The fires raging in Australia since December are the most recent face of the climate crisis. Still burning today, at least 30 people have been killed, thousands have fled their homes, and the air has filled with dark, choking smoke. At least one billion animals are estimated to have died! As many are badly injured, and so many more will die from the loss of food and water from the damage done by the fires.
While we have had terrifying fires in the U.S., those of Australia dwarf those of California: 16 million acres, an area of land about a third the size of Oregon, have burned since the blazes began. This is over 80 times larger than the total area burned in the 2019 California wildfires. From December to the present, Australia has suffered record-breaking heat. This along with a terrible drought has caused the blazes to come earlier than in the past, and to burn longer and hotter. While these fires burn, demonstrators in Australia have been fighting the Adani coal mine project, a new mining project which will increase the global supply of this most carbon intensive fuel, literally and figuratively adding fuel to the fire.
What needs to be done to reverse this climate catastrophe is not questioned by any scientist. Solutions already abound. They begin with dialing down all use of fossil fuels, and getting to zero as soon as humanly possible, transitioning to renewable sources, and diminishing the frivolous consumption that the wealthy can afford. They continue with replanting deforested areas, and transforming our agriculture, moving to organic polycultures (growing a variety of crops together) instead of monocultures (growth of a single crop, with no variety), and using animals in farms, so as to lock carbon in the ground rather than emitting it into the atmosphere. Why isn’t this happening?
The Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, shares a perspective with the leaders in the U.S. — Democrats as well as Republicans. They all continue to support the fossil fuel and auto industries, as well as destructive industrial agriculture, referring to the needs of “the economy” as if the economy were somehow a living organism in need of protection. What they really mean to protect are corporate profits and the control that corporations have over who works, where, when and how. What we see in Australia just as in the United States is that capitalism has made its choice: it prefers this destruction: these blazes, and the loss of animal and plant life to the loss of its control of the economy for profit.
We socialists say that this economic system needs to be dismantled, and replaced with a collective society run by working people, with all of the profit-producing machines, factories and land put at the service of human need. We may sound like utopians. But faced with the facts that are before us, we have no choice other than to take this system down. The dystopians are the ones who believe that those in power will soon see the light and change course.Featured image credit: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC-BY-SA 3.0