‘Bread and Circuses’ and Global Warming

Lakes fireworks

The old Roman proverb of giving the people ‘bread and circuses’ to distract them from the political process is relevant today. The ‘bread’ is supplied by full employment and a tight social security system. The ‘circuses’ are many and varied from the Lakes Entrance fireworks display (above) through to the various sporting codes that dominate our media and our lives. Even a real circus does occasionally visit Gippsland. But our minds are fixed on the next great media event, be it tennis, golf, one of the various football codes (not forgetting the saga at Essendon FC) or pyjama cricket instead of focusing on the slowly unfolding great crisis of our times – the climate change emergency.

At this juncture I must plead guilty to also being part of the ‘sports mad’ horde for more than half my life. My interests nurtured in the early post war years were the traditional ones – cricket and Aussie Rules football. I still occasionally like to listen to test cricket whilst I played football with junior clubs – mostly in the old Omeo league – for more than 20 years. Local sporting events deserve our support and should be encouraged but that is a far cry from the multi-million dollar spectacles that are the AFL, the Australian Tennis Open and pyjama cricket ad infinitum that now dominate our lives. All these events are televised and apparently we watch on average 3 hours every day. There is a need to critically discern between local/community activity which requires participation or involvement and big business sport which is essentially passive.

Our preoccupation means we ignore the ‘elephant in the room’ – climate change. By abandoning many of the ‘circus’ subsidies such as the recent $400 million renovations of the tennis centre or just forgetting about the Grand Prix might be a good start. And fireworks displays – wherever they are held – are good money ‘up in smoke’. Funds that, for instance, could easily finance a substantial, apolitical, public education campaign on greenhouse basics. But most of all this preoccupation, and its media saturation, leads to a ‘dumbing down’ of the political process. We elect a government on the basis of false three word slogans. We elect politicians of a party that had almost endless (and now questionable) finances and we elect dinosaurs that continue to ignore the science of climate change.

Tim Flannery in his Atmosphere of Hope explained how “a small shift in average temperatures caused by emissions of greenhouse gases was influencing temperatures across Australia…” and that the dramatic closure of the 2014 Australian Open due to a heatwave was thus influenced by climate change. This will not be a lone event – rather just one of many interruptions directly or partially attributed to our warming planet. When the reality of the climate emergency finally arrives in Canberra, Spring St and Bairnsdale the financing of ‘circuses’ will be the first to be abandoned.