Australia’s Politics May Be Changing With Its Climate

Australia feels the brunt of climate change. Now, as elections approach, its politicians are trying to figure out how to manage the anxiety of voters.

Comments: 57

  1. I am curious - what exactly Aussies can do on that front to change things for them? What kind of perceptible climate change will happen if they all turn to bicycles and the rest of the world just goes on as usual? It only matters what the largest polluters do, unfortunately for the Aussies and the rest of not-so-populated countries.

  2. @ss China is one of the largest polluters and Australia sells that country a lot of coal. Proposed new mines in Australia are meeting strong local resistance.

  3. @ss They have a huge amount of land and can go to regenerative agriculture - using animals, grazing techniques, and soil sequestration of carbon improve organic carbon, water retention, and local climate. They don't have to just "give up" stuff to others. There are solutions that create new economies.

  4. @ss Australians, by their knowledge, creativity and ingenuity, can contribute to creating a carbon-free economy that is the envy of all other nations. “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” Mahatma Gandhi

  5. “It’s not about taking dramatic action that will change your livelihood or lifestyle...” If policies don't, Mother Nature will make sure you do. Humanity faces an imminent and ominous future as we continue to soak in our creature comforts at the expense of Earth's carbon sinks. As an individual on the other side of the Pacific, I'll be voting for dramatic action on climate change in our Canadian Federal election in order to better the plants, soil, and oceans in both Canada, and Australia

  6. @Eggs'n Post This..... Every time I read statements about how we can't do anything that hurts the economy or "growth" I shudder. Pivoting to "sustainable" means humans are going to have to live with less cush, otherwise we'll be gone much sooner.

  7. @Eggs'n Post Me too.

  8. Like Mr. Milson, I can always relate to a voter who says they're middle right or middle left, most of us don't want to see radical change or retrenchment. As others have noted though, our personal preferences may very well take a back seat to what climate change throws at us. Reacting maybe far too little far too late. What will help proactively? A bit beyond my understanding but the people I trust say much more than anyone in the middle is ready or promising to do.

  9. Thank god!

  10. The disasters ahead of us can be blamed on governments around the world that have forfeited scientific knowledge for easy money today by pillaging natural resources that are creating this disaster. Australia is pretty much a dry continent already and are set to meet the effects of climate change well ahead of others. The momentum of climate change is well ahead of us feeling the effects of decades of missed opportunities. Shortsightedness from our politicians will be the most costly mistake in human history.

  11. If only climate change were local, more might get done, instead of passing the buck. Alas, it always comes down to whether people can come together for the common good, and overcome differences as well as self-interest. I'm afraid that even if one country, such as Australia, finally comes around to a consensus to take action, we still need every other nation, particularly the largest contributors, to come around. Here you have a voter already trying to remain loyal to his party, even if it makes the wrong decision on this critical issue. Multiply this by the number of people in one country. Take it to the next level where people stay loyal to their countries - here, the voter prefers that China act first (understandably, if only some nations made efforts but not others, will it really make a difference if those who don't act take advantage of this, either economically or by dumping yet more pollutants). Forgive me if I am going to compare this to Game of Thrones, but this is 'Summer is Coming' - and the entire planet had better get together because everyone will be affected, sooner or later. But it is pretty much certain that not everyone will be willing to make the necessary changes, and yes, sacrifices.

  12. The truth doesn’t play politics. It doesn’t matter how many politicians or right wing journalists claim climate change is a hoax, they can’t deflect the reality that is staring us in the face. Until the populations of all industrial democracies vote the fossil-fuel dinosaurs out of office, we deserve the consequences. And a message to Australia: do the math, I bet the Great Barrier Reef is a far better investment for your country than coal will ever be. I visited it a year ago. I was heartened about the news coverage of the 2015/2016 coral die off, and was awed by the healthy parts of the reef, but dead parts of the reef tell a horror story.

  13. Frankly a far more comprehensive and insightful piece than I'd normally see in any Australian newspaper. Unfortunately I tend to agree with SS from Boston; without an unlikely global U turn with massive cultural and socio-economic shifts global warming is going to escalate to the point of no return. Oh, and I live a couple of minutes drive from the Shelly Beach image shown here. I see those houses on an almost daily basis but none of them would be worth less than US$5 million. I make the point because the inexhaustible desire for economic development and the inequality it creates is one of the primary engines of climate change.

