The elephant in the room

As the Category 5 tropical cyclone Yasi approached the north Queensland coast, a political cyclone was already sweeping Egypt. For days, Australian TV news was dominated by these two stories. Incredibly, in Egypt the main public TV station news failed to report the fact millions of Egyptians had taken to the streets in a monster February 1 protest against the Mubarak dictatorship.

Well you’d expect that from an iron-fisted dictatorship that sub-contracts to the CIA to torture its political prisoners. But surely we wouldn’t expect a whopping elephant in the room to be ignored in a Western democracy like Australia?

Think again.

As ordinary Australians struggle to pick up the pieces of their lives in the wake of a season of historic flooding and cyclones (even as the serious bushfire season is only about to begin), there is an elephant in the room that is barely mentioned by most politicians and the corporate media. It is climate change.

As global warming accelerates so will the frequency and severity of “extreme weather events”. This is the overwhelming scientific consensus and it is now our shared experience. So what is our society doing about it? Are we making the urgently needed major investment in a transition to renewable energy, a radical shift away from our petrol-based transport and a transition to sustainable agriculture?

Incredibly Labor and Coalition leaders are trying to suppress this urgent debate. With the help of reactionary radio shock-jocks and the like, they’ve even tried to intimidate people from making this obvious connection, by asserting that raising climate change is unseemly, a slight to the casualties of these catastrophes and unacceptably “politicising” the disaster.

Meanwhile, these same “mainstream” politicians are loudly sqabbling over who is to pay the clean up bill. The Gillard Labor government is even contemplating axing some of the few environmentally friendly programs it has to pay for the clean up!

If we flip back to the example of Mubarak’s elephant in the room, it is easy to understand his motive to suppress reporting of the giant February 1 protests. He is defending his selfish interest of hanging on to power, and the ill-gotten gains that come with it.

In Australia, it is also powerful interests that are trying their hardest to hold back a dramatic shift in consciousness of the Australian people that should come out of our common experience of the latest “extreme weather events”. It is in the interests of the giant coal, oil and gas exporters (and the banks that have invested in them) to actively turn our eyes away from the elephant in our room.

Ironically, self-interest did move one corporation to refer to the elephant in the room last week – though the story was relegated to the business pages of most newspapers.

“One of the world’s biggest reinsurance companies says Australia has become a riskier place to do business following a string of big natural disasters over the past two years”, reported Eric Johnston in the February 3 Sydney Morning Herald. Reinsurance companies insure insurance companies seeking to offset their risks of extraordinary claims on the policies they have sold.

Swiss Re and Munich Re (another major reinsurance company) have long been charting the escalating cost of extreme weather events and they have acknowledged the serious impact of climate change.

It is taking great courage and tenacity for the immediate victims of the Queensland-NSW-Victoria floods and Cyclone Yasi to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. The explosion of human solidarity that came with these disasters has mightily bolstered their efforts. However, we cannot leave it at that. There will be ever more severe and more frequent extreme weather events unless we address climate change.

These latest catatrophes have hardened the resolve of us in Green Left Weekly to speak up even more loudly in 2011 on the urgency of seriously addressing climate change. You can help us speak out by making a contribution to our $250,000 Fighting Fund appeal.

You can donate online today at

Direct deposits can be made to Green Left Weekly, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992.

Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or phone in a donation on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia).

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