Over the last century or so, various parts of the world have suffered major catastrophes through extreme climatic events, financial crises, wars and pandemics.
The following musings are based on my personal observations and therefore significantly limited in scope, and I am sure readers could add enormously to the situations I refer to.
I think our politicians and generally our decision-makers need to take a good, deep breath before deciding how we want to live when we emerge from the current situation.
Climate change is an on-going cause of increasingly severe weather events, including all varieties of storms, fires, inundation and coastal erosion. The effects have generally been local, although – particularly in the case of hurricanes – they have sometimes progressed to damage several locations in a broader region.
Recovery has varied depending on the nature of the event, which nation(s) is/are responsible for coping with the aftermath and the accessibility of the locations.
The nature of a country and of its governance structure are also critical factors. Countries like the USA and Australia, which are federations of pre-existing colonies and states, have responsibilities divided between different governance structures. This can be both helpful or not, depending on the ability and willingness of the various levels of governance to cooperate.
For example, Puerto Rico is an unincorporated US territory, with a population of US citizens but with no representation in the US Congress. It was devastated in 2017 by Hurricane Maria, received limited assistance from the US government, remains very vulnerable, and, to date has received none of the financial assistance for Covid-19 which is available to citizens in US states.
Here, in Australia, firefighting is the responsibility of State governments, which can cause problems, both when fire events straddle state boundaries, and when major pieces of equipment, like water-bombing planes, are required in several locations and the cost of purchase or lease over-stresses budgets.
The major fire events in Australia in the southern 2019/2020 winter had begun before PM Scott Morrison had, rather secretively, gone on a vacation to Hawai’i, at which time national coordination and provision of services became a priority, but no mechanism was ready to swing into action.
The massive scale of the fires left property, livelihoods – and, more importantly – lives, destroyed in several states. Efforts to begin recovery have been thwarted by the novel Corona virus pandemic, so that, months after being left homeless and bereaved, many people still have had no effective assistance.
I must interrupt here to pay a massive tribute to our firefighters – particularly the volunteer ‘firies’ – and note the extent to which firefighters around the world are prepared to help anywhere! If only that were true of all of us!
Action on climate change has, unwisely, been put on hold – it has long been an issue where action has been strongly opposed for specious reasons by a significant number of Coalition politicians – and it is being conveniently ignored while attention is concentrated on Covid-19.
Unfortunately it is an issue we cannot afford to ignore! The numbers of people, throughout the world who are influential on government policies, and who continue to deny or ignore the fact of anthropogenic climate change, is rapidly declining in most advanced economies.
The hiatus which has reduced industrial activity and movement of the population by land, sea and air has had an amazing – and entirely welcome – effect on levels of air pollution. As soon as we get ‘back to normal’ – unless it is a really new ‘normal’ – most likely that welcome reduction in pollution will be rapidly reversed.
Research for viable alternatives to fossil fuels as a source of energy to produce electricity, power transport, etc continues, but without whole-hearted support from government in Australia.
IMHO it is critically important that, as we come to grips with living with a pandemic for which, like aids, we may never have a vaccine, we still need to continue working towards reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as much and as fast as we can and this must remain a government top priority.
Financial crises, and the economy, are issues kept in front of our eyes by economists and politicians, who seem to regard the population as being required to serve the economy!
The economists’ duopoly of capital and labour seems to humanise wealth and dehumanise the population!
My understanding is that money was created as a medium of exchange and is particularly useful when direct barter is not appropriate. But to hoard money which is not required for living but can be used to create more wealth is typical of the issue which seems to underpin most financial crises – which is greed. “The poor are always with us” is a well-worn expression but the growing gulf between the wealthy and the destitute is increasing daily.
The Great Depression affected my parents’ generation most directly but its horrors as depicted in, say “The Grapes of Wrath“, of which Steinbeck plainly stated his purpose in writing the novel: “I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Depression and the plight of the worker].” still live on in memory.
