scott morrison bushfire
(Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

Climate denial in Australia is alive and well, and seeing as how we can’t beat them — even amid a bushfire crisis both scientists and firefighters link directly to global heating — why not join them?

Try Crikey’s guide for spinning what is arguably the most horrific climate change signal in Australian history, and you too could eke out a few more years of sweet, ignorant bliss!

Blame fuel loads and the Greens

Whether you’re a federal politician, deputy premier or an inexplicable Sunrise personality, the easiest way to downplay global heating’s role in the crisis is to invoke hazard reduction as a silver bullet.

While there are always cases for reforms — specifically, greater integration of Indigenous fire management systems — your job doesn’t involve paying these anything more than lip service or, god forbid, examining current burn rates.

Instead, try yelling about farmers’ rights, bureaucracy and, most importantly, the Greens.

Sure, the party supports hazard reduction and has none of the state/federal power to affect responsible bodies, but they play well to the base. You’ll also have plenty of political allies — some unwitting — and some ancient inquiry submissions from 2001 to expose the Greens’ true intentions.

Along with help from the forestry industry, the CFMEU and a previously unheard of climate-denialist “firefighter” group with close ties to the Shooters party, you’ll be able to apply pressure to the point that very important, very busy fire chiefs will have to repeatedly shut down your anti-Greens conspiracies.

Do not, however, talk to these experts: they will ruin your panacea with facts about hazard reduction’s inefficiency against catastrophic conditions and the tightening time frames for burns due to, um, global heating.

Firebugs, firebugs, firebugs

Bushfire season always attracts firebugs, but when the damage is over 10 million hectares you’re going to want to become very, very generous with your definition of “arson”.

First, inflate numbers as much as possible. The Australian will help by pushing claims that “national arson arrest toll hits 183”, a number that some (particularly those who have braved long, complicated Twitter threads) will notice includes other bushfire-related offences (e.g. dropped cigarette butts), as well as Victoria’s annual arrest figures, and some other dodgy math.

Second, take a cue from alt-right commentators like Paul Joseph Watson (an editor at conspiracy theory-peddling Infowars) and the armies of right-wing trolls using these numbers to create a false dichotomy between fire ignition and fire intensity: some fires were deliberately lit, therefore “virtue signalling celebrities” cannot blame global heating as an exacerbating force. Do not think about this for more than a single second.

By the time anyone checks with state police for actual breakdowns, you’ll have gotten #ArsonEmergency trending, made international news, stirred up disgust at unAustralian behaviour and moved the hell on.

It’s the drought, which has nothing to do with global heating

While riskier, you could try blaming the fires on Australia’s devastating, year-long drought, then do everything you can to dismiss the drought’s connection to global heating.

As Crikey has covered before, understanding the relationships between carbon emissions, temperature, rainfall and dryness, while absolutely possible, is tricky.

Exploit this complexity by misrepresenting the words of a scientist who misspoke once on the subject. Or, like Craig Kelly and Malcolm Roberts, just chuck some rainfall averages at the wall and see what sticks.

At a stretch, try Gina Rinehart’s tactic of blaming dam restrictions.

Go high and/or low

Say you’re a multi-billion-dollar fossil fuel company, one that received $60 million from the Coalition for a botched carbon-capture project: chuck $1 million to the Red Cross! Or, if you don’t feel like rustling up that cash, try a nice New Year’s tweet instead.

If you’re a media conglomerate single-handedly responsible for normalising climate denialism and poisoning every chance of political action, donate the equivalent of a day’s worth of metro advertising.

Of course, if you prefer the low road, try attacking a UK meteorologist as an “ignorant pommy girl” then sulk with friends who’ll laud your scientific genius.

Point out that the Coalition won the climate election; how smirking Albo is “almost gleeful in linking bushfires with climate change”; and claim that Professor Tim Flannery is not a climate scientist but a “mammalogist and ACTIVIST“.

Basically, tell the climate cultists to get over themselves. Enormous plumes of toxic smoke will blow away and it’s not the end of the world… quite yet.

Australia can’t do everything so it should do nothing

If you’re forced, finally, to acknowledge that global heating exacerbates bushfires, pretend your government or news empire have always said that and it’s quite rude, actually, of anyone to remember ongoing examples to the contrary.

Point to some dodgy accounting and seven years of “soil magic” as an excuse for climate action, and be sure to take credit for renewable policies you tried to kill (for extra points, try outright lying about Australia leading globally on “per capita” investment).

Stress Australia’s comparatively small total contribution to emissions (do not try per capita here, that gets ugly real quick). If pushed, pretend opponents are trying to claim that the country’s emissions — or the emissions of any one country — are directly responsible for the fires.

Hint that you might “evolve” your current soil-based policies and will consider up to 100 new technologies rather than the 4-5 we know work; include your favourite stalking horse, carbon capture and storage.

If you happen to be a media company dragged kicking and screaming over the line, make sure to still couch any acknowledgements of global heating between equivocation on “long-established facts of the Australian landscape”, like drought and fire, and the helplessness of a “marginal emitter”.

Ignore that our accounting cheat actively helped derail the UN’s planned carbon market only a month ago; refer to that bungle as more of a global lack of “political momentum” rather than something Australia did. Lavish praise on any political commitments not to take action..

Finally, go the standard routine of economic fear-mongering — The Oz gets extra points for directly pitting transition costs against “the wealth necessary if we are to respond to the bushfire crisis” — and everything will go back to normal in no time.

Politically speaking, at least.

Peter Fray

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