BEAU­TI­FUL WEATHER: The so­cial pol­i­tics of global warm­ing

The so­cial pol­i­tics of global warm­ing

AQ: Australian Quarterly - - FRONT PAGE - DAVID RIT­TER

It is late one af­ter­noon on a week­end in July and I’m sit­ting on a bench in Syd­ney Park. Built on the re­mains of the heavy in­dus­trial site that used to dom­i­nate the lo­ca­tion, the spread of trees and grasses, care­fully de­signed chil­dren’s play ar­eas and re­gen­er­ated wa­ter­ways over a grand forty acres, is a tac­tile re­minder of what a govern­ment act­ing in the com­mon good can do, when in­vest­ing in our shared well­be­ing.

In one of the park's cor­ners still stand tall choco­late-coloured brick chim­neys and domed kilns from the brick works that used to hold sway over this land, now as anachro­nis­tic as an­cient plinths. The park­land it­self is an open place where friends and strangers gather and bump along, re­mem­ber­ing out how we do that thing called so­ci­ety, to­gether, in prac­ti­cal terms.

“Would you mind if I sat there?” “is this your child? She fell over and was call­ing for you.” “Any chance I could bor­row your bike pump?” There's the light­est of breezes and the mid-win­ter sun­shine feels glo­ri­ous on my bare arms. Over­head, there is blue in ev­ery di­rec­tion.

Two early-thir­ties women walk past, one push­ing a stroller, the other laden with bas­ket and bag, which I imag­ine have been light­ened by the eat­ing of the pic­nic they once con­tained. I catch a snatch of a fa­mil­iar phrase, as one says to the other: “we've been re­ally lucky; it's such beau­ti­ful weather, for win­ter.”

Yes, such beau­ti­ful weather.

As it hap­pens, Syd­ney's July in 2018 is full of what we would con­ven­tion­ally un­der­stand as beau­ti­ful weather, in­cred­i­bly for­tu­nate for the time of year. Ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of Me­te­o­rol­ogy:

Greater Syd­ney ex­pe­ri­enced very warm and dry con­di­tions in July. Most sites across the re­gion set new records for the high­est mean daily max­i­mum tem­per­a­ture for July. Rain­fall was very much below av­er­age, with a few sites record­ing their low­est July rain­fall on record and sev­eral their dri­est in more than 20 years. 1

If only the sun­shine was just a mat­ter of ortho­dox good luck. In­stead, the record heat is just an­other sign of global warm­ing. It is a bit­ter-sweet para­dox that the won­der­ful weather can be so de­light­ful and yet so men­ac­ing, an­other warn­ing sign that global warm­ing is ac­cel­er­at­ing and that the con­se­quences are now upon us.

The mag­nif­i­cent weather we are en­joy­ing in the park is the forced smile of a planet in pain.

Syd­ney's un­sea­sonal balmi­ness has felt like an­other echo of our na­tional ex­cep­tion­al­ism; that deeply in­grained no­tion that bad things hap­pen else­where in the world, but not re­ally in Aus­tralia.

We don't get world wars, or rev­o­lu­tions, or famines, or global fi­nan­cial crises – not here at least, not in liv­ing mem­ory, not the worst of them, not if you for­get about the im­pact of coloni­sa­tion on the Indige­nous own­ers of the place.

Fires and droughts are in the bush – ‘we've al­ways had them' – and have been ac­cepted as part of the fi­bre of the na­tion. We just mo­tor luck­ily along. Even the crises of our Great Bar­rier Reef, the death of al­most fifty per­cent of the coral in The Great Bleach­ing of 2016-17, though a des­per­ate shock, hap­pened off­shore – like a tax haven, or a de­ten­tion cen­tre for peo­ple seek­ing asy­lum.

Trump is in the US. Brexit is in the UK. And so it is this July, that in the North­ern Hemi­sphere, records are be­ing vi­o­lently smashed. In Scan­di­navia, wild­fires are wreak­ing havoc in the Arc­tic Cir­cle.

In the bush and the re­gions, things are get­ting bru­tal – there are re­ports that farm­ers have run out of bul­lets to shoot ema­ci­ated, dy­ing stock – and by early Au­gust, 100% of the land mass of New South Wales is of­fi­cially in drought.

