The view from Billinudgel

It’s Time
Not even weather-beaten conservatives can hold back the reality of climate change


The coronation of Greta Thunberg as Time magazine’s Person of the Year may finally mark the end of the denial and procrastination of the reactionary rump, and its belief that climate change is a conspiracy designed to subvert civilisation as we know it.

Time is hardly a radical publication, so the conservatives can no longer argue that Thunberg can be dismissed as a disturbed delinquent who should be frogmarched back to school so others can avoid the reality that, unless urgent action is taken, we are all on the way to hell in a handbasket.

Even as the ludicrous minister for emissions reduction, Angus Taylor – a kind of reverse King Midas, for everything he touches turns to shit – rants in Madrid about the need to cook the books as a preliminary to cooking the planet, the bulk of the establishment has been forced to acknowledge that business as usual is no longer an option.

Thunberg may only be a symbol, but Time regards her as the most important person of 2019. Even in far off Australia, cantering blithely towards its inadequate response to the existential threat burning our suburbs and choking our cities, there is a sense that something has changed.

Even so, our prime minister and his government remain reluctant to go further than a few weasel words. Morrison, through gritted teeth, has admitted that, yes, perhaps climate change may be part of the problem, but he seems to be arguing that the ongoing disasters are mainly due to the prolonged drought, which he apparently thinks has nothing to do with global warming.

And of course he has no intention of doing anything useful. Australia is playing its part, punching above its weight, beating its targets, reducing emissions… Don’t you worry about that.

But all the state governments, as well as a majority of businesses and the public, have moved on. Even within the Coalition there is movement, a dawning realisation that, sooner rather than later, the issue will have to be tackled. And in a sense this may not be quite as hard as it seems, because the real resistance against the activists is not based on anything more substantial than perverse ideology.

It is not so much that the hardliners resist the evidence and the science, for they are not really interested in either. They see the conflict as a key element of the culture wars: if the elitist inner-city latte sippers of the left are in favour of acting on climate, true conservatives must be against it, and that’s all there is to say.

But now it is becoming embarrassingly clear that it can no longer be characterised as a lefty fringe issue. What with the inferno on so many people’s doorsteps, and the certain knowledge that this is just the beginning, climate change has become mainstream and will soon be an unavoidable political priority.

And it is not about to go away. The picture of Greta Thunberg on the cover of Time is confirmation that the change is not only urgent but inevitable.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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