  14. Thank you for an insightful piece on Australia's very slow awakening to climate change. You have summarised the positions of the two parties well but failed to mention the position of the Greens who are the only party to have a climate policy responsive to the evidence. The LNP are climate deniers and they will be voted out. Labor acknowledge the severity of the issue but are still supporting the fossil fuel sectors such as the NT gas fields and coal mining. The Greens are the only party to provide the kind of science led leadership that will give us a chance at a liveable climate for our children.

  15. @Rhonda Garad Agreed. I voted for you guys (Greeens, assuming you're involved). Tend to think of the major parties as ideological carpetbaggers who go wherever shifting electoral popularity dictates.

  16. Its "blatantly obvious things are changing,". And yet, so many people in America would tell you different. These people won't acknowledge the ship is sinking until the water is past their knees.

  17. A luxury tax on electric vehicles, sorry that make no sense at all.

  18. @E. J. KNITTEL - I read that twice, scratched my head, too, and did a quick search. They have a luxury car tax for imported cars over a certain value. So she proposes waiving that on electric cars over a certain value. In the page above, "GST" is Goods and Services Tax. They don't explain that on their definitions link.

  19. @b fagan And this does not explain what a Goods and services Tax is. It is actually a Value Added Tax, as is common in Europe. But when the GST was adopted, it was quietly recognized that VATs are thoroughly despised, so they did the politician's thing and called it something else.

  20. It would be great for the planet if folks didn't wait for their nation to fry before moving decisively on climate. Far too little, folks, and far too late. And last in line-- just a huffing and puffing speck on the horizon-- will be Trump Country, wondering what happened and quoting the book of revelation.

  21. Tony Abbott hasn't been in power since August last year, it is now Scott Morrison.

  22. @Isaac Yeah, that's why they appended "Former" before each mention of him being "Prime Minister"

  23. How do the Murdochs and News Corporation media feel about climate change? Isn't that really all that matters in Australian politics, or the UK and the US for that matter? Australia, Birthplace of News Corporation, and fake news.

  24. The article says this about a friend of the energy minister: "And he worries that fear over climate change will punish his party at the polls, especially in swing seats around the country." Has your party been doing things worthy of reward? "He is also wary of ditching coal, just now. It is too important to Australia’s economy. He says bigger polluters like China should act first." Coal's only good if it has a market - again, has your party been preparing the economy for a drastic shift? How's that big, still-not-happening Adani project going? It's promised pie-in-the-sky (while hurting the Great Barrier Reef), but seems to be encountering India's rapid shift to solar. They realize the pollution and the risk of importing fuel as China's navy grows isn't worth it any more. And to the two references in the article about people wanting to change, but not in any way that makes them feel they're changing - what are the annual disaster costs, lost production on farms and ranches, and what are projections for that like if we just slouch into the needed changes? Australia gets tourist revenues, too. How much is based on the continued existence of a living reef? Change is coming whether you want to make it happen or just want it to happen to you. Do the right thing and go like India - to inexpensive solar. And work out what a drier, hotter, reefless Australia, without any coal revenue, will look like. That's what your Liberal Party's been working towards.

  25. I've just completed a study of rainfall in Sydney since 1859, data from the Bureau of Meteorology. The driest yer was 1883, and the wettest 1949. It fluctuates, but over that period there is no significant change or trend. It's much the same for all these other "global warming" claims., including the Great Barrier Reef - it's biggest threat is pollution, not climate. Its coral exists in much warmer waters further north. Australia's biggest problem is increased population without the means to support it. Australia has plenty of coal and nuclear raw material, yet it's all exported for others to use, while Australia goes backwards. The last thing we need is a government that will make this worse. The state (SA) with most "renewable" energy suffers the highest prices and unreliability. I fear for our future.

  26. @R James, Perhaps you can understand why people will be skeptical of your claims. Has your study been published? Can you provide peer-reviewed references for that and your other claims, which fly in the face of published scientific studies. If not, I will file your contribution in the “fake news” bin.

  27. @R James The lack of a clear trend or change in Sydney's rainfall over the period you mentioned is not at all incompatible with global warming. It doesn't provide any evidence that warming is not happening on a global scale. Sydney has a surface area of 12368 square km, while the earth has about 510 million square km, more than 40000 times the size of Sydney. Some of those 40000 Sydney-sized areas will see rainfall increase, some will see rainfall decrease and some will see rainfall remain stable. There can still be a global trend in one direction. Also if you are looking for clear trends, look at temperature not rainfall. Global warming means the air holds more water so might even mean more rainfall overall. Rainfall changes are generally harder for the models to predict than temperature.

