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Company we shouldn’t seek

“Australia burning” has been a regular featured item on the evening Newshour recently, but months before, the director of the Fire Center at one of that country’s universities had discussed the crisis with the journal Science.

The fires “all up and down the country” had started very early, he said and covered far more area than ever before. They had charred even moist forests that historically burnt very rarely, “perhaps every thousand years.” Even swamps, partially dried out after prolonged drought, were “burning all around.”

A third of the country’s population was exposed to harmful smoke levels and the smoke, he said, was “killing far more people than the flames.”

Since then, the fires and impacts have exploded: more than 2,000 Australians’ homes destroyed, thousands of people having to flee for their lives, many trapped at beaches before rescue by navy boats. In more than 27 million acres of burnt forest and bush-land, a billion animals are estimated to have perished. On one island (Kangaroo) alone, at least 25,000 koala bears are said to have perished; some species are feared to have met extinction. Untold numbers of fish have perished in ash-choked rivers.

Compared with earlier times, the fires now come so often that trees cannot grow fast enough to make it to reach the seed-formation stage.

In 2007, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report had predicted that effects for Australia – of more severe droughts and wildfires, at shorter intervals – would become evident at least by 2030. 

In 2008 a second report, prepared at the behest of Kevin Rudd before he became Prime Minister, had indicated 2020 as the year which could begin the dangerous acceleration trend. Mr. Rudd’s government then negotiated a carbon-taxing proposal to rapidly reduce Australia’s emissions and put the country, and the world, on a safer climate trajectory.

When the current executive, long-time climate change skeptic Scott Morrison, came to power in 2018, one of his first actions was to “tear up the country’s only bipartisan road map for reducing carbon emissions,” as an Australian journalist reported in January.

Unfortunately, he has company here. Shortly after assuming the presidency in 2017, President Donald Trump rescinded his predecessor’s executive order to “Prepare the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change.”

Subsequently, on the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index, the U.S. and Australia rank last among the 57 rated countries which are responsible for 90 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.