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We don't have the luxury of dealing with one crisis at a time



Since the pandemic started to show its teeth on our shores in March, there’s been a trend to wave away any other matter other than COVID-19 with an examination of, ‘Just one crisis at a time — we’ll get to climate change after we’ve got the economy back on its feet.’ 

A woman video chatting at her kitchen table (Getty images)

The only problem is we don’t have the luxury as a nation to solely focus on one crisis at a time. 

Earlier this year, we already saw climate change in our backyards with the catastrophic 2019-20 bushfire season. During these fires, an estimated 18.6 million hectares burnt, over 5,900 buildings were destroyed, 34 lives were lost and one billion animals were killed. Not to forget the many endangered species driven closer to extinction. 

These awful months brought the climate emergency heatedly into our reality. The people of Australia were scared and they started to increasingly press the Morrison government on the country’s climate action. 

But then another crisis took all our attention away: COVID-19. By the time all the fires in New South Wales were extinguished on March 4th, we were already panic buying toilet paper. Soon every corner of conversation across the globe became dominated by coronavirus and its implications. There wasn’t any room left to talk about anything else. 

As Prime Minister Scott Morrison said to a business audience in Sydney regarding coronavirus, ‘We now have one goal together this year: to protect the health, the wellbeing, and livelihoods of Australians through this global crisis, and to ensure that when the recovery comes — and it will — we are well-positioned to bounce back strongly on the other side.’


'The COVID-19 pandemic has riddled us all with exhaustion. And yet we can’t put all else aside to solely focus on the coronavirus effort.'


Yet with each day that passes, climate change becomes a more pressing issue, and mother nature isn’t going to wait for us to play catch up. 

This year, Queensland marked the official bushfire season on the first of August with the state seeing fires burning already. In New South Wales, twenty-one local councils started their bushfire season at the beginning of September and the RFS has already battled multiple fires on the north-east coast. Fire ecologist David Bowman, told the ABC, ‘It's extremely difficult to predict what an individual fire season will do… But am I relaxed about the coming fire season? Absolutely not.’

Our worsening bushfire seasons are just one example of many. Australia is expected to see continued and increased drought, affecting agricultural yields, rising sea levels, increasing the risk of damage from storm surges and flooding in low-lying communities, frequent and more intense heatwaves, damage to biodiversity and ecosystems and increased coral bleaching. And new research by Proceedings of the Royal Society Journal has found that global warming has killed half the coral on the Great Barrier Reef and caused irreversible damage.

What’s important to note too is that crises don’t work completely separately of each other; we can’t simply put them into individual boxes to deal with one by one but rather need to address them in conjunction with each other. For example, operations for the next bushfire season in Australia will need to take into account coronavirus and its implications. Large-scale evacuations and the gathering of people in community centres could mark a huge threat in becoming a hub for coronavirus spread. International cooperation has also been already compromised with global aid unable to risk their safety by moving across oceans during a pandemic. 

There’s an argument to be made that we need to recover our economy from the impacts of the pandemic before planning for mitigating climate change or putting in steps for action. However, economically speaking it’s far more advantageous for climate change to be included in all discussions of economic efforts, given it too has already had significant impacts on our economy and will only continue to hit it harder.

The longer we wait to mitigate climate change and put in preventative policies, the bigger the strain it will have on the Australian economy. If we continue to look at the bushfire crisis of 2019-20, it was Australia’s costliest natural disaster, with an expected cost to the tourism sector alone of $4.5 billion and bushfire related insurance claims lodged between November and February racking up to an estimated $1.9 billion.

Therefore, it’s in our best economic interests to be addressing climate change now and putting policies in place for prevention, management and mitigation. Inaction will not serve well in the long run — it's already gravely harming communities across our nation. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has riddled us all with exhaustion. And yet we can’t put all else aside to solely focus on the coronavirus effort. 

