The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that climate change is something only hippies should care about. By this view, commonly expressed by conservative politicians, fixing climate change is only for bleeding-hearts who care more about hugging trees than making money.
But this is completely wrong. Climate change will wreck the environment, and in the process it will wreck human society as well — causing many deaths and billions of dollars in damage, as we're seeing now as Australia is battered by the worst wildfires in its history. People who deny or downplay climate change are broiling themselves and everyone else alive.
Some extreme weather events have a complex array of causes, and it is hard to tie them definitively to climate change. Hurricane formation, for instance, involves winds, ocean temperatures and the difference between atmospheric temperatures, the spin of the earth, and many other factors, so it is a tricky business to pin worse storms on global warming. (Nevertheless, a growing body of research does indeed point to climate change as a key cause of increasing hurricane severity.)
But that is not true at all of the Australian bushfires. Fires get worse when things are hot, dry, and windy, and climate change has provided all of those conditions in abundance. The continent has warmed by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (a bit over 1 degree Celsius) since the 1970s, and in keeping with the predictions of climate models, Australia has experienced steadily worse droughts and heat waves over the last 30 years. The current drought may end up being the worst in history — this spring was the driest ever recorded on the continent, and back on December 18 it set a new record for the hottest day ever measured with an average temperature across the entire country of 105.6 degrees.
So far this Australian fire season, almost 15 million acres have been burned, at least 18 people have died, a further 17 are missing, and over 1,200 homes have burned down. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated, and thousands more are still trapped in hazardous locations. Australia's largest cities have repeatedly suffocated under smoke plumes — on December 11, Sydney recorded particulate pollution 11 times worse than the "hazardous" level, and at time of writing capital city Canberra had the second-worst air in the world. Meanwhile, the ongoing drought has devastated Australian farmers.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (from the Liberal Party, which is politically conservative) has been wrong-footed by the crisis — residents of fire-stricken towns yelled at him during a tour of the damage, and his record of boosting fossil fuels has become a major focus of news coverage of the events.
Morrison insists that he has taken a measured approach to climate, but this is nonsense — on the contrary, Australia is one of the major climate villains in the world. Morrison has long been in the pocket of Big Carbon, and has consistently boosted fossil fuel development as prime minister. Indeed, before he was head of the Liberals he brought a chunk of coal onto the floor of parliament and accused the opposition party of "coalphobia." As recently as November, his deputy prime minister was calling climate activists "inner-city raving lunatics."
As a result, Australia's domestic emissions have increased steadily since 2013, when the Liberals took power and immediately repealed the carbon tax passed under the previous Labor Party government. More importantly, Australia is the second-largest coal exporter in the world (only recently passed up by Indonesia, despite increased Australian production), and thanks to the Liberal government, it has recently soared to become the second-largest exporter of liquid natural gas as well, and may take first place next year. Most of that fuel goes to Japan, China, India, and Korea. All this makes Australia the third-largest exporter of carbon dioxide emissions, just behind Russia and Saudi Arabia.
To be fair, the opposition party isn't much better, despite the modest carbon tax mentioned above. Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese backs coal exports despite criticizing Morrison's abysmal climate record.
Of course, Australia's natural environment is getting pummeled as well by the drought and fires. As Nerilie Abram writes at Scientific American, "early estimates suggest that around 500 million animals have died so far, including 30 percent of the koala population in their main habitat."
But it is worth emphasizing that the koalas aren't the only ones suffering. If adorable animals being slaughtered by the millions doesn't tug one's heartstrings, then perhaps consider self-interest, as Australians hide in lakes to keep from being burned alive. A few more years of fat coal profits aren't worth making Mad Max into a documentary.
In short, Australia, like many countries (very much including the United States) is pathologically addicted to fossil fuels, and is roasting itself and the world in the process. Without strong international climate policy, there will be future droughts, fires, and other disasters that make the current crisis seem like a friendly daydream.