Now is not the time to talk about the connection between climate change and the “unprecedented” bushfires that have taken lives and burnt out colossal swathes of NSW, said Scott Morrison and Gladys Berejiklian over the weekend. Morrison instead offered his “thoughts and prayers” to those affected.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack went further, calling any mention of climate change “disgusting” and the work of “raving inner-city lunatics” eager to prosecute an agenda.

“Now is not the time.” “Thoughts and prayers”. Accusation of running an agenda. If it all sounds familiar, it’s because they’re exactly the talking points used by Republicans in the wake of gun massacres in the US, designed to direct the anger about the wholly preventable and routine deaths of Americans away from the possibility of taking any action.

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Climate denialism used to look like vaccine denialism — the result of wilful stupidity, a willingness to resort to conspiracy theory and a conviction that you’re smarter than both scientists and the sheeple who surround you.

A bushfire burns close to homes in Woodford on Friday November 8 (Image: AAP/Dan Himbrechts).

But at a political level, climate denialism, like gun rights advocacy in the United States, isn’t some psychological tic or eccentricity; it is bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry lobbyists and donors who litter the donation returns of the Liberal and National parties.

And that denialism, and the soft corruption that funds it, has a growing body count. The victims of bushfires. The elderly who die during heatwaves. The premature deaths from smoke haze. Rural and regional Australians driven to suicide by drought and economic dislocation.

It’s never time to talk about climate change for the Morrison government, even with some of the country’s biggest corporations screaming for some kind, any kind, of climate policy to provide investment certainty.

A water bombing helicopter near Harrington on Friday November 8 (Image: AAP/Shane Chalker).

Yes, let’s say it. These are preventable deaths, caused by fossil fuel industry-funded politicians here and overseas blocking climate action at every turn.

What’s particularly ironic is that the same set of politicians who deny climate change, or falsely insist it’s being addressed, are often the ones to be found hyping the threat of terrorism as the basis for spending billions of dollars on security theatre and systematically eroding civil liberties.

Climate change is causing far more deaths in Western countries than terrorism, much more economic damage. But those usually quick to accuse others of being soft on terrorism are themselves soft to the point of vacuum on a far more serious threat to the lives, health and prosperity of Australians.

Want to talk about politicians who ignore warnings about security threats? How many warnings have climate denialist politicians like Scott Morrison been given? Even the government’s own 2016 Defence White Paper warned that climate change was a “major challenge”.

The ruins of a house near Taree on Saturday November 9 (Image: AAP/Darren Pateman).

Instead of following NRA-style talking points, this is what Australian governments should be saying as natural disasters mount up from climate change. It’s a pretty straightforward logic:

  1. Australia is the developed economy most at risk from climate change, due to our geography and the nature of our economy
  2. Australia thus desperately needs the world to move more rapidly to cap and begin reducing global emissions in order to keep temperature rises below 2 degrees (and hopefully 1.5 degrees) above pre-industrial levels
  3. To do this, we need to show global leadership by moving to decarbonise an economy that is one of the developed world’s most carbon intensive. If we undertake a serious program to achieve that, we can then demand that other economies, and especially big ones like the US, China and India, do the same
  4. It appears we can’t stop serious impacts from existing temperature rises even if we’re successful at capping global emissions, so adaptation and resilience must be much more prominent in policymaking, across areas like drought relief, infrastructure funding and regional development
  5. If there’s no political will to achieve abatement, and enable mitigation using market mechanisms, then taxpayer funding will have to be used. It’s less efficient, but the alternative of doing nothing, of staying paralysed, is not acceptable.

Anything short of this — whether it’s Morrison’s “thoughts and prayers” or McCormack’s insults — is recklessness of the same kind that would leave us unprotected against terrorists, only on a much vaster scale. And it is costing lives right now.

Not the right time? There was never a more important time to talk seriously about climate change. Each day of delay and denialism will cost more lives.

It’s time that responsibility was sheeted home to those who have refused to take action.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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