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Our very own Marie Antoinette moment

It is a sign of the times that, within the worst cost-of-living crisis in Australia for nearly a century, we are even contemplating the return of the Spring Racing Carnival in Melbourne.

We are in the grip of an inequality tsunami. Never have so many gone hungry. Never have so many been actually homeless. Never have the wage-earners of this country struggled so hard to make ends meet.

The last four years have seen arguably the worst bushfire season in recorded history, a severe drought, and now catastrophic floods down the entire east coast, from Queensland to Tasmania.

There is a meaningless debate as to whether floods are worse than bushfires. It does not matter; both devastate the land, and blight the lives of the humans who live anywhere near them. Of course the damage to the economy leaks out to the region, the state, and the whole country.

Although Australia is a land of weather extremes, it becomes clearer every day that something is indeed very wrong. Not only with our own weather and climate, but that of the entire planet.

Deadly floods in parts of Europe, and then drought with the following summer. Record temperatures in Britain and across Scandinavia. In North America, heatwaves and wildfires to the west, and ruinous floods and hurricanes to the east.

South America’s rainfall patterns are out of whack, Andean glaciers are melting, while the Amazon disappears, square mile by square mile. The continent is heating up, and millions are leaving for the United States.

In the Arctic Ocean winter ice is becoming a novelty. The Antarctic is calving icebergs bigger than buildings. Penguins in the south, and polar bears in the north are becoming the sacrificial victims of our negligence.

A pandemic which has so far killed millions, and continues to kill the unvaccinated, and the vulnerable. A special group in Australia, the elderly, are being covertly sacrificed to our hedonism and greed.

Africa is reeling from crop failures, drought and the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Very few are vaccinated, and millions are moving out of their homes, in search of a better life. Nigeria is in the grip of floods, and in the neighbouring Indian sub-continent both Pakistan and Bangladesh have been battered by great heat last year, and now flooding rains.

There is a war in Ukraine. The parallels with Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 are chilling, and the level of destruction and suffering inflicted on the Ukrainian civilians is almost mediaeval in its mindless cruelty.

Of course, with the invasion, Russia has destroyed the goal of transitioning away from fossil fuel, because winter is coming, and Europe depends on Russian gas for its heating needs.

This feeds into the developed countries’ apparent reluctance to do anything meaningful about reducing emissions. So the earth is caught in a pincer movement, between allowing millions of Ukrainians to die of the cold, or allow human civilisation to be cooked by climate change.

And what does Australia do at this time of existential threats? We party. We go to the races, and we waste millions of dollars on pretentious food and wine, while 3 million of our fellow citizens are having to skip meals, and sleep in cars.

One must admire such wilful blindness. Even as the middle class complain of the rise in interest rates, and business complains that one of these days workers MIGHT get a small pay rise, they are guzzling French Champagne, and eating canapes.

Never mind the 3 million Australians who are struggling for life, under the misapprehension that in Australia we do not allow our fellows to starve to death.

As Marie Antoinette was rumoured to have said, “let them eat cake,” we are just about in the same league, with our tone deaf response to inequality, and our clamour to not see the misery around us.

Our federal government continues to dally, trailing its coat on tax cuts for the rich. How many of them, from all the parties, will find that parliamentary business leaves them no choice but to be in the environs of Flemington at around the time the races kick off.

If caught out, they will apologise, and pay it back. No three months in jail for them, for defrauding their employer. Just apologise, and pay it back.

Hunter S. Thompson wrote his famous piece on the Kentucky Derby, and the beasts who debase themselves in and around the racetrack. Read it here and weep.


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  1. Hotspringer

    A hesitant baby step or two in the right direction, but subsidies for fossil fuels, no relief for the unemployed and homeless, things haven’t changed much.

  2. Roswell

    Spot on, Mark.

    I’ve been reading that Zuckerberg and Bezos have both lost billions this week and the articles were written in a way that we should feel sorry for them.

    Yes, both articles were on Murdoch online sites.

    As if we care.

  3. Canguro

    Another timely essay, Mark, and from my perspective, often voiced within these pages, the more we bring these issues to attention the greater the possibility that there just might be some action that actually aids and abets the deferring of the apocalyptic consequences of global warming. Recent UN reports are not encouraging. The fossil fuel giants are not going to go quietly into the dark. Their profits are soaring, and like any devotee to the god Mammon, they will continue to make hay while the sun shines, or, better, make profits while the oil flows.

    The Marie Antoinette phenomenon has, to be fair, been around for a very long time. Didn’t the Romans do something similar with the gladiators and the Colosseum? Distraction is an ancient ruse, well-practiced, and still effective, television and pop culture, along with sporting events, are prime examples of keeping the masses distracted and asleep. If TV, for example, broadcast apocalyptic messages each and every day, signifying just how close to calamity we are, and getting closer by the day, perhaps we’d sit up and take notice, but it’s not going to happen. The system is skewed towards other priorities, like making as much money as possible for the corporates, and keeping the plebs quietly ignorant.

