More than 200 wildfires, causing damage upwards of $100 million, have raged across New South Wales over the past week and a half. The Australian government is using the occasion to staunchly deny the connection between the blazes and climate change.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott first grabbed attention Wednesday, when he accused the U.N's climate change chief of "talking through her hat" for suggesting that increasing heat waves could be exacerbating wildfires in Australia and elsewhere. He further escalated the debate this morning, telling Australian newspapers that the idea of there being a link between the two is "complete hogwash."
His amusing turns of phrase aside, the newly elected prime minister is already pursuing policy that backs his words up. From the Associated Press:
...a climate science organization abolished by Abbott's government released a report on Friday declaring a clear link between climate change and the wildfires. The severity and scale of the fires was unprecedented for this time of year, it said. Last month had been the hottest September on record in New South Wales state. The 12 months preceding it had been the hottest year on record across Australia.
The government abolished the state-funded Climate Commission after being elected last month. But the organization survives through public donations as the Climate Council to continue its independent work of communicating reliable information about global warming.
With its heavy reliance on coal, the AP points out, Australia is one of the world's biggest carbon emitters, which could explain why Abbott is so defensive. But as Australia's also one of the most vulnerable places to climate extremes, too much defensiveness could end up coming back to haunt him.