Australia’s bushfire crisis: We must break the power of the fossil fuel capitalists

Sam Wainwright

There are two positive things to come out of the horrific bushfire crisis ripping through our country: recognition of the connection between global warming and more frequent and intense bush fires; and the inspiring courage and generosity of volunteers and emergency service personnel to protect their communities, despite being hugely under-resourced.

For years, the Liberal-National Party Coalition government and the corporate media have tried to stop us from recognising the connection. Thankfully, this dangerous and irrational taboo has been shattered and, along with the spirit of cooperation and goodwill, we are better prepared to confront the immediate and longer-term challenges this disaster has posed.

It is obvious that the federal Coalition government’s failure to adequately respond to this crisis goes beyond the Prime Minister’s ill-timed Hawaii trip or his subsequent narcissistic self-promotion.

Firefighting capacity has not just been under-funded by federal and state governments, it has been slashed over many years.

The Liberal and National parties have been so hostile to any admission that global warming will have real and dangerous consequences for us all, it has led them to ignore repeated expert advice about just how much the fire danger has been escalating.

By crippling our efforts to contain these fires, they have literally sacrificed human life, property and nature itself on the altar of fossil fuel corporation’s profits.

An immediate expansion of both professional and volunteer fire-fighting capacity is required, and every assistance must be given to help communities rebuild in ways that will enable them to be more resilient and safer.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has to go and, if the outrage at his callous ineptitude compels the cabinet to sack him, then that would be a good thing.

Of course, the Coalition would simply replace him with someone no less reactionary. However, the more the federal government is paralysed by in-fighting the better, as this would allow it less opportunity to implement its anti-social and environmentally destructive agenda.

Better still, if the Coalition was no longer able to command a majority in parliament and are forced to an early election they should be thrown out.

But a change of government, by itself, will not fix the situation. This is because there is a bipartisanship over the massive expansion in fossil fuel exploitation across the country, the very thing that is aggravating the fires and threatens even greater catastrophe.

No amount of fire or storm preparation will help human civilisation to cope with a world where temperatures increase past 1.5° Celsius.

Australia cannot expect other countries to reduce carbon emissions sufficient to stop catastrophic warming if it is not prepared to do the same. Yet, this country’s emissions are increasing and the Australian Labor Party and the Coalition are encouraging other countries to consume more of our coal and gas.

In practice, both major parties are committed to pushing the world towards catastrophe. The reason is simple: they are owned by the big fossil fuel corporations.

The starting point for any serious policy that seeks to put a brake on the warming of the planet has to be no new gas or coal exploitation. Anything less is empty posturing.

Australia is a wealthy industrialised country that could easily fund a transition to becoming a net zero emissions economy and society. Furthermore, the huge profits that come from selling coal and gas on the world market don’t trickle down to us. To save life on Earth we have to make a rapid transition away from fossil fuels.

If we stop the rampant tax evasion by big business and end the colossal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry we could easily fund a transition to 100% renewable energy and undertake a massive program of environmental repair, creating jobs and rebuilding communities across the country.

The challenge posed by the climate catastrophe is also an opportunity to create a better world for all. However, while such a transformation is technically feasible, it is blocked by the suffocating political power wielded by the billionaires and fossil fuel corporations.

We can only overcome this by building a huge popular movement for change. This movement has to be active, diverse and be found on the streets, in workplaces, on campuses and in our local communities.

It will need to be the base from which springs a political revolution strong enough to sweep away the rotten fossil fuel mafia that controls Australia.

We all need to get active and play our part: we have a world to win.

[This article originally appeared in Green Left with the headline: “Dump ScoMo and break the power of the fossil fuel capitalists”. Sam Wainwright is a member of Socialist Alliance and a councillor for the City of Fremantle, Western Australia.

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