, and the Liberal Party is owned by fossil fuel interests. Morrison and his allies insist Australia doesn't need to decarbonize, because after all, Australia is only a small country compared to the worst climate culprits, the US and China. Fitzpatrick calls that an "immoral cop-out," noting that

Australia is one of the world's highest emitters of carbon pollution, per capita, as well as the world's largest exporter of coal. Our emissions reporting would triple if we took account of our exports. [Emphasis added]

She notes that Australians are very happy to portray themselves as world leaders in some areas, like "[following] the British into multiple wars," being a founding member of the UN, and even claiming leadership in ending whaling.

Strange that we took on those roles, given we only have a measly 0.3% of the global population. At the climate negotiations, our government's lack of leadership has branded us an international pariah.

Fortunately, it's starting to look like Australians, and the world, are recognizing however belatedly that this shit cannot continue. And like the forlorn sign at the end of the movie version of On the Beach said, it's not too late.

Yes, it was too late in the movie, but that was the point for the audience, and for us. The scientific consensus really says we have time to prevent the very worst effects -- but even the non-worst scenarios only get worse and worse if we do nothing.

[Guardian / Slate / NYT / Guardian / Union of Concerned Scientists / Photo by Victoria Department of Environment, Land, Water and PlanningDepartment of Environment, Land, Water and Planning]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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