‘That sounded like gunfire,’ said one of my dinner companions, glancing towards the window. We were a quarter of a mile upstream of London Bridge, and my jet-lagged, 57-year-old ears hadn’t picked up anything above the buzz of the restaurant. But on the street outside a few minutes later our goodbyes were muted by the sirens of passing police cars and ambulances. You could still hear them in the background the next morning while Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, was telling the BBC that he still considered it ‘one of the world’s safest cities’. This was no doubt meant to reassure tourists, and to encourage locals not to discard the Keep Calm and Carry On mantle they assumed in the wake of the Westminster Bridge attack, a mantle the people of Manchester are now also wearing with stoic dignity. But part of me wondered if it was not another example of a law-abiding Muslim or self-loathing leftie refuting the irrefutable. Like Yassmin Abdel-Magied calling Islam the most feminist religion, or Justin Milne claiming there is no left-wing bias at the ABC, or ASIO chief Duncan Lewis saying ‘I have absolutely no evidence to suggest there is a connection between refugees and terrorism.’ Such figures are not just in a state of extreme personal denial, they are evangelising their delusions. They are telling the rest of us that the evidence of our eyes and ears should not only be treated with passive suspicion, but actively denied. That what my fellow diner in that Thames-side restaurant should really have said is ‘That sounded like bubble-wrap.’
Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane may be a little safer from the threat of jihadism than London, Paris or Brussels, but distance can’t insulate us from every Western world problem. While I am overseas my children tell me on Skype that they are angry about Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Accord on climate change. I’m not sure I gave much thought to the future of the planet when I was their age. But as a parent I am starting to worry about the problems future generations of Australians may face thanks to the reckless consumption habits of my own – and, specifically, the reluctance of so many of us to curb those habits. Indeed, at the risk of alienating readers of this magazine I am beginning to understand why many Australians are turning to the Greens for answers. After all, if the natural inclination of conservatives is to look to the lessons of history, and Labor is the party which seeks to address the inequalities of the present, then the Greens are surely the party of the future. Who else believes that CO2 levels in the atmosphere a century from now should decide the outcome of the next election? Who else thinks that the stratospheric price of Sydney real estate today is less important than sea levels tomorrow? The methodology behind the environmentalists’ worst-case predictions may be open to question, but nobody could accuse them of she’ll-be-right complacency.
When I visit their websites, however, I am struck by a curious and glaring omission. Greenhouse gas emissions certainly get plenty of attention, as do deforestation and ocean acidification. But I cannot find a single word about another burgeoning problem which arguably poses an even a greater threat to the future comfort, health and happiness of ordinary Australians. The looming menace which has already reached an unprecedented level, whose cause is indisputably and entirely anthropogenic, and whose science has been settled for as long as anyone can remember. It’s not rocket-science, either, as the immortal but impecunious Mr Micawber explains to Nicholas Nickleby: ‘Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen shillings and six pence, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds and six pence, result misery.’ There is some irony in the fact that in the novel, Dickens eventually allows Mr Micawber to escape his debts by emigrating to Australia. A country whose recent real-life leaders – notably those of a leftish disposition – have emulated his fiscal irresponsibility to a degree which would the strain the credibility of any work of fiction.
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