Australia’s leader dissed renewables amid the kind of heat wave climate scientists warn about

Another dangerous bushfire.
Another dangerous bushfire.
Image: EPA/Joe Castro
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Australians sweltered in a brutal heat wave over the weekend that caused bushfires and minor blackouts, as people cranked up their air conditioners under temperatures easily reaching the mid to high 40’s Celsius (120°F). Scientists predict more such heat waves—only longer and hotter—in the future due to climate change. Globally, 2016 was the hottest year on record, according to NASA, and the same was true of 2015 and 2014.

An anti-coal-seam gas mining bumper sticker is stuck to the rear of a truck a farm near Cecil Plains, 180 km (112 miles) west of Brisbane October 31, 2011. With a surge of popular support for measures ranging from more regulation to an outright ban on drilling, the coal-seam gas industry, an industry spreading rapidly across the Australian landscape, faces the prospect of project delays, higher costs and even blockades that have already succeeded in delaying drilling. Picture taken October 31, 2011.
Not too popular.
Image: Reuters/Tim Wimborne

Amid all of this, Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has been pushing for for greater use of gas and “clean coal,” and suggesting government subsidies for the construction of new coal-plants. Last week he also blamed an obsession with renewables for reducing “energy security” and making the nation’s energy infrastructure less reliable than it should be.

Clive Hamilton, an ethics professor at Charles Sturt University, resigned in protest as a member of the Climate Change Authority, an agency that advises the Australian government. He wrote in his Feb. 10 resignation letter (pdf):

The government’s recently announced interest in supporting, and even subsidizing, the construction of a number of new coal-fired plants can only mean that the Coalition Government has abandoned all pretense of taking global warming seriously… No government that describes the dirtiest form of electricity using the deeply dishonest term “clean coal,” invented by a PR company for the coal industry, can be believed when it says it wants to reduce Australia’s emissions.

Turnbull’s recent pivot to clean coal, made clear on Feb. 1 after a speech to the National Press Club, took place before the worst of the current heat wave hit. But as he defended that move, the two things ended up coinciding—only adding to the heated situation, so to speak.

Meanwhile the not-uncommon blackouts have brought renewed attention to the monopolistic positions of the nation’s electricity providers, and the resulting high energy bills.

The heat wave is a “very real demonstration of temperatures that will become more and more common if we keep on burning coal, oil and gas in the way we do,” John Connor, CEO of the Sydney-based Climate Institute, wrote on Feb. 10. “We need the politicians to get serious and work out a thorough national clean energy strategy that deals with the need for investment in new clean energy services and the growing impacts of climate change.”

Based on Turnbull’s recent statements, that won’t be happening any time soon at the top of Australia’s government.