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But in Aus­tralia's largest city this win­ter, the im­pact of cli­mate change is an un­usual num­ber of pic­nics for the time of year.

The mag­nif­i­cent weather we are en­joy­ing in the park is the forced smile of a planet in pain.

A spade by any other name…

His­tor­i­cally there has been a great ret­i­cence to de­scribe par­tic­u­lar weather events and ‘nat­u­ral' dis­as­ters as hav­ing

been caused by global warm­ing. There are var­i­ous rea­sons for this. Sci­en­tists have, un­der­stand­ably, been pro­fes­sion­ally ret­i­cent to at­tribute pre­cise cau­sa­tion to a storm, a hot day or a bush­fire.

Ac­tivists have often been sim­i­larly ten­ta­tive, for fear of be­ing dubbed scare­mon­gers, am­bu­lance-chasers or care­less with facts. In the wake of the death and de­struc­tion brought by a killer heat­wave or a cy­clone or a bush­fire, if global warm­ing is sug­gested as a cause, then the wel­ter of dis­ap­proval has been rapid and pre­dictable.

It's a rhetor­i­cal ma­noeu­vre mir­ror­ing that of the gun lobby in Amer­ica's end­less and mur­der­ously fu­tile firearm de­bates. It is ap­par­ently never okay to dis­cuss whether there should be greater gun con­trol when there has been a mass killing. It never seems to be the right time for those peo­ple who pro­mote re­form.

In Aus­tralia we watch with de­pressed mys­ti­fi­ca­tion at the United States' in­abil­ity to break the sense­less cy­cle of lit­er­ally deadly pub­lic pol­icy paral­y­sis – even as our politi­cians fail so com­pre­hen­sively to act to re­duce emis­sions or be­gin a rapid phase out of fos­sil fuel ex­trac­tion.

In the course of our own elite pol­icy paral­y­sis, when­ever some ex­treme weather event, con­sis­tent with cli­mate change mod­el­ling, breaks upon peo­ples' homes and lives, it is some­how al­ways just not the ap­pro­pri­ate time to be talk­ing about ad­dress­ing the causes.

For ex­am­ple, in Novem­ber 2013, when one MP had the temer­ity to join the dots be­tween global warm­ing and de­struc­tive bush­fires old and new me­dia was quick to pile on.

You'd imag­ine that even the strong­est be­liever in cli­mate change caused by hu­man ac­tiv­ity would con­cede there is a more ap­pro­pri­ate time to ar­gue the is­sue of car­bon pric­ing than when peo­ple are flee­ing their homes and brave fireys do their best to pro­tect them. 3

Among the me­dia, weather fore­cast­ers and jour­nal­ists mostly steer away from join­ing the dots, re­port­ing the event but not the sys­tem. A very few, like the Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald's Peter Hannam and the teams at in­de­pen­dent me­dia like Guardian Aus­tralia, Crikey and the var­i­ous Black Inc pub­li­ca­tions, are the noble ex­cep­tions. For the most part though, re­port­ing on weather events be­ing con­sis­tent with global warm­ing seems ver­boten in our cul­tural dis­course.

It is an ab­surd re­sult, as per­verse as re­port­ing on ca­su­al­ties with­out men­tion­ing the ex­is­tence of a war.

Sci­en­tific meth­ods, though, have evolved. In Jan­uary this year, it was re­ported in the Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can that

It’s a rhetor­i­cal ma­noeu­vre copied from the NRA… It is ap­par­ently never okay to dis­cuss whether there should be greater gun con­trol when there has been a mass killing.

...And turn­ing to the syn­op­tic chart, Syd­ney is ex­pect­ing more record high tem­per­a­tures this week­end, which is con­sis­tent with sci­en­tific pre­dic­tions of the con­se­quences of global warm­ing. And if we don't rapidly tran­si­tion away from fos­sil fuel use, there will be much, much more to come...

now ‘ex­treme event at­tri­bu­tion not only is pos­si­ble, but is one of the most rapidly ex­pand­ing sub­fields of cli­mate sci­ence'. 4

It is time to start nam­ing things for what they are. Our earth has been an­thro­pocen­tri­cally glob­ally warmed; the cli­mate has been changed; and the process is on­go­ing and ac­cel­er­at­ing, driven by hu­man ac­tiv­ity, in­clud­ing burn­ing coal, oil and gas, and de­for­esta­tion.

