Reporting from Sydney, New York Times Australia bureau chief Damien Cave provided a conservative-mocking “news analysis,” “Coal Lobby Turns Up Heat, and Australia Wilts Under Climate Change.” The text box reproached the country: “A progressive nation remains in thrall to the energy industry.” The online headline: “Australia Wilts From Climate Change. Why Can’t Its Politicians Act?”
Mile after mile of the Great Barrier Reef is dying amid rising ocean temperatures. Hundreds of bush fires are blazing across Australia’s center, in winter, partly because of a record-breaking drought.
The global scientific consensus is clear: Australia is especially vulnerable to climate change.
And yet on Monday, Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, abandoned a modest effort to reduce energy emissions under pressure from conservatives in his party. And on Tuesday, those same conservatives just missed toppling his government.
What on earth is going on?
But Cave knows already: Australia is throwing away its wonderful left-wing history for the devolutionary “circus” of global-warming skepticism:
Despite the country’s reputation for progressiveness on gun control, health care and wages, its energy politics seem forever doomed to devolve into a circus. Experts point to many reasons, from partisanship to personality conflicts, but the root of the problem may be tied to the land.
And just maybe, not wanting to wreck their economy and people’s livelihoods over a theory:
Coal was discovered in New South Wales in 1797, less than a decade after the First Fleet of British settlers arrived. Within a century, the country was producing millions of tons of it. Now, Australia is regularly listed as the largest coal exporter in the world, accounting for 37 percent of global exports.
Cave also pepped his analysis with bits of tonal bias:
Total campaign contributions are extremely hard to track in Australia -- a lack of transparency that serves big business well -- but in the narrow band of reported spending, coal industry lobbyists poured roughly $3.6 million ($5 million Australian) into campaigns last year as the energy debate intensified.
The trend of hyper-partisanship has not helped. Just as climate and energy issues in the United States create a toxic divide, with many on the right opposing anything the left supports – including well-established science – any mention of emissions control tends to create an anaphylactic reaction among Australian conservatives.
The reaction to emissions management nonetheless tends to be universal, at least on the far right.
Cave then tsk-tsked that Australia has proven a great disappointment to the global left:
Scientists all over the world have become increasingly disappointed in the country’s climate policies.
Dr. Darren Saunders, a cancer biologist in Australia, spoke for many in a popular tweet that said, “It’s incredibly hard to describe how utterly sad it feels to be a scientist and dad in a country being dictated to by a small group of science-denying clowns putting their own short term political gain over the long term public interest.”
The problem: Conservatives who reject “facts” (as determined by a random professor of ecology):
“The scientific community in Australia is unified in knowing that climate change is a problem and will become a bigger problem,” said James W. Porter, a professor of ecology at the University of Georgia, specializing in the biology and ecology of coral reefs. “The government of Australia, on the other hand, has the same problems as the government in the United States and other developed countries, in that some conservative politicians don’t want to believe in facts.”
What are some of those facts?
While Cave finds much to criticize in democratic Australia, he embraced the Cuban dictatorship and Fidel Castro when he was the paper’s Miami bureau chief. Cave fostered a bizarre obsession with hypothetical inequality that might transpire in a freer Cuba and fixated on how allowing Cubans to actually own their own homes could lead to “disparities of wealth.”
Cave marked Castro’s death in 2016 by treating the dictator more like an eccentric relative than a man who jailed, harassed, and left impoverished three generations.