When Prime Minister Scott Morrison took Australia’s top office, in August, 2018, the leadership of his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, had been in question for months, if not years, by his coalition of right-leaning National and Liberal parties. But the final blow came after Turnbull supported a national energy plan that would have moderately reduced the power sector’s reliance on fossil fuels, thereby cutting greenhouse-gas emissions and mitigating global climate change. In an attempt to save himself, at the eleventh hour, Turnbull backed off enshrining any emissions reductions into law, but it was too late. Morrison was elected by Liberal lawmakers in a backroom coup, and quickly declared that Turnbull’s energy plan was dead. His commitment to fossil fuels was already well known. As recently as 2017, when he was Australia’s treasurer—and when, according to the International Energy Agency, Australia exported more coal than any other country in the world—he brought a lump of coal to Parliament and presented it to his fellow-members as if they were primary-school students. “This is coal. Don’t be afraid! Don’t be scared! Won’t hurt you,” he said. He did not mention that the coal had been shellacked to prevent his hands from getting dirty.
Morrison’s tenure as Prime Minister has since been marked by his refusal to acknowledge the scientifically confirmed link between the fossil-fuel industry and climate change. Through the remainder of 2018, a severe drought and record-setting heat waves led tens of thousands of flying foxes to fall dead from the sky. That year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found, among many other terrifying climate impacts, that the Great Barrier Reef will die entirely if warming exceeds 1.5 degrees Celsius. (Already it has seen extensive coral bleaching and death.) The spring of 2019 was Australia’s driest on record. But, instead of changing his stance, Morrison championed a pro-fossil-fuel policy that included plans for a new coal-fired power plant, and the allocation of ten million dollars toward a study assessing whether to revive a decommissioned coal plant in Queensland. The Labor party, meanwhile, campaigned against him on a platform of greater climate action, including more aggressive emissions-reductions targets. No one expected Morrison to win reëlection; polls suggested that a majority of voters were concerned about climate change. But low turnout and apathy due, in part, to the generally unstable nature of Australian politics—no Prime Minister has lasted a full term in more than a decade—contributed to a surprise victory for Morrison, in May of 2019. On Election Night, he told a crowd, “I have always believed in miracles.”
Perhaps that is why Morrison insisted that coal “won’t hurt you,” when, of course, it will. Coal is the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fossil fuel. Shutting down all coal-power plants is imperative to limiting increases in global temperature, and eliminating coal, especially in O.E.C.D. countries like Australia, is the lowest-hanging fruit in the transition to renewable energy. [Continue reading…]