Fire and rain are ravaging my Australian homeland. We must confront the climate crisis.
My native land is in a cataclysmic state. What will it take for people to see through the deflect-and-distract tactics and acknowledge climate truths?
2. My beloved homeland is in a cataclysmic state.
3. Yet while visiting Australia last month, I was told repeatedly that a climate crisis is not to blame for the months of devastating infernos in New South Wales and Victoria. The narrative I heard over and over from Australians is that global warming is a myth, and that this disaster is in fact caused by the environmentally focused political party, The Greens. It is the belief of many Aussies that “the Greenies” have restricted back-burning of fire-prone rural areas, and that they are to blame for the atrocities we are experiencing.
Deflection is not a climate strategy
5. In reality, The Greens does support back-burning. Yet the opposite narrative has been created to point the finger at the party and demonize its environmental ethos. And it is working.
6. This strategy of deflection is not a new one. It happens every time there is a mass shooting in the United States, amid cries from the right not to “politicize the issue” by digging into the root causes and discussing gun control. I heard similar calls in Australia — that now was not the time to debate the reasons for the fires, that it was inappropriate to discuss the political hot potato of climate change. Yet people are dying, and homes and habitats are being destroyed. We need to drill down into why in order to save lives in the future.
7. The commonly held belief that poor land management is solely to blame for these catastrophic fires is simplistic and troublesome. The cause of this complex national emergency is not either one thing (poor land management) or the other (the impact of climate change). Multiple factors can contribute, and it is important to take a nuanced view.
8. Heightened average temperatures and the length of the fire season, indicators of climate change, can be determined by readily available data. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology released its 2019 annual climate statement that includes a map illustrating rainfall. The area around the current fires in New South Wales had the lowest rainfall on record since 1900, when measurements were first recorded. There is no doubt the country received less rain last year than it did 120 years ago. Less rain means more dried out fuel for fires.
10. Was 2019 an anomaly? Unfortunately, it was not. The average temperature in Australia has risen steadily over the past 100 years.
11. So how and why are so many Australians denying that the country is suffering from climate change? Where is this message coming from?
12. Look first at the news media. Australia has one of the highest concentrations of newspaper ownership in the world.
14. And digital media is following a similar path. A 2019 survey of online news readership by the Reuters Institute and the University of Oxford found that a quarter of Australians had visited the Murdoch-run news.com.au in the past week. That was more than for any other website.
15. The messaging in these News Corp. print and digital publications is similar to what we see on Fox News and other Murdoch-controlled media in America. Climate change denial and other right-wing narratives are common themes. And until 2015, the largest stake in Murdoch’s chief competitor, Fairfax Media, was held by climate skeptic Gina Rinehart.
16. In addition, Australia’s economy is heavily dependent on mining, which exacerbates the climate crisis (it is one of the world’s two largest coal exporters and the top exporter of iron ore, which is mined in a process that leaves a heavy carbon footprint). The political leaders in my picturesque homeland are more intent on short-term prosperity than shifting to sustainable, ecologically conscious practices that would help meet the climate challenge.
So much smoke, our plane went dark
17. Yet we cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand. Australian temperatures are projected to rise up to an additional 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) over the next 70 years — a phenomenon that would typically take around 5,000 years to achieve.
18. Arid Australia is expected to be one of the hardest-hit countries in the world by continuing global warming and climate change. Now, the fire season lasts for nine months of the year, says Ken Thompson, former deputy fire chief of New South Wales. Yet a group of emergency response leaders has not been able to get the Australian prime minister to meet with them to address their concerns about an inadequate and decentralized emergency response system.
19. During the last week of December, my sister and I flew from Victoria to New South Wales, and while descending into Sydney, the entire plane went dark. The smoke we were traveling through was so dense that very little light was able to get into the aircraft. It was alarming and an ominous sign.
20. What is to come with further increases in temperatures? What will the experience of flying from city to city be like for my nieces and nephew when they are adults? Will we see something like this in the United States? What will it take to get people to see through the deflect-and-distract tactics, and acknowledge the climactic big picture?