You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and you will have war.
– Winston Churchill to Neville Chamberlain, after the Munich conference, September 1938
The reality of the climate crisis can no longer be avoided.
Whether it’s Australia’s record-breaking 2018/19 summer heat wave, the disruption of the jet stream that has delivered arctic winters to north America and Europe, or the life-threatening collapse of global insect numbers, it is clear that climate change is already here as an existential threat.
Individual actions to combat the problem, like turning down your air-con or doing meat-free Mondays, barely scratch the surface. Proposals for economy-wide transformations better match the scale of the threat. The most current, and most promising, is the Green New Deal, promoted most visibly by first term US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The scheme borrows its name from US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vast scheme of public spending and regulatory reform – the New Deal – which helped to pull the US out of the Great Depression. The Green New Deal proposes mobilising the resources of the state on a similar scale to rapidly reduce carbon emissions and prevent the impacts of climate change shifting from bad to catastrophic.
The ambition of the Green New Deal is its great strength. But it is already being opposed by the vested interests of the fossil fuel industry, and their political and media enablers, whose profits would be threatened by the necessary phase out of coal, oil and gas.
They are not simply faceless corporations and lobby groups. They are people who have names and faces and addresses. Globally they include US president Donald Trump, former Exxon CEO and short-lived US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, and News Corp owner Rupert Murdoch. In Australia the familiar roll call includes Scott Morrison, Tony Abbott, and the compromised men of the Monash Forum.
They trust science in other area of their lives but have chosen to ignore it here. They play make believe when it comes to climate science because it is easier (and more lucrative) to pretend a catastrophic threat doesn’t exist than to face it square on and make the sacrifices that it demands.
We need a Green New Deal. But a better 20th century comparison is not the Great Depression but the immediate lead up to World War 2. Then, people of conscience and character could see the threat and chose to face up to it. They knew that the longer they delayed, the more difficult the task would be in the long run.
But today, as then, those who would turn away and try to postpone the inevitable at the expense of the rest of us remain in power.
As much as former Australian Prime Minister, and climate denier in chief, Tony Abbott admires Winston Churchill, he is much more akin to Churchill’s political opponent, Neville Chamberlain, in his cowering before a threat that is all too real, instead of taking up the fight.
Abbott has already suffered the same fate as his appeaser compatriot, who was forced to resign as Prime Minister in 1940. At the upcoming May election, Abbott will likely lose his seat in parliament as well.
Poetic justice for a man who has perhaps done more than any other to delay climate action in the hottest, driest continent on earth.