Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in cities across Australia Friday to protests their government's inaction on the global climate emergency as the country continues to battle catastrophic bushfires that have devoured millions of acres of land, destroyed hundreds of homes, and left over a billion animals and 27 people dead.
Australia is only halfway through its historically hot, dry summer, but the country is already in the midst of an "unprecedented national crisis" featuring "virtually unstoppable" blazes, particularly in the continent's southeastern states. As the fires have ramped up, so has public pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his coalition government.
Morrison was a primary target of the protests Friday. Uni Students for Climate Justice and Extinction Rebellion organized events in several major cities using the slogan "Sack ScoMo." The groups explained on Facebook that "these fires, heatwaves, and droughts are not just unprecedented—they're the direct result of decades of climate destruction at the hands of fossil fuel loving politicians."
Sydney Protest: Thousands of climate change activists have descended on Sydney’s CBD, protesting the federal government’s perceived inaction during the bushfire crisis. https://t.co/PpAvGax75p #7NEWS pic.twitter.com/ShSh68vuZg
— 7NEWS Sydney (@7NewsSydney) January 10, 2020
— 350Australia (@350Australia) January 10, 2020
In Sydney, Australia's most populous city, at least 30,000 people gathered to call for climate action. Protesters chanted "The liar from the shire, the country is on fire," and "Hey hey, ho ho, ScoMo has got to go," a demand echoed at other demonstrations.
"Hey hey ho ho ScoMo's got to go!"
— Minh Ngo (@minhtngo) January 10, 2020
Protests erupted today across Australia.
With crowds chanting: “WHAT DO WE WANT? CLIMATE ACTION?
WHEN DO WE WANT IT? NOW!”
And demanding the firing of their Prime Minister.
— Joshua Potash (@JoshuaPotash) January 10, 2020
"I stand in front of you today bloody angry," Greens Sen. Mehreen Faruqi reportedly told a crowd in Sydney. "I don't think I have ever been this angry in my life."
"Leadership is totally lacking in our prime minister and this government," she said. "Scott Morrison and his government are cowardly. They are dishonest. They are completely incompetent. They have behaved like climate criminals."
Faruqi's condemnation of Morrison—who's been heckled and widely criticized by Australians for his track record on climate issues and what they see as an inadequate government response to the ongoing fire crisis—was shared by some protesters.
"The bushfires are devastating communities and our government is not doing enough to stop it," 14-year-old Ambrose Hayes told CNN in Sydney. "The Morrison government needs to act before it's too late, before we reach a tipping point, before these impacts get worse than they already are."
Kris Stevens, who traveled from the city of Dubbo in New South Wales (NSW) to join the rally in Sydney, said Morrison's coalition government isn't solely to blame for the current conditions. "We've had decades to deal with it and successive governments have done nothing," Stevens told CNN. "The Earth is a finite resource. You can't have an economy on a dead planet."
Protesters in Australia want 5 main things:
• Funding for firefighters
• Aid for affected communities
• Land and water sovereignty for indigenous communities
• Immediate transition toward renewable energy
• "Just transition" for fossil fuel workers https://t.co/nsgzKG4umt
— CNN International (@cnni) January 10, 2020
Morrison, for his part, pushed back against mounting criticism of the Australian government's climate policies in an interview with Sydney radio station 2GB Friday.
"We don't want job-destroying, economy-destroying, economy-wrecking targets and goals, which won't change the fact that there have been bushfires or anything like that in Australia," he said. "The suggestion that there's any one emissions reduction policy or climate policy that has contributed directly to any of these fire events is just ridiculous and the conflation of those two things, I think, has been very disappointing."
The prime minister's comments came as thousands of firefighters faced winds that fanned the flames of more than a hundred fires, including a "mega-blaze" that formed when multiple fire merged. The "mega-blaze" spanned over a million acres of land straddling the NSW and Victorian borders.
"It's just been the worst-case scenario, time and time again". Our Chief Photographer @nampix and the rest of our bushfire photographer team reflect on their experiences covering the ongoing crisis https://t.co/HDYwWrdqoJ #ClimateEmergency #BushFireCrisisAustralia #bushfires
— SMH Photography (@photosSMH) January 10, 2020
As emergency crews keep braving "dangerous and erratic conditions," climate scientists are highlighting how human-caused global heating has made the Australian fires and heatwaves worse, and warning that "the frequency and intensity of the fires will surge as Australia becomes hotter and drier."
"The science is telling us... these extreme heat conditions we've seen this year might occur naturally once every 350 years," climate scientist and former federal climate commissioner Tim Flannery told CNN. "But once you add in the influence of the human-emitted greenhouse gases, we're likely to see those conditions once every eight years."
Flannery, who called coal "a national addiction" and the government's link to the fossil fuel industry "almost complete," added that "people are deeply angered by the betrayal of one government after the other on this issue" of climate inaction.
That anger was reflected in protest signs Friday, which read "Denial is not a policy," "Aus gov = koala killers," "Not my prime minister," and "We see you climate criminals."
Australia’s govt weakened its commitments to the Paris climate deal and played down links between climate change and bushfires.
▪️ Australia is one of the biggest CO2 polluters
▪️ 2019 was its hottest and driest year
▪️ Experts say fires will get more frequent in coming years pic.twitter.com/7YrvmXOWHZ
— AJ+ (@ajplus) January 10, 2020
Maani Truu of SBS News asked protesters why they joined the demonstrations Friday. "I'm here to support this protest action against lack of action by our leaders on climate change," said 77-year-old Grahem Jones, who urged the members of his generation to learn from and support youth climate activists.
— Maani Truu (@maanitruu) January 10, 2020
"Being an emerging mother I'm really concerned about the future for this child and we all need to be acting in whatever way we can to bring to light how important this Earth is," 34-year-old Jola Jones said. "Being pregnant and obviously in the headspace of wanting to protect my child, it's made everything feel very on edge and very real."
As an expression of solidarity with protests in Australia Friday, climate activists organized demonstrations at the country's embassies around the world.
While Australia suffers devastating bushfires, XR groups in over 30 countries are holding solidarity actions outside Australian embassies and consulates. #bushfirerebellion #everybodynow #ExtinctionRebellion #AustraliaFires pic.twitter.com/0wbf2iCbgw
— Extinction Rebellion Australia (@XRebellionAus) January 10, 2020
— Friends of the Earth (@friends_earth) January 10, 2020
Extinction Rebellion Australia, which shared updates from solidarity events on social media throughout Friday, tweeted: "We are so overwhelmed with love for our fellow rebels standing with us."