In this con­text, there is still some ‘nor­mal weather', by which we might mean tem­per­a­tures and con­di­tions that fall within the his­tor­i­cal def­i­ni­tions of or­di­nary and ex­pected vari­a­tion across weeks and sea­sons. But then there is the other stuff, the global warm­ing weather and the global warm­ing weather events that are in­creas­ing in their num­ber and in­ten­sity caus­ing cli­mate dam­age.

If pub­lic de­bate is to be pur­sued with hon­esty, global warm­ing weather should be re­ported for what it is. A weather fore­caster might say:

Lan­guage of that kind isn't cam­paign­ing or par­ti­san, so much as just stat­ing what is now com­mon sci­en­tific knowl­edge. To use an old fash­ioned phrase: it would be telling the truth.

Global warm­ing weather events are his­tor­i­cally anoma­lous tem­per­a­tures and con­di­tions con­sis­tent with the pre­dic­tions of cli­mate sci­en­tists, not nec­es­sar­ily im­pos­si­ble in a world be­fore hu­man-caused cli­mate change, but in­cred­i­bly un­likely. As Aus­tralian cli­mate sci­en­tists An­drew King and David Karoly noted: ‘[w]hile we can't say cli­mate change caused an ex­treme event, we can es­ti­mate how much more or less likely the event has be­come due to hu­man in­flu­ences on the cli­mate.' 5

If some­thing deeply un­usual oc­curs in the weather that is con­sis­tent with pre­dic­tions of the im­pacts of global warm­ing, it's time to start call­ing it for what it very likely is.

A snow­ball's chance

Things are speed­ing up. It is not a com­fort­able thought, but then noth­ing about fu­ture pro­jec­tions of the con­se­quences of global warm­ing from here is com­fort­able.

In early Au­gust, a new sci­en­tific pa­per pub­lished in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sciences of the United States of Amer­ica en­ti­tled ‘ Tra­jec­to­ries of the Earth Sys­tem in the An­thro­pocene', warned of the po­ten­tial for im­pacts cas­cad­ing out of con­trol, if global tem­per­a­tures reach 2°C above pre-in­dus­trial tem­per­a­tures. It's ef­fec­tively the whole fu­ture of the bio­sphere be­ing de­cided in a hand­ful of years.

The em­i­nent au­thors make the fol­low­ing call:

It is an ab­surd re­sult, as per­verse as re­port­ing on ca­su­al­ties with­out men­tion­ing the ex­is­tence of a war.

Col­lec­tive hu­man ac­tion is re­quired to steer the Earth Sys­tem away from a po­ten­tial thresh­old and sta­bi­lize it in a hab­it­able in­ter­glacial-like state. Such ac­tion en­tails stew­ard­ship of the en­tire Earth Sys­tem—bio­sphere, cli­mate, and so­ci­eties—and could in­clude de­car­boniza­tion of the global econ­omy, en­hance­ment of bio­sphere car­bon sinks, be­hav­ioral changes, tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions, new gov­er­nance ar­range­ments, and trans­formed so­cial val­ues. 6

None of this is be­yond our col­lec­tive power and cre­ativ­ity as a species, if there is the will. In­deed, re­framed, it is an im­mensely ex­cit­ing project of the ut­most ex­is­ten­tial mean­ing, un­par­al­leled in hu­man his­tory, with the po­ten­tial to leave us vastly bet­ter off as a species. Who wouldn't want to be in­volved?

In the very more im­me­di­ate fu­ture, the Aus­tralian sum­mer lies ahead and the Bureau of Me­te­o­rol­ogy has de­clared an in­creased like­li­hood of an El Niño sum­mer, which would mean warmer and drier con­di­tions for our con­ti­nent and sur­round­ing wa­ters.

