Frosty the Snowman’s fossil fetish

7 December 2016

What a children’s song teaches us about coal, climate change and the dangers of greed; and why Turnbull should put our billion dollars back into aid, not subsidies.

Like many immigrants to Australia, I’m still getting my head around the Southern Hemisphere version of the festive season: barbeques, beaches, and tons of summer sun.

But after hearing a Christmas classic last night, it started to make sense.

To borrow a conceit from Richard Flanagan, anything can be an Australian story. And no Christmas tale is more Australian than Frosty the Snowman.

As white as bleached coral, Frosty has ‘two eyes made out of coal’ – Australia’s primary export. But, under the fossilised perspective of his coal-tinted glasses, he meets his watery end ‘running here and there’ in the heat.

Frosty had his fun in the sun knowing it couldn’t last. If that’s not irony, I don’t know what is.

When it comes to climate change, it’s beyond doubt that coal is public enemy number one. Yet, in the bitterest of ironies, this week Australia bent over backwards to feed the foreign-funded fossil fuel industry.

Just days after scientists spoke out about the critical danger the warming seas pose to the Great Barrier Reef, the tycoons and politicos pushing the $22bn Carmichael coal mine project visited Townsville, the mine’s proposed headquarters.

There they lauded the possibility of some 500 mainly white-collar jobs.

In another heartwarming act of seasonable charity, the government may even loan a billion dollars for the rail line connecting Carmichael with the sea.

Now, I’m all for the idea of ‘lifting millions of people out of poverty’. It’s one of the ‘moral cases’ politicians make in Carmichael’s favour. So why not lend them a billion dollars to help them do that?

Come on. As both a former humanitarian worker and an Overseas Citizen of India, I don’t think that that argument flies one tiny bit.

Millions of vulnerable Indians are not going to benefit from burning millions of tonnes of Australian coal for the subcontinent’s power grid. Climate change notwithstanding, air pollution from fossil fuels claims hundreds of thousands of Indian lives every year.

In fact, with hundreds of millions of Indians reliant on agriculture, climate change is an immense threat.

What they actually need are the four things espoused by anyone who truly cares about the needs of those afflicted by poverty. These are education, community health, sustainable livelihoods and rural infrastructure.

So I’ve got an idea.

If the Australian government really wants to help lift people out of poverty, it shouldn’t lend that billion dollars to wealthy corporations. It should use it to replenish the international aid budget.

The same international aid budget that’s been slashed to its lowest levels in history. It’s now a paltry 0.22% of Gross National Income. A level reached after a billion dollar cut in 2015-2016.

Putting a billion back would go a long way towards actually alleviating poverty. It could help mitigate the profound effects of climate change on vulnerable Indians, Filipinos, Pacific Islanders and millions of others.

That really would make an altogether merrier Christmas. Better than watching our festive season values melt away in the heat.