Australia is still burning like thermite, into its fifth straight month of deadly bushfires as PM Scott Morrison's support is dropping like a rock.
Strong winds that have changed direction are hampering efforts by firefighters to contain bushfires in Australia's south-east.
A southerly change with powerful gusts up to 80mph (128km/h) threatened to spread huge fires raging in New South Wales (NSW), officials said.
In the neighbouring state of Victoria, army helicopters have been deployed to evacuate people trapped by the flames.
Since September, fires in Australia have killed at least 23 people.
More than 1,200 homes have been destroyed and millions of hectares of land scorched. Although much attention has centred on worst-hit NSW, every state and territory has been affected.
On Saturday, NSW fire commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons warned of "volatile" conditions to come.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has been harshly criticised for his handling of the emergency, has announced the deployment of 3,000 reserve troops to help the fire-fighting effort.
On Saturday he came under fire again for posting an advert on Twitter showing how the government was responding to the crisis, accompanied by an upbeat backing track.
Australia is about the same size as the mainland US. Imagine wildfires burning on the West Coast, East Coast, Gulf Coast, the Texas border with Mexico, and the northern border with Canada all at the same time and you'll have a pretty good idea of what's going on in Oz right now.
The bigger issue is of course Morrison is a virulent climate-change denier like the rest of Australia's Liberal Party, and when Tasmanian bushfires rocked the state in 2016, a proposal to expand a national air tanker firefighting fleet was scrapped by Morrison's predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull.
The nation's aerial firefighting centre called four years ago for a "national large air-tanker" fleet to confront a growing bushfire threat but was turned down in a federal government ruling that the task was one for the states.
The National Aerial Firefighting Centre, which oversees a fleet of 145 aircraft, warned of hotter and more extended bushfire seasons in a call on governments in May 2016 to establish the major new capability.
The rejected proposal intensifies the debate over the response to bushfires that are spreading across all six states and have destroyed about 1500 homes and burnt more than 5 million hectares.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will convene the national security committee of federal cabinet in a phone hook-up on Saturday morning to consider the federal response to the crisis, including "options available to us to source other aircraft" to douse fires.
But the government has resisted the idea of a national water-bombing fleet for years in an argument over federal and state responsibilities and funding, raising questions over whether a bigger fleet could have slowed this summer's wildfires.
"Given suitable funding, there is an opportunity to develop, in future years, a sophisticated national large air-tanker capability for Australia," the centre told a Senate inquiry into Tasmanian bushfires.
"Firefighters are likely to face extended, hotter fire seasons in the future, with more days of extreme fire danger. Along with changing demographics and land use pattern, this is likely to increase demand for aerial firefighting resources.
"A shared, national large fixed-wing air-tanker capability is logical and is an attractive strategy."
The Senate inquiry backed the proposal but the government dismissed it in September 2017, saying it would continue its $15 million annual support for the National Aerial Firefighting Centre without expanding the national capability.
Suddenly, Morrison is really interested in funding this proposal now that there's been far more than the cost of funding done in damage this year, and there's zero end in sight to these fires.
But here's the killer. Australia's wildfires may be the political trigger here for Republicans to use climate change as impetus for their white nationalist takeover, what Jon Katz writes about as the next stage of disaster capitalism: disaster fascism, demonstrated by GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida.
Congressman Gaetz is an obvious candidate to help lead the charge to the armed lifeboats. He represents a district in Florida where climate reality is undeniable. He is also an unabashed xenophobe, who rushed to Trump’s defense—and added to the racist pile-on—when the president called Haiti a “shithole.”
In 2019, Gaetz unveiled a climate change proposal he dubbed the “Green Real Deal.” It was an obvious trolling job, a sort of regulation-killing, tax-cutting parody of Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal. The resolution was filled with signaling language about “unilateral disarmament,” and the U.S. becoming the “world’s patsy” by taking on polluting industries at home. He focused on military adaptation and expansion into the Arctic.
(In a preview of Republican messaging to come, Gaetz also shifted blame away from the climate-denier-in-chief, Donald Trump. Instead he vaguely he cited “some in our government” as the source of denial and quipped nonsensically that the military does not have “the luxury of an academic debate about climate change”—as if academia is where that debate has been happening. As they did with the Iraq War, we can expect the right to shift blame for their decades of global destruction to liberals, and get much of the media to go along.)
Australia has a lot in common with the United States: a diverse, former British settler colony with a tradition of (white) individualism, corporate capitalism, and mass media owned by Rupert Murdoch, who was born in Melbourne. Its prime minister, Scott Morrison, is also a buffoonish climate denier, whose party’s fossil fuel cronyism is similarly papered over with clumsy appeals to white nationalism. Like Trump, he ran on a promise to bar the door to refugees. In office, he has threatened an authoritarian crackdown on protests and boycotts against companies that injure the environment.
Lurking behind them are deadlier forces. The white Australian who slaughtered 51 people at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, declared himself an “ethno-nationalist eco-fascist,” bent on killing immigrants who he said “colonize other peoples lands.” The gunman who murdered 22 people, mostly Latinos, at an El Paso Walmart in August, framed his massacre in terms of environmental necessity: “The average American isn’t willing to change their lifestyle, even if the changes only cause a slight inconvenience … So the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources.”
“Ecofascism” is a misnomer. This is old-school fascism. Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler both feared the exhaustion of resources, and authorized violence in the name of garnering more productive “living space” (spazio vitale in Italian; Lebensraum in German). In Mein Kampf, Hitler claimed that “we have to face the fact that the general standard of living is rising more quickly than even the birth rate,” and that the “right of self-preservation” meant Germans could take the resources they needed by force.
Taking the resources one needs from the unwashed horde remains a staple of right-wing messaging. As the ultimate elite panicker, Tucker Carlson opined in November: “Isn't crowding your country the fastest way to despoil it, to pollute it, to make it a place you wouldn't want to live?”
And suddenly it all makes sense, doesn't it? The xenophobia, Trump's screeches of "No more room!" in America, the projection that Democrats will use climate change as justification for government crackdowns, Stephen Miller's rush to deport as many brown faces as possible, the rage against the 14th Amendment's citizenship clause, all of it.
The "good Christians" are shutting the doors of the American ark.
That's what this always has been about. Looting the palatial ocean liner before it sinks and heading to the lifeboats, firing into the crowds to keep them away from the ropes.
Australia is where we're heading, and very soon, under a second Trump term.