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World War III and our failure to defend against climate

Originally published: Pearls and Irritations on June 11, 2024 by David Shearman (more by Pearls and Irritations) (Posted Jun 12, 2024)

In World War III the enemy is not an array of tanks, shells and soldiers, but a collection of beliefs damaging to the earth’s future. The enemies are the minds and actions of those with the cult of neo-liberalism and greed acting through the power of huge industries, the enemy within.

In 2006 “Why we need a World War III approach to energy and climate change was written, and in 2018 “Climate change is World War III, and we are leaderless”.

There is one word synonymous with war—sacrifice.

In WW2 the minister for aircraft production said to the women of Britain: “Give us your aluminium. … We will turn your pots and pans into Spitfires and Hurricanes.” The pans came in millions. I was there! War leaders Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt had explained the need for duty and sacrifice.

Today conflict around the world is increasing and deprivation caused by flood, fire, drought and extreme heat are contributory. Most climate scientists believe humanity will soon face demise if present climate change and environmental policies continue.

The dire warnings of hundreds of scientists and many economic organisations are largely ignored.

Recently Sir David King, Chair of the Global Climate Crisis Advisory Group wrote:

Global prosperity has historically emerged from fossil fuels. But the stranglehold of fossil fuel giants, generously subsidised by governments and financially backed by banks, places short-term profits over the planet’s survival. This entrenched dependency stymies efforts to transition to a sustainable future, despite the urgent need for change.

David King also stated a “4R planet” is now necessary. The 3 of the 4 R’s being reducing emissions; repairing ecosystems; and strengthening local and global resilience against inevitable climate impacts.

The fourth R is the removal of 10-20bn tonnes per annum of carbon dioxide to the end of the century commencing immediately; expensive and currently not possible to any degree.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance has abandoned the prospect of limiting global warming to 1.5°C and now says that if the world wants to avoid a 2.6°C hotter environment, fossil fuel use needs to peak and start declining from today.

As yet we don’t have the word(s) to collectively embrace our sphere of defence. At the minimum it includes actions to urgently reduce greenhouse emissions, stop environmental degradation and recognise the greatest health issue of our time, climate change.

Let us call them our three survival needs—which are indivisible

The recent Budget speech

The minds of the Treasurer and Government would surely be focussed on the cost of our defences in the recent annual Budget?

Everyone listens to the Treasurer’s budget speech to see what goodies they will get but did the budget suggest needed sacrifice in WWIII? Did the budget deliver education on the greatest security and health threat of our time and its funding needing now? What an opportunity missed.

Let us consider his 4000 word budget speech and determine how our three survival needs and their costs were handled.

Incredibly it fails to mention the billions of dollars spent subsidising new gas developments as a budget item.

The word climate is mentioned once under small business “And investing $625 million to help farmers and rural communities reduce emissions, and better prepare for climate change and drought”. The figure was for a decade.

The environment was mentioned just once under the heading “Attracting investment in key industries”. It said “And strengthen and streamline approvals—across environmental, planning, cultural heritage and foreign investment” which fits with the recent discussion on the overdue replacement for the EPBC which many are now realising may be a Native Negative instead of a Positive Act.

The third survival need embedded with climate change and the environment is human health. “Expansion of our current health services is detailed extensively with Strengthening Medicare, and mental health, delivering better, stronger aged care, making the NDIS fairer and more sustainable and boosting wages in the care economy”.

Excellent, these measures are essential.

There is one important omission, the need to expand a greatly underfunded public health service to guide and educate us on harms and diseases resulting from climate change and environmental loss.

We are now witnessing widespread increases in the emergence, spread, and re-emergence of infectious diseases in wildlife, domestic animals, plants, and people. Covid was just the beginning. Many more such as bird flu are already here. The CDC will strengthen public health in the vital spheres of chronic disease and Aboriginal health.

Then when will we have a functional Centre for Disease Control (CDC) helping us cope with these threats?

The CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia, Professor Terry Slevin said recently “the budget for the CDC needs to be in the hundreds, not tens of millions of dollars, and the legislation that creates it needs to ensure it can function effectively long into the future including through periods when Executive Government does not prioritise public health”.

What will be the sacrificial pots and pans of WWIII?

The Treasurer also gave us his thoughts on “Economic security in a world of churn and change” and “To forge a new economy and a new generation of prosperity” when we need to talk about sacrifice, not prosperity in this WWIII.

The problem is that his new economy is the same pre-Covid economy which created rich nations that have brought the world to the verge of environmental disaster. Perhaps a report from a Ministerial Advisory group on a Circular Economy offers a tiny hope on the road to a no-growth economy?

The pots and pans can be delivered by the government for we are one of the most wealthy countries in the world. Yet 96 percent of economic benefits of growth go to 4% of the population and we find that while many families struggle with the cost of living, the total wealth of the 200 richest people in Australia has recently increased 11% to $625bn.

This gross inequality causes many social and health problems; physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage pregnancies, and child well-being which are costly and are not remedied adequately for the pots and pans reside with the rich.

Crucially, society needs equality to provide resilience to the economic losses and personal privations of accelerating climate change disasters. This must be the first pillar of our defence.

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