In 2016, founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben1, in The New Republic, has stated that World War 3 is under way, and we are losing. He believes we are under attack from climate change and our only hope is to mobilise as we did in fighting World War 2. He likened the war to one on many fronts with ‘behind the lines’ outbreaks of fires, floods, disease and coral bleaching2.
It has been clear for decades that global warming is happening and human activity is to blame. Back in 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)3 produced its First Assessment Report, and in the executive summary of that report, they stated that under business-as-usual, estimated temperature rise from pre-industrial levels (taken as 1765) to the year 2030 would be between 1.3°C and 2.8°C, with a best estimate of 2.0°C. This corresponds to a predicted rise from 1990 of 0.7-1.5 °C, with a best estimate of 1.1°C. To the year 2070 the temperature rise from pre-industrial levels wais estimated to be 1.6-3.5°C, with a best estimate of 2.4°C4. So where are we now? Over the first nine months of 2015, the Earth hit 1.0°C above the pre-industrial level5. It is currently at 1.1°C abovethose levels and is likely, at least temporarily, to reach the 1.5°C within the next five years. This 1.5°C threshold was set at the Paris Accord as an ambitious target6. That target now looks a forlorn hope. An increase in global average temperature of 2.0°C could cause a cascade of positive feedbacks that may lead us to a ‘Hothouse Earth’7.
The term ‘fifth column’ was first used by the Spanish Nationalist general Emilio Mola in describing his supporters within the city of Madrid when it was besieged by his four columns of troops. The term was used often in World War II, especially by the nations who initially suffered defeat at the hands of the Nazis: France, UK, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Norway and the Netherlands. It was even mentioned in the US with regard to Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbour in late 1941, and led to their disgraceful mass internment during the war8.
There were Nazi sympathisers in the UK, and they thought they were providing information to Nazi Germany, whereas their supposed conduit to Germany was in fact an MI5 mole. None of the information was passed to Germany, but in return these fifth columnists were provided with fake Nazi medals for their efforts. These people were traitors driven by Nazi ideology and the MI5 staff were appalled at the bloodlust shown by some of them, as they were ‘thrilled’ by German air-raids which killed people including women and children9.
During the cold war there were numerous instances of ideologues spying for the Soviet Union. Some of the most well known included Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Klaus Fuchs, and the Cambridge Five (Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross). However, there were a few who did it solely for financial gain. These included such people as Aldrich Ames who, while going through a financially disastrous divorce, walked into the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., and offered to trade secrets for money. Over the next nine years, he was paid about $US2.7 million in return for leaving classified documents at prearranged dead drops. He disclosed the identities of almost every agent working for the Americans within the Soviet Union, at least 10 of whom were subsequently executed. As the then CIA director said “they died because this warped murdering traitor wanted a bigger house and a Jaguar”. Ames was convicted of espionage and is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole10.
All of these ‘traitors’ from the cold war were charged with espionage because treason is essentially a wartime phenomenon. All treason case law in Australia and the UK resulted from activities during the Boer War and the two world wars. The law against treason in Australia, generally refers to: causing harm to the sovereign; levying war or preparing to do so against Australia; assisting enemies at war with Australia; or instigating foreigners to attack Australia11.
If this struggle against global warming can be likened to a World War 3, then what are we to call the people who actually work against our ability to combat global warming? Are they fifth columnists? Are they traitors? The answer is unfortunately no, because we are not involved in a shooting war. However, they are acting against Australia’s best interests in accepting political donations and spruiking what their donors tell them. These donors are climate change deniers, and these people and organisations have lied about the fact of global warming for decades.
We are indeed involved in a war, but it is not primarily against the changing climate, but against those who try to prevent us from doing anything about it. It is they who are condemning millions to die from the effects of climate change, and condemning our descendants to inherit a much poorer and more dangerous planet. That is their crime and because of its scale, it is far worse than treason. However, to deal with this, in Australian law, all we seem to have is section 22 of the Crimes Act 1958 which states that “a person who, without lawful excuse, recklessly engages in conduct that places or may place another person in danger of death is guilty of an indictable offence”. The maximum penalty for this crime is 10 years imprisonment12. To prosecute people like Gina Rinehart and organisations like the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) under this is probably a forlorn hope. However, civil law may be brought to bear on these people and their purchased politicians, as it could be construed that their actions have led to a dramatic loss of livelihood for people such as farmers and tourism operators on the Great Barrier Reef, among others.
The young know that their futures are being sold out to the highest bidder for no reason except self-enrichment. We of the older generation who understand science and the venality of the political class also know that is happening. The reckoning is coming and if Murdoch, Rinehart and the IPA have their way and it is not done electorally or through legal processes, it is likely to be done violently. I have children and I am prepared to do whatever I can to try to secure their future and the future of their children on a planet that is as at least as habitable as it is now. If all this fails, then the least we can do is to make sure that all the politicians’ children know that their parents’ major concerns were: keeping up the flow of money to their party’s coffers from fossil fuel companies and their wealthy owners; being re-elected at all costs; avoiding scrutiny by keeping most of these donations secret; avoiding scrutiny of their donors by royal commissions; avoiding scrutiny of themselves by an anti-corruption body; and that all the possible futures that their children may have were a distant and last concern to their fathers.
Postscript: When I posted a link to this essay on Twitter, a Mark Boscawen replied with a series of tweets explaining the erection of the following: An obelisk at, say, Penrith in western Sydney. On one side is a list of those in politics who actively worked against climate action (e.g. Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce etc.). On the second face would be a list of those in the media who spoke out against climate action (e.g. Alan Jones, Ray Hadley, Chris Smith, Andrew Bolt). On the third side a list of those in business who funded the lobbyists and PR campaigns; and those who accepted the money (e.g. Gina Rinehart, John Roskam etc.). On the fourth side would be the others, those who put greed above humanity (e.g. Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch). This is so that their actions are known so that any attempt to rewrite history will be futile.
I would add to this that if these people are so sure that climate change is in error or a conspiracy then they should be proud to have their names up there. If they are not so keen to have their names inscribed, then this will show their real motivations. It will also make clear to their descendants where they stood.