    I might just take exception to your comment that ‘the earth is caught in a pincer movement, between allowing millions of Ukrainians to die of the cold, or allow human civilisation to be cooked by climate change.’

    It might be simply a matter of awkward semantics or syntax, but it’s not the earth that’s caught… she’ll cope, recover, adapt to the new paradigm of ecological armageddon; human civilisation is well & truly on the path to being cooked, and what happens to the Ukrainians is a matter for the rest of Europe along with Russia to deal with.

    There’s nothing binary within the cooking or freezing postulates.

  4. wam

    Drivel, mark, Floods and fire rejuvenate the land and have done so from time immemorial. Today they inconvenience and sometimes kill the occupiers and their artificial structures.
    Green house gases certainly affect the flora and fauna in frozen areas of the world especially antarctic and arctic ice.
    Consequently, the rise in the oceans are disastrous for Pacific islands and lowlands.
    One day climate change bellowists are going to look at venus and make the connection to our fate.

  5. New England Cocky

    What an excellent, thoughtful article nailing the present ruling class euphoria of the Melbourne Cup with the alterative long lasting consequences of unthinking that accompanies a mind inflicted with the ”get rich quick” mentality.

    I proffer my condolences to Bezos & Zuckerberg for the loss of their financial accumulations while millions are starving in East Africa and indeed the USA (United States of Apartheid). Perhaps if corporate executives took the lead and directed their corporations to pay the same tax rate as their employees then the ”American Dream” of Hollywood cinema would not be replaced by the ”American Nightmare” of social disintegration we see nightly on evening news television.

    Readers will have to excuse wam (above) for his climate denying position. Perhaps a working holiday on a sinking South Pacific island nation would convince him that the reality ”preached” by climate scientists for over 30 years is just that, ”reality” coming to ”civilised” mankind residing in ”economically advanced” countries.

  6. leefe

    “I’ve been reading that Zuckerberg and Bezos have both lost billions this week … ”

    Thanks for cheering me up this morning, Roswell. Reading that is better than a double dose of caffeine.

  7. wam

    Wow NEC excuse me for relating greenhouse gases to a greenhouse effect as for climate let me know when your climate has changed when mine is still hot and dry hot and wet with a build up and build down in between.
    I wonder what you think I meant by:
    “the rise in the oceans are disastrous for Pacific islands and lowlands.”
    Perhaps you are unable to understand how the words “climate” and “change” together present no danger to human kind. But greenhouse gases do. You should stick to what you believe and continue to give the real deniers a excuse to ignore the looming greenhouse disaster.

  8. Clakka

    Indeed. Responsibility, ooops.

    Friday, read a fine essay in The Conversation, ‘in praise of the ‘horror master’ Stephen King’ https://theconversation.com/friday-essay-in-praise-of-the-horror-master-stephen-king-192507, and last night listened to RN’s James Carleton’s ‘God Forbid’ on ‘How we Understand Sin Today’, the seven deadly sins, especially greed.

    It seems from the essay that the trope of nostalgia, with all its omissions, allows us in the face of scripted past horrors and perditions to derive a satisfactory fantasy. We have overcome and exist, so for the now and future, we can bury our heads in the sand, assured that the cycle will be repeated.

    For the secular this may suffice. However, also entrapped by nostalgia, the theological evangelists, by evidence of the burgeoning normalisation of participation in the seven deadly sins, reason their pandemic of blind faith. Through fire, brimstone and alternate pleasures they seem to insist that that the only redemption is to join with them, invest all in them, so that to the elimination of the ‘other’ they may all be great.

    Goodness. I’m reminded of the Skyhooks’ ‘Horror Movie’, not only via the oldest of tomes, but also right there on my TeeVee. What a complicated war of sophistry, believers blinded by the light as they count the loot, a warm comfort to decimation. Armoured by bling against the ever-suppressed alchemists, the modern gobbledegook of epistemologists and the irritating blame-warnings of science. Such are the slings and arrows – zzzzzzz.

  9. leefe


    “Drivel, mark, Floods and fire rejuvenate the land and have done so from time immemorial.”

    Fire and floods at proportionate levels and reasonable intervals do so. The frequency and severity which we are curently experiencing is damaging ecosystems in sometimes irrecoverable ways.

    Try to get over black and white views and learn about nuance.

  10. wam

    Thank you leefe, sadly nuances are the stuff of intellectuals who are happy to call concerned people ‘idiot deniers’. Honesty is better. Everest in 53 Space 61 moon 69 We have conquered almost every climate and are contemplating conquering the climates of other worlds.
    Climate is an ‘average’ of weather and has always changed. It is a natural process which holds no fear for any of us simpletons, except when ‘nuance’ driven political parties use its confusion to fool us. Surely even you, NEC and a couple of women who post here, will concede the greenhouse effect, like on venus, will frighten us simpletons because its effects can be SEEN?
    Anyway the pedant in me dreads the outcome of green house gas emission. So don’t worry about the real deniers keep up the image that I am too dumb to understand your climate nuance and, stupidly, prefer to peddle man made greenhouse facts.

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