By Simon Corbell
The unfolding tragedy of fire across south eastern Australia is reshaping our politics and community sentiment on the consequences of a hotter, drier, more severe climate.
Landscapes valued by generations as places of relaxation, sanctuary and unique biodiversity are being annihilated by firestorms of ferocity and power firefighters describe as beyond precedent. Too many lives have already been lost, as I write many more are under threat, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. Whole townships have been destroyed or face the prospect of devastation, and the extant of ecosystem and biodiversity destruction is yet to be fully understood but it will be devastating in its scale and consequence.
There can be no doubt this is a disaster of national proportions, a disaster fuelled by a period extended heat and drought powered by a changing, warming, climate.
It presents a daunting task for Australia’s political class. The political climate wars of the past decade have stalled effective domestic and foreign policy on how we respond to this existential challenge. This summer the consequences of delay and political finger pointing are clear to all to see. Not only is the crisis existential, it is no longer academic in dimension.
This requires a remaking of the political dialogue and of how our political parties engage with each other. It also requires a reshaping of how government empowers community to be more resilient, to be able to recover and rebuild, and to better prepared for the future implications of the global warming that is certain to come.
As life long member of Labor, and a former Minister for both climate and emergency services in the ACT, I have been proud of what my party at a territory level, along with other state Labor Governments, has achieved. Strong greenhouse gas reduction targets, 100% renewable energy by 2020, climate adaptation frameworks and strengthened emergency planning and response capabilities, along with a strengthened focus on the modelling of climate impacts at a regional level to inform policy and decision making.
But this hasn’t been enough. It hasn’t been enough to stop the fires, it hasn’t been enough to save lives, it hasn’t been enough to make sure we are doing all we can to abate the climate crisis unfolding before us.
Yes there will need to be a reckoning for those in all parties who have acted to stall, delay or prevent evidence based policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build community climate resilience. The electors will make their voices heard loud and clear.
But in this climate fuelled dystopia unfolding before us there will not be winners and losers. We have a choice. Either we can all be more prosperous from a transition to a low carbon future, safer from the extremes of severe weather and more resilient and connected if we act together to tackle the dilemmas presented to us by global warming. Or we can all be losers, as the planet warms, communities and ecosystems are lost or altered beyond recognition and existing economies falter and fracture under the extended heatwaves, floods and droughts that will surely come.
So our politics must no longer be about winners or losers either. Our political class must work together to tackle this challenge, on behalf of all of us. No longer should we tolerate the extremes of language and action from any party. No longer the climate deniers of the Liberal and National parties, no longer the 'centrists' of Labor who seek to say we can lead on climate and still support new coal extraction and export. No longer those from the Greens who make the perfect the enemy of the good.
To all of you I say no. I say no longer this dichotomy of thought and action. No more finger pointing, no more blame or excuses.
Instead our political class must commit to work together and push to the extremes anyone who seeks to disrupt or delay this vital cause, a safe climate for all.
This summer of fire and ash must be our catalyst. It is now clear that without a safe climate nothing else can be sustained. So it must be our first and enduring priority. And we must pick up and use the tools we know are available, and have been before our eyes for years, before it is too late.