Disastrous bushfires that engulfed Australia’s largest city with hazardous smoke this week, has raised public anger and increased political pressure on the government to step up to combat climate change.
Fires and haze around Sydney reduced due to cooler weather on Wednesday. The previous day’s thick cloak of smoke instigated protests. One conservative lawmaker was prompted to break away from his party by directly linking recent weather to the carbon emissions of the country.
Matt Kean, the New South Wales Environment Minister, from the center-right Liberal-National coalition, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Radio that “We are in the middle of the worst drought in living memory; this is the second hottest year on record”.
Kean also added, “Yesterday smoke was causing some of the worst air pollution in Sydney that we’ve ever seen – this is climate change”.
The ‘Choking’ Situation
People were gasping for air in Sydney on Tuesday, as more than 100 fires erupted across the east coast, painting the daytime sky orange, masking visibility, and disrupting public transport services as air quality worsened.
On Wednesday, temperatures decreased by more than 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit), and winds eased, improving the air quality. However, the air is still maintaining quality levels considered hazardous.
Amidst escalating public anger, Australia’s Liberal-National government defended its policies in fighting climate change and downplayed its links to the unparalleled early arrival and severity of the fires. “Certainly, climate change is a factor, there is no question, but also it is important to note that most of these fires have been caused by ‘Little Lucifers’”, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack told ABC, referring to arsonists.
Four people have been killed in Australia’s fires since November. It has burnt about 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of farmland and devastated more than 400 homes.
While investigations are underway about what triggered some fires, firefighters and scientists have declared that most of the blazes have been caused by rising temperatures and three years of drought that left bush-land as dry as sand.
The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has said his government is committed to tackling climate changes, asserting that Australia will meet a pledge to cut emissions from 26% to 28% by 2030, versus 2005 levels.
Critics are claiming that the government is only playing with words when it comes to climate change. Thousands of protesters, many wearing masks, paraded through the main business district to demand stronger action. A group of four pregnant women carried a banner that read, “Stop burning our babies’ future”.
Australia relies on coal-fired power plants and is one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita. In June, it approved a new coal mine by India’s Adani Enterprises in Queensland State that is expected to produce 8 million to 10 million tones of thermal coal a year.
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