Racist, selfish, scared. These are three words that I’ve heard used to describe the overall Australian voter base after the recent federal election, the population of Queensland in particular.
It’s been difficult to come to terms with the wave of emotions I’ve experienced in the past couple of days. Disappointment. Anger. Despair. Resignation, perhaps.
Three more years of the status quo. Of near-total inaction on climate change. Of focusing on the needs of the few versus the needs of the many. Of being more concerned about saving money rather than what can be done with it.
I’m upset, to say the least, but I suppose I should not have been terribly surprised. Climate change denial has increased dramatically in recent years, funded no doubt by those who have much to lose in the short term.
Though strangely, we all have the same amount to lose in the long term. No amount of money will save us when it’s too late, but humans have a habit of doing nothing until it’s just about too late to act.
To address the allegation of racism, it’s important to first point out that my own party of choice does not have a great track record when it comes to asylum seekers, either. The Australian people, for all their everyday compassion for their fellow people, have trouble recognising people from another country as actual human beings.
It is considered permissible to inflict upon these refugees every evil within our power, if only to ensure that they are truly committed to wanting to be resettled within Australia. We keep them detained for years on end. We inflict great crimes of injustice against them. We give them every reason to hate us, and then ask them to live peaceably in our society and one day learn to integrate as part of our culture.
It’s unreasonable. It’s unfair. It’s racist. Australians have shown themselves to consistently fail to recognise that we are global citizens as much as we are nationals. We are not just members of Australia, but we are part of the world at large, which is where both responsibility and blame can fall on us.
Wherever we refuse to help our worst off fellow humans, we merely increase the burden for the rest of the world. We have a responsibility because we are part of this world. We are rich enough to help others and help ourselves.
As for the selfish, it’s something we can all understand. Many people struggle to see further than the box of their own lives. The mortgage they have, the investments they’ve made, the jobs they’ve secured, the tax brackets they occupied. Those who have much fear to lose it. I get it.
But this fails to recognise the kinship we share with our fellow Australians, or even our fellow humans of the world. The climate is something that no one can ignore forever. It is something my generation may be forced to face. Or our children, or our children’s children.
And yet, people would rather not lose their investment properties. They’d rather not lose their boat, or their campervan. They’d rather have a few extra jobs from the new coal mine or power plant that will open up the next down over.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the great wonders of the natural world. It is dying. Coal and oil production and use, along with other industrial activities, are killing the reef. Thousands of jobs may be provided with these industrial opportunities. If the reef is destroyed, tens of thousands of jobs may be lost.
The Reef itself is the most imminent loss many of us can fathom. I have never seen it. Perhaps I will one day have the chance. I only wonder how long it will be before we can only wistfully tell our descendants about the splendour that once was, and how grateful we are that we were able to get a bit more raw material for a dying, outdated energy industry. That fact that Queensland cares more about short-term cash than their greatest natural beauties, or the future of their children, is something I cannot understand.
Most of all, people are scared. Many do not understand climate change. They do not understand how real the danger is. Many refuse to even acknowledge that it is real (though naturally none of them have any qualifications in environmental science to speak of).
They are afraid of what we might lose if we do choose to fight climate change. People fail to see that environmental loss encompasses and accompanies economic, social, and cultural loss. It will wipe out industries. It will obliterate countries. It will destroy entire peoples. If anything, people fear the consequences of doing something about the climate crisis because the stakes are too high for them to comprehend, and they’d rather not have to face the dreadful reality.
Climate change is the single greatest threat to human society that we face today, more pressing than the threat of a biological pandemic, or nuclear war. The former is out of our control, while the latter is a dormant threat one button away from sudden catastrophe.
Climate change is a slow, ponderous monster. It marches indefatigably towards the end of civilisation. It is entirely within our power to do it, but the weeks, months and years just before we are all wiped out are still too late. We need to act now to effect a reversal of this dangerous trend.
The ruining of our climate will affect all people, regardless of country, culture, or creed. There is no room for racism. It will kill us all and take from us everything we fight to keep, so there is no room for individual selfishness.
Last of all, there is room for fear. We should not fear the consequences of action, however, but instead dread what may happen if we do nothing. If we do nothing, our fate is inevitable. Even if we do something now, our lives will nevertheless become more difficult, both because of previous failures and because of how much more drastic the changes we make today must be. No one said this would be easy.
If we act now, we may reorganise the economy, restructure society, clean our air, found our industries on sustainable, long-term resource solutions, and rescue millions of endangered species from the brink of extinction. If we’re somehow wrong, and the environmental situation is not as dire as we had anticipated, would such a new world be so bad?