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Will politics exacerbate Australia’s raging wildfires?

October 21st, 2013
02:53 PM ET

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.”

Filed under:  Australia • Christiane Amanpour • Climate • Latest Episode
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Stuart

    There can be a question whether climate change is a factor here but it is one of the indicators. Australia is a country of stark contrasts, fires during dry periods and severe flooding during wet periods. The Carbon Tax is an attempt to reduce those particles that could lead to climate change.It had lead to electricity usage to fall and potentially less junk in the air. But it comes with a cost and that was higher electricity and energy charges. The new government said it would get rid of this tax but have no plans to replace it with another plan to do the same thing. Until they do have a new plan there is skepticism in the new governments ability to reduce climate change. Another reason for getting rid of the carbon tax was the states own the infrastructure of generating electricity.and need electricity generation to pay for it. Those electricity plants also are coal fired plants and generate plenty of pollutants in the air. An interesting sideline for these fires is that the new government said that they have no plans to help the displaced people who lost their homes or those farmers who have suffered from the fires. Australians have always been first to help their neighbors and governments have also helped but this move by the Abbott government has raised an eyebrow.

    October 21, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Reply
  2. mememine69

    Blame it all on Climate Blame?
    Why are YOU saying a crisis will happen when science only agreed it COULD be a crisis?

    October 21, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Reply
  3. John

    Mememine69. It's like the idiot driving down a major road at twice the speed limit on the wrong side of a major road, ignoring all the red lights and traffic signs, and into the oncoming traffic. The experts say that a fatal accident COULD happen but can't say that it definitely will. It's for this reason we have laws against it.

    October 21, 2013 at 6:57 pm | Reply
  4. russellcunning

    Throughout the earth's history the climate has continually changed, and will continue to do so, with or without us. While Australia is set for a very hot summer, Europe is bracing for the coldest winter in over 100 years. Global Warming was proven incorrect, as record cold snaps were evident to everybody. Climate Change is the latest cry that the sky is falling. When you look for something, you're bound to find evidence of it. Why not look at the economy collapsing all around us, supported by all sorts of smoke and mirrors, but not supported by anything tangilbe, like gold or silver. Anything to distract the public! Like it or not, the climate will always change, whether we are here or not. What is certain is that we have now got more accurate instruments and can more accurately measure the climate – but we are comparing these current results with scant crude data collected with far less accurate and less reliable instruments. There is bound to be a lot of error, and the data could be easily interpreted in different ways.

    October 22, 2013 at 2:15 am | Reply
  5. kingsley106

    These bushfires are started by arsonists who start them. They are energized by vast amounts of fuel left growing on the ground. I grew up in Western Australia and around late August to early September we would always have controlled burns to reduce the risks of fires. It was a policy that worked well through the 60s and 70s. It was in the early 60s (when we were entering a new ice age as I recall) that the little town of Dwellingup burned to the ground and it was sever jolt to the whole state of Western Australia. It was in an area were we had not adequately prepared for the bushfire season. Since we gave into environmentalist's demands to cease the practice of controlled burns we have seen these monster fires. Australia needs to return to the policy of controlled burns. We need to return to that practice that was so successful.

    October 22, 2013 at 6:57 am | Reply
  6. nonadhominem

    My mother, when a North Shore matron, invited a number of her friends over to show off her son recently returned from National Service having spent a year of the two in Malaysia, as an infantry Malay Language interpreter.
    I arrived to join this assembly of the North Shore sensibilities having just received the news in a city pub that a regular soldier with whom I was on friendly terms had been cut in half by a Viet Cong machine gun. My late friend wanted to leave the army, when I knew him. He was intelligent, capable of successful tertiary study and keen on beginning a family. His wife was exceptionally beautiful and attracted the attentions of officers when my friend was away on exercises. We had worked out an army exit strategy involving mature age study supported by student allowances, etc.
    This tragic story was just one of the many that represented the costs borne by Australians and Vietnamese as a result of the con job perpetrated upon the Australian electorate by the Menzies Government for no better reason than its desire to retain power – self-interest regardless of the human costs.
    I asked my audience of North Shore ladies why they had voted for Mr. Menzies. The consensus was that the avuncular Mr. Menzies had a wonderful speaking voice which inspired confidence.
    The most remarkable traits of the Menzies Government were those which conspired to engender within the electorate a soporific acceptance that the Government had things under control, knew things which we could not know, was a repository of wisdom – in short, we should leave the running of the country to the Government and not concern ourselves in things we were ill-equipped to intelligently consider.
    In a similar vein, Malcolm Frazer stated upon taking office that it was his first priority to take politics off the front page of the newspapers and have the electorate leave it to those who best equipped to take care of such things (one assumes those born to rule).
    The Abbott Government has quickly settled into this 'born to rule' mode of dealing with the public – press conferences are few and far between – the suppression of news about asylum seekers and their demonization so that we don’t care about them anyway – the shutting down of climate change monitoring. In the best anti-intellectual, science-denying traditions of the Catholic Church pressed upon him through the tutelage of Bartholomew Augustine Santamaria, Tony Abbott believes that whatever happens to the climate will be God’s will, as indeed, will be every act perpetrated by his Government. Let him deny that this is his ultimate belief.
    So dear Australian electors, settle back and watch God eke out his will upon us through his instrument Tony Abbott. It is your choice. Perhaps it is time to stay the hand of God with the voice of reason.

    November 4, 2013 at 1:17 am | Reply
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