The best way to read Rolling Stone magazine is with a joint in one hand, a goon of cheap red in the other, and Joe Strummer on the turntable, loud enough to wake the neighbours.
Today’s readers probably prefer Eskimo Joe on their iPods, but otherwise not much will have changed.
Or has it? In the past, RS founder Jann Wenner prided himself on the quality of his political musings, having introduced the world to awesome talents ranging from Hunter S. Thompson to P.J O’Rourke.
Rarely has the international edition (often labeled as the cultural arm of the Democrat party) bothered itself with Australia, other than to trot out the odd Nick Cave review. In the latest issue all that has changed.
Australia, startled readers from the USA to Europe now learn, is Global Warming Central. In his near-hysterical diatribe, climate change advocate Jeff Goodell manages to turn his recent (all expenses paid?) trip down under into a terrifying journey through a land where “the wrath of the climate gods is everywhere.”
Under the eye-catching headline “Climate Change and the End of Australia”, Jeff vividly describes a nightmarish Oz where “homes along the Gold Coast are being swept away, koala bears face extinction in the wild, and farmers, their crops shriveled by drought, are shooting themselves in despair.”
Yikes! What’s more, “dead kangaroos sprawl by the side of the road… Palm trees are bent horizontal in the wind… It's as if civilization is being dismantled…”
All because Australia “happens to be right in the cross hairs of global warming.” As this spellbinding yarn unfolds, and a bleak future indeed looms across Dorothy Mackellar’s sunburnt horizons, an apt metaphor springs to my mind. But the author beats me to it:
“Australia will look like a disaster movie. Habitats for most vertebrates will vanish. Water supply to the Murray-Darling Basin will fall by half, severely curtailing food production. Rising sea levels will wipe out large parts of major cities… The Great Barrier Reef will be reduced to a pile of purple bacterial slime. Thousands of people will die from heat waves and other extreme weather events… Depression and suicide will become even more common among displaced farmers and Aborigines.”
Pass the popcorn! Or even, better, pass the spliff.
I take a deep breath, and plunge on. As Jeff knows, no thriller is complete without a sinister villain or two: “Australia is home to Rupert Murdoch's media empire… Murdoch's papers fail to point out that the more coal the country burns and exports, the fiercer its hurricanes are likely to become.”
And not only your run-of-the-mill hurricanes, but “hurricanes of fire,” too. Jeff neatly weaves the Victorian bushfires into his tale of climate change woe. “Under a high global-warming scenario – essentially the track the world is on today – catastrophic fires will occur every year.”
And then comes a moment for profound moralising: “You might think that surviving such a harrowing encounter would make (Jane) O'Connor more attuned to the risks of living on a superheated planet, but it hasn't. "I think the jury is still out on the science of climate change," O'Connor says from the safety of her air-conditioned office.” Air-conditioning! We Australians really are the limit!
Nowhere, of course, do America’s equally wild weather patterns get a mention. Is it because Democrat Obama has basically given up on climate change? Suddenly, it’s all down to us Aussies.
“The reef is one of the wonders of the natural world – and (you’re) going to trash it just because (you) don't want to drive smaller cars or pay a little extra to put solar panels on the roof?" he ponders.
But it’s the climactic third act of his disaster script where Jeff really goes to town. Toowomba, as it happens.
“The fact that the sky can hold more water is precisely what happens in a warming world. Four inches of rain fell (and) what had been a manageable soaking turned into a catastrophe… The floodwaters continued down into the Lockyer Valley, bursting through smaller towns and sweeping buildings, cars and people away… Eventually, the floodwaters… all poured into the Brisbane River, which flows through Australia's third-largest city. The river rose 15 feet above normal, breaking its banks and forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents.”
Gasp! Terrifying stuff. But I barely have time to pour myself another glass of red before Narrabeen, too, gets swept away in a raging torrent of melodrama and hyperbole.
"The beach, the hotels, the houses – the sea will cut right through to Sydney Harbor (sic). Manly beach will vanish. We walk for a while, watching all the happy people strolling along the boardwalk and drinking wine in cafes and surfing the waves. The sun is shining, and everything is lovely. Too bad that it all has to go.”
Defending the article against an online backlash, Australian RS editor Toby Creswell struggles to hide his embarrassment. “The tone of this is probably a bit too alarmist and some of the minor details stick out to us Australians but the gist of it is pretty spot on.” Sorry, Toby, not good enough. Omitted from this racy account is the fact that the ferocity of the Victorian fires was largely due to a build-up of fuels thanks to a lack of burning off by Greens-dominated councils. ‘Yasi ‘was a classic strong “La Nina” cyclone of the sort that regularly pound the Queensland coast; it just happened to hit a town. The Brisbane deluge was caused by the ineptitude of the Labor party’s decision – driven by belief in climate change - to use the Wivenhoe Dam for storage rather than for flood mitigation as it was designed. Narrabeen and other such beaches were swept away in the 70’s and many times before that.
In the tradition of Al Gore, exaggeration and lies are being foisted by Rolling Stone upon an impressionable audience in order to create fear about climate change - and loathing for those who question it.