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“A political stunt by a man with experience selling news”

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“Maybe Australia is more of a prodigal son”

In 1973, EF Schumacher, the German-born economist and former advisor to the UK National Coal Board, published Small Is Beautiful – his classic critique of the economies of limitless production and perpetual growth that fueled capitalism and communism alike. The problem, he claimed, arises from the “Western man’s attitude to nature” (emphasis added in the original). This being, which Schumacher also called “modern man”, “did not experience itself as part of nature, but as an external force destined to rule and conquer it. He even speaks of a fight with nature, forgetting that if he wins the fight, he will be on the losing side. It describes well the ethos of those who colonized Australia, an event that coincided with the birth of the modern industrial age. The struggle against nature is what happened over the next two centuries. The Norfolk Island petrel, which died out around 1800, may not even have been the first victim of this war. The subsequent devastation of Australia’s flora and fauna was apocalyptic. Yet, despite the profundity of Schumacher’s words and the millions more that followed from those affected by the ecological devastation, little had changed on the part of conservative politics in Australia by 2019.They live at the extreme end of the political spectrum. Rivers, forests, minerals, oceans, and animals were and are resources that should only be used for human benefit, and these benefits are measured in short-term economic gains. The taming of nature was and is virtuous.

The American writer Bill McKibben was instrumental in the increasing number of warning words that followed Schumacher’s writing against materialism. His book The End of Nature was published in 1990 and is considered the first popular work to address the “greenhouse effect”. It was also an early volley in the ideological battle over climate science. The relationship between carbon and climate had been known to scientists since the 1960s. In 1988 James became the respected climate modeler

Hansen proclaimed the irrefutability of man-made global warming. The political and industrial campaign to undermine its discovery began the following year. The first IPCC report to support Hansen’s thesis was published in 1990. This year McKibben wrote: “We change the atmosphere and with it we change the weather”. With that, he argued, we end nature. He described what was later called the Anthropocene, the geological epoch in which humans, not just natural forces, changed the way the earth worked.

Australia was not mentioned in The End of Nature, but 25 years later the author was well aware of the country’s role in the politics and science of climate change. In November 2018, McKibben informed readers of the New York Review of Books that the “Prime Minister of Australia, the world’s largest coal exporter, is now Scott Morrison, a man known for bringing a piece of anthracite to Parliament and it.” passed around so that everyone could “. marvel at its size ”. The article was a pessimistic review of the latest IPCC special report, which McKibben noted, began in the hope of keeping global warming at “1.5 ° C above pre-industrial levels” following the 2015 Paris Agreement. However, the report came at a very different “age” – following the 2016 election of Donald Trump, the endless distraction of Brexit, and the appointment of Scott Morrison in August 2018.

The new Australian Prime Minister embodied the demographics around which many of the populist elements of the climate debate revolved. Where former national leaders came from the legal, business, union movement, and simply the professional or dynastic world of politics, he appeared as the archetypal “father”, cap-wearer, and football lover. The political historian and commentator Judith Brett has described her as an “exuberant public suburban personality”. That Morrison was an advertising manager before he became a politician undoubtedly contributed to the skillful promotion of that image. The Prime Minister’s demonstrated belief in the harmlessness of coal was the political ploy of a man experienced in selling embassies.

But it could also have been conviction. Scott Morrison is a man of faith. He is a Pentecostal. His way of Christianity is that God intervenes directly in daily life and the Bible is to be understood literally. Many followers of this doctrine believe that the earth was created in six days and that “man” should have “dominion” over every living being. Dedication is also rewarded with success and wealth. This so-called “prosperity gospel” is preached at Morrison’s local Horizon Church near the Pacific coast in Sydney’s southern suburbs. Such biblical literalism and the acceptance of the material advantages of religiosity contradict Schumacher’s economics of the “small” and, by the way, the conservative Catholicism of James McAuley, who despised the modernity celebrated by contemporary Christian fundamentalism. Such a belief simply makes the science of climate change irrelevant.