As the heat closes in, the so­cial pol­i­tics of ev­ery­day global warm­ing in the cities will shift, as un­usu­ally nice weather in July meta­mor­phose into the fright­en­ing and ugly re­al­i­ties of sum­mer.

Heat waves are sta­tis­ti­cally the most deadly of all Aus­tralia's ‘nat­u­ral' dis­as­ters, but they also bring on the mul­ti­va­lenced men­ace of slow vi­o­lence; the mi­cro-ag­gres­sion of ir­ri­ta­tion, frus­tra­tion and lack of sleep, build­ing to­wards loss of tem­per and con­trol.

The so­cial pol­i­tics of global warm­ing heat waves are man­i­fest in the pen­sioner alone and afraid as her breath­ing gets harder when her flat heats up; the baby scream­ing in the car; the sin­gle par­ent los­ing her wits, be­cause there is no safe way the kids can play out­side.

In The Coal Truth, pub­lished ear­lier this year, I wrote about the case of a seventy-one year old woman, Lynne Bar­nett, who had a pre-ex­ist­ing lung con­di­tion and died, alone in her un-air­con­di­tioned flat, dur­ing Syd­ney's record heat­wave in Jan­uary 2017. De­spite the smell, which was no­ticed by neigh­bours, her body wasn't dis­cov­ered for some weeks and was in a stage of par­tial mum­mi­fi­ca­tion.

Al­though the coro­ner was un­able to make any find­ing, Ms Bar­nett more or less pre­cisely fit­ted the pro­file of vul­ner­a­bil­ity to death by heat stroke; a typ­i­cal hu­man ca­su­alty of cli­mate dam­age in an Aus­tralian city. Given the changes in the cli­mate that we are al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, the ap­palling death of Ms Bar­nett will not be a sin­gu­lar fate.

It used to be the case that talk­ing about the weather was the ul­ti­mate safe con­ver­sa­tion. ‘Avoid pol­i­tics, re­li­gion, sex and money, dear, just talk about the weather'. The emo­tional logic was sim­ple enough – as there

It's ef­fec­tively the whole fu­ture of the bio­sphere be­ing de­cided in a hand­ful of years.

Af­ter leav­ing a trail of de­struc­tion and wreck­age, Tony Ab­bott has now been down­graded to a rain-bear­ing de­pres­sion.

was no hu­man vo­li­tion over whether it rained, hailed or shone, there could be no con­tro­versy. Pre­cip­i­ta­tion might be good for some and bad for oth­ers, but there was noth­ing any­one could do about it.

To­day, noth­ing could be more po­lit­i­cal than the weather, but the fact es­capes us in our-day to-day con­ver­sa­tion, so hard-wired are we, to see the drama of the skies as be­yond our ken. The so­cial ex­change around nam­ing events for what they very likely are is yet to catch up.

The truth now is that ev­ery weird weather event is in­her­ently po­lit­i­cal, in the sense that they are, in all prob­a­bil­ity, be­ing im­pacted by de­ci­sions made by hu­man be­ings. Ev­ery mas­sive out of sea­son storm, ev­ery record-break­ing deadly heat­wave; the fires and the die-offs that shouldn't be oc­cur­ring; all of these are to some ex­tent the hand­i­work of vested in­ter­ests and po­lit­i­cal elites who have de­nied, de­layed and be­trayed.

Whose Utopia?

For some years, en­vi­ron­men­tal cam­paign­ers have been provoca­tively sug­gest­ing that in­stead of be­ing ran­domly al­lo­cated hu­man names, storms should be named af­ter fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies.

At the very least it's fun to imag­ine the news­cast­ers an­nounc­ing, "Exxon is com­ing ashore across New Jer­sey, leav­ing havoc in her wake", or "Chevron forces evacuation of 375,000". 7

Per­haps, though, we should be even more gran­u­lar, not only nick­nam­ing deadly weather events af­ter fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies, but in­di­vid­u­als who have fought for in­ac­tion on re­duc­ing emis­sions, or prop­a­gated de­nial; politi­cians like Tony Ab­bott and Barn­aby Joyce, busi­ness lead­ers like Mau­rice New­man and David Mur­ray, and en­ti­ties like the Min­er­als Coun­cil that have spent their time and en­ergy fight­ing against ac­tion on global warm­ing could all justly have global warm­ing weather events named af­ter them: af­ter leav­ing a trail of de­struc­tion and wreck­age, Tony Ab­bott has now been down­graded to a rain-bear­ing de­pres­sion.

