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Wed 19 February 2020
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CJ Werleman argues that governments which refuse to take action to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions are participants to violence.

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A remark made by the former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week garnered no global attention, but it should have been splashed across the front page of every major newspaper in the world – particularly because it spoke to Australia and the US’ stubborn refusal to address the single greatest catastrophe of all time: the consequences of a rapidly warming planet.

Speaking in Sydney at an event hosted by the Coalition for Conservation, Turnbull said that Australia should consider the “black spring and black summer” – a reference to the catastrophic bushfires – as a “turning point” to implement immediate climate change-countering policies. But, it is what he said next that should have sparked an instant global conversation.

He said that scepticism towards climate change among conservative politicians, specifically members of the party he once led, is being “reinforced and amplified and nourished by the right-wing media” – particularly Rupert Murdoch-owned news media outlets, which he said “basically operate like terrorists” “Basically they say, unless you give us what we want, we will blow the joint up,” he added.

Comparing climate change sceptics and those standing in the way of climate justice to “terrorists” might seem like an extraordinary metaphor, particularly from someone whose political party has made climate change denial an article of faith, but it shows exactly what climate change denial and climate justice obstruction is: a form of political violence.

It is impossible to make the case that it isn’t, given the recent Australian bushfires, which came on the back of unprecedented drought, changes in temperatures and rainfall patterns and burnt an area the size of Ireland, taking with it 33 lives and more than one billion animals, birds and reptiles. Ecologists described it as “omnicide”.

Climate change denial is not only a form of violence, but it is also a crime, given the millions of people around the world who are already experiencing the violent affects of climate change-induced storms, droughts, floods, sea level rises, crop failure and fires, while also not overlooking the fact that changes in the climate are contributing towards the outbreak of intrastate war through consequences caused by the mass dislocation and displacement of people. 

One can be an active participant to violence without being involved in the physical act itself. Governments that refuse to take action to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions are participants to violence, mirroring the methods of “terrorists”.

It is not that Australia or the United States – the only two Western democracies to not only deny climate change but also withdraw from a global commitment (the Kyoto Protocol) to reduce carbon emissions – can claim ignorance or a lack of information. The causes and consequences of an overheating planet have been proven beyond doubt, again and again. The more than 15,000 peer-reviewed climate change studies have demonstrated climate change’s measurable and predictable outcomes, and their findings have been substantiated by every scientific association in North America and UK.

Moreover, every prediction climate scientists made more than four decades ago has come to fruition. The earth’s temperature has risen by nearly one degree Celsius. The planet’s five warmest years have all occurred since 2015, with nine out of the 10 warmest years occurring since 2005, while 2019 was the second hottest year recorded. One degree warming might not sound dramatic, but it is producing more extreme weather events, ocean acidification, melting ice caps and glaciers. The fact that the Arctic’s oldest and strongest ice broke up for the first time ever in 2018 and that the Antarctica recorded its warmest day ever earlier this month should be all that’s required to emphasise the scale of the catastrophe that is now before us all.

New research shows that many of Asia’s largest coastal cities are already feeling the affects of rising sea levels, with as many as 150 million people now “living on land that will be below the high-tide level by mid-century”. The coming mass displacement of people and climate refugees promises chaos and conflict on a scale the planet has never seen before.

Chris Barrie, the former chief of the Australian Defense Force, says that Australia could be hit with the prospect of 100 million climate change refugees heading towards its shores. “Frankly, it would be beyond our resources,” he observed.

In All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change, Michael T. Klare argues that no major institution in the US takes the affects of a warming planet more seriously than the US military which he says “sees the climate threat as imperilling the country on several fronts at once… Droughts and food shortages are stoking conflicts in ethnically divided nations, with ‘climate refugees’ producing worldwide havoc”.

In 2007, all but one of the United Nations’ emergency appeals for humanitarian assistance were climate related. That was more than decade ago. Accelerating changes in climate since are putting climate-related catastrophes beyond the capabilities of governments and non-governmental organisations to react and respond, causing stronger nation states to become weak states; weak states to become failing states; and failing states to become failed states. In the security vacuums that invariably follow, violent militias and gangs fill the void, resulting in more frequent and deadlier intrastate wars. It is a dynamic that has already begun to play out on the African continent.

As such, wealthy democratic countries that refuse to accept and combat climate change are active participants in the violent deaths of climate-caused casualties.


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