Climate Wars in Australia are a Microcosm

Climate wars is what observers call the fierce conflict between the coal lobby and climate activists in Australia. Find out why this tension is a microcosm of the climate crisis worldwide.

I’ve never been to Australia, but I’ve always wanted to go. I’m a bit like James Garner’s character in the film Support Your Local Sheriff. He told everyone that he was “just passing through on the way to Australia.” He seemed to know everything about the land down under, but he never actually made it there.

Who wouldn’t want to go to a country that has so many beaches that it would take 27 years to visit them all? Tasmania has the world’s cleanest air. Travel experts generally agree that Whitehaven has the most beautiful beach in the world. Ecologists tell us that the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest living organism.

Sadly, the New York Times and others are reporting that climate wars are brewing in the Land of Oz. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been denouncing environmental activists. Speaking to the Queensland Resources Council about the movement against climate change, he declared, “This is not something my government intends to allow to go unchecked. Together with the Attorney General, Christian Porter, we are working to identify serious mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices that threaten the livelihoods of fellow Australians.”

“Outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices”

What “indulgent and selfish practices” is Morrison talking about? Well, Australians are caught up in the same environmental movements that are sweeping the globe. These go a bit further than sedate demonstrations. They include non-violent civil disobedience and boycotts. Some protestors chain or glue themselves to roads or bridges. Many Australians are fed up with their climate-contrarian government.

In a study entitled Climate of the Nation, the Australian Institute found that the number of Australians who agree that climate change is happening is at a record high 77%. Eighty percent think that Australians are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. Seventy percent of Australians support the orderly closure of old coal power stations and replacement with clean energy. Even in Queensland, where most of the coal mines are, 73% agreed with phasing out coal-fired power stations.

This doesn’t sit well with Morrison’s government. Morrison once took a lump of coal into parliament and held it up to the opposition benches, saying, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared, it won’t hurt you.” I guess it’s pretty hard to make a snowball down under.

coal lobby delighted with Morrison government

Morrison’s party, the right-wing Liberal-National Coalition, has scrapped the carbon-pricing plan set up by Labour. It refuses to pass any legislation that would penalize polluters. It hasn’t followed US policy and pulled out of the Paris Agreement so far, but it hasn’t enacted any laws to make it work either. The coal lobby is delighted with the Morrison government stoking the climate wars.

The coal industry is dominant in Australia. Australia is the world’s largest coal producer. Australians share the same reputation as Canadians for being “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” Our economies are based mainly on extracting resources rather than light industry, technical innovation or service industries. Aaron Patrick of Financial Review has gone so far as to say, “Australia is rich, dumb and getting dumber.”

He cites Harvard University’s Atlas of Economic Complexity, which puts Australia in the same category as Bangladesh, Cuba, Iran, Mali and Turkmenistan. They are all economies so lacking in complexity that Harvard recommends new industrial policies to modernize them.

8th-richest nation has export profile of Angola

Patrick calls it “the Australian paradox.” As he puts it, “the eighth-richest nation in the study has the export profile of Angola.” Harvard was more diplomatic, “Australia is less complex than expected for its income level. As a result, its economy is projected to grow slowly.”

So, rather than taking their lead from other countries and researching ways to tackle the “wicked problem” of the climate crisis, the Australian government prefers to shoot the messenger and prolong the climate wars. Professor Robyn Eckersley of the University of Melbourne told the New York Times, “When they talk about climate change and criticize protesters, they tackle it not in terms of the problem. What they do is aim for the person and what they stand for in a way that will appeal to their people, to their base.”

This approach is short-sighted for many reasons, but let’s just look at one of them. Influential as the coal industry is in Australia, it’s not a massive part of their domestic economy anymore. That Climate of the Nation poll cited above points out that “Coal mining employs only 0.4 percent of workers in Australia and is 2.2 percent of Australia’s GDP.” Responders to the poll guessed that the numbers were around 12.5 percent of Australia’s economic production and 9.3 percent of the labour force.

Climate contrarians are losing the debate

What we’re seeing here is a change of tactics. Climate contrarians are losing the debate. Australians know what the facts are now, and like Howard Beale in the film Network, they’re “as mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.” The mining lobby and their political puppets are now having to switch to bullying and violence in retaliation.

For example, last year, the Australian parliament passed the Defence Amendment (Call Out of the Australian Defence Force) Bill 2018. It allows Australia’s government to call out the armed forces to disperse protestors. The phrase “climate wars” is meant to be figurative, not literal.

I didn’t write this to pick on Australia. It just strikes me as a microcosm of the climate crisis as a whole. We’ve known about climate change for decades. Despite this, formidable vested interest try to cling to power, through disinformation at first, and then by force if necessary. We’re going to have to learn ways to address this intransigence on the part of fossil fuel supporting governments.

We always have more to learn if we dare to know.

Learn more:

New York Times
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Japan Times
Financial Review
Australia Institute
Support Your Local Sheriff
Climate Crisis Becomes Undeniable
Climate Change – Canadians Get the Government They Deserve
Nature Emergency – Time to Make It Official
Climate Change Cross Currents from the United States


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