Warming to prayer

This is what happens when your chief climate policy is prayer. Rainforests burn in the spring. Bushfires rage in two states before it is even summer. Rivers are silted with dead fish. Drought wrecks the inland.

“I pray for that rain everywhere else around the country,” the prime minister said soon after he took office. “And I do pray for that rain. And I’d encourage others who believe in the power of prayer to pray for that rain and to pray for our farmers. Please do that.”

On Monday, the minister for natural disasters, David Littleproud, said the question of whether human activity contributed to climate change was “irrelevant”. Essentially, he was saying he didn’t care about arresting climate change; he was only really interested in dealing with its impacts. He said Australians – and his view here was colonial and dismissive – had been “adapting to a changing climate since we first settled this country, and we’ll have to continue to do that and do that with the best science we’ve got available”.

To clarify, he issued a statement: “I don’t know if climate change is man-made. I’m about practical outcomes, whether that’s about having a cleaner environment or giving farmers and emergency services the right tools to adapt.”

Littleproud says he was interrupted. He didn’t get to finish the point he was making. Later, smirking, his eyebrows raised in burlesque, he said: “I’m just a poor, humble bloke with a year 12 education, but I’m prepared to accept what our scientists are telling us.”

This government is not serious about climate change. It treats the science as a punchline. Its policies are a joke. It will fail to meet its Paris commitments. On the latest United Nations models, climate change will be worse than was predicted even a few years ago. Whole ecosystems will collapse. Natural disaster will ravage half of Australia. Experts say the fires in Queensland and New South Wales will burn for weeks. More will come after that. There is no water to fight them.

The government’s inaction is ideological. It is reckless and it is stubborn. A good example is the support for Adani’s coalmine in central Queensland. There is no economic case for the project, but state and federal governments push ahead to show they won’t be cowed by science.

Australia is losing its influence in the Pacific because of its indifference on climate change. We are increasingly isolated elsewhere in the world. Sometime soon, the world will reach a tipping point: the climate will have changed to the extent where ecological disaster is unavoidable and uncontainable.

This point is close enough that David Littleproud may still be smirking at the dispatch box when it comes. The prime minister’s head may still be bowed in prayer, refusing to look up at what is about to happen.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 14, 2019 as "Warming to prayer".

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