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Commentary: Australian bush fires are a product of capitalism

By Lauryn Cross and Ryan Hamann |
January 9, 2020
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Milwaukee, WI - Australia has been burning since early October 2019, with 1020 square miles having been burnt already. The country has been in a state of emergency for nearly three full months, with major cities like Sydney receiving a fire danger level of “catastrophic.” People are flocking to the beaches in fear of the flames because they have nowhere else to go. Aboriginal communities like the Yuin in the town of Mogo are being impacted the hardest. 25 people have been confirmed dead as a result of the fires, and estimates suggest that millions of animals have been killed.

While the occurrence of wildfires is fairly common in Australia, the intensity of the fires occurring is really without precedent. The flames are so massive that, in some instances, they are creating their own weather, with lightning and ‘ember attacks.’ As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, due to Australia’s changing climate there will be more fires to come.

Poor land management has contributed to the worsening conditions. The scale and ferocity of the current bush fires are products of an unprecedented lengthy drought season. But it is the greed of energy corporations and the complicity of officials from both political parties that has produced these unusually long droughts and, in turn, this disaster.

It is not a secret that Australia is inextricably tied to the fossil fuel industry. Illustrative of this is the fact that today coal accounts for 15% of the country’s export revenues, and six of the top 30 largest Australian corporations are mining or fossil fuel companies. Australia’s continued investment in dirty energy has cost the nation thousands of metric tons of CO2 emissions, according to the Australian Department of Agriculture. The ineptitude of Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison towards downsizing the role of coal is a prime example of denial of an issue to the point of propagating it.

Morrison vowed near the onset of the fires back in October 2019 to outlaw the boycott campaigns utilized by climate activists, citing the alleged damage it would do to the country’s mining industry. Activists have been successful in impacting targeted businesses, affecting their ability to access banking, insurance and consulting services. None of this should come as a surprise, given Morrison is a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump and the class interests that he represents.

In addition to their disastrous domestic energy policies, the Australian government has contributed further to the deterioration of the climate through its commitment to U.S. imperialism. Mobilizing to participate in the wars of U.S. empire has emitted untold amounts of harmful waste into the environment. In order to pay for these actions and the equipment for their armed forces, the government has cut funding from vital fire management programs that were underfunded to begin with. Government-sponsored disaster relief efforts and civilian relocation services have similarly been gutted, only exacerbating the problems, particularly for the most vulnerable communities.

In a parallel to the political situation in the U.S., this issue is not partisan. While one wing of the political elite is outright dismissive of the existence of climate change, the other plays lip-service to the scientists and their warnings while doing the bidding of the corporations who get them elected. The reality, both in Australia and in the U.S., is that most of the leaders of mainstream political parties ultimately play on the same side, working in the interests of the ruling class against the interests of the working class.

Issues pertaining to climate change are the product of fundamental components of the prevailing global economic system of capitalism. Capitalism gives economic interests the platform to make decisions in society. It will never work in the best interests of the people being impacted by those decisions. A system that incentivizes economic gains to the detriment of people and planet is problematic and prone toward causing environmental catastrophe. Capitalism holds that obtaining the maximum profit is the driving force of an economy. It is by getting rid of the private ownership of means to produce good and services for the benefit of the 1 percent, that we will be able to avert and resolve the issues of the climate crisis.

The solution to the problem of climate change is not to place the future in the hands of political hacks who have never had the interests of the working class and other oppressed people in their minds. Elected officials will be compelled to adhere to the demands of the masses if we are organized and militant enough. The creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Nixon administration - a reform, yes, but a big concession won from the ruling class as a result of ceaseless mass struggle - is proof enough of this. When the movement against climate change is organized and fully recognizes capitalism as the main threat, it will be able to turn the tide and begin to prevent the kind of cataclysm unfolding in Australia.

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