‘A historical turning point’: Paul Krugman warns that disaster in Australia is a sign we’re ‘barreling down the road to hell’
The blazes in Australia have destroyed more than 1,000 homes and scorched well over 5.5 million hectares STATE GOVERNMENT OF VICTORIA/AFP / Handout

Although wildfires were causing death and destruction long before climate change, such disasters are getting worse: more common, more widespread, more intense. Climate change didn’t invent wildfires any more than it invented hurricanes, floods or tornadoes, but it is making them worse. Liberal economist and New York Times opinion writer Paul Krugman, in a scathing column this week, warns that extreme events like the wildfires that have been devastating Australia are a preview of things to come — and he stresses that right-wing politicians who deny the reality of climate change are as great a threat as the events themselves.

“In a rational world,” Krugman writes, “the burning of Australia would be a historical turning point. After all, it’s exactly the kind of catastrophe climate scientists long warned us to expect if we didn’t take action to limit greenhouse gas emissions.”

But Krugman goes on to lament that “the world isn’t rational. In fact, Australia’s anti-environmentalist government seems utterly unmoved as the nightmares of environmentalists become reality. And the anti-environmentalist media, the Murdoch empire in particular, has gone all-out on disinformation, trying to place the blame on arsonists and ‘greenies’ who won’t let fire services get rid of enough trees.”

The “Murdoch empire” Krugman is referring to is, of course, the one led by 88-year-old media mogul Rupert Murdoch, a Melbourne, Australia native and founder of Fox News’ parent company, News Corp. One of the silliest talking points at News Corp. is that environmentalists are largely to blame for the Australian wildfires because they have been overly protective of the trees that are now burning.

As destructive as the Australian wildfires have been, Krugman warns, diehard climate change deniers are unlikely to be swayed by science.

“If a nation in flames isn’t enough to produce a consensus for action — if it isn’t even enough to produce some moderation in the anti-environmentalist position — what will?” Krugman asserts. “The Australia experience suggests that climate denial will persist come hell or high water — that is, through devastating heatwaves and catastrophic storm surges alike.”

Right-wing climate change deniers, according to Krugman, are as problematic in Canberra (the Australian capital) as they are in Washington, D.C.

“Very few of the people still denying the reality of climate change or at least opposing doing anything about it will be moved by further accumulation of evidence, or even by a proliferation of new disasters,” Krugman warns. “Any action that does take place will have to do so in the face of intractable right-wing opposition.”

One possible solution, Krugman writes, is to appeal to voters’ self-interest by promoting the economic and job-creating benefits of a Green New Deal.

“Can such a strategy succeed?” Krugman asks. “I don’t know. But it looks like our only chance given the political reality in Australia, America, and elsewhere — namely, that powerful forces on the right are determined to keep us barreling down the road to hell.”