On Thursday, parts of inland Australia reached temperatures around 50 degrees Celsius, or 122 degrees Fahrenheit, before a shifting air mass is forecast to bring weekend temperatures back to averages in the mid-30s. There were reports of temperatures as high as 54 degrees Celsius, 129 degrees Fahrenheit, in the outback on Thursday.
With this unusual heat, Australia begins 2014 in the same way it ended 2013 — hot, dry, and politically uninspired to do anything about it. Australia spent much of 2013 on track to set a new record for hottest year ever. According to The Guardian, the Bureau of Meteorology “is expected to announce on Friday that 2013 had been Australia’s warmest year, with average temperatures trending about 1C above the long-term average.”
Weatherzone meteorologist Ben Domensino told The Sydney Morning Herald that “for some places, particularly western Queensland, it’ll be the most intense heatwave for some parts of the state in more than 50 years.”
Western Queensland is also the location of the Galilee Basin, where a massive new coal mine was recently approved by Australia’s environment minister, Greg Hunt. The AU $6.4 billion mine will produce up to 40 million tons of a coal a year, which according to The Guardian, “would release an estimated 85.6m tonnes of CO2 once burned, slightly more than the annual emissions of Romania.”
A 280-mile rail line will be built to transport the coal to the east coast, where large new ports are under construction to handle the load. Northeastern Australia’s coastline is especially sensitive to development, as it borders the Great Barrier Reef.
While the impacts of the record-breaking heat are painfully apparent to Australians, since the election of Prime Minister Tony Abbott in September, those in power have chosen to pretend the problem doesn’t exist. As prime minister, Abbott has abandoned the country’s emissions target, made efforts to repeal Australia’s carbon emissions trading scheme and dissolved the country’s climate commission.
While Australia is red hot going into the New Year, Abbott’s approval ratings are rock bottom. And with Abbott choosing to surround himself with people such as his top business adviser, Maurice Newman, who last week argued that Australia had fallen “hostage to climate change madness,” both trends are likely to continue.
Newman is chairman of the prime minister’s new Business Advisory Council and director of the Queensland Investment Corporation, a government-owned investment body. In an opinion piece published in The Australian newspaper, Newman, “accused the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of “dishonesty and deceit” as it focuses on “exploiting the masses and extracting more money” in a climate crusade,” reported The Guardian.
In the piece, Newman writes that “The scientific delusion, the religion behind the climate crusade, is crumbling.” He blames the green economy and renewable energy targets for killing Australian jobs, especially in the manufacturing industry.
Newman has also recently been criticized for describing spending on the national disability insurance scheme and school funding reforms as “reckless” while questioning their affordability.
Newman is out of line with the greater populace of Australia, where the effects of climate change are being felt in everyday life through impacts like crippling heat, prolonged drought and devastating bushfire seasons. A poll conducted in the fall found that nearly two-thirds of Australians want greater action from the government on climate change. And in a public display of desire for action, in November more than 60,000 people were estimated to have rallied for climate action across Australia.