TURNING UP THE HEAT

Australia’s record-breaking heatwaves haven’t convinced its ruling party of climate change

It’s late summer/early autumn in Australia, and few can remember the weather being so persistently hot this time of year.

Mildura, a small town about six hours to the northwest of Melbourne, has suffered through eight straight days of extreme heat, with temperatures of around 40 °C (104 °F). Sydney, meanwhile, has had a record 30-plus straight days above 26 ℃ (79°F), breaking the previous record of 19 set in 2014. Melbourne, a famously drizzly city, yesterday (March 8) endured the hottest night on record for March, with temperatures lingering around 30 °C (86 °F) and residents tossing and turning in their beds.

Climate change has been politicized all around the world, but perhaps nowhere so intensely as Australia, where the previous prime minister, the Liberal party’s Tony Abbott, was adamant in his denial of it, and his successor, Malcolm Turnbull, is under pressure to hold hearings on it.

Scientists are seizing on the heatwaves now hitting southeastern Australia as proof that something is seriously amiss. They “have the fingerprints of climate change all over them,” Will Steffen, a climate science professor at Australian National University, told the Guardian.

Andrew King, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne, told News.com.au the heatwave could be attributed to climate change. “The future is not looking good,” he said. “We’ll continue to get future record-breaking heat extremes, and there will be hotter summers with bigger impacts in Australia.”

In politics, however, there remains stiff resistance to the very idea of manmade climate change. Many in the ruling center-right Liberal party agreed when Abbott famously said in 2009, “The argument [on climate change] is absolute crap… however, the politics of this are tough for us… 80% of people believe climate change is a real and present danger.”

Although the current prime minister, Turnbull, was seen as a repudiator of Abbott’s position when he took office last September, conservative members of his Liberal party warned him not to abandon the party’s stance of questioning the reality of climate change. Turnbull favors cutting Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions—for which he has been heckled by members of his own party.

Today (March 9) conservative members of the Liberal party in the state of New South Wales formally called upon the Turnbull government to organize a series of public debates to test climate scientists’ claims about global warming.

The opposing Labor party has warned against the move. “If Mr. Turnbull now bends to the will of the NSW Liberals and conducts public debates about climate change,” said Mark Butler, a Labor MP, “he will solidify his party as one of climate change skeptics.”

Victoria, meanwhile, is suffering from both blistering heat and a drought. “It’s just hotter than normal,” one farmer and sheep rancher told the Age, “and that might be the way we’re going, given climate change.”

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