If Denial Is A Response To Fear, Scott Morrison Is Just As Scared As The Rest Of Us

There’s nothing like waking up to a city choked with bushfire smoke to unsettle your peace of mind.

And that’s exactly what Sydneysiders were dealing with yesterday as around 50 fires continued to burn across New South Wales.

At 9am, Sydney’s air quality reading was one of the poorest in the world, at  nearly 30 times safe levels. It was so bad asthma sufferers and other vulnerable people were being warned to stay inside.

And the nightmare conditions continue today in other parts of Australia, with catastrophic conditions forecast for South Australia and parts of Western Australia.

Just a couple of months ago, a Roy Morgan poll revealed 78 percent of Australians were concerned about climate change, the highest level of concern since 2006. The same study also found an astonishing, unprecedented 28 percent of people believe it’s too late to act.

One might imagine those figures have leapt even higher over the past few weeks as deadly fires cut through huge swathes of land, dominated headlines and triggered heated debate amongst our elected representatives.



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Scott Morrison has urged politicians to end the bickering over the link between climate change and natural disasters as bushfires burn out of control across Australia. 

The public conversation about the link between the fires and climate change has indeed been toxic, with plenty of finger-pointing, scapegoating and dishonesty.

And for many of us, there has been cognitive dissonance to listen as our leaders rail against "inner-city lefties" and offer woefully inadequate "thoughts and prayers" in the face of an emergency so colossal it threatens not just lives and homes, but perhaps our very way of life.

But let’s take a moment to think of our Prime Minister and his leadership team. Why are these men who have been trusted to protect and guide our nation, who have presumably read or been informed of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, acting with such complacency?

The public conversation about the link between the fires and climate change has indeed been toxic. (Image: AAP)

It’s easy to dismiss their actions as convenient, given their vested interests, and in maintaining the status quo. But I want to suggest there is something else, something even bigger at play here -- fear.

And what does fear do to us? Any psychologist will tell you there are multiple and varied responses to fear, and one of them is denial. Scott Morrison’s fear may not be the same fear an environmentalist feels, but it’s undoubtedly fear.

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Since last weekend, more than 70 fires have surged across Australia's drought-ravaged East Coast, destroying hundreds of homes and tragically claiming lives in their wake.

You can see this denial on grand display when our leaders front the cameras. You can see it in their frozen faces, in their stubborn refusal to talk about the bigger picture, and in their desperate attempts to deflect the story.

And why wouldn’t our Prime Minister be scared? If he accepts the facts as the scientists present them, then he needs to do something momentous in response. Any leader standing on the brink of the greatest threat humanity has ever seen would falter, if only for a moment.

Of course, Scott Morrison has a messaging problem too. He has promised us that coal is good. He has promised that whatever threat climate change poses to our country, the government's policies are adequately handling it. And yet, here is Mother Nature raging at us, howling louder than any alarm might, sounding a warning of what is to come if we don’t act.

Of course, Scott Morrison has a messaging problem too. (Image: AAP)

And despite the Government’s hopes to quash the climate debate, to push it to the fringes where only leftie loonies dwell, citizens of this country are hearing the alarm and they are scared.

We are witnessing a country afraid. The fire chiefs are openly telling us they are scared. The people living on the frontlines of this devastation are saying the same. Even the city folk being forced to breathe in the remnants of someone else’s emergency are deeply unsettled.

The more I speak to ordinary people about the climate crisis, the more evident it becomes just how pervasive that fear is. Many people can name their fear, while others cannot. Some people draw back at even the briefest mention of climate change and you can almost see them building an invisible wall of denial around themselves, because the flight or fight response so deeply ingrained in us is beginning to be activated.



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Winston Churchill has been famously misquoted as declaring that "if you aren’t a socialist by the age of 25, you don’t have a heart. If you’re still a socialist by the age of 40, you don’t have a brain."

Others scoff and chuckle and make remarks about hysteria, because somewhere deep inside them a little voice is saying, maybe it’s true, and they must shout over that voice, they must strangle it and deride it and diminish it -- anything to silence it.

We don’t do villains well in this country. But it’s time now we named those with vested interests, who deny the scope of the problem in the face of evidence, for what they are -- villains. For all of us, including our Prime Minister, it's time to face our fears.

A climate and ecological emergency is upon us. People right across Australia are living it today. We need our leaders to summon more courage than they have ever had before and start telling the truth.