While a video showing a bushfire-fleeing koala guzzling down water provided by an Australian cyclist evokes empathy, the images of a fire engine destroyed by the fires and a woman desperately hosing down her house in an attempt to save it from the approaching fires are simply stunning and heartbreaking and bode ill for human beings who used to regard themselves as the masters of the earth.
Even as the world rang in the year 2020, the Australian bushfires sparked in September continued to rage. The “apocalyptic” wildfires have killed at least 19 people and about a half-billion animals, as well as displaced hundreds of thousands of people. The whole world is watching aghast as the Australian continent is scorched by seemingly omnipresent wildfires.
Meteorologists, fire chiefs and mayors in Australia have blamed climate change for the extreme conditions, pointing to the fact that the country’s fire season is becoming longer and more intense. Globally, the extent and severity of wildfires in recent years are closely linked to global warming.
Communities that have been ravaged by bushfires have criticized the Australian Government for its inaction against climate change. While the devastating fires raged across the continent, politicians traded insults on who is to blame.
Some people liken Australia’s coal industry to the U.S. National Rifle Association, which has been accused of lobbying against gun control even though gun violence has claimed a large number of lives. The coal industry is regarded as so important to Australia’s economy that Prime Minister Scott Morrison once even brought a piece of coal to Parliament to show his support for the industry.
Even though last year’s polls showed an increasing number of Australian people supported climate action, voters in May opted for mining jobs and lower taxes, sending the conservative Liberal-National Party coalition, who offered little commitment to taking action on climate change, to power.
Australia is not the only country that has done little to curb climate change. U.S. President Donald Trump declared his country would pull out of the Paris Agreement even as dangerous bushfires brought devastating destruction to California, while Canada and South Korea are far from meeting their Paris Agreement emissions-cutting goals.
Rational people tend to delay gratification for future benefits. Yet populism drives politicians and voters to become short-sighted. The wildfires in Australia, Chile, North America and elsewhere are a wake-up call for mankind as a whole. In this global village, no country is immune to climate change.
Some countries remain committed to dealing with the challenges posed by climate change despite the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. In 2018, China’s carbon emissions intensity – emissions per unit of GDP – fell by 45.8 percent compared with 2005, and it has already fulfilled its promise that by 2020 it would fall by 40 to 45 percent compared with 2005. The European Union rolled out its Green Deal in December to make it the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
Cities can also act. Shenzhen has replaced its entire bus fleet with electric buses, almost every taxi is now electricity-powered, and all new app-based cabs are required to be e-cars. In April last year, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city’s Green New Deal, an audacious plan that includes US$14 billion in new investments, legislation and concrete action at the city level that will ensure a nearly 30 percent additional reduction in emissions by 2030. The new deal will generate tens of thousands of jobs retrofitting buildings and expanding the use of renewable energy. In London, the Ultra Low Emissions Zone policy, under which most polluting vehicles are charged a fee if they enter the city center, is a good example of addressing traffic emissions.
Individuals should also do their part. We can all contribute by practicing a more sustainable way of life, such as getting rid of some bad habits, like engine idling.
But most importantly, all countries should be united to take more forceful actions. Taking climate action doesn’t necessarily lead to slower economic growth. Proactive government policies and programs will spur investment in renewable power production, energy-storage systems, new energy cars powered by electricity or hydrogen, and other new technologies that can usher in a green revolution.
(The author is head of the Shenzhen Daily News Desk.)