Morrison’s belief in a coal-fired future for Australia received a democratic mandate in the 2019 elections. The poll was widely viewed as a referendum on climate change, and the result came as a surprise to Morrison himself. “I’ve always believed in miracles,” he said with a grin, but without irony. It could have been an allusion to divine intervention and thus the approval of his god. The Prime Minister has certainly recognized the role of the Queensland voters in helping to win the victory and made clear their desire to dismantle the Galilee Basin in the process. Morrison also thanked the “Calm Australians” who supported him and pledged to “ensure a fair lot for those who try”. Outwardly they were the stubborn, the lazy, and the noisy – those who weren’t ready to be part of the Lucky Country dream.

In September of that year, Morrison was celebrated by Donald Trump during the Prime Minister’s state visit to Australia’s great ally in the Pacific. It was a rare courtesy. Much was made of the friendship between the two countries, which, measured against the First World War, was 100 years old; but a little older if the Great White Fleet visit in 1908 is the start date. In Ohio, Morrison was seized with exuberance and admiration at one of Trump’s many rallies, which were usually attended by white nationalists in hats, climate change deniers, and Christians. “The President and I are here because we believe in jobs,” he shouted.

At the same time, a Swedish teenager named Greta Thunberg was addressing a completely different audience at the United Nations climate change summit in New York: “We are at the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and a fairy tale of eternal economic growth”. It was a mix of EF Schumacher and Bill McKibben, delivered with remarkable courage, passion and eloquence. Many young people in Australia saw her as a heroic role model and protested accordingly. The tough men in Murdoch’s media responded with misogyny and condescending disparagement. Scott Morrison preferred “calm Australians” to outspoken Swedes, saying “We should let our children be kids and teenagers as teenagers”.

The following month the Prime Minister visited Tuvalu for the Pacific Islands Forum. Strengthened by his election victory in May, Morrison did not apologize for his refusal to commit to a moratorium on new coal mines. He was “accountable to the Australian people”, not to those of the Pacific.27 When climate change threatened the existence of the island nations, Australia was first. When I heard this, I thought of the man who was unmoved by the sobbing woman from Kiribati.

I also remembered the very different message delivered when the Prime Minister announced a “new chapter” in Australia’s Pacific Partnership in 2018. At the time, Australia was part of a “Pacific family” and the unspoken threat that bound it all was the rise of China and the expansion of its Pacific influence.28 The contradiction has been criticized by island leaders and some in the Australian media. Perhaps the most outrageous comment came from the Fijian clergyman Reverend James Bhagwan, general secretary of the Pacific Church Conference, who spoke in the language of faith. ‘I love him [Scott Morrison] as a Christian brother, “said Bhagwan,” but he does not demonstrate the attitude of the Christian life and of course the leadership as a Christian … We have heard so much rhetoric about Australia being part of the Pacific family, “the clergyman continued:” … yet this family’s demonstration is not as strong as it should be. Maybe Australia is more of a prodigal son … “

However, the Bible offers many answers. While Reverend Bhagwan saw moral lessons in the face of impending climate change, there are others who find solace in the myriad messages of liberation. Not even a third of the population of tiny Tuvalus, where Prime Minister Morrison remained defiant of his country’s need to dig and burn coal, doesn’t even believe in climate change because God promised Noah there would be no second flood. 30 Faith gives hope to the powerless.

In Australia, science asks questions and answers that many Australians find worrying. It is sometimes dismissed as just another article of faith rather than a method of objective analysis. For former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a self-confessed Christian, climate science is a “post-Christian theology” and a manifestation of pre-Christian savagery. His followers, he announced in 2017, were like “primitive people … kill goats to appease mountain gods”.

In an age without objective truth, one’s science is another’s superstition. Faith gives hope, but it also allows excuses.

“We don’t feel like talking about it”.

Excerpt from Ian Hoskin’s new book Australia & the Pacific, published by the University of NSW Press.

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