As 2019 closes, record-breaking heat, drought and fire still dominate the news. It will be a heartbreaking festive season for the bereaved, and the communities and emergency workers still on the frontline, but even more tragic if we fail to tackle the underlying drivers.
It takes an experienced fire and emergency chief like Greg Mullins to cut through the political dithering and call out the truth.
"The fires we are battling today started earlier, burn more intensely, have destroyed more homes and covered more ground than anything we've seen before," he said.
"This is not normal. This is climate change, driven by mining and burning coal, oil and gas, and it is aggravating bushfires right across the country."
The climate emergency has arrived, and with the first degree of the predicted four degrees of warming by 2100, this 11,000 kilometre fire front is stretching our capacity to respond. Weeks of smoke have replaced the clean air that our forests usually provide us for free.
Accounting tools like "surplus", "deficit", and "gross domestic product" used by treasurers and economists, never predicted this. Car crashes, gas fracking, and even eating junk food, can increase GDP and theoretically boost the economy, while a healthy environment does not even register. It has been undervalued and is now critically endangered.
True security involves a healthy planet, meaningful jobs, great health care and education. All areas where politics has failed.
Positive change means facing at least two major issues. First is the reality that politicians are poorly equipped to make decisions benefiting the national interest. Most are ex-party staffers, lawyers, unionists or from small business; few have useful scientific or economic credentials. Parliament is a game featuring adversarial point scoring, short-term thinking, and corporate lobbying. For example, a distorted focus on military solutions to "national security" has meant plans for an expanded submarine fleet costing $225 billion, some $64 billion for new jet fighters, and another $500 million for the war museum.
At the same time, our biggest rivers are dying, farmers are walking off the land, and funds for emergency services are squeezed. The real threat to national security is the way our system makes rational planning virtually impossible. Worse still, those in power have actively weakened anti-corruption measures, victimised whistle blowers and protesters, and tried to muzzle critics in the press. This threatens our democracy, which thrives only when there is fearless investigative journalism, and free flow of factual information.
The second issue is our love affair with fossil fuels, and the lie that transitioning to renewables will cost jobs. Despite all the obstacles, renewables are actually the largest jobs growth area worldwide. In Australia, instead of destroying farmlands with coal mining and fracking, let's use our endless wind and solar resources to create a 700 per cent green superpower economy, exporting excess energy to Asia via underseas links, or as hydrogen.
Without government leadership, it has been largely left to private backers to find a path to this future. Batteries, hydrogen and hydro enable stable grids and super cheap electricity, potentially reviving clean heavy industries and manufacturing across Australia, especially here in the Hunter. We are great innovators, including photovoltaics, quantum computing, the internet, hydrogen membranes, new recycling and battery technology, renewable- powered steel smelting, solar thermal farms etc.
Our potential is enormous, but the same fossil politics and economic theory which holds us back, has imposed years of wage stagnation, infrastructure under-investment, a doubling of national debt since 2013, and a slide down the scale of international governmental transparency. Ironically, this crazy political system is centred on Canberra, a city which will soon run on 100 per cent renewable energy.
To finally break the gridlock, emergency chiefs have proposed establishing a panel of experts; engineers, scientists, indigenous and other leaders, to meet in early 2020, triage our challenges and start adapting to them. It would recognise that true security involves a healthy planet, meaningful jobs, great health care and education. All areas where politics has failed.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres declared after Australia's recent shameful performance at the Madrid COP25 meeting, we have two paths open to us; the path of hope, or the path of surrender.
Right now, it feels like politicians are very deliberately dragging us down the path of surrender.