The oceans will continue to rise, the planet will continue to get hotter, and the floods and fires are coming. Right now, there’s a strong sentiment going around that we’ll get through these troubling times together. Despite wars, depressions and disease, the human spirit proves its resilience. But when we get to the other side of this pandemic, we need to also make sure we have a home left to enjoy the fruits of our survival. There’s no point making sure we get through the COVID pandemic if we don’t have a planet to live on at the end of it.



Marnie VinallMarnie Vinall is a freelance writer and copywriter in Melbourne, Australia. She is a regular contributor of Beat Magazine and Concrete Playground, and has bylines in ABC News, Mumbrella, B&T and Globo Hobo. 

Main image: Illustration Chris Johnston

Topic tags: Marnie Vinall, COVID-19, climate crisis, environment



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Existing comments

Marine, As a climatologist I am seeing the impact changes in the climate are having across the planet and on the environment upon which we all depend for our very existence. I am not a trained medico so can't comment on the origin of the COVID-19 Pandemic . However I accept the thesis that human interaction with the untamed wild was the likely starting point. The fact that humans, impacted by climate change among other pressures, are venturing into the wild animals habitat should ring alarm bells for us all. Scott Morrison has used the current Pandemic to shield the Government from action on climate change. Hopefully actions taken by the communities, local and state/territory governments and concerned business leaders will force the Federal Government to act before it is too late . Gavin A. O'Brien FRMetS

Gavin O'Brien | 11 November 2020  

Coincidentally, if you can defeat/solve a problem in life, you find that other problems that you have, seem to be easier to defeat/solve. In your consciousness, problems mount up and seem like a hill too steep to climb. It is similar to the problems named in this good article. And it is also an axiom that a person should tackle the biggest problem first, instead of picking the easier-to-conquer, in an ascending order. And the problems are often inter-related. This is how the world problems are all inter-related. They all involve people. Therefore, we should first work to solve climate change, which affects the world population and our global environment. As we do this some of the other problems we have will disappear, such as the COVID-19. Bushfires will reduce in intensity if we take measures to reduce the global temperature through action on climate change. And lastly, if the world can turn its attention solely onto climate change, it may, I pray stop the wars, which will reduce the refugee streams and make us a more unified and peaceful people on God's Earth.

john willis | 14 November 2020  

We have much more pressing problems than climate change in this nation, the more so in view of the fact that the effect Australia can have on any climate is totally negligible in the face of all China's new coal-fired systems. If you want anything done on climate change challenge China to change their programs, and let Australia get on with more valid programs for our nation. Our future depends on our children who are being utterly compromised by fashionable school programs that are losing ground on the international scenario. Let us return to proven basics of reading and mathematics, factual history and science, and eliminate programs that pressurise children to question the obvious and give the state rights to interject sovereignty over family unity. Breaking up families is only going to create massive mental health problems down the track. Then support business which provides the large proportion of all our jobs, and don't emasculate business with massive taxation so that it becomes non-viable and unable to employ workers. It is better to invest in businesses so that people en mass can find employment and get paid, and then spend up. That is what keeps economies happy. Trump has proved it already. Australia, lets pull the blinders off and get Australia back on her feet smartly. We can be an example for every other nation just by doing the right things. State education has been losing ground because of such matters for many years and it is time to bring true quality back to our children and our future.

Helen Murray | 12 February 2021  

Australia is running blind to pie in the sky romance about being able to change the climate when China is powering up coal-fired stations all over the place. Tell China to do something about climate change. We need to focus on a proper education for our next generation free of fashionable fantasies and policies that interfere with family structure and strength, and return to the sound basics of reading and mathematics, historical fact and scientific reason. Children need to be able to argue logically without punishment for their views and with respect for opponents on ALL sides. It's high time newspapers showed some integrity in reporting instead of spitting out slurs on a constantly onesided basis. We all have to go to utube these days to find any real standards in journalism. That doesn't say much for our national expenditure on the ABC.

HelenMurray | 12 February 2021  

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