  28. The problem is that everyone wants action on climate change, but no one wants to actually pay for it. People were talking about these issues when I was a kid in the 1980s. Such a pity no one took it more seriously then when there would have been more time for the slow incremental change described in this article. I believe that climate change will ultimately be solved by technology, we are the sunburnt country after all, but the right policy settings could support and speed up that shift. I would also like to see a larger cultural change where people live with a more sustainable mindset. We need to review how much useless stuff we’re producing and focus more on quality and how things are made, rather than quantity. A healthier planet will mean healthier bodies and societies. Of course, Australia is only a small player in the scheme of things, but governments aren’t particularly original and tend to copy each other. We could show some leadership here.

  29. So let me get this straight: It's blatantly obvious things are changing, but don't take any action that will affect folks' lifestyles or livelihoods, and it better not have substantial costs. These sentiments are exactly why we won't take action to save ourselves and the planet even after it's too late (which it pretty much is). We humans better face the fact that our environments and economies are in a heap of trouble. But don't change your lifestyle.

  30. Considering how much of Australia’s coal industry is owned by overseas foreign investors it will be interesting to see just how much they cut back on exports. Meanwhile, India and China keep murdering the atmosphere — defiantly. It’s too late anyway. The truly enormous environmental damage is done in Third World klepto-oligarchies, in poor African and Asian countries ruled by authoritarians, dictators. Activists there are often buried in shallow, unmarked graves.

  31. @Steve Singer - the United States -- "defiantly" if you must -- has emitted more CO2 than any other nation. China passed us several years ago in deployment of wind and solar. People in India and China emit less CO2 by far than we do. India's solar industry is booming as they take advantage of dropping costs - they're cancelling planned coal plants in favor of cleaner power - they and China are like us in the 1950s with air pollution, and are getting their acts together. So before you hurt your arm patting yourself on the back about our record, look where you live. Truly enormous environmental damage? The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico isn't shrinking. Most coal ash storage sites in our country leak toxics. Read up on everything released when Houston was submerged. Ask why the Pentagon just squashed regulations to remove dangerous chemicals from groundwater (they use a lot of firefighting foam). Oh, ask how many of our vets from Iraq, Afghanistan are medicaled out because of our habit of burn pits there. A coal mine owner donated a few hundred grand to our klepto-oligarch's inauguration and handed a wish list to a cabinet member, and got safety and pollution protections loosened. We've had 2 years of our own destruction of environmental laws. Everyone's got work to do. With our head start, our wealth, and the amount of damage our emissions add to the world, we've got more work, not less, than most places.

  32. @b fagan- Sure. Coal powered the entire industrial world between 1840 and, roughly, 1975. The “Arsenal of Democracy” produced tens of millions of weapons, all kinds, in two world wars; the energy source coal. And it transported them to distant war fronts by burning coal and oil; billions of tons. But so did the British empire, Soviet Union, Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Environmentally, it was sheer madness but nobody saw it. Much of our current warming trend is actually a consequence of that industrial profligacy and the war itself, the repeated firebombing of dozens of German and Japanese cities between 1943-1945. We destroyed the atmosphere’s gas balance and upset the oxygen generation capacity of the oceans. Think of it as a double whammy. I lived in Australia when John Howard was prime minister (1996-2007). He often and very proudly boasted how he was a “climate change skeptic”, and usually rebuffed suggestions that coal exports were exacerbating Australia’s heat problem. Of course, he did it because he was in the pocket of the mining industry.

  33. I grew up with dairy farmers in Vermont, for which my father was their butcher. They would hang around with us in the meat room in the 1960's and talk about the weather. They said it wasn't right ; that it had become "too streaky," and that it was harder to predict when to make hay. This predated any other news I heard about climate change. I wonder about farmers in Australia. Must they be hit between the eyes with a 2X4 to get their attention? (an old saying of my dad's). Any farmer has an eye on the weather and should not be so ignorant of the changes we are experiencing. Are Vermont farmers really that much smarter?

