|Aussie politician finds climate change the scapegoat for wild fires, igniting national hand wringing
The Australian summer is barely a few weeks old and Sydney is facing an unprecedented bushfire threat that climate scientists here insist is merely a taste of things to come. And while mountains around Sydney burn, an increasingly bitter climate debate is dividing a nation facing a growing environmental crisis.
Watching the news from his home state in Victoria, controversial Greens MP Adam Bandt took to social media, to drive home the suggestion that a warming climate is contributing to Australia's vulnerability to extreme weather.
He accused the newly minted coalition government, under climate skeptic Prime Minister Tony Abbott, of seeding policies that would create the conditions for more unstoppable bushfires.
Bandt said Abbott was playing with Australians lives by taking the country “backwards’’on climate science, a not oblique reference to the coalition government's dissolution of the Climate Council.
The incoming Environment Minister Greg Hunt's first call of duty as a government minister was a phone call to national treasure and chief climate commissioner Tim Flannery to inform him the independent climate body would be shut forthwith.
But the bad blood between Australia's climate skeptics and the increasingly fraught and fractured left has been brewing for years.
"Why Tony Abbott's plan means more bushfires for Australia and more pics like this of Sydney," he tweeted, alongside an image of bushfire smoke enveloping the city.
Unsurprisingly the comments immediately drew the fury of climate doubters among them popular radio personality Neil Mitchell.
Mitchell said Bandt was guilty of playing the politics of fear.
“He was exploiting fear. He was exploiting loss. He was exploiting people putting their lives at risk. He was exploiting mums who couldn't find their children. It was massively insensitive to use a crisis like this as a political trick. It is also massively un-Australian."
Bandt in turn has repeatedly denied being a political opportunist but has asked for the science to play out, separate from the national emotion stoked by the nightly images of Australians watching their livelihoods burn on national TV.
The science is certainly compelling. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, only is this September the warmest September on record; but it is the warmest September by the greatest margin of any recorded monthly temperature increase we have experienced in Australia.
In fact, according to the climate commission, Australia has broken all the wrong records this year.
Over 120 extreme weather related records were eclipsed in the 2012/2013 summer.
Australia experienced the hottest January on record, the hottest summer and the hottest day ever recorded in Australia.
One month before the fires that have created a state of emergency in NSW, Australia experienced the warmest September in history, as well as the warmest 12-month period.
Climate scientists insist that climate change means Australia experiences hotter days, more heat-waves and more of the negative impacts on human health, agriculture, industry and many plants and animals that come with a warming climate in a country already beset by ferocious heat.
Bushfires are an emotive topic here. Australia has a long history of fire and already faces the regular risk of serious and extreme fire danger conditions.
Over the past decade large and uncontrollable fires destroyed 500 houses in Canberra in 2003, bushfires in Victoria in 2009 took 173 lives and destroyed over 2,000 houses.
The Climate Council says the projections for the future indicate a significant increase in dangerous fire weather for southeast Australia.
But the interjection of the Greens has outraged many, who see climate hysteria as anti-Australian.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt was among the first to condemn Bandt's commentary, while the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten also steered clear of any politicizing of the unfolding tragedy.
“There has been a terrible tragedy in NSW and no one anywhere should seek to politicize any human tragedy let alone a bushfire of this scale," Hunt said.
The Australian Climate Council spokeswoman Lesley Hughes said it was time to act.
“Climate change is making many extreme events worse in terms of their impacts. It is crucial that communities, emergency services, health and medical services and other authorities prepare for increases in the severity and frequency of many types of extreme weather." Hughes said.
Yet as the temperatures rise, here so does the fury, with opposite sides of the political divide seemingly further and further apart.Neil Mitchell accused the Greens this week of outright betrayal.