At least the U.S. doesn’t hold a monopoly on climate change denialists in public office.
The Australian government, under Prime Minister Tony Abbott, seems committed to exacerbating its nation’s climate woes. Even as his Environmental Minister approved a vast coal mine that will produce 40 million tons of CO2-emitting coal per year, Abbott is calling Australia’s strong renewable energy sector into question.
He’s cutting funding for renewables, threatening to remove the 20 percent renewable energy standard and even falling back on the old and largely debunked criticism that wind power has negative impacts on human health. Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council looked into the issue in 2010 and again in 2012. And now Abbott is calling for another review. Because, why not?
And just for good measure, he’s also dismantling Australia’s well-regarded plans for curbing carbon emissions and jettisoning the nation’s goals for carbon reductions.
Here in the Midwest, where I sit, we just went through some winter days with lows of -8 degrees Fahrenheit. Brr. Enter the talking heads, snickering sarcastic comments about global warming. You know, because they were cold. And yet, our friends on the other side of the equator are entering into another exceptionally dry, scorching, brushfire-filled summer.
Bats are literally falling from the Australian skies by the tens of thousands, dying in the record heatwaves. Deadly brush fires are rampaging through suburban neighborhoods, destroying scores of homes and taking at least one life. And though the summer is still young, it’s already reaching 40 degrees Celsius in some places. That’s 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The average temperature just about anywhere in Australia but for the coasts is expected to get as high as 45 degrees Celsius, or 113 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s average temperature. Hotter in some places, colder in others. Average! That’s hot.
Prime Minister Abbott’s response to all of this - “fire is part of the Australian experience … it has been since humans were on this continent.” Of course I’m translating that from the original Australian: “Naw, that’s not a brush fire, mate. This is a brush fire.”
It’s a waving away of a very real trend toward more severe weather events: droughts, hurricanes, derecho winds, polar vortexes and heat waves. Yeah, we’ve always had them. But they’re getting worse.
The most baffling thing about Abbott’s assault on renewable energy is that it also flies in the face of economic good sense. Australia has some of the cheapest wind power in the world and is an ideal place for wind power. In Australia, wind power even rivals the cost of coal. The Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics agrees that wind power is competitive with fossil fuels.
So why is Prime Minister Abbot saying things like “lower power prices are the government’s primary goal” while throwing roadblocks in the way of one of the cheapest – and getting cheaper – sources of electricity?
Australia can power itself entirely through renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2040. They could do it affordably, reliably and cleanly — working towards reducing the climatic impact on the nation. There’s simply no benefit to moving back toward coal, and nothing but risk.