The climate crisis isn’t a future we must fight to avoid. It’s an already unfolding reality. It’s the intensification of extreme weather–cyclones, storms and floods, droughts and deadly heat waves. It’s burning forests in Australia, the Amazon, Indonesia, Siberia, Canada and California. It’s melting ice caps, receding glaciers and rising seas. It’s ecosystem devastation and crop failures. It’s the scarcity of resources spreading hunger and thirst. It’s lives and communities destroyed, and millions forced to flee.
This crisis is escalating at a terrifying rate. Every year, new temperature records are set. Every day, new disasters are reported. In Australia, we’re living through a summer of dust and fire. Hot winds from the desert are sweeping up dirt from the parched landscape and covering towns and cities hundreds and thousands of kilometres away. Creeks and riverbeds are being baked dry. Our cities are shrouded in smoke from fires burning for weeks on end, while on the hottest and windiest days the flames grow, devouring everything in their path.
Do our rulers–the political leaders and corporate elites who, behind the facade of democracy, make all the important decisions about what happens in our society–understand the danger we face? On the surface they appear unconcerned. In September, after millions of school students participated in the global climate strike and Greta Thunberg gave her “How dare you!” speech at the United Nations, prime minister Scott Morrison responded by cautioning “against raising the anxieties of children”. And when, in November, hundreds of homes were destroyed and four people killed by bushfires in New South Wales and Queensland, he told the ABC there was “no evidence” that Australia’s emissions had any role in it and that “we’re doing our bit” to tackle climate change.
Is Morrison stupid? Somewhere along the line it appears his words have become unmoored from reality, and are now simply free-floating signifiers, spinning out of control in a void of unreason. As the empirical evidence of the devastation being caused by climate change in Australia and around the world mounts, so too does the gulf between this reality and the rhetoric of conservative coal-fondlers like Morrison grow into a seemingly unbridgeable chasm.
But something is wrong with this picture. To believe that someone in Morrison’s position could genuinely be ignorant of the dangers of climate change is itself to give up on reason. The prime minister of Australia is among the most well-briefed people on the planet, with thousands of staff at his beck and call to update him on the latest developments in climate science or any other field he may wish to get his head around.The only rational explanation is that Morrison and his like are aware of the dangers posed by climate change but are choosing to act as though they’re not.
On first appearances, this might seem like a fundamentally irrational standpoint. It would be more accurate, however, to describe it as evil.Morrison is smart enough to see that any genuine effort to tackle the climate crisis would involve a challenge to the system of free market capitalism that he has made his life’s mission to serve. And he has chosen to defend the system. Morrison and others among the global political and business elite have made a choice to build a future in which capitalism survives, even if it brings destruction on an unimaginable scale.
They are like angels of death, happy to watch the world burn, and millions burn with it, if they can preserve for themselves the heavenly realm of a system that has brought them untold riches. This is language that Morrison, an evangelical Christian, should understand. What might be harder for him to grasp is that he’s on the wrong side.
When seen from this perspective, everything becomes clearer. In the face of the climate crisis, the main priority of the global ruling class and its political servants is to batten down the hatches. Publicly, they’re telling school kids not to worry about the future. Behind the scenes, however–in the cabinet offices, boardrooms, mansions and military high commands–they’re hard at work, planning for a future in which they can maintain their power and privilege amid the chaos and destruction of the burning world around them.