How Many Once-In-A-Lifetime Natural Disasters Will It Take Before The Government Acts?

Opinion Nearly a decade ago, voters elected the Liberal National Coalition into federal government. If not for their demonstrable inability to lead on a great wealth of crucial issues, the federal government’s refusal to act on climate — to show up in a crisis — indicates that it’s time to send them back into opposition.  
Australians don’t need a new science report to tell them the dire ramifications of letting the climate crisis spiral, we’re already bearing the brunt of the impact. At the time of writing this, 17 people have died as a result of flooding in Queensland and New South Wales. During the 2019-2020 summer of rolling bushfire crises, almost 500 people died either as a direct result of the fires or smoke inhalation, as well as an estimated one billion wildlife. Billions of dollars in damage, lives lost, and livelihoods ripped apart. This is not hyperbole, it’s our reality, and yet we have a federal government that not only drags its feet on climate change, but actively fights against taking action.  
Lismore flood victim Ella Buckland is one of many who lost everything in the floods. She took to Twitter to highlight the lack of assistance, writing: “Lost everything I own in the Lismore floods. My home won’t be liveable for months. Homeless. There’s no [government] direction here. Community supporting community. Food running out. No fuel. No power… Is help coming soon? Does anyone know?” She wasn’t the only one.  Many flood victims have uploaded photos and videos of the wreckage over the past week, asking where the federal government is, where the Australian Defence Force assistance is — both state and federal government bear responsibility for such a delayed response and even as the response has started to come through, it’s been described as woefully inadequate. 

Australians don’t need a new science report to tell them the dire ramifications of letting the climate crisis spiral, we’re already bearing the brunt of the impact.

Once again, the word ‘unprecedented’ has been hauled out and used time and time again to describe this latest catastrophe, but none of this is unprecedented. The precedent has been set out in the science, in the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that have been available to political leaders for decades.
Australia is especially vulnerable to the climate crisis — we’re at 1.5°C of warming compared to the global average of 1°C. UNSW senior lecturer and climate scientist Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick  “[doesn’t] accept the rhetoric that we’re too late. Unfortunately… we are locked into 1.5°C of warming and impacts scale with the amount of warming we experience, so the hotter the Earth becomes, the worse these impacts will be. We are locked into some warming and we are locked into some pretty adverse impacts, but it’s not too late to avoid catastrophic climate change and the catastrophic impacts they bring.” If the pledges set forth at the COP26 and in the Paris Climate Agreement are met, we could limit “warming up to 3°C, but more likely 2.75°C by the end of the century” instead of the potential 5°C. “We’re heading in the right  direction, but we should be doing more.” Especially here in Australia, we’re not doing enough.  
A lot is done by politicians and certain commentators to portray Australia’s impact on global emissions as so minute so as to not have any real impact, so what are the facts? As a population, we make up just over 1% of emissions globally. However, as of 2020 we still made up a quarter of coal exports and became the largest exporter of gas. The offloading of responsibility by our politicians is all too familiar and it isn’t good enough.

Once again, the word ‘unprecedented’ has been hauled out and used time and time again to describe this latest catastrophe, but none of this is unprecedented.

We’re a wealthy country with ample resources and we’re too vulnerable to the declining demand for fossil fuels, as well as the ramifications of the climate crisis, to continue burying our heads in the sand. We have a duty to ourselves, to our Pacific allies, and to future generations. Our legacy of exporting energy will continue, it just won’t be with fuels dug up from the ground. Instead, we can bring our energy into the modern age, using resources we have in infinite abundance — wind, solar, and hydro-energy. And for a  political coalition whose main claim to leadership qualification is its talent for economic management, it is a  wonder the federal government is still so determined to ignore common sense.  
According to the Grattan Institute, in 2020-2021, the top five donors to political parties represented 39% of the Coalition’s declared donations and 57% of Labor’s — these are just the declared donations that make up just 9% of the total income the two major parties declared to the Australian Electoral Commission, income which added up to over $150 million (the conversation around donor regulations or the lack thereof is another discussion altogether). The major parties don't look accountable to the people — they look accountable to whoever is flushed enough to line their pockets, though this is not to say that certain third-party candidates do not have questionable sources funding their campaigns. 

How many once-in-a-century natural disasters will occur during our lifetimes? How many can we withstand? 

Natural disaster insurance is fast becoming unaffordable and these floods have already left thousands without homes and in dire need of drastic help. In fact, many along the Hawkesbury River whose homes are now inundated with water did not have flood insurance because it was simply not financially feasible. Two years on, a number of bushfire survivors who lost their homes over the 2019-2020 summer are still without homes.  
Our Prime Minister will show up in flood-affected areas this week, for the community, and for the photo opp. He and his colleagues will repeatedly emphasise their lack of responsibility as they have done so many times before. This federal government has made it clear where their loyalties lie and they don’t lie with Aussies. It’s time to vote accordingly. Vote for the candidate with a plan on climate. Vote for accountability and integrity. Vote like your livelihood depends upon it, because it does.

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