If you love Australia, climate change should scare the hell out of you
I love Australia.
It’s not a thing you hear too often from progressives. Mostly this is because we don’t go in for the pathetic jingo-nationalist, quasi-militaristic “love it or leave it” style patriotism that John Howard attempted to link with a love of country.
But I do love Australia. I get an absurd amount of irrational pride when I hear of Australians doing well.
When I read stories that Indigenous rock art might be among the oldest in the world I get excited and think, yeah suck it, caves of Cantabria!
I can still remember where I was when John Aloisi scored the winning penalty against Uruguay (jumping up in my home in Cairns and cutting my hand on the overhead fan), and like all sensible Australians I let out a deep groan whenever I hear someone start yet again an “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” chant at the tennis.
But my love has nothing to do with Australian Day and no, this is not an article about Australia Day.
I mean, of course we should change the date. As one who grew up in country South Australia from German ancestors, the English landing in Sydney has never resonated for me as anything more than New South Wales Proclamation Day. Thanks for the holiday and the cricket at Adelaide Oval, but otherwise …
Keep the public holiday – make it the last Monday in January – it is nicely timed to signal an end to the summer holidays. Call it “Summer Day” or some such and then find another day to actually celebrate the nation. Better still, become a republic and make it that day. But I digress.
This is not about Australia Day, but climate change.
Because I love Australia, and the real question is why don’t conservatives who refuse to do more on climate change love Australia? Because climate change will destroy much of what we love about this country of ours.
Much of what makes Australia unique and beloved by those of us lucky enough to live here is linked to the extremes of our land and climate.
This summer has shown how precarious our Australian lifestyle is
In my lifetime I have mostly lived in country areas – in South Australia on the Murray River, in Redlynch just north of Cairns, and now in the northern suburbs of the bush capital that is Canberra.
So I love our biggest river and the farming areas of wheat, sheep and dairy around my home town to the grapes and fruit in the Riverland where during uni I picked fruit in the summer holidays.
Then there are the tropics with Mossman Gorge, the glorious drive from Cairns to Port Douglas, the Great Barrier Reef and the late afternoon rains.
And yes, I love the surrounds of Canberra – where I can live near a national park with kangaroos and echidnas and be able to see the snow-caps on the Brindabellas in winter and fiery red of the trees in autumn and the blossoms in spring.
As anyone who has spent any time overseas knows, there is something about the sky in Australia that is different – that shade of blue so perfectly captured by Tom Roberts in his painting A Break Away!. That gorgeous clear, crisp blue.
I must admit I don’t love Dorothea Mackellar’s My Country. I find the poem rather maudlin, but perhaps I am biased because I am sick of hearing climate change denying politicians recite it as though it is evidence that climate change has not occurred.
Because here’s the thing – when she published that poem in 1908, the average annual temperature in Australia was about 2C lower than it is now.
And those conservatives who recite the line about “a sunburnt country” ignore that climate change is going to wreak havoc with everything we love – that tenuous balance of droughts and flooding rains, the ability of agriculture to exist on “thirsty paddocks”, our rivers, our wildlife where “orchids deck the tree-tops”, even the crisp air and “pitiless blue sky”.
This summer has shown how precarious our Australian lifestyle is – the bushfires that have not stopped since September; the mix of fires, smoke, dust, hail (and that is just in Canberra in the past fortnight). We are a nation on the extremities, where climate change will affect and strip away what we love much sooner than will occur in Europe and North America.
No patriotic Australian can be anything but angry to read stories of a billion or more animals killed in the fires – especially when you realise the koalas on Kangaroo Island are chlamydia-free and are essentially the best protection against their extinction.
Our wildlife is so exceptional and precious that the upset in balance that comes from climate change will render some habitats unliveable.
To read that the platypus is facing extinction due to human activity exacerbated by climate change should have every patriotic Australian filled with rage.
Conservative patriots love to talk up Australia “punching above its weight” on things such as sport or business or war, but they turn to self-hating cowards when it comes to climate change.
Yes, Australia “only” accounts for around 1.3% of emissions (of course well above what you would expect given our population) but given the fragility of our ecosystem, any political leaders who profess to love Australia should be energising our diplomatic networks and using every economic and political lever we have to cajole, convince and encourage other nations to act on climate change.
We should do this even if it is out of purely selfish reasons of loving our country and wanting it to remain in the same state that has caused that love.
If you love Australia, climate change should scare the hell out of you because the reef, our rivers, our wildlife, our fresh air, even, as we have seen since December, our relaxed summer holidays are going to be stripped away from us.
Our government has more reason than most others outside of the Pacific Islands to be demanding global action on climate change.
Given our wealth we should be leading the way – leading by example rather than leading to ruin as our current government has been at the most recent climate change conferences.
What we love about Australia will be taken by climate change well before other nations who emit much more greenhouse gas will feel great changes. And that should enrage us and our representatives, and it should drive their actions.
I love Australia and so I want action on climate change. And if you love Australia, so should you.
• Greg Jericho writes on economics for Guardian Australia