Australian PM Tony Abbott hangs on; World may be less lucky...
By D.R. Tucker on 2/9/2015, 12:16pm PT  

One never wants to see incompetence rewarded, but sadly, that's exactly what happened on Monday in Australia, as right-wing Prime Minister Tony Abbott survived an effort by members of his own party to oust him.

Abbott, who led the charge to end Australia's bold efforts to price carbon in 2014, had been beset by numerous controversies in recent months. As James West of Mother Jones reported last week:

Abbott's growing unpopularity has little to do with his climate policies. The public is angry about a badly executed austerity budget that will hit the poor the hardest. A string of broken election promises and tough cuts to education and health have left Australians feeling shortchanged. Then, there was the bizarre and anachronistic honoring of Britain's Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, as a "knight" of Australia --- a scandal now dubbed Abbott's "Knightmare" by the tabloids. Australians cringed at dishing out the award to a non-Australian who already possesses a comically long list of titles. Then a trigger: the spectacular defeat for Abbott's party in recent state elections, partly seen as a repudiation of Abbott himself.

"Tone-deaf Tony" has now stuck as a favorite media nickname, and pundits are describing his leadership as "terminal." Even in publications run by billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch, a traditional Abbott ally, front page headlines have been scathing.

Given Abbott's embarrassing record on climate change, however --- particularly as heat records have been repeatedly smashed in recent years Down Under --- environmentalists will be particularly disappointed that the Prime Minister, for now, has been able to hang on to power...

West noted that had Abbott been ousted in the so-called "spill motion," either of his potential replacements, Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop, would likely have been less ideologically rigid on the climate issue; of course, it's hard to be more ideologically rigid than Abbott, who infamously called the scientific verdict on human-caused climate change "absolute crap" in 2009. (However, just prior to the "spill motion" vote, Turnbull made it clear that he would not lead any effort to bring back Australia's carbon-pricing efforts.)

Abbott's callousness on climate is a human-rights tragedy for a country that has been ravaged by human-caused climate change. As the conservative Economist magazine reported on February 5:

Forthcoming generations of Australians will know ever more sunburnt, drought-stricken and flooded lands, if the predictions of a report from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Bureau of Meteorology are realised. Those sweeping plains, especially in the country's centre, will become much hotter and their soil will degrade.

The report, released last week, is Australia's most comprehensive yet. It is also the most worrisome. Its worst-case predictions have average temperatures rising by 5.1°C [ 9.18°F] by 2090, a shade above the global worst-case prediction. The report predicts less rain on average but far more of it when it does come. On land, more fires and heatwaves are projected; at sea, expect higher surface temperatures and acidity, and higher sea levels overall-all things foreseen with a "very high confidence" unless emissions are steeply cut.

The report also remarks on the effects of a global temperature rise of 2ºC [3.6°F] over pre-industrial times, a goal many still believe is an attainable limit that would curtail worst-case scenarios in many regions. But it would most likely be terrible for Australia's mainland and "very challenging" for the Great Barrier Reef, according to Kevin Hennessy, one of the CSIRO's chief research scientists.

To many the report's dire predictions will come as no surprise; the number-crunching is based in large part on models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the outcomes are not so different from the last version of the report. The hottest year on record in Australia was 2013; the third-hottest was last year. Seven of the ten hottest years have occurred since 1988. The report quiets naysayers who would suggest this is natural climate variation, admonishing that "the signal is clear."

The Economist also observed that "Mr. Abbott's position [on human-caused climate change] will become trickier to maintain" as Australia continues to confront the consequences of carbon. Too bad he was able to maintain his position due to the failure of the "spill motion," although the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal notes Abbott's political woes aren't over:

The leadership challenge divided Liberal [Australia's right-wing] party ranks, with more than a third of the ruling conservatives wanting Mr. Abbott to be replaced. That leaves him vulnerable to future moves against him, analysts said. He also faces a resurgent Labor opposition, an obstructive upper house of Parliament, and a looming election in Australia's most populous state that will provide the latest litmus test of his conservative party's popularity.

"Realistically, the only thing Mr. Abbott can do, it seems, is pray," political analyst Haydon Manning, from Flinders University, said of the prime minister, who once trained to become a Catholic priest. "He needs some dramatic event to happen to make him look a statesman."

There is a dramatic event taking place in Australia and around the world --- climate change --- but Abbott isn't enough of a statesman to confront that issue. The courageous former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who introduced the nation's price on carbon, was. It's a profound shame that the denialist Abbott destroyed what Gillard built. History cannot condemn him strongly enough.

I don't do a lot of traveling, but I'd love to visit Australia one day and thank Gillard for her leadership on climate. She stood up to Rupert Murdoch's Australian media empire and mendacious mining interests in the name of protecting future generations. As Gillard observed shortly after she was replaced as Prime Minister in a "spill motion" by fellow Labor Party member Kevin Rudd in 2013:

"I always want our nation to be brave enough to shape the future, not to be passive and overwhelmed by it...And be gutsy enough to do the hard things that are right, like pricing carbon."

Gillard was certainly gutsy enough. Australia --- and the world --- need more leaders like her.

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D.R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer and a former contributor to the conservative website Human Events Online. He has also written for the Washington Monthly, Huffington Post, the Boston Herald, the Boston Globe Magazine, ClimateCrocks.com and FrumForum.com, among others. In addition, he hosted a Blog Talk Radio program, The Notes, from August 2009 to June, 2010, and served as a co-host of On the Green Front with Betsy Rosenberg on the Progressive Radio Network from August 2011 to March 2014. Currently, he is a contributor to the Climate Minute and Climate Notes podcasts for the Massachusetts Climate Action Network. You can follow him on Twitter here: @DRTucker.