At a later time, there was the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), and the then Labor government brought Australia through that crisis more effectively – and with less damage to the economy – than was true for governments of most other developed economies.
It is true that, by selling massive numbers of assets, the previous Howard/Costello government had left the budget in surplus, which left a heap of cash to enable to government to pour money into lots of enterprises which increased community assets and employed labour.
But, what those opposing Rudd’s policy never draw attention to, is that surplus was the result of privatising government assets, themselves providing essential services, and now those who use those privatised services, as a broad generalisation, have to pay more in order to cover shareholder profits! Another way of transferring money from the rich to the poor, whereas previous government-owned services used part of the payments to keep people gainfully employed!
The whole function of a Public Service is to enable the government to provide necessary services, paid for with public money, some of which is then being recycled through the pockets of other members of the public by employing them.
Economics is a slippery fish, which is constantly being re-invented, as the outcome from the original theory does not match the anticipated end result. And we are the guinea pigs!
Currently, massive but incomplete, intervention in the economy, by the government, to save loss of live in the pandemic, and to provide financial assistance to some of those unable to work in consequence, has necessarily irrevocably changed the entire financial structure of the economy.
It is critically important, IMHO, that the way back to some form of ‘normality’, recognises that action on climate change has to be built into the picture!
The fact of the extent to which the current means of supporting people financially has drawn heavily on the much-maligned policies Rudd used, will be already grating on the Coalition, and it will be salt in the wound if they have to accept that climate change is for real.
But please remind the recalcitrant rump, that they are there to make decisions for the benefit of the nation, not for a small, select portion in which they include themselves! Conflicts of interest are too often ignored!
Wars have been a feature of life too many times and rarely for good reason – and they are loved by those who manufacture armaments and materiel!
We in Australia are wasting enormous sums on submarines – which will be out of date before they are finished – and airplanes – which appear to be afflicted with a strong disinclination to fly in a reliable fashion!
Just think how much good that massive outlay could do in alleviating poverty and distress here and elsewhere?
If some of that money went to underdeveloped countries, to ensure that women were as well-educated as men, that poverty was alleviated, that polluting sources of energy were replaced and triggers for unrest were addressed, we would not need to spend billions stopping the boats, and incarcerating innocent people in hellholes, while overpopulation would reverse, once educated women were allowed control over their own bodies!
And if you now want to get some ideas on how to run a country in lock-down, look closely at the way in WWII that the British government managed food rationing – which ensured that the poorest person had a right to food and had a portion available – and ceased manufacturing except for essential items, etc. It is not an exact parallel, but it demonstrates that what we think impossible is, in fact possible. Yes – it takes time to recover. But the alternative is far too many deaths in both the immediate and the distant future!
Pandemics have been a feature of life for millennia. we have, as knowledge advanced, become capable of dealing with them more and more effectively, but we are not without our limitations.
This one is likely to be life-altering – and we need to accept that – because it may never go away completely.
So we have to look carefully at replacing travel with use of the internet, working in an office by working at home, looking after our own elders, not dumping them in for-profit homes run by strangers and – above all – by understanding the true worth of those who help others at the worst times of their lives.
Why should a doctor or administrator in an IVF organisation get paid more than a nurse who puts her life on the line to look after a highly infected patient – with or without suitable PPE? Or than a care worker required to look after a patient suffering dementia? Or a cleaner responsible for ensuring that others do not get infected, while at great risk of her/himself getting the infection? Or an employee in an Early Childhood Education Centre, responsible for inspiring a child to learn about the world and how it works?
Is not anyone who is able to save, or help build, lives necessarily using skills of high importance?
I have rambled on too long but I am sick of living in a selfish world and being abused because it matters to me that others cannot have the good things in life through lack of opportunity.
I end as always – this is my 2020 New Year Resolution:
“I will do everything in my power to enable Australia to be restored to responsible government.”
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