Bushfires and climate change. John Menadue

Oct 21, 2013

Last week, the Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, was really trying to tell us that black is white.  He attacked Adam Brandt who had said that the bushfires in NSW were part of a pattern of more extreme weather caused by climate change.  Brandt added that the government should not embark on dismantling sensible policies to limit global warming. What Brandt said was entirely consistent with the very strong advice that we have been receiving for many years from the best climate scientists in the world about weather changes.

Having an indefensible policy called ‘Direct Action’ on climate change; Minister Hunt turned to political invective and attacked Adam Brandt for ‘politicising’ the bushfire tragedy. The Minister obviously decided that his “direct action” couldn’t sensibly be defended so he turned to filling the news cycle with political spin and nonsense by attacking Adam Brandt. Incidentally, Malcolm Turnbull, who lost his position as leader of the Liberal Party for espousing sensible marked based emission policies has told us quite clearly that he regards ‘direct action’ as a fig leaf when you don’t really have a policy.

What Adam Brandt was saying is, I believe, at the top of the mind for a very large number of Australians. Is our weather becoming much more extreme? The evidence is increasingly pointing in that direction. Commenting on Minister Hunt’s political invective, the CEO of the Climate Institute, John Connor, said that it was time to face up to the growing risks of severe events such as bushfires owing to climate change. He said ‘Now is the time for a sensible debate’. But nothing sensible came from Greg Hunt.

The Australian Climate Commission report ‘The Critical Decade 2013’ has just reported on the very worrying trends. It said

  • 70% of Australia experienced severe heatwaves across late December 2012 and January 2013. Temperature records were set in every state and territory. January 7, 2013 was the hottest ever average Australian maximum temperature.
  • Between 1973 and 2000, 16 out of 38 weather stations across Australia showed a significant increase in the Forest Fire Danger Index.
  • One quarter of the way through the Critical Decade, many consequences of climate change are already evident and the risks of further climate change are better understood.
  • 2000 to 2009 was the hottest decade since records began.
  • Global changes in rainfall have been observed, including in Australia.
  • The longer term regional drying trends over the south-west and south-east (of Australia) continued.
  • Increased heat is also causing significant global changes in snow and ice.
  • As expected, with the warming ocean and loss of land-based ice, the sea level is rising.
  • Climate change is likely to continue to affect Australians in a number of ways including: rising temperatures and more hot days; GREATER RISK OF BUSHFIRES; increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events including heavy rainfall and drought; and sea-level rise leading to more coastal flooding and erosion.

The science on climate change is not conclusive but all the evidence and information points to the fact that we are embarking on a much more carbon intensive world and that that problem is mounting year by year.  This has been confirmed yet again last month by the fifth United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. More than 600 of the world’s top scientists contributed to the report.  There were 50,000 contributors to the report and exhaustive peer review. The IPCC report concluded that there was now a 95% probability that humans are responsible for global warning. It pointed to rising sea levels, rising temperatures and greater variability in weather patterns. Minister Hunt says he accepts the IPCC findings but then does a complete about face and resumes his police war.

The greatest risk that we could take would be to ignore the possible calamity for the planet and our children. These serious prospects deserve a much more serious response than we have had from Greg Hunt and his leader, Tony Abbott, who have been playing politics hard and fast and successfully on climate change for years.  They are leading us down a dangerous cull ds sac.

My concern is not just the abdication of responsibility by Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt but they have misled so many people and particularly their own supporters. In polling on October 1 this month, Essential Research found that 51 % of Liberal/ National voters did not believe in climate change. They believed that we were just witnessing normal fluctuations in the wold’s climate.

I am stunned and alarmed by such poll findings. Surely so many Liberal/National voters can’t be such slow learners. Are they such party loyalists that they have allowed Tont Abbott to close their minds? Are they that partisan? Is it that they won’t allow any facts to threaten their comfortable life style?

History will not judge kindly the way that Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt are playing politics with a looming danger. Our wondrous and delicate planet is on a dangerous trajectory and humans are the cause of the problem. We also have solutions in our hands. But ethical and wise leadership is essential. We have not got it at the moment.

Hopefully, the ALP will not give way on the carbon tax unless it is satisfied that there is a better policy in place to combat the clear signs of climate change.

On the particular issue of bushfires, let us not get distracted by the relatively minor issue of hazard reduction. That should be addressed, but we are facing a much more significant and possibly catastrophic problem, global climate change.

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