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We’ve reached the tipping point.
An op-ed I’m going to send round to the papers today. Thoughts welcome.
We’ve reached the tipping point. It’s time for Australia to lead.
The fires have now burned an area of Australia larger than South Korea. The economic toll of the fires is likely to exceed $4.4bn. At least 26 people have died, mostly volunteer firefighters and citizens protecting their homes. More than one billion native animals are dead. And Australia spent the UN Climate Change Conference in December blocking the progress of international climate negotiations.
Australia is the first rich country to be visited by climate catastrophe. We now know that as the climate worsens, it will be Australia, among the rich nations, who suffers first. We no longer need to look overseas for the canaries in the coal mine – Australia’s native birds will do fine, and they have stopped singing.
The climate crisis is a tragedy of the commons. In the tragedy, individual players acting in self-interest behave contrary to the common good. Collectively, they destroy their shared resource – in this case, the planet.
At some point, however, for some individuals the costs of exploiting the commons outweigh the benefits. Suddenly, the interests of the individual align with the good of the group. They’ve reached a tipping point.
Australia has reached that point. We’re now in a situation where massive investment in greening the economy is the cheapest possible option for our country.
In the first place, if Australia’s regional communities are to survive the next decade, we have to invest billions in climate resilience. Funding for the RFS and new planes for aerial firefighting are top of mind today. But fire isn’t Australia’s only threat. This decade will see floods, droughts, storms, and rising tides. To save billions in the coming decade, Australians need protection from it all, now.
But it’s not enough to build flood walls and hope they hold back the tides. We also have to mitigate rising sea levels. To do that we need to bring Australia’s emissions down to zero. Then, we need to take them into the negative.
Turning Australia into a post-carbon economy will require government investment on a scale unprecedented in this country. But other countries have been there before. Franklin D. Roosevelt transformed America with government-led projects during an era known as the New Deal. Now, forward-thinking leaders around the world want to turn that model towards the environment - the Green New Deal.
If you were wondering what Australia’s miners will do when the mines shut down, this is your answer. Massive state-led investment creates a corresponding demand for labour. Take carbon capture, for example. The industry has the potential to suck carbon right out of the air. What it needs now is a large backer to help it scale — a backer like the Australian Government. When Australia finally gets serious about green infrastructure and environmental R&D, there’ll be no shortage of jobs — only these jobs will be in an industry that’s growing, not dying.
But if Australia is a relatively small emitter, there’s not much we can do, right? Wrong. Those who insist “we only emit 1.3%” simply don’t get it. If you want to save Australian communities from climate change, decarbonising Australia isn’t sufficient — but it is necessary. That’s because until we do, we have no right to expect poorer countries to decarbonise. If one of the richest countries in the world won’t act after experiencing the worst bushfire season on record, why should anyone?
But if Australia takes action, we will have the legitimacy and power to act as a world leader. When we do, we can begin to have an influence that far exceeds the reduction of our own emissions. To protect its own interests, Australia’s role in this decade must be to use lobbying, sanctions, and trade pressure to press the world into decarbonisation. It is time to use Australian power to change the world.
We must protect Australia at all costs. The alternative, as the author Richard Flanagan recently put it, is climate suicide.