Incendiary Dress Rehearsal
Updated: Jan 15
Professor Ed Blakely, a leading urban policy guru and former dean of the New School in New York city, grew up beneath the oft haze-filled skies of Southern California.
More than a decade ago, he emigrated to Sydney, Australia, far away from California’s recent disastrous wildfires and from Donald Trump, the presidential epitome of eco-insensitivity.
But great distance is not always a buffer. Last week, Blakely’s vacationing family had to be evacuated from a resort village in the path of Australia’s climate-change-related rampaging inferno.
Despite its relatively isolated location, the “Land Down Under” offers no sanctuary from the rest of the planet’s ills. You can run but not hide from the ravages of unchecked climate change. Blakely reminds us of that reality with his rueful description of the smoke-laden skies over Sydney. At least temporarily, the air quality matches the notoriously polluted atmosphere enshrouding New Delhi, India.
Is Australia a preview for Americans if we falter at the start of a new decade?
What should be unsettling are some stark parallels between our country and the land of the kangaroo. Both nations are led by climate-change deniers who dogmatically promote expansion of fossil fuel production. This is a source of dismay to environmental activists who advocate a timely transition to clean, renewable energy.
Another disquieting similarity is the influence in international trade of fossil fuels. The United States is the world’s leading exporter of oil and natural gas while Australia sells the most coal abroad.
These dubious distinctions evoke frustration within the environmental movement, which calls for keeping the oil and coal in the ground whenever possible.
According to recent polls, President Trump and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison are out of step with the majority of their constituents who believe that human-generated climate change is a legitimate, imminent concern.
This voter opposition has not deterred either leader from subservience to the fossil fuel industry.
Moreover, both leaders are propped up by climate-denial propaganda spread through Right Wing media surrogates - Fox News in Trump’s case and Rupert Murdoch's Australian newspaper empire carrying Morrison’s water.
The anti-environmental spin is similar in both nations: vast wildfires scorching California and Australia are due primarily to poor land management and arson, not to climate-change-related prolonged drought and record heat waves.
If humanity does not get its act together in the ensuing decade, Australia’s fiery devastation may reflect a timeframe constituting a curtain call rather than a dress rehearsal.