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Australia on Fire: Record-Shattering Heat, Wildfires Engulf World’s Largest Exporter of Coal

Two new colors have been added to Australia’s weather maps to show temperatures exceeding 122 degrees Fahrenheit in the country’s fiercest heat wave in more than 80 years.

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So, the key message from all of this, and what our weather agencies are telling us, is that this is the new normal. This isn’t just some freak extreme weather event. Actually, we’ve seen a trend over the last few decades of extreme weather events on the rise, getting worse and worse, as we pump more and more carbon pollution into the atmosphere and make climate change worse.

AMY GOODMAN: You were just in—you were just in Antarctica? Can you describe going from Australia to Antarctica and back?

ANNA ROSE: So I just got back to Australia yesterday from Antarctica, where I was talking to people there about the impacts of climate change. Now, western Antarctica, it’s still very cold, but it’s actually the most quickly warming land mass. So the Arctic is warming very quickly, but it’s an ocean. West Antarctica has warmed three times the global average. And that’s starting to have some impacts on penguin populations, on marine life, and also starting to see the impact of ocean acidification, because we can all see what’s happening on land and in the air, but the other big changes that are happening are in our oceans, particularly with the formation of calcium carbonate, which is a really important substance for little marine organisms, which feed fish, which then provide protein for much of the world. So, when it comes to climate change, sometimes you hear people talking about polar bears or rainforests, and those things are important, but really we’re starting to see the impacts, and we have for a while now, on human health, human infrastructure, on food security and on our day-to-day lives. That’s certainly what’s happening here in Australia. People are starting to see the impacts in a very practical and a very scary way in our everyday lives.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Anna Rose, the U.N. climate summit just concluded last month in Doha, Qatar. Given what you’ve outlined of what we’ve seen of extreme weather events, can you give us your assessment of that conference and how that world body is dealing with this problem?

ANNA ROSE: Well, the United Nations climate conference will never aim higher than what the governments attending demand. And those governments will never aim higher than what their people demand. So, I won’t—I don’t believe we’ll have significant progress at the international level until we’re able to build an even stronger movement in Australia, in America and around the world. And that movement has certainly begun. There is an enormous climate justice movement all over the world. And particularly the youth part of that movement, which is what I’ve been working with for the last few years, has just grown exponentially as the scale of the crisis grows.

In Australia, we have now a carbon price, and we are investing $10 billion in renewable energy to start the shift away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy, like wind and solar. But we still have a lot of work to do, particularly on things like our coal exports from Queensland. I know in the United States you have similar issues with the power of vested interests in politics. So, the U.N. climate talks will continue, countries will continue to make incremental steps, but we won’t achieve the really genuine, significant, deep cuts in carbon pollution until we’re able to get to work to build an even stronger movement for climate justice in 2013.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.N. climate summit will be taking place in Poznan, Poland, a massive—a country massively reliant on coal. But Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel.  The Guardian writes, "Australians now burn, on average, slightly more carbon per capita than the citizens of the [United States], and more than twice as much as the people of the United Kingdom." Anna Rose, talk about the state of the environmental movement. As you say, nothing will happen until the people push their so-called leaders. But has this massive catastrophic heat wave in Australia, bringing you to temperatures, well, in American language, more than 122 degrees Fahrenheit—how has it changed the movement?

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