The world is reacting with horror as much of Australia suffers from the ravages of wildfires that look set to worsen in coming weeks. Driven by high temperatures and fierce winds, bushfires continue to sweep through southern New South Wales and eastern Victoria. The toll is all too apparent in the many lives lost and the destruction of homes and wildlife. Whole towns in Gippsland and the south coast have been razed. Dense smoke enveloping vast tracts of land has made the rescuing of many thousands of people, who fled to the coastline, precarious.
Meanwhile, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison seems increasingly ill-equipped in dealing with the unfolding disaster. He is overly sensitive to criticism, and he persists with his distinct form of climate science denial. He hates negative publicity and tends to react to it by attacking his critics.
The fears of those needing to be evacuated, sensing there is no let-up, are palpable. Conditions are set to worsen yet again over the weekend with predicted temperatures of well over 40 degrees. The past few weeks provide further confirmation climate change is making Australian wildfires larger and more frequent due to the dryness of plantations, thereby creating conditions for dreaded “fire weather”.
Australia's leader Scott Morrison is perpetuating an environmental fraud
Australia’s climate has warmed by more than 1 degree over the past century, leading to an increase in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves. Central Australia is becoming too hot to live in, even for resilient Aboriginal people who have lived there for centuries. What’s more, the continent is home to some of the most important ecosystems on the planet, including the Great Barrier Reef, which are already showing decline caused by ever-increasing emissions.
Morrison has been condemned for his intransigence and dogged defending of plans to open new coal mines – Australia already produces a third of global coal exports – while insisting the country will meet its promised emissions reductions. He is perpetuating an environmental fraud, whereby the emissions impact, known as the carbon budget, is applied to countries that buy Australian coal.
Politicians and climate activists around the globe have expressed solidarity with those experiencing devastation, and cite the wildfires as evidence of the here-and-now climate emergency. What is happening in Australia will become increasingly common elsewhere without aggressively combating climate disruption, adapting for the inevitable consequences of a warming world and transforming energy systems away from fossil fuels. Big economies such as Australia, the US and Brazil have set a firm course of fossil fuel expansion for the next decade, but the decarbonisation imperative could not be clearer.