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Why The Government's 'Resilience And Adaptation' Argument On Climate Change Is Madness

Scotty from Marketing has a new climate slogan. Experts say it's "disturbing" and another way to avoid the real conversation.

The national bushfire crisis has made it hard for even the most ardent denier to avoid the conversation about climate change. Poll after poll shows Australians are very concerned about climate change and how it will affect them, and that they want action.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison, caught very much on the backfoot in recent weeks with outrage over his response to the fires, has had to tread a very fine line. On the one hand, he's got to show he's responding to people's concerns over climate; on the other, he's got to keep his unruly coal-loving backbench happy.

His new catchphrase seeks to strike that happy medium:

Resilience and adaptation.

“We must build our resilience for the future and that must be done on the science and the practical realities of the things we can do right here to make a difference," Morrison said this week.

“The practical things that can actually keep you safe during the next fire or the next flood or the next cyclone are the things that most benefit people here and now."

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has acknowledged a national review into the country's bushfire crisis would need to look at the role of climate change, flagging "evolving" the government's policies on greenhouse gas emissions.

It's saying to people "yes, nature is getting more brutal, and the effects may be bad."

But it's also saying "well, there's not much we can do about it at this stage, so we've just got to hunker down and try to deal with it".

Morrison says resilience and adaptation are the key. (Image: AAP)

It's a distant cousin of his line which we spoke about recently, which argues that Australia only accounts for 1.3 percent of global emissions, so that even if we do our bit on the world stage, it wouldn't do much good. It's the offspring of his line that such weather conditions are "the new normal".

It's conveniently ignoring there are lots of things Australia could do, locally and internationally, such as transitioning to cleaner fuels, greener energy, and a low-emission way of life; or throwing our weight behind international campaigns to lower emissions worldwide, lending our weight as a popular and wealthy nation to the push.

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On the day 4000 people in Mallacoota had to run into the sea to escape fire, an article from Angus Taylor was published in The Australian newspaper saying Aussies should be proud of our climate change efforts.

It's also conveniently ignoring that, according to The Guardian, the government decided to scrap funding to the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility in 2017 when Morrison was federal treasurer.

"Our policy is to reduce emissions, to build resilience and to focus on adaptation. All of these are the necessary responses to what's happening with our climate," Morrison told a press conference this week.

When asked if Australia would increase its commitment to emissions reduction, the PM replied with another recent favourite slogan, saying his government would "meet and beat our targets".

(It's prudent to point out even Morrison's own government departments cast doubt on whether this will actually happen, and that Australia's targets have been attacked on the international stage as too low.)

How do you adapt to this? (Image: AAP)

"Resilience and adaptation", a phrase Morrison repeated five times in last weekend's interview with the ABC's David Speers, is a defeatist way of looking at this climate problem. It's basically admitting we can't -- or won't -- do much more to reverse this trend, that all we can do is build bigger walls, better fund disaster recovery, develop thicker skin. 

"I find it really disturbing. Madness, if you like," Amanda McKenzie, CEO of the Climate Council, told 10 daily.

"This idea you can just adapt and change is an economic disaster that will leave a ruin for our kids. It's preferencing one or two industries over all the other industries impacted by this. It's disastrous."

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Picture the Three Little Pigs. The fairytale characters quickly realise the Big Bad Wolf -- yes, in this metaphor, that's climate change -- will destroy the houses made of flimsy stuff. Only the most resilient home, of brick, remains.

But the pigs didn't simply build their brick houses. They knew the wolf was coming down that chimney, no matter how strong their house was built. So they set a trap to cook and eat him.

Simply building stronger houses and hoping for the best isn't enough. We've got to work to stop the root cause of the problem, experts say.

Morrison says Australia will "meet and beat" its targets on emissions. (Image: AAP)

Nikola Casule, head of research and investigations at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, offered a different metaphor. He likened the 'resilience and adaptation' argument to simply glossing over the symptoms, not tackling the disease itself.

"It's akin to a lung cancer patient continuing to smoke. The doctors say they'll treat the cancer, but the patient won't stop smoking," he told 10 daily.

"Yes, the treatment will help in the immediate term, but you have to stop smoking if you're serious about getting better."

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Casule claimed the government's new argument was "dangerous and negligent".

"It's a diversion and distraction from taking meaningful action on climate change. It's disappointing that the government is treating the bushfire crisis as a public relations crisis," he told 10 daily.

"Once they saw people were concerned, with a pretty seismic shift toward more people wanting climate action, they've crafted this response to make it look like they're doing something."

Should we accept this type of scene, at Merimbula, as the new normal? (Image: Tegan George)

McKenzie was similarly disappointed with the government's response to the problem of climate change.

"It's not realistic," she said of Morrison's new slogan.

"They're saying it's too costly to change fossil fuels, but it's not too costly to change and adapt?"

The grain of optimism here is that the federal government is now far more accepting of the effects of climate change than even in recent times -- remember Tony Abbott saying the science was "absolute crap"? -- but we're still far from what we actually need to be doing to stave off a scorched future.

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10 daily has combed through the most recent facts and figures from state authorities to help cut through the hysteria about what has caused the majority of recent bushfires -- the short answer is that it's not arsonists.

Even now, fires have razed huge areas of the country; smoke has choked tennis tournaments and cricket matches; people nationwide huddle inside, or don pollution masks just to walk out the door; Australia just recorded its hottest and driest year on record; and it's going to get worse.

"The government is admitting climate change is a factor but saying there's nothing we can do about it," Casule said.

"The Australian way of life is being destroyed by climate change, and the government is doing the bare minimum to make it look like they're doing something."