In Australia’s infantile political theatre, approving a new coal mine and being sad about it is considered a victory for the environment, better and more progressive than approving a new coal mine while gloating about it and/or crash tackling a small child into the dirt.
From a certain point of view, this is even a little bit true. In the warped reality refracted out of Canberra via the ‘meedja’, narrative is far and away the most powerful force. So a minister squirming and feeling uncomfortable about doing the unconscionable does send a mildly better message out into the universe, an improvement over ceding the airwaves and their mesmerising quality to parliament’s remaining Neanderthals – bought husks waving lumps of coal around Parliament House as a proxy for being able to waggle their tiny Neanderthal dicks in their hairy Neanderthal hands, something parliamentarians have needed to recently be discouraged from doing any more. No arguments from me there.
But that’s not the only worthwhile measure, though, is it? In reality – a place that needs to contend with the laws of physics and not the laws of political messaging – a place that billions of future humans will be dropped into head-first, drowning and burning – the upset feelings of any single minister consigning more carbon into the atmosphere matters not one single fucking iota.
If anything, it’s worse if they feel bad about it, because that means they truly understand what they’re doing. They are conscious of their collaboration. Of acquiescing, of selling out, of standing by and making the future harder for humanity but by golly they feel a little glum about it.
Earlier this week, Tanya Plibersek, Australia’s Environment Minister, gave the go ahead for a new metallurgical coal mine at Isaac River (this just months after waving the starter’s flag on 116 new gas wells in Queensland). In the same week – because that’s how these things happen nowadays – the world began absorbing the news that global temperatures will soon pass the 1.5C warming target set aspirationally and optimistically at Paris in 2015. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) is now estimating this will occur before 2027, just four years from now.
In our collective global fever dream, this moment is significant because it marks humanity’s aimed-for (albeit, incredibly half-heartedly) best case scenario passing us the fuck on by. Whatever naivety still existed in Paris in 2015, let it die with the fish, the koalas, the polar bears, the Amazon, all the life that is now death.
There are caveats, particulars, of course, but on the longer timeline they matter far less than you are asked to believe today. Passing 1.5C won’t be a permanent fixture at first; as we breach this mark, the temperature will fluctuate around and under 1.5C for a while. But, inevitably, it will jagger on upwards making this a permanent shift. This much is clear.
In Australia, this means more fires, more red skies, charred trees, immolated homes, days when you shouldn’t breathe the air outside, lost lives, and native species extinctions. It will mean more floods along the east coast, more coastal towns washed away, sunk, possessions soaked, crops destroyed, communities isolated, timber homes rotting, a delectable petri dish for insects and disease. Eventually, for good measure, the seas will rise, too; our beaches will storm our beaches, marching relentlessly inland, only halted in places where the property values are deemed high enough to bother protecting with seawalls and other monumental feats of engineering. The Barrier Reef will be a treasured memory and no more, but then that will fade eventually too.
Just one new coal mine, what’s the big deal? Glad you asked and fuck you. Our path to this point is littered with endless miniscule moments that could have gone a different way. Their ripple effects are how we arrived at today. Consent to ruin is manufactured in these moments, again, and again, and again, slowly at first, then faster, until we’ve normalised being sick as a society. It happens along a timeline, a continuum of ever-growing wealth inequality dotted with crucial would-be turning points that failed to turn.
And this is the crux of the whole house of cards: those two points are inseparable. The ever-growing wealth disparity is inherently linked to the climate crisis.
And not in the way Gina Rinehart, Australia’s richest woman with a personal horde of 27 billion dollars, claimed this week in a speech to the Queensland Resources Council. “Increased welfare payments and net zero schemes”, she claimed, are why Australia’s budget is so tight; why we can’t buy enough tanks and submarines, our highest priority, she asserted. Inexplicably she neglected to mention that if multi-billion dollar mining companies paid a tax rate similar to, say, poor people, none of this would be a problem.
During this same speech, Rinehart urged her legions to spend 15 minutes each and every day spreading the good word about mining. ‘Please take every opportunity you can, be it talking to your families, friends, your Uber drivers, doctors, chemists or your local member of parliament, and others, or online or letters to the editor, to remind everyone of the essential contribution of mining. Please don’t let a day go past without devoting at the minimum, 15 minutes each day to spreading the mining message.’ To counter whatever effect Rinehart’s preachers have on this nation, her winged minions babbling away to uninterested Uber drivers, I urge you all to spend 15 minutes each day explaining that taxing the fuck out of these ghouls would begin to solve a staggering portion of Australia’s – nay, the world’s – real problems.
Or spend 15 minutes each day telling people that Gina Rinehart should go and fuck herself, both approaches are helpful.
Given that we are now seeing fairly definitively that the major party system is owned by forces other than the will of the people, it only seems sensible to ask why we’re spending all this energy caring about parliamentary politics? That feels more naive with every new approved coal plant, with every passing year in which wealth distribution grows more unequal. Wouldn’t it make more sense to start focussing our energy and drive at the people that are really in charge of this country? People like Gina Rinehart, her lobbyists, and her propagandists in commercial media, not her puppets in Parliament House.
‘Just one more coal mine’ approved (and let’s be real, there will be more) is the same approach as this Government’s fix for every other serious problem – a band aid that works in narrative land but not in physics land. Deciding today that we, a prosperous nation, do not have enough money to adequately feed and shelter the unemployed, while not adequately taxing our resources and our ghouls, is yet another of these turning points passing us by. For these half-hearted solutions to work politically, they just need to be enough of an improvement for the rusted-ons to semi-consciously garble back to people on Twitter. It is the exact same philosophy as raising the boot off the necks of JobSeekers by a fraction of what experts recommended, enough for the appearance of better – but not actually better in any meaningful sense.
We are a creative, energetic populace, capable of moments of laconic genius and inspiration. We don’t have to remain a hole in the ground for the world to pilfer resources from. In fact, it’s essential that we change this facet of our identity. And passing 1.5C does not mean the fight is over – because 1.5C is magnitudes better than 1.6C, or 1.7C, et cetera. This is an ever-war, each fraction of a degree a battle.
On this front, unless the major party stronghold over Canberra is shattered, parliamentary politics is little more than a distraction. An intellectual exercise for centrists to debate at dinner parties. A tribe to join, a football team to cheer for. Wrestlemania. We need to constantly ask ourselves where power really lies in Australia, because the Government doesn’t appear to be the answer. These are the moments that really matter, the moments when people like Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese learn to grow fucking spines or become what they profess to be fighting.