By Mick Krever and Ken Olshansky, CNN
Will politics exacerbate Australia’s raging wildfires?
It’s not supposed to be fire season yet in Australia, where summer hasn’t even begun. But more than sixty devastating bush fires are already raging in a ring around Sydney.
Just a month ago, Australians elected a new prime minister, Tony Abbott, who once called climate change “absolute c**p.” (He has since walked those remarks back, calling them a bit of “rhetorical hyperbole.”)
Though it is unclear that climate change directly caused these wild fires – police arrested two teenagers for starting two of the Sydney fires –local officials do fear those hot, dry, and windy conditions this week could exacerbate the situation.
In the past 12 months, Australia has lived through the hottest summer, in the hottest year, on record.
“There is a real political debate about how to deal with this issue of climate change,” Stan Grant, international editor of Sky News Australia, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.
“Tony Abbot in the past has been citizen for being a climate skeptic, if not a climate change denier,” Grant said. “Now he stepped back a lot from that hard line that he’s taken, but he’s been very ideological when it comes to how to deal with this.”
The prime minister, Grant said, is trying to get rid of Australia’s carbon tax, which was backed by the Labor Party.
“He’s going to face a real struggle in the parliament to be able to do that,” he told Amanpour. “If he isn’t able to achieve that, he’s threatened to go back to the electorate, dissolve parliament, and go back to another election to get a mandate to do that.”
Abbott has also dissolved Australia’s climate change commission.
“The fires that we’re seeing right now are only going to increase that pressure and increase the volume of that discussion and debate,” Grant said, “particularly once we’re past the worst of the fires.”
But for the moment, he told Amanpour, it looks like those fires will get worse before they get better.
“Wednesday is being talked about as D Day,” Grant said. “That’s when we’re going to see high winds, we’re going to see very high temperatures as well.”
“There is a real concern here that the major fires that are burning in the Blue Mountains area, which is west of largest city in Australia, Sydney, could actually link together and cause form what they’re calling a mega fire.”
Fire fighters have been brought in from other states to assist in the battle, Grant said.
“It has, in every sense, been a living hell for people here.”