Australia’s climate-change denying prime minister gets burned by apocalyptic bush fires

The fires this time.
The fires this time.
Image: Brendon Thorne/Getty
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As Australia’s worst bush fires in a half-century threaten to merge into a mega-fire and march on Sydney, new conservative prime minister Tony Abbott’s plans to scrap the country’s carbon tax face growing opposition.

Abbott, leader of the Liberal-National coalition that controls Australia’s house of representatives, is a climate change denier-turned-skeptic who made overturning the previous Labor government’s carbon market a top campaign promise. But the conflagrations raging across New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, have made concrete the reality of climate change in the world’s driest inhabited continent.

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While scientists are loath to link specific events to climate change, they have long warned that rising temperatures—2013 is set to be the hottest year on record in Australia—will lead to more frequent devastating bush fires in a country where fire is a natural part of the landscape. As firefighters struggle to prevent the spreading fires west of Sydney from coalescing into a super firestorm, officials were warning the city’s 4.5 million people that the heavy smoke blanketing the city could pose a deadly health threat. Fears are growing that if the three main fires burning west of Sydney merge, they could move toward the city’s heavily populated western suburbs.

“It’s not about the day or the day before the bush fire,” climate change scientist Andrew Pitman told Australia’s ABC News on Monday. “It’s about the three or four months of winter that were enormously warm in part due to global warming leading to an environment particularly conducive to fire.”

The bush fires have given new ammunition to opponents of Abbott’s plan to ditch Australia’s carbon tax, which was set to be replaced by a carbon trading market next July. The opposition Australian Labor Party has promised to fight the plan. The Australian Greens, which currently control the balance of power in the Australian senate, meanwhile have stepped up their social media campaign against Abbott in the wake of the bush fires.

Why Tony Abbott’s plan means more bushfires for Australia & more pics like this of Sydney http://t.co/bXFaAT6kLf http://t.co/tJyljLIGp4

— Adam Bandt (@AdamBandt) October 17, 2013

“It’s October and we’re having a tragic bush fire, and meanwhile, Tony Abbott and his ministers have been out every day this week saying that they’re going to take Australia backwards when it comes to combating global warming,” Adam Bandt, the deputy leader of the Greens, told ABC News.