Opinion: Abbott’s real and present danger

Blue Mountains

Somethingyousaid.com considers the danger of the Australian Prime Minister denying a quarter of a Century’s research linking climate change to bush fires: 

It’s been one full week since a menacing cloud of smoke descended across Sydney, and the spate of fires surrounding the city seem in no danger of abating.

Cosseted in the relative safety of the inner city, the scenes reaching us through the media – of entire homes razed to the ground, of people coming to terms with the fact they have lost everything – seem far away and unreal. It is difficult to believe these people, these homes, are a few short kilometres away.

Australia is an unforgiving country. We can shelter in our air-conditioned offices and try to pretend it’s not, but we will inevitably be caught out. It’s ironic, or maybe appropriate, that the extreme beauty of nature in this country is matched only by its resounding cruelty.

In the few short years that I’ve lived here, vast areas have been devastated by floods and others by fire. Despite the remarkable resilience and positivity displayed by those affected, there’s no denying the impact of these natural disasters has been calamitous. The Queensland floods killed 38 people and forced the thousands more to be evacuated. The Tasmanian fires earlier this year destroyed 400 properties. If there was anything we could be doing to avert these crises, wouldn’t you, if you were Prime Minister, at least entertain those ideas?

For this reason, when Tony Abbott dismisses claims by a senior UN official – who has, incidentally, taken a significant and unusual stand by expressing an opinion on the domestic affairs of a member state – that the fires are related to climate change, I get angry. Really angry.

Tony Abbott is not a scientist. In fact, he’s very far from being a scientist, or for that matter having even a cursory understanding of science. To have the ministerial responsibility for climate change is insulting enough; to the joint forces of intelligence and common decency, that is. To then have the gall to bat away reasonable opinion and debate with insightful responses like ‘she’s talking out of her hat’, is nothing short of astounding for a contemporary Western leader.

Some think this is not the right time to be writing about the links between Australia’s climate change policy and its growing attack by natural disasters. I appreciate there’s a thin and precarious line to walk between tragedy and politics. But I think Adam Bandt was justified in his comments this week, and arguably events such as these provide a powerful platform to talk about issues which can literally cost lives. If we wait, people move on. The conversation moves on. And it’s difficult to engender much enthusiasm to talk about a force you cannot see, hear or touch.

Tony Abbott has the opportunity to take the advantage inherent to his position by listening to experts and engaging in meaningful debate about the potential impact climate change is having on this country.

Unfortunately, that’s almost certainly not going to happen. Becoming a global laughing stock for our gaffe-prone Prime Minister is one thing – but when it’s accompanied by real and present danger to Australian lives, it’s not quite so funny.