A Climate Reckoning for Australia

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia at a press conference Monday in Canberra.

Australia should be a global leader in battling climate change. The vast nation-continent has an abundance of potential solar and tidal power, while the bleaching of the spectacular Great Barrier Reef by warming waters and a record drought offers ample evidence of what climate change can wreak. In advance of a critical vote on a new energy bill, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wisely noted that it is well known “what happens when you allow ideology and idiocy to take charge of energy policy.”

Yet right after saying that, Mr. Turnbull, under pressure from rebellious conservatives in his party, abandoned his “National Energy Guarantee” and its modest effort to reduce energy emissions. With that, he appeared to confirm Australia as a poster child for something completely different, as reported by Damien Cave in The Times on Tuesday: a political inability to enact sorely needed energy legislation because of acute partisanship on addressing climate change and the influence of a coal industry that accounts for more than a third of all global coal exports.

Though recent Australian governments have been reasonably progressive on many of the issues that have tested other democracies, such as gun control, health care and wages, and Mr. Turnbull’s achievements include legalizing same-sex marriage, the bitter divisions over climate change have led to the fall of two prime ministers in the past decade. By jettisoning his energy bill, Mr. Turnbull narrowly escaped becoming the third, at least for now.

The volatility, Mr. Cave wrote, is explained at least in part by ideological ties to coal and by its enormous lobbying machine. The result is that any mention of emissions control, or even well-established climate science, prompts a violent allergic reaction on the right. That is what Mr. Turnbull referred to as “ideology and idiocy,” before he fell prey to its power.

The description is utterly apt, for Australia as it is for the United States, where President Trump has rashly pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord and has maliciously undercut critical environmental regulations. On Tuesday, Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of Mr. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, announced a plan to prop up coal-burning plants that would, by the agency’s own reckoning, lead to hundreds of additional deaths a year from respiratory diseases.

Australia, at least, has not pulled out of the Paris agreement — though America’s withdrawal is cited by Australian conservatives as an argument against setting emissions targets — and it remains committed to reduce energy emission levels in 2030 to 26 percent below those of 2005. Australian businesses, moreover, are clamoring for a consistent energy policy, and one recent poll found that 59 percent of Australians say steps should be taken against global warming even if they are costly.

Ideology and idiocy, of course, are not limited to climate policy or to any country. But it is especially dismaying when science-denying hacks and self-serving industries block action that is in the obvious and urgent interest of all humanity. That should not be happening in Australia.

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