Australia is going up in flames, and its government calls for resilience while planning for more coal mines.
By Richard Flanagan
Mr. Flanagan is a novelist.
BRUNY ISLAND, Australia — The name of the future is Australia.
These words come from it, and they may be your tomorrow: P2 masks, evacuation orders, climate refugees, ocher skies, warning sirens, ember storms, blood suns, fear, air purifiers and communities reduced to third-world camps.
Billions of dead animals and birds bloating and rotting. Hundreds of Indigenous cultural and spiritual sites damaged or destroyed by bush fires, so many black Notre Dames — the physical expression of Indigenous Australians’ spiritual connection to the land severed, a final violence after centuries of dispossession.
Everywhere there is a brittle grief, and it may be as much for what is coming as for what is gone.
The dairy farmer Farran Terlich, whose properties in the South Coast were razed in a firestorm that killed two of his friends, described the blaze as “a raging ocean.” “These communities are destroyed across the board,” he said, “and most people are running dead.”
Dead, too, is a way of life.
To describe this terrifying new reality, a terrifying new idea: “omnicide.” As used by Danielle Celermajer, a professor of sociology at the University of Sydney specializing in human rights, the term invokes a crime we have previously been unable to imagine because we had never before witnessed it.
Ms. Celermajer argues that “ecocide,” the killing of ecosystems, is inadequate to describe the devastation of Australia’s fires. “This is something more,” she has written. “This is the killing of everything. Omnicide.”
What does the future look like where omnicide is the norm?
According to the American climatologist Michael Mann, “It is conceivable that much of Australia simply becomes too hot and dry for human habitation.”
Australia’s situation is now no different from that of low-lying Pacific islands confronting imminent destruction from rising seas. Yet when last August those states protested against the Australian government’s refusal to act on climate change, Australia’s deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, said, “I also get a little bit annoyed when we have people in those sorts of countries pointing the finger at Australia and say we should be shutting down all our resources sector so that, you know, they will continue to survive.”
Today Australia has only one realistic chance to, you know, survive: Join other countries like those Pacific nations whose very future is now in question and seek to become an international leader in fighting for far stronger global action on climate change. But to do that it would first have to take decisive action domestically.
Anything less and Australia will be lost to its climate catastrophe as surely as Tuvalu will be to rising oceans.