Recently we watched the Golden Globe awards. It’s an entertaining show and we gain insights regarding which movies we might want to see. Celebrities announcing the winners as well as those receiving awards occasionally will use the opportunity in front of this huge audience to advocate a cause or briefly talk about an issue important to them. This year was no exception. The devastating fires burning in Australia received several mentions, and for good reason.
Since September, brush fires have been devastating the land, the towns, and the people. According to a CNN report, approximately 1/3 of the country is on fire and experts expect the fires to continue, some out of control for several more months – perhaps as late as May. So far, 17.9 million acres have burned – an area larger than the state of West Virginia – and 70 times larger than the area burned in California in 2019. To date, 28 people have lost their lives, more than 2,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed, and as many as one billion animals have been affected, including 1/3 of all koalas.
While Australia always has a “fire season”, this year’s fires have been exceptionally worse. Australia is experiencing one of its worst droughts in decades and a heatwave in December broke the record for highest nationwide average temperature, with some places sweltering under temperatures as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Many experts attribute the severity of these fires to climate change.
Against this backdrop of a country literally on fire, the New York Times, in January, published a revealing opinion story titled Australia is Committing Climate Suicide making the case that as record fires rage, the country’s leaders seem intent on sending it to its doom. Today, Australia is the world’s largest exporter of both coal and gas and since 1996 successive conservative Australian governments have successfully fought to subvert international agreements on climate change in defense of the country’s fossil fuel industries. Australia was recently ranked 57th out of 57 countries on climate-change action. Australia’s conservative leaders are bolstered by Rupert Murdock and his publications which control 58% of the media. And to squelch public protests against government policies, new laws are being enacted to jail climate change protesters. So, as the fossil fuel industry pours money into the coffers of politicians who are encouraging more coal and gas production, Australia’s population suffers.
The dynamics of Australia’s situation makes me wonder if Australia is a portrait for the future of our planet. That is, politicians funded by the fossil fuel industries, mislead the public for their own self-interests instead of their constituents. I wonder if Australia is analogous to the canary in the coal mine – that is, an advanced warning for our planet of imminent danger. The “canary in the coal mine” metaphor originated from the times when miners used to carry caged canaries while at work in the mines. If there was any methane or carbon monoxide in the mine, the canary would die before the levels of the gas reached those hazardous to humans. The sacrificed canary enabled the miners to (hopefully) escape. I hope “we the people” are smart enough to realize when the “canary” dies and society begins to take more aggressive actions to reduce the burning of fossil fuels before we also become causalities.
One more thought from watching the Golden Globe Awards – a number of celebrities reminded the audience that they need to vote, and this time, let’s hope we won’t get fooled again!