Australia Is Burning. It’s Time To Act.
How many more bushfires, hurricanes, droughts, floods, and heatwaves is it going to take us to realise that climate change will not wait
Over the past two decades, we’ve seen disaster after disaster hit places indiscriminately: Californian wildfires, Japanese cyclones, Caribbean hurricanes, Ethiopian droughts, Keralan floods. Rich or poor, everyone can probably pinpoint some natural disaster that has hit their community within the last 20 years.
Now, it’s Australia’s turn. Not only is Australia stricken by natural disaster at the moment, so is Jakarta, with record rainfall falling on the city, causing huge flooding and landslides. But Australia is the focus — perhaps partly due to white, Anglo-Saxon media bias — because the scale of the fires is not just unprecedented, but, for many, inconceivable.
The fires look set to rage on, killing more people, destroying more homes, and wreaking havoc on the wildlife. The impact on the climate of the fires will be huge, but the problem isn’t the impact. It’s the cause. Climate change is exacerbating droughts and creating ever more extreme temperatures, quite literally adding fuel to the fires.
These fires would certainly have happened without climate change and the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere. But the reason that they are so big, so all-consuming, and so devastating is climate change, without a doubt.
And this is the story with almost every natural disaster. Hurricanes occurring more frequently, with greater intensity, and in areas further from the equator than we have ever seen. Fires raging across larger areas, with stronger flames and in areas where they shouldn’t. The worst flooding in years across South-East Asia.
With natural disasters breaking every record imaginable, it’s not just difficult but impossible to ignore. This cannot be a coincidence, and with a coherent explanation of how this could be the case — which we have — there is no reason why we shouldn’t take action now.
In fact, the gravity of the situation is even greater than that. We have a both a moral and existential imperative to act, to defend ourselves and those who do not have the means. The richest few create the emissions, and the poorest few suffer the most. It has to be the wealthy, polluting nations which lead the charge against climate change. It is a crisis we have caused, and it is a crisis which we — as the only ones with the means — must remedy.
However, in order to halt climate change, we require changes worldwide, particularly in the population hubs of China and India — neither of which are particularly wealthy, albeit growing. Therefore, our policies must affect the whole supply chain of our polluting products and services.
The top 10% emit half of the carbon dioxide and methane in the world, through their consumption. But the vast majority of emissions and ecological damage occurs elsewhere. Therefore, if we only target emissions at home, we will miss the point and we will have failed in our duty.
Setting targets, therefore, or using command and control policies which can only affect individual countries, will not be sufficient. Research and development investment, or renewable subsidies, are all well and good, but they don’t directly solve the problem, and they don’t deal with the supply chains.
Therefore, we need carbon taxation across the west, so that the true cost of our behaviour is internalised within the economy. We are not held accountable for what we are doing, for the ecological destruction we are causing, and for the lives we are wrecking.
Sooner or later, the cost will bear itself to us, because we will be forced to deal with the humanitarian crises. Therefore, we should start now of our own volition, to prevent the crisis and prevent the costs of it from ballooning out of our control.
A carbon tax targets every emission involved in the production of a service or product, and, in order to impose the necessary changes on non-cooperative countries, it is necessary. There are no viable alternatives that target the problem so directly, and on such a scale.
If capitalism and markets have helped to drive us to the brink, then it must be capitalism and markets which steer us away, but we have to take the action necessary to make them. This, ultimately, is the problem of the prosperous, and we have to deal with it.