  34. @bruce Speaking of meat, Google cites a figure of 15,415 litres of water to procuce a kilo of beef. It takes 10 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat and in the US, 56 million acres are used to grow animal feed, whereas only 4 million are used to produce plant food for human consumption. This is without going into the more esoteric conversation about the negative karma involved in killing millions of innocent animals. Another interesting fact is that approximately .03% (a 50km square) of the Australian landmass has enough sunlight falling on it to provide all the electricity for the country.

  35. Australia has a lot of empty space. The real environmental problems are in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and the Phillipines locally and Central America and Africa. Like the US Australia needs to rapidly ramp up its capacity for taking care of miserable victims of global warming in the global south and the uncontrolled population growth. If they can raise the standard of living of millions of poverty striken victims their birth rate may drop and that will do much to save the planet from excess carbon production. If birth rates continue uncontrolled all the carbon sparing in the world is not going to help.

  36. @as People often make that statement - "Australia has a lot of empty space", as if it means we have the capacity to sustain a much larger population. Unfortunately, as the photos that accompany this article clearly show, what we don't have is enough water . Not enough for our sheep and cattle, our crops and increasingly for our current human population too.

  37. @as We may have plenty of empty space, but our climate is struggling to support the current population. A lot of that empty space is desert, where summer temps can reach 50 Centigrade - who could live there?

  38. Sorry, as, Unfortunately unlike your thinking, global warming is not contributed by the global south but by the technological advanced first world countries! Suggest that you should read the book ‘Factfulness’ to understand this! Australia has no free ‘livable’ areas unfortunately.. Reducing your average carbon footprint is the only way forward and that needs to begin with stopping to blame the third world birth rate and taking responsibility!

  39. “It’s not about taking dramatic action that will change your livelihood or lifestyle,” she assured her audience. This is the problem in a nutshell. There are 8 billion of us, and without dramatic action soon there won’t be any livelihood or lifestyle to worry about.

  40. So much to pray for.

  41. Australia seems to be caught in the same Murdochian trap as the U.S.

  42. "The evidence has become impossible to ignore." Tell that to some of the willfully ignorant in this country. They could manage to deny it even if the every crop died and every reservoir was dry.

  43. Apologies. Scott Morrison is current Prime Minister. He disposed Prime Minister Turnbull. I made a slip also. Hubris.

  44. At some level, this was predictable. It is easy to deny climate change when the change is subtle, but as it progresses, people with eyes and brains can see unequivocal change. Unfortunately, this was all predicted 25-30 years ago, based on pretty good physics and modeling (The initial work was done by Arrhenius in the early part of the 20th century, but his models weren't that sophisticated.) A significant amount of climate change is locked into the system, and there is no going back at this point, short of major geoengineering, which has it's own risks. At there are still some powerful people who manage to deny global warming, or at least cast doubt on it to the point that they block action. It is a pity.

  45. @Richard Actually the climate change that is becoming devastatingly obvious was predicted around 1970. President Carter put solar panels up at the White House, based on science. Reagan proudly removed them.

  46. most voters are rusted on - our elections tend to be decided by the swinging voters in marginal seats like outer new suburbs with young families aspiring to get rich but also working hard - so their votes could go either way. I grew up in the country - where everyone voted conservative National (previously Country) Party - it was daring to mention voting for the centre-right (Liberal Party) and anyone who mentioned the left (Labor Party) risked being shot or run out of town as a communist infiltrator ! So when you say farmers are suffering, I'm guessing most of them will be asking their conservative representatives to 'do more' for them - or at worst voting for a non-aligned Independent. Most rural seats don't field Labor candidates - they'd be attacked !

  47. Rupert Murdoch, the man who controls most of Australia's news media and thus it's conservative parties, doesn't believe in climate change. And that is why nothing has been done for so long.

  48. @Tom- That’s certainly part of it. But a principal motivation behind resistance to Climate Science, AGW and its implications is protecting trillions of dollars (pounds, yen, euros) of illiquid invested capital. The owners are often fiduciaries: banks, insurance companies, pension and retirement funds, investment partnerships, hedge funds, mutual funds. An historical analogy is American slaveowners’ diehard resistance to the humanitarian Abolitionist movement and their repeated attempts to expand the area where slavery would be permitted into the American Southwest. Not long before the election that made Lincoln president and the Republican Party a national power serious proposals were floated in Congress that Mexico, Central America and Cuba should be invaded and conquered. Powerful slaveholders through their representatives aimed to defeat the Abolitionist movement by creating an enormous slave empire. They wanted to expand slavery’s territorial scope so it would become too big to abolish because their wealth was concentrated in million of slaves. After their efforts failed to gain traction slaveholders chose to sunder the United States itself rather than submit to Republican rule and the “War of the Great Rebellion”, as it was known back then, erupted. It’s the same here. Those who are now deeply invested in polluting, climate changing activities resist because it will cost them dearly.

