October 25, 2013
It is interesting isn't the way public debate shifts its ground. For three years, Abbott dominated the public climate debate with a relentless negative campaign on Labor’s carbon tax. The ground has shifted with the NSW bush fires and climate change.
The link between the two is that climate change is increasing the probability of extreme fire weather days. It is making hot days hotter, and heatwaves more frequent and severe. Although Australia has always had bushfires climate change is increasing the probability of extreme fire weather days and is lengthening the fire season. Climate change will mean that conditions conducive to dangerous bushfires (high temperatures and dry bushland) are more likely in south-east Australia.
The conservatives are no long defining the issue. They are on the back foot--denying the link---and in doing so making their climate change denialism ever more explicit. Consider Tony Abbott. He has said that UN climate chief Christiana Figueres was talking through her hat when she stated the above link and claimed that these fires are certainly not a function of climate change - they’re just a function of life in Australia”.
Since then Abbott has dismissed the link between climate change and the New South Wales bush fires as "complete hogwash" and said that those linking the fires to global warming "are desperate to find anything that they think might pass as ammunition for their cause".
When you put those remarks to the conservative base audience in the context of his previous remarks---“that the science isn’t settled”, is “highly contentious” and “not yet proven”, that “it’s cooling” and “it hasn’t warmed since 1998″ and there’s “no correlation between carbon dioxide and temperature”, and "climate change is crap"---- then Abbott's climate denialism is both consistent, explicit and long standing.
This is an important issue because altered fire regimes will have potentially far-reaching implications for life in Australia. The Climate Council warns of increasing days of extreme fire danger in future across south-eastern Australia:
While Australia has always experienced bushfires, climate change is increasing the probability of extreme fire weather days,. Climate change is making hot days hotter, and heatwaves more frequent and severe. Last summer, Australia experienced the hottest summer on record, and now has just had the hottest September on record.'South-eastern Australia is experiencing a long-term drying trend. In NSW, soil moisture levels have been at record low levels now for a number of months. More intense and frequent hot weather, as well as dry conditions, increases the likelihood of extreme fire weather days
Yet the issue has been politicised by the denialists in the Coalition. They have made opposition to it a defining characteristic of Australian conservatism. To downplay the existence of altered fire regimes on the ground that it is a greenie/left issue that has to be opposed is to make the politics of anti-environment advocacy protect corporate, not the public, interests of the safety of the people.