Gillard fiddles while Australia burns

With a new record-breaking heat wave producing catastrophic fires across the country, why is there so little discussion about climate change?

The severity of the heat wave has set off alarm bells. The Bureau of Meteorology had to add a new colour to its chart, deep purple, to extend it over 50 degrees. A record national average temperature of 40.33 was recorded on 7 January, one of a string of seven consecutive days over 39 degrees. This almost doubled the previous record of four days in 1973.

The panic that this will be the “new normal” suggests that many recognise climate change as a contributing cause. But there has been remarkably little discussion of this in the media.

Gillard has expressed her sympathy for those affected by the fires, but her policies amount to fiddling while the country burns

The extreme heat is not limited to Australia. In the US, 2012 was not only the year of Hurricane Sandy, but the second worst year on record for extreme weather including wildfires, hurricanes and droughts and recorded the warmest weather since 1895 in 48 of the 50 US states. The Global Carbon Project predicts that global average temperatures will rise a further four to six degrees by the end of the century.

Julia Gillard has tried to avoid the issue of climate change, anxious to avoid drawing attention to the government’s unpopular climate policies. The best she has mustered so far is, “while you would not put any one event down to climate change … we do know that over time as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events”. Instead her focus has been on congratulating the firefighters and talking up disaster relief.

Gillard has refused to recognise either the severity of the climate crisis or the scale of the action needed to avert it. Worse, her carbon tax has undermined the public support that existed for climate action when Labor was first elected. Not only is it completely useless, ordinary people are paying for it with cuts to their living standards. Meanwhile, Liberal state governments in Victoria and NSW are trying to stop new wind power developments.

What we need is a program for the mass rollout of solar and wind power to replace coal and gas power stations along with big spending on new public transport. As the climate crisis becomes more extreme, forcing the government to tax the rich and big polluters to pay for this becomes all the more important.

By Jasmine Ali

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