Canberra and climate change - Op Ed, The Canberra Times


The Canberra Times, 30 January 2020

It’s become a common quip for Canberrans to ask when the frogs, lice and locusts are arriving.

The past few weeks have seen our beautiful bush capital cloaked in smoke, ravaged by hail, subjected to severe winds, and all but ringed by bushfires.

We’ve had people evacuated from their workplaces and our airport shut down, seen years of research lost to wild weather and a record number of calls to emergency services. This week, the Orroral Valley fire turned our southern skies an apocalyptic red. Animals have died in their hundreds in Canberra. Across Australia, more than a billion animals, including koalas, kangaroos, kookaburras and snakes, have been killed.

Not all of these events can be directly linked to climate change, but there’s no denying that a warming climate makes dangerous weather more likely. As former meteorologist and researcher Dr Clem Davis said, “with increased warming in the atmosphere, you are more likely to get severe weather events”. In 2008, Ross Garnaut’s climate change review noted that unchecked climate change would likely lead to more hot days, droughts, extreme winds, hailstorms, thunderstorms and floods.

There’s no denying that the world is getting warmer. Globally, 2019 was the second-hottest year on record, and the 43rd consecutive year in which global temperatures have exceeded the long-run average.  

In Australia, 2019 was both our hottest year, and our driest year, since records began.

Quoting Dorothea Mackellar and clinging to the false hope of normality will not save us now. This is not normal.

The bush capital wheezing through air quality more than 22 times the hazardous rating is not normal.

Bushfires affecting an area the size of Scotland is not normal.

Species being pushed to extinction is not normal.

To quote Nick Cave, the future is here.

Many Australians already know this. We’ve seen their anger and frustration in recent weeks, from the blackened towns reduced to rubble to the city streets where they march for change.

These are people who have lost everything but the will to fight for action, and that is what they deserve from the Morrison Government.

Our ACT Young Australian of the Year Madeline Diamond made headlines on the weekend when she stood alongside Scott Morrison with the words "climate justice" written across her chest. She said that to do what you're told and play by the rules isn’t going to result in action on climate change, pointing out: “We do have to step outside of the boundaries sometimes.”

For the nation’s sake, let’s hope there’s a few thoughtful souls in the Coalition party room who might listen to Diamond’s words. Or listen to their electors who worry about their own children’s future in the face of a do-nothing government.

These voters know when they’re being played by conservatives who’ve moved seamlessly from “the climate isn’t warming” to “humans aren’t causing it” to “Australia can’t do anything about it”. It’s the oldest trick in the book – when you know you’re losing, just shift to a new argument. More than that, the attitude that Australia can’t make a difference shows a pathetic lack of faith in our power to shape world affairs. Kenneth Hayne recently warned company directors that they cannot hide behind ‘learned helplessness’ when it comes to climate change. The same goes for conservative politicians.

Dodgy accounting tricks around emissions targets won’t help us breathe easier. Appeasing anti-science climate change deniers won’t stop the flames at our doorstop.

As Anthony Albanese said just a few days ago, we are at a turning point, and we cannot allow the events of this summer to be forgotten in the chaos of another political year.

More than 30 lives lost.

Thousands of homes destroyed.

Economic and health impacts that will linger for years.

I don’t want my three boys to grow up in a world where the Coalition’s climate deniers keep peddling their misinformation. For the sake of Australia’s children, it’s time to set aside childish things.

As Crikey’s Bernard Keane points out, Australia is the developed economy most at risk from climate change, so we urgently need the world to move more rapidly to cut emissions. That means showing leadership on the world stage, not blocking serious climate action.

Prime Minister Morrison must meet with the people who know what they’re talking about, including retired fire chiefs. Identify what wildlife habitats have been lost, so we can start to rebuild. He must develop a substantive climate policy, ensuring that Australia does our fair share to reduce carbon emissions.

The time for denial and distraction has passed. Climate change is real, and our action needs to be real as well.

Andrew Leigh is the Federal Member for Fenner, and his website is


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.

Showing 2 reactions

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  • Gordon Graham
    commented 2020-02-08 20:32:29 +1100
    Until an effective detoxification response to the 90,000 man-made chemicals we’ve been dumping into our little spaceship’s biosphere has been invented, developed and deployed sooner, rather than not soon enough, how do you plan to survive this advent of the 6th Mass Extinction?
  • Jennifer Garden
    commented 2020-02-03 16:16:02 +1100
    I totally agree Andrew. It’s good to some MPs in Labor saying what needs to be said. We are totally disillusioned with Morrison and his yes-men. We always have been, just more so since this summer, when it has become apparent that for them, nothing changes, but increased determination to maintain their entrenched position in government. Wake up Australian voters!

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