Opinion

Beetles fan the flames of change - thoughts by John Lewis

By John Lewis

When I returned to work this week, I found a Christmas beetle at the bottom of my coffee cup.

There it sat, nose down, perfect and shiny, with it's hairy little legs splayed as if it had just finished off the dregs of my pre-holiday latte and was full to the brim.

It was dead of course, but it made me think - where have all the Christmas beetles gone?

We used to get plagues of the little blighters on our verandah every year - as an advanced warning of the seasonal silliness to come.

Now, their dwindling numbers are a warning of something more serious.

Australia has been burning since September and the inferno is not over yet - we've still got two months of summer to go.

As I write, navy ships and military aircraft are evacuating people from scenes of apocalyptic fire zones.

Thousands of firefighters are battling more than 100 bushfires in NSW and about 40 in Victoria.

The Australian capital is blanketed in dense smoke 21 times above the hazard rating.

So far, the fires have claimed 17 lives and destroyed more than 1000 homes.

While the fires themselves bring out the best in us by bringing people together to support each other, they are also now fanning the flames of dissent and argument.

Are the fires caused by climate change? If so what do we do about it?

Some people reason like this: perhaps the fires are caused by climate change, but fires have happened before and the climate has changed before, there's nothing we can do about it - so let's all get on with the job of living with it.

Barnaby Joyce summed it up the conservative attitude neatly when he said it was all part of God's plan, and unless we respect that we're "going to get nailed".

Barnaby was right in the last part - we are going going to get nailed - or more accurately, roasted. But only if we adopt the ostrich approach and do nothing.

There is also an ostrich economic argument: Australia's emissions are so small compared to the rest of the world that anything we do won't make any difference, so let's do nothing and continue business as usual.

So yes, there have always been fires and droughts and yes Australia's greenhouse gas emissions are smaller than China's - but the point is, the fires, droughts and emissions are getting worse and things have to change. Now is the time to stand up and be counted and do something to tackle the situation.

It's a simple concept that goes beyond tinkering with taxes and bureaucracy reforms - it's called leadership. Lead the way, point to the bigger picture, don't rely on others to take up the slack, in the words of another conservative - be a lifter not a leaner.

There are plenty of Australians who are lifting up their fellow citizens right now, sacrificing their time, their money and some tragic cases, their lives to make the world a safer, better place.

We need to make sure their efforts are not in vain, that we can change things, and that the Christmas beetle will return.

Read more columns by John Lewis:

Beach life, not all that it's barked up to be

Blinking in the heat of the moment

Time for magic in the kitchen