The Australian bushfire crisis provides a window into a terrifying future.
Accompanying elements which are immediately understandable within a framework of traditional values — the horror of the destruction of human and natural systems by fire on a vast scale — we see an emergence of a powerful and malign assemblage of fossil fuel industries, concentrated media ownership and politicians in the pocket of these industries deploying a modus operandi of insidious disinformation campaigns.
In the case of the bushfire crisis, this has taken the form of baseless claims that the primary cause of the fires is arson, and that Greens politicians have actively worked to hamper fuel-clearing efforts prior to the fires, redirecting public anger from a political class responsible for decades of inaction on matters of great concern to public well-being.
Spread by bots over Twitter, such claims are echoed by credulous, partisan human users and then amplified by right-wing news outlets like Fox News, which aim to control, rather than inform, popular opinion in a formula which has been established as ruthlessly efficient — such as the infamous internet campaign concurrent with the 2016 American presidential election.
This disinformation campaign dovetails with a political media-relations campaign of an odious brand of politician — in this case Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison — who serve the entrenched interests of fossil fuel extraction. It is these same interests, through ecocidal pillaging of resources, which cause the very crises they exploit. A positive feedback loop is established, whereby the sowing of terror and confusion in a population serves to tighten the stranglehold on power held by those who are the root cause of the terror and confusion. It is an evil system, and not less efficient for it.
The Second World War is frequently invoked as an example of the level of mobilization required by societies to combat the worst effects of climate change. The eventual victory of the Allies in the Second World War was accomplished not only by a concentrated marshaling of the physical infrastructure of entire nations — in this context, the refusal of Morrison and his ilk to even admit that unprecedented climate-related disasters require a change in allocation of resources or government policy should be an evident red flag — but through concentrated propaganda campaigns.
It was recognized then what we must come to recognize now: because victory is deemed necessary for survival, collective support for those actions necessary for victory cannot be solicited or left to chance, but must be as aggressively, skillfully cultivated.
This is in stark contrast to the strategy of environmental groups over the past decades, which has relied on educating people in the hopes that, out of enlightened understanding, they will modify their behaviours as needed. The result of such is seen in a recent survey of Canadians conducted by CBC News — many Canadians who list climate change as a top concern are unwilling to sacrifice even $9 a month to combat it.
By comparison, rationing of staples was widespread across whole societies for years during the time when constant propaganda campaigns reinforced the necessity of sacrifice for victory during the Second World War. Populations were skillfully made aware of the reason and need for their sacrifices.
In our own time, in order to ensure our survival, propaganda must again become an accepted tool of governance. We cannot wait for people to make sacrifices for the greater good on their own because they will not. We must actively seek to remake our society on a plan that is sustainable and equitable so as to avoid complete and total collapse. This entails the need to remake public opinion.
To deny ourselves the tools which those seeking to destroy us have begun to wield with ruthless efficiency is to doom ourselves to extinction. Disinformation campaigns will become increasingly sophisticated, politicians and oligarchs will be bolstered by the confusion and lies they spread and the endless terror of biosphere collapse will be weaponized — and this will be successful because it is not opposed on its own ground.
It is a grim future, and one certain to come to pass unless a wholesale societal effort is made to use all tools at our disposal to oppose it.