“Short-sighted” is how a key Earth Day organiser has described the Morrison government’s environmental policies as the world unites to fight against climate change on April 22.
Speaking from her home in the United States, EarthDay.Org president Kathleen Rogers said Prime Minister Scott Morrison is “going in the wrong direction” by continuing to support fossil fuels as other major powers embrace renewable energy.
Conceding that Mr Morrison’s support of new Australian coal mines may be popular in some parts of the country now, she warns that as bushfires, biodiversity loss and population displacement worsen, his legacy will suffer.
“(His support of fossil fuels) may help him stay in office, it may keep him as Prime Minister as the economy bubbles along, but 10 years from now, or 20 years from now they’ll call him an idiot, somebody who was not prepared for the future,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
“He’s no world leader if he doesn’t read the handwriting on the wall.”
Ms Rogers fears that as long as Mr Morrison remains prime minister, Australia will lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to action on climate change, and this will be bad for both the country and our Pacific neighbours.
"If money is your only driver and if your continued success in politics is your only driver then that’s what you’re going to choose," she said.
"But some leaders are different and I hope Australia gets one that will actually will help your economy thrive in the twenty-first century, and also make you a leader in climate change because certainly you aren’t now."
Australia isolated as world leaders expected to make Earth Day commitments
Ms Rogers’ criticism comes as US President Joe Biden prepares to host an Earth Day virtual climate summit on Thursday (local time), which will bring together major emitters from around the world, including Australia.
Global leaders, including President Biden, are expected to announce greater emissions reductions targets on the day, but Australia is so far refusing to impose a carbon tax on mining and coal giants, or commit to zero emissions by 2050.
Instead, Mr Morrison indicated on Tuesday that Australia will lower its emissions through technology, rather than engaging with those who frequent "cafes, dinner parties and wine bars" in cities.
“It will not be achieved by taxing our industries that provide livelihoods for millions of Australians off the planet, as our political opponents sought to do, when they were given the chance," he said in a speech to business leaders in Sydney on Tuesday.
“It will be achieved by the pioneering entrepreneurialism and innovation of Australia’s industrial workhorses, farmers and scientists."
The demise of the Trump regime has seen the Morrison government lose a key ally in its support of fossil fuels.
Former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull yesterday described the government's emissions plan as akin to “burying its head in the sand” with a policy that leaves the country “effectively isolated in the western world”, in a joint letter to The Guardian.
Mr Morrison was also denied a speaking position at a UK led climate summit last year, amid reports British Prime Minister Boris Johnson felt Australia lacked an ambitious commitment to tackle climate change.
‘Hold them to task’: Call for leaders to fix problems
This year, EarthDay.Org will present a number of parallel events to the Biden summit, with speakers set to include Biden climate envoy John Kerry, as well as activists Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Villasenor.
The organisation, which grew out of environmental protests in America more than 50 years ago, encourages citizens to demand stronger environmental commitments from governments and corporations and, according to their president, “vote for people who will do the right thing”.
While Ms Rogers encourages citizens to take part in voluntary initiatives like picking up plastic washed up on beaches, that same rubbish will be back again the next day without action from world leaders.
“I think the world’s coming to recognise that we can’t leave it to the leaders of rich countries to solve the problem, but we have to hold them to task so they do the best they can,” Ms Rogers said.
Green shift 'as big as the industrial revolution'
Acknowledging that the US has been “nowhere for four years” after the Trump administration wound back environmental protections, Ms Rogers says that President Biden gives her hope.
With many world leaders “angry” that the US attempted to walk out of the Paris climate agreement under President Trump, she believes it is now incumbent upon her country to be a leader in encouraging a shift to lower emissions.
Key to her argument is that it makes economic sense to embrace a green economy, and Australia too must take note or risk being left behind as the rest of the world develops.
“We are experiencing an economic change that’s as big as the industrial revolution was in the 1800s,” Mr Rogers said.
“Part of it's out of necessity, part of it's because the world is full of smart people, part of it's because fossil fuels are deadly, causing enormous problems, ravaging land where they're excavated, and it's dirty. It's old fashioned.
“It reminds me of Charles Dickens in London in the 1800s - filthy coal burning cities where everybody must have been covered in soot.
“Why are we doing that when we can create a whole new set of jobs, reinvent the world, change everything and become healthy?”
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