News: Fire warnings, protests and individual action

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The crisis a long time coming

Scientists at the CSIRO predicted in 1987 that devastating fires would be more likely to occur due to climate change. Dr. Tom Beer, who was responsible for the study connecting fire danger with climate change, blames fossil fuel lobbyists for action not being taken to prevent the million hectares that have burnt, wiping out homes and wilderness, and taking lives. “Those investing in the fossil fuel industry worked diligently to try to stop action on the reduction of emissions,” he says. “As a scientist you think many years ahead and out to the turn of the century and beyond. But in a business with investment in a coal mine, their interest is in what happens in the next five years. Those industries have been very effective.”

Dr. Graeme Pearman, who ordered the study, says the same: “I would blame most of that on the lobbying”, he says of the lack of action. “That lobbying has been extremely powerful in a country driven by the resource sector that includes uranium, coal and gas. There’s a huge reluctance to reign that part of our economy in with a more strategic perspective.”

The fossil fuel industry has had an outsized impact on climate change, both in emissions and influence. These companies have long known the impact of their emissions, and long frustrated attempts to reduce reliance on carbon intense fuels. Read more about the role and responsibilities of fossil fuel companies and their lobby groups in the Carbon Majors Report.

Is it right to protest?

Protesters have recently come under a lot of scrutiny by state and federal governments. New laws have been introduced, many have been arrested, and politicians have come out to denounce their actions, with some even calling for mandatory jail sentences. It’s not just people out in the

streets who have come under fire either. In an address to the Queensland Resources Council, Prime Minister Morrison has promised to target ‘activist shareholders’ and groups who fund litigation against mining groups.
Protesters do inconvenience traffic, mine workers and businesses who directly or indirectly make money from fossil fuels. To justify these kind of disruptions, we have to weigh up our ethical duties. Does the climate crisis present us with an ethical duty to agitate for climate action that is greater than our duty not to harm the interest of others in, say, heading to work or running their business? We consider whether we should protest.

Individual Action

More than 11 000 scientists have signed a new report warning of the severity of the climate emergency. They suggest six critical, interrelated actions needed to cut emissions such as eating less meat and stabilizing the population. While the report singles out the excessive consumption of the wealthy, acting on our own will not create the scale and speed of change we need. So what should we do?