The elite lead­ers who have blocked ef­fec­tive ac­tion on global warm­ing bear per­sonal cul­pa­bil­ity, but they sit atop and are lo­cated within a po­lit­i­cal or­der, al­low­ing and fa­cil­i­tat­ing dom­i­nance by the vested in­ter­ests of the fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies and other big pol­luters.

This fos­sil fuel or­der is char­ac­terised by a set of con­di­tions that it is use­ful to plainly iden­tify, as a nec­es­sary pre­con­di­tion to their dis­man­tling, which in­clude:

• A land ten­ure sys­tem that cre­ates and priv­i­leges a set of pri­vate rights to ex­tract min­er­als and en­ergy re­serves (known as ten­e­ments) ahead of other prop­erty rights, in­clud­ing forms of Indige­nous ti­tle. The same sys­tem re­gards ten­e­ment ap­pli­ca­tions in iso­la­tion, rather than in terms of cu­mu­la­tive im­pact and con­tains no mech­a­nisms for as­sess­ing ten­e­ment ap­pli­ca­tions against the over­all pub­lic in­ter­est.

• Le­gal and af­ford­able (or free) ac­cess to the nec­es­sary land and water to en­able the ex­trac­tive ac­tiv­ity.

• Very large-scale pub­lic sub­si­dies for busi­nesses en­gaged in fos­sil fuel ex­trac­tion. Ac­cord­ing to a 2015 global study by the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund, Aus­tralia spends US$10.45 bil­lion an­nu­ally in post-tax sub­si­dies on coal alone. 8

• A tax­a­tion sys­tem that en­ables largescale ex­trac­tive en­ter­prises to avoid or pay low rates of tax­a­tion.

• Lax rules of pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion that are en­abling of po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence, through do­na­tions, client-pa­tron­age and ‘re­volv­ing doors' of staff be­tween the bu­reau­cracy, min­is­te­rial of­fices

and pri­vate en­ter­prise.

• Le­git­i­mat­ing dis­course that

es­tab­lishes en­ergy ex­trac­tion as both in­evitable and vi­tal to the na­tional in­ter­est and seeks to si­lence com­pet­ing nar­ra­tives (in­clud­ing about global warm­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion) and which is often re­peated un­crit­i­cally through main­stream me­dia. • A set of in­sti­tu­tions that func­tion to main­tain the fos­sil fuel or­der, in­clud­ing peak in­dus­try bod­ies, spon­sored or­gan­i­sa­tions, and client ser­vice providers, like lawyers, ac­coun­tants and con­sul­tants.

• Con­cen­trated pri­vate own­er­ship of

the means of fos­sil fuel ex­trac­tion and power pro­duc­tion in cer­tain large com­pa­nies.

• Ac­cess to in­vest­ment cap­i­tal on

suf­fi­ciently fa­vor­able terms to en­able the ex­trac­tion and ex­ploita­tion of fos­sil fuel re­serves. • Se­cure em­bed­ding within the

broader Aus­tralian po­lit­i­cal econ­omy, such that the in­ter­ests of other sec­tors like fish­ing and tourism that are neg­a­tively im­pacted by the ex­trac­tion and burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els can be side­lined.

• A po­lit­i­cal sys­tem that in­cludes

vote-weight­ing to­wards min­ing con­stituen­cies.

• An in­ad­e­quate le­gal and

ad­min­is­tra­tive frame­work for as­sess­ing, pre­vent­ing and re­dress­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial im­pacts of fos­sil fuel en­ergy ex­trac­tion. This in­cludes the law­ful abil­ity of fos­sil fuel ex­trac­tion and pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies to ex­ter­nalise a ma­jor­ity of the pub­lic costs of their ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing car­bon pol­lu­tion, na­ture loss, health im­pacts and site re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

• Den­i­gra­tion, un­der­fund­ing and

at­tempts to cap­ture in­de­pen­dent coun­ter­vail­ing in­sti­tu­tions such as in­ves­tiga­tive and reg­u­la­tory au­thor­i­ties, sci­en­tific and re­search in­sti­tu­tions, pub­lic in­ter­est broad­cast­ing, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion lawyers and NGOS.