  49. It made me both happy and sad to read of these people, who have traditionally been climate change deniers (and voted for climate change deniers) finally decide they ‘believe the evidence’ only because it has started affecting them personally. I’m sure they heard the scientists pleading for action on the news, and watched the news clips of the ice caps melting and shrugged. The problem is that so many people are this way. They don’t care what’s happening in the world if it doesn’t DIRECTLY affect them. Ignorance is bliss. I would love if The Times wrote a piece on The Greens party. Unlike the others, they believe the science.

  50. The land of Rupert Murdoch and his globally ascendant (& climate-denying) media empire -- now now faces a reckoning. Instead of exporting deception & propaganda, maybe now Australia & the Murdochs can be a source of renewed science and realistic truth. Humanity itself and our shared democratic institutions & instincts are at stake.

  51. Kudos to the Australian Right for finally beginning to get it. But only beginning, and still a very, very long way to go. Sorry, but Earth has already taken "dramatic action" that is affecting all of our lives and livelihoods. There is NO going back to the way it was. Dramatic action on our part will not make it cooler or rain more, but it might help keep the droughts and scorching heat from getting too much worse, too quickly. It's not going to be about trading your GMC Yukon for a Tesla. It's going to be about changing how you live and work so that you don't need the car at all. The Tesla will be on call from Uber only on rare occasions. I'm not hopeful that we're capable of making these transitions in the time frame needed to avoid the even more dramatic climate changes that Earth has in store for us.

  52. We lived in Oz for 4 yours whilst on secondment from the UK company I worked for. You don't have to look further than your company car to see the insanity of Oz's lack of policy. The more miles I drove our 4x4 the less fringe benefits tax I paid on it. The country until the last 5 years was not doing anything with solar, at all! Just like the USA, another climate change in-denial country, everything is about petrol powered this and that for them. Australians have NO ONE other than themselves to blame. We moved back to the UK where we're not great, however serious moves are being made. We look back at our years in Oz completely gobsmacked on just how much denial they live in.

  53. I just took a quick gander at the temp data from the 15 longest lived Australian temp stations. You can go look on Berkeley earth if you want. But those stations show little if any warming in the aggregate (an average of .15 C per century) and if you remove Sydney and Melbourne -- the average is essentially zero (anyone say urban heat island effect). Of course, Berkeley earth adjusts everything so they can get the trend they want -- (about .45 degrees C per century for these stations). Of course, small sample. But intriguing for several reasons. First, longer term stations should -- everything else equal -- provide the best information. They've got the longest record obviously. And short term stations may take advantage of any cyclical uptick or downtick in climate. So if you add a lot of stations as you go along, you may be inadvertently biasing your data if you don't adjust for length of service. Second --the range of temp trends in these stations -- is great -- and 13 are located on the Southern-south eastern coast in reasonable proximity to each other. Which is strange. Third, while Australia is vast, most of the population is located in urban areas. As are most of the temp stations... Just food for thought.

  54. I was working and living in Melbourne a decade ago when they had a similar drought in Victoria. There were "bush fires" at the time, and every morning thick smoke in the city, before the afternoon breeze from Port Phillip Bay came up the Yarra to wipe it away. It was like watching a world dying.

  55. In Canada, America, Australia, and many other lands, citizens and their politicians seem afraid of two things: global warming and the disasters and calamities it does cause and will bring, and second suffering any sort of inconvenience and even mild bits of cost to make rapid and major cuts in GHG emissions. But the costs of denial come upon us, daily, and will only continue to grow in severity. What do we want, the costs of some future safety, paid now, or the costs of ever more grave dangers, imposed year by year by year? Costs there will be, and difficult ones, but some prices help bring safety while the price of avoidance and timid measures will be ruin.

  56. Australia has always had a precarious relationship with the weather. A recent article noted how large the country is vs the small population. But it failed to mention that the reason people live around the coasts is that the center is largely uninhabitable. Climate change will make it more so. Increased population and drought in the places traditionally seen as desirable to live will increase the pressure. I'm glad to see them recognizing that climate change is real.