By Mike Scrafton
We’re facing a climate calamity, yet the PM believes Australians are more focused on the next holiday than threats to their children’s future.
In his recent address to the National Press Club, Prime Minister Scott Morrison typically infantilised voters and kept the focus on economic growth. He believes the voters, cocooned in their cloistered suburbs, are oblivious to the threats that will crush their children’s future prospects.
Australians have modest expectations, he avers. They just want to “run their businesses [and] own their own home, raise and educate their kids the way they want to do it, save for their retirement.” They’ll be happy if they can “take that occasional family holiday.” For these contented masses “there is no more important vision than having a country where we enable our kids to realise their dreams about what they want for their life.”
Oblivious to any encroaching dangers, the prime minister maintains that Australians ”remain well prepared for the future.” That is starkly wrong.
The federal election should be about global warming, increasing wealth inequality, irreversible environmental degradation, widespread species extinction and the seeming inexorable march to great-power war. And most critically, about the unquenchable thirst for economic growth lying behind these threats.
Election campaigns never rise much above budgetary baubles, three-word campaign slogans, pork barrelling, name-calling and personal slurs, and straight-out deceptions. The electorate and the media have been conditioned to expect nothing more profound or visionary from their leaders.
This approach to electioneering is undoubtedly based on experiences and practices that have worked in the past and now have become so ingrained as to be reflexive. The interrelated crises facing not just Australia but the world demand bold and fearless long-term policy actions. The answers aren’t clear yet and there will be risks, and failures as well as wins. But inaction would be wrong.
The merits of the global warming debate don’t need re-litigating, and reiterating the projections and warnings is redundant. However, it is worth noting that the next parliament will run until 2025. If radical action is not taken to reduce emissions, to transition Australia to a low-carbon economy and to adapt the urban fabric, settlement patterns and government services to a new, hotter, less predictable and violent environment, then calamity will be on us. These are issues electors should hear debated.
Photos and videos of Earth’s formerly amazing and diverse flora and fauna will astound future generations, because most of it will be gone. The sixth mass extinction is well under way, and global warming will accelerate it.
Grandparents will relate to their descendants the experience of walking through a pristine forest encountering ancient trees and unexpected wildlife, or diving on a richly coloured reef. Much of that has already passed. Preserving what’s left of the natural world seems to be an automatic government imperative.
For the billions of people that rely on environmental services for clean water, food and health, the priority is reversing environmental degradation. Australians are included. The news is constantly bombarding the electorate with stories of poisoned rivers and seas, plastics polluting every nook and cranny on the planet, land-clearing destroying human and animal habitats, dirty air killing urban dwellers, and environmentally generated pandemics. Land degradation contributes to species extinction and global warming, which will in turn intensify the impacts of degradation. What are the parties’ policies on these issues?
The phenomenon that drives these crises is economic growth. That won’t halt. It is beyond the capacity of any single person to comprehend the totality of the behaviour driving growth. Everyone who is poor or in an under-developed country quite reasonably wants more. They want to be housed and to have access to food, health and education for their children. It is a very human thing to strive for better for your children.
At the other end of the spectrum are the capitalists, financiers, exploiters and rent seekers. No government is going to force a major redistribution of wealth or put the system that produces jobs and revenue at risk. It just won’t happen without voter pressure. There is no appetite for it among political elites. There is no viable alternative system yet. And if there was, the disruption caused by moving to it would cause catastrophic harm in the process.
The most pressing need is to find a way to regulate and direct economic activity while maintaining prosperity. Clean, green, ethical, circular and sustainable economic growth must be possible, otherwise global warming, inequality, environmental degradation and species extinction will overwhelm us.
The amazing thing is we all know this. Presumably the prime minister does as well. Yet Australian governments can spend hundreds of billions of dollars on nuclear-powered submarines, warships, fighters, missiles and, even more ridiculously, tanks to prepare for a war that, if it happened, would drastically worsen global warming, do incalculable harm to the environment and see unnumbered masses of people killed.
If the prime minister is right in his judgment of the electorate, then a bleak future lies ahead. It is nonsense for Morrison to claim “we remain well prepared for the future”. If he believes he can convince voters of this, then he thinks they are dull-witted or ignorant. If the electorate is in such a somnolent state and unaware or heedless of the multiple threats to the well-being, welfare, prosperity, and human security of coming generations, then the prime minister should be telling them.
An enormous responsibility rests on the media. If journalists just repeat the trivial utterances devised by politicians to seduce voters, and lull them into believing everything can be fixed by unregulated economic growth, it would be a professional and moral failure.
These are incredibly daunting issues for politicians, and no policymakers across the world have found the answers, or the will, to fix them. Australian political leaders are no different. But to deny or ignore the issues, to pretend they aren’t there, is unconscionable. Time is running out and the best way to begin would be to acknowledge and discuss the threats during the election campaign. Voters need to demand the discussion.
Mike Scrafton was a Deputy Secretary in the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, senior Defence executive, CEO of a state statutory body, and chief of staff and ministerial adviser to the minister for defence.
This article was originally published on Pearls and Irritations.
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