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• A very short-term share­holder value

ap­proach to cor­po­rate gov­er­nance and strat­egy.

The elite lead­ers who have blocked ef­fec­tive ac­tion on global warm­ing bear per­sonal cul­pa­bil­ity, but they sit atop and are lo­cated within a po­lit­i­cal or­der.

This is the sys­tem of ex­trac­tivist po­lit­i­cal econ­omy, the fos­sil fuel or­der, which is driv­ing us head­long to­wards global chaos, obliv­i­ous to the suf­fer­ing of bil­lions of hu­man be­ings and the fu­ture of life on earth.

It is often the habit of ad­vo­cates for ac­tion on global warm­ing to de­scribe the ac­tiv­i­ties of our op­po­nents in terms of what they are block­ing (ac­tion to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions) or dis­as­trous things that they want to build (for ex­am­ple Adani's pro­posed Carmichael coal mine or Equinor's pro­posed oil wells in the Great Aus­tralian Bight).

It is com­par­a­tively rare to ask, what is the over­all so­cial and po­lit­i­cal vi­sion of the cli­mate change de­niers? What is their utopia? If, say, Tony Ab­bott or Matt Cana­van or Peter Dut­ton could have Aus­tralia their own way, where would it take us?

Let's have a glimpse at what the pos­si­ble con­se­quences of poli­cies sup­ported by the coal lobby might ac­tu­ally look like:

• Aus­tralia is tak­ing no ac­tion to re­duce emis­sions, hav­ing al­ready al­lied with Don­ald Trump to wreck the global emis­sions re­duc­tion ar­chi­tec­ture. In the ab­sence of any ac­tion to re­duce car­bon pol­lu­tion, global warm­ing is ac­cel­er­at­ing. The Great Bar­rier Reef as we know it is gone. Agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion is in free-fall. The main­land cities are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing 50 de­gree-days in sum­mer, killing un­prece­dented num­bers of Aus­tralians in their own homes. It feels like the coun­try is dy­ing around us.

• A vast com­plex of makeshift de­ten­tion cen­ters on Aus­tralia's north­ern pe­riph­ery hold tens of thou­sands of refugees from ris­ing seas and other con­se­quences of global warm­ing, as well as con­flict and per­se­cu­tion. Aus­tralia is pay­ing a num­ber of Pa­cific Is­land na­tions to act as, in ef­fect, vast hold­ing camps for peo­ple with nowhere else to go.

• All ‘en­vi­ron­men­tal green tape’ has been abol­ished. Min­ing com­pa­nies and oth­ers are ex­pected to ‘self reg­u­late'.

• The ABC, SBS, CSIRO, BOM and other pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions have been fully pri­va­tised and bro­ken up, as have all re­main­ing so­cial ser­vices that have not sim­ply been abol­ished. All univer­sity fund­ing is now tied to ‘busi­ness im­pact'.

• Govern­ment is free to sub­ject all Aus­tralians to un­lim­ited elec­tronic sur­veil­lance in or­der to ‘main­tain se­cu­rity'; this is aug­mented by a street level fa­cial recog­ni­tion sys­tem that op­er­ates 24/7.

• Char­i­ties are banned from

en­gag­ing in ad­vo­cacy and peace­ful civil dis­obe­di­ence is sub­ject to dra­co­nian pe­nal­i­ties. The trend of pro-coal po­lit­i­cal lead­ers at­tack­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal de­fend­ers, iden­ti­fied by UN Spe­cial Rap­por­teur on the sit­u­a­tion of hu­man rights de­fend­ers at the end of his first fact-find­ing visit to Aus­tralia in 2016, has con­tin­ued to worsen ever since.

