Too cool a Fool - GulfToday

Too cool a Fool

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Australia-Fire

Australia’s fire season started last August, earlier than usual, and is set to continue for several months.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has shown himself to be totally inept when confronted with a crisis. He took his family to Hawaii for a holiday while his country was falling victim to 200 devastating firestorms which have killed two dozen people and a billion animals, destroyed homes and entire communities, and turned into charcoal tens of thousands of acres of forest land. The cost of the fires is currently estimated at $4.4 billion overall (Dhs16.2b). Smoke and ash carried by the wind created widespread pollution hundreds of kilometres from the fire sites. On New Year’s Day, Canberra’s air quality was rated the worst in all the world’s major cities. Although rain fell on some fire-ravaged areas early this week, mega-fires are expected in coming days.

When popular outcry forced Morrison to return, he stated firmly that Australia would not shut down coal fired power plants, reducing emissions that cause global warming, or cut down Australia’s exports of coal. The world’s largest exporter of coal, Australia’s customers include Japan, China and India, all major emitters of greenhouse gases which cause climate change.

Although Morrison claims Australia is “doing its bit” to tackle climate change, the country is one of the world’s largest per capita greenhouse gas emitters. Under the Paris Climate Agreement to counter climate change, Australia is meant to reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent as compared with 2005 levels. Although this goal has been assessed as low, Australia has not made a serious effort to meet the commitment. The opposition Labour party has accused the Liberal party government of “refusing to act” and accuses multinational firms and right-wing press barons of obstruction.

Australia’s fire season started last August, earlier than usual, and is set to continue for several months. Normally, it lasts from September to April, during the country’s summer. But, last year, Australia suffered drought, extending the fire season. Trees and brush have been dried by the highest temperatures ever and fanned by strong winds. While climate change alone is not blamed by serious scientists for bushfires, it is considered responsible for making them worse.

Nevertheless, Morrison’s predecessor Tony Abbott continued to claim “the world is in the grip of a climate cult,” while Morrison argued manmade climate change contributed to the fires but was not the only factor. The 2019 election campaign in Australia was slated to focus on climate change, but Morrison’s team managed to deflect voters’ attention to the Labour party’s plans to raise taxes.

Last weekend, Morrison announced he has called up 3,000 army reservists to help fight scores of fires which are burning out of control in Victoria and South Australia and threatening other areas. However, having no experience in fire-fighting until they learn how to deal with deadly and dangerous situations, reservists could be a burden on the country’s 6,800 experienced fire-fighters, 3,534 of them professionals and the rest volunteers.

Morrison also declared that he would establish a bushfire and recovery agency to help victims of the fires. He stepped in only after state and community authorities had announced fundraisers to compensate both victims and volunteer fire-fighters who have not gone to their normal jobs for weeks in order to fight fires. The insurance bill, so far, is more than $700 million (Dhs2.6b).

Born in 1968 in Sydney and educated there, Morrison has been Australian prime minister since August 2018. Although his party, founded in 1944, calls itself “liberal,” it is in fact centre-right and has adopted both liberal and illiberal policies. The party advocates economic liberalism and strongly opposes socialism and communism both at home and abroad. The party’s constituency is mainly middle class. The party initially welcomed immigrants and promoted Aboriginal and women’s rights, but in recent years, the party has favoured curbs on immigration and opposed action on climate change. The Liberal party is the largest and dominant member in the coalition with the conservative National party, which traditionally represented rural voters.

Smoke from Australia’s burning southeast coast caused red skies in New Zealand, 1,800km away, and turned snow brown on its mountains. Residents of Auckland phoned the authorities to report concerning weather conditions. The Tasman Glacier, on the country’s central coast, faded away behind a vale of smoke haze. Some areas were rated “code orange,” toxic for people sensitive to pollutants. The impact of Australia’s fires on its distant neighbour demonstrates that there needs to be a concerted effort across the globe to curb global warming with the aim of avoiding the invasion of one country by disastrous conditions in another.

Morrison’s behaviour during the country’s worst brushfire season contrasts dramatically with the actions taken by his New Zealand counterpart, Labour’s Jacinda Ardern, when an Australian gunman murdered 51 Muslims attending prayers at a Christchurch mosque last March. She promptly went to the community, one of the oldest in New Zealand, to comfort survivors. She followed up politically by engineering the adoption of legislation banning military-style weapons. By the end of year deadline, 56,000 had been handed over under an amnesty. In November, Ardern secured the adoption of legislation committing New Zealand to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050. The centre-right opposition National party voted in favour and the law passed by 119 to one. She commended legislators for recognising that climate change is the most serious challenge of the age, and said New Zealand “is on the right side of history.” Morrison and his illiberal coalition clearly are not.

A New Zealander who lives in Australia, award-winning actor Russell Crowe sent a message to the Golden Globe ceremonies in California saying he was absent because he was protecting his family and dealing with his fire-damaged home. He said that Australian bushfires are “climate change based... We need to act based on science, move our global workforce to renewable energy and respect our planet for the unique and amazing place it is.”

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