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ASIA/PACIFIC ENVIRONMENT

Australia Fires Rage As Coal-Controlled Government Fails To Act

Firefighters battle record setting Australian fires in New South Wales. (Photo: YouTube)
Firefighters battle record setting Australian fires in New South Wales. (Photo: YouTube)

Despite multiple warnings that Australia would face “catastrophic fires,” Australia consistently ranks as one of the worst countries on climate change policy.

Australia’s worst bushfire season on record intensified on Tuesday, forcing thousands of people to evacuate to beaches as dozens of fires ripped across the country’s east coast.

“Apocalyptic scenes like these in Mallacoota, a vacation destination between Sydney and Melbourne, came on the last day of the warmest decade on record in Australia,” wrote the New York Times’ Isabella Kwai. “The country is in the grip of a devastating fire season, with months of summer still to go, as record-breaking temperatures, strong winds and prolonged drought have ignited huge blazes across the country.”

New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told the Guardian that the damage inflicted across the eight emergency warning fire areas would only become clear after the blazes come under control. At least 12 people have been killed by the fires so far.

“We’ve seen extraordinary fire behaviour,” Fitzsimmons told the Guardian. “What we really need is meaningful rain, and we haven’t got anything in the forecast at the moment that says we’re going to get drought-breaking or fire-quenching rainfall.”

Coastal areas in New South Wales were filled with smoke from Australian brush fires. (Photo: YouTube)

Coastal areas in New South Wales were filled with smoke from Australian brush fires. (Photo: YouTube)

Critics like scientist Stefan Rahmstorf condemned the government’s failure to prepare for the blaze, pointing to an IPCC warning from 2007 warning that climate change was “virtually certain” to exacerbate heatwaves in Australia in both intensity and frequency.

“The first obligation of government is to protect citizens,” tweeted Greenpeace Australia Pacific CEO David Ritter. “Since 2013, there have been at least 18 expert warnings of climate change bringing catastrophic fires. Not only is there no effective plan to cut emissions, but Morrison and co knew this was coming and did not prepare.”

Common Dreams’ Eoin Higgins slammed the PM’s callous response to the crisis, writing that “Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison enjoyed a lavish New Year’s Eve party, complete with fireworks,” while volunteer firefighters risked their lives to fight the flames.

Australia has consistently been ranked at the bottom of the annual Climate Change Policy Index analysis of the world’s top 57 emitting nations, with one analysis showing the country responsible for 5% of global carbon emissions when including its coal and gas exports. “The most recent analysis ranked Australia as the sixth worst country on climate change overall,” noted the Guardian.

Big Coal’s Network Of Influence Over Australian Government

A joint investigation between Australian investigative journalist Michael West and Greenpeace Australia uncovered the vast control international coal and gas interests hold over the Australian government, with at least 36 top politicians having ties to the fossil fuel and resource extraction industries.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s cabinet is deeply connected to oil and gas interests. His Principal Private Secretary, Yaron Finkelstein, is the former CEO of Crosby Textor (now C|T) a multinational lobbying firm that worked with Glencore, the massive, scandal-ridden global commodities trader, to wage a vast propaganda campaign to shift public and government attitudes towards coal. The operation, dubbed ‘Operation Caesar,’ involved a number of other C|T alumni-turned politicians.

Operation Caesar has not been the most powerful weapon in the fossil fuel industry’s Australian information war, however.

From Fox News to the Wall Street Journal, Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is well-known for spreading disinformation about climate science in the United States. But with ownership of two-thirds of the country’s print media, Murdoch’s influence may be even greater in Australia. Similarly to how investigative journalist Jane Mayer revealed the revolving door between Fox News and the Trump administration earlier this year, Michael West uncovered the revolving door between the Morrison administration and Murdoch’s outlets earlier this year:

“Many of Morrison’s senior communications team have long-held ties to the Murdoch press. News Corporation is pro-coal and anti-climate change.

“Positions taken by News Corp staffers in the Prime Minster’s office include Matthew Fynes-Clinton’s role as speech-writer. Fynes-Clinton was former deputy chief of staff and editor of The Courier Mail. Press Secretary, Andrew Carswell, formerly chief of staff at The Daily Telegraph and advisor Thomas Adolph, formerly with The Australian.”

West and Greenpeace revealed how a network of lobbyists, fossil fuel executives, and politicians have worked together to broker corrupt deals that siphon money away from environmental funds and redirect them to fossil fuel developers.

“One link isn’t significant, a number of links aren’t that significant,” said investigative journalist Michael West about his investigation into shadowy coal lobbying groups and the government. “But when you identify – as this investigation has done – a raft of links, and you look at the individuals, people going from the coal lobby to politics back to the coal lobby you can see that this network must have a powerful influence over government and the policies of government in this country.”

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a staff writer and assistant editor at Citizen Truth.

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