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• The in­tro­duc­tion of even harder

ne­olib­eral eco­nomic poli­cies in com­bi­na­tion with the im­pacts of global warm­ing have rad­i­cally ac­cel­er­ated the cre­ation of an un­der­class of Aus­tralians

It is com­par­a­tively rare to ask, what is the over­all so­cial and po­lit­i­cal vi­sion of the cli­mate change de­niers? What is their utopia?

in per­ma­nent poverty and dis­ad­van­tage, all of whom are sub­ject to greater sur­veil­lance and dis­ci­pline than the rest of the pop­u­la­tion. And of course, in this ap­palling vi­sion, Aus­tralia's coal, oil and gas in­dus­tries are con­tin­u­ing to ex­pand.

For­tu­nately, the fos­sil fuel lobby's ‘utopia' is not in­evitable.

In the eyes of a child

Back to my af­ter­noon in the park and high on a turfy knoll a cou­ple of kids are sil­hou­et­ted against the sky. I hear them yelling, then with care­free pur­pose they lie down and be­gin the mad, joy­ous busi­ness of rolling down the green cov­ered slope.

In their child's eyes, the de­scent must seem epic. I watch as they make their er­ratic way to the bot­tom, ec­stat­i­cally care­free in their child­hoods, which is just how it should be. And all I can think about is the great be­trayal of their fu­ture that is be­ing car­ried out in real time by big pol­luters and politi­cians who are cap­tive to cor­po­rate money and their own ve­nal am­bi­tion, and who refuse to take ef­fec­tive ac­tion to limit global warm­ing.

It is as if they have con­spired to light a fire at the bot­tom of the hill that these tum­bling tykes will not be able to avoid. On to­day's de­mo­graph­ics, the kids on the hill stand a good chance of be­ing alive in 2100. They could see four de­grees of warm­ing – or worse – and all that comes with that; the fires, the un­live­able heat waves, the floods, storms, wars and wide­spread so­cioe­co­nomic break­down. Un­less, that is, we get our act to­gether.

The ‘de­car­bon­i­sa­tion of the global econ­omy, en­hance­ment of bio­sphere car­bon sinks, be­havioural changes, tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions, new gov­er­nance ar­range­ments, and trans­formed so­cial val­ues' that is evoked in such tech­no­cratic terms by em­i­nent sci­en­tists, can be a shared ex­pe­ri­ence an­i­mated by joy, cre­ativ­ity, pur­pose and na­tional pride.

It is not a night­mare of what we must give up, but a re­al­is­tic dream of what we can yet build and nour­ish to­gether; an ‘Aus­tralia re­made' in the spirit of cre­at­ing the best ver­sion of us.

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The tech­ni­cal ac­tion plans ex­ist: for ex­am­ple, ac­cord­ing to one re­cent study from the Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity,

Back to my af­ter­noon in the park and high on a turfy knoll a cou­ple of kids are sil­hou­et­ted against the sky.

Aus­tralia is now able to con­struct an af­ford­able elec­tric­ity net­work, 100% driven by re­new­able en­ergy with al­ready ex­ist­ing tech­nolo­gies. Other

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work will be needed in re­new­able agri­cul­ture, trans­port – and ev­ery other sec­tor – all of it rich with the prom­ise of mean­ing­ful em­ploy­ment, so­cial cre­ativ­ity and our fu­ture flour­ish­ing.

The en­abling con­di­tions of the fos­sil fuel or­der were cre­ated by peo­ple

– and can be dis­man­tled in just the same fash­ion. Ideas for re­claim­ing our democ­racy are al­ready there too, such as Mel­bourne Univer­sity law aca­demic Joo-cheong Tham's ten-point plan for clean­ing up the in­flu­ence of money in na­tional pol­i­tics in Aus­tralia.

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All that is needed to an­i­mate these in­stru­ments is our shared will: the in­fin­itely re­new­able re­source of the power and de­ter­mi­na­tion of the Aus­tralian peo­ple.

IM­AGE: © Sar­daka-wiki

IM­AGE: © US Dept of Agri­cul­ture

IM­AGE: © Bureau of Me­te­o­rol­ogy

IM­AGE: © Tim J Kee­gan-flickr

IM­AGE: © Toby Hud­son-wiki

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