The rim of Australia’s east coast is burning. At time of writing, there are over 80 fires burning across Queensland, the worst in 130 years. Twenty-one properties, including the historic Binna Burra Lodge, have been lost since last Thursday. O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat has been evacuated. Rainforests generally don’t burn under normal conditions.
Meanwhile, at least nine homes have been lost in NSW. The state’s Rural Fire Service has reported there are more than 50 fires burning between Newcastle and Byron Bay.
Queenslanders have been told to prepare for worse to come, with dry conditions and little chance of rainfall over the next four months. Climatologists have said it’s more complicated than “just” climate change, while noting that climate change has a role. But rather than jump on that — it might be weird to suddenly start agreeing with scientists — equivocation has been the order of the day for the various denialists and fence-sitters coming out of the woodwork.
This follows a regular pattern in the mounting toll of the climate crisis: disaster followed by rapid equivocation from those who would prefer we continue to delay tackling the problem.
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Naturally, in the face of the calamity afflicting his beloved home state, former premier Campbell Newman did what any great statesman would do: he went searching through the archives to prove it really wasn’t that big a deal. “Very sad to see the destruction of these fires … it isn’t unprecedented though,” he tweeted, before sharing clippings of a couple of news stories from the early 1950s proving that, yes, fires had happened in Queensland before. No mention of the record drought between January and August, or the apparent burning of subtropical forest surrounding Binna Burra, which, again, usually enjoys fire-resistant conditions (though less so in recent years).
Of course his contribution might have less to do with his interest in correcting the record and more to do with the fact that acting premier Jackie Trad has made the connection that many have: climate change may just have played a role in this.
Graham Lloyd, The Australian‘s environment editor — whose author bio, “a fearless reporter of all sides of the environment debate”, tells you everything you need to know about that paper’s approach to science — cited the same news stories as Newman. He led his report with: “Bushfires ravaging large areas near the Queensland-NSW border are not unprecedented for this time of year but have renewed debate over whether climate change has contributed to the blazes.”
David Littleproud is the minister for natural disasters and emergency services, which makes sense — disasters are something he knows a bit about. He said whether man-made climate change was responsible for fires was “irrelevant” — while implicitly agreeing climate change is happening — taking The Australian‘s view that matters of climate change are nothing more than a difference of opinion: “That is a debate that has extremes from both sides,” he told the ABC.
He later clarified to The Guardian, that in his capacity as minister for drought, natural disaster and emergency management, he hadn’t really come to a conclusion on the matter: “I don’t know if climate change is manmade.”
Greens leader Richard Di Natale has said the fires were the result of a “worsening climate crisis” and accused Littleproud of “endangering people’s lives” for failing to make that link. One Nation leader Pauline Hanson offered the following rebuttal on 2GB, with typical mixture of passion and incoherence:
He’s an absolute idiot. I am sick and tired of hearing the Greens go on and on the floor of Parliament, about climate change. They’re brainwashing the kids in the educational system with this way of thinking.