'Absolutely daft': How did we end up getting climate policy so wrong?
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'Absolutely daft': How did we end up getting climate policy so wrong?

With the apparent combustion of the Turnbull government expected on Friday, the parallels with Emperor Nero supposedly playing his lyre as Rome blazed around him are unmistakable.

Having our federal political leaders consumed with the Liberal Party's infighting is precisely not what's needed for our country. Just ask agencies battling to prepare for real-life conflagrations that threaten the eastern seaboard in coming months.

Standing back and watching climate change is not going to be an option.

Standing back and watching climate change is not going to be an option.Credit:AAP

It's certainly ironic Malcolm Turnbull's ditching of carbon emissions as a goal of the National Energy Guarantee last week precipitated the crisis that has almost certainly ended his time as Prime Minister.

What is especially disturbing is the risk his successor - whether it is Peter Dutton or Scott Morrison or Julie Bishop or whoever else - will downgrade climate action as a priority in order to secure right-wing MP support.

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Rather than taking up the national interest and cutting carbon emissions - the Turnbull government effectively has no climate policy - the next PM will likely be under pressure to back new coal-fired power stations.

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The move would further embed fossil fuels in an economy that must fully decarbonise - along with the rest of the world - by mid-century or soon after to avoid dangerous climate change.

Conservative MPs and pundits have been clamouring to pull Australia out of the Paris Climate Agreement, ignoring mounting evidence of the threat we face from more extreme weather, and soon.

Australia, year to date, is running at a record for maximum temperatures, according to the Bureau of Meteorology's ACORN-surface air temperature network.

Subtle shifts in temperature can be hard for people to appreciate. How many of us have thought the current winter seems annoyingly long as we awoke on yet another frosty morning?

Look out, though, for reports early next month that will confirm many of us have just experienced one of the mildest winters on record.

Visual aids, such the colour scales created by Ed Hawkins, a professor at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the UK's University of Reading, can help us understand how Australia has warmed.

In Australia's case, taking mean temperatures from 1910 to 2017 and mapping the coolest year (20.7 degrees) as dark blue and the hottest (23 degrees) as dark red, it should be obvious which way the mercury is trending.

How Australia's average annual mean temperatures have changed between 1910 and 2017, with the dark blue showing the coldest at 20.7 degrees and 23.0 degrees the darkest red, according Ed Hawkins, a UK-based climate scientist.

How Australia's average annual mean temperatures have changed between 1910 and 2017, with the dark blue showing the coldest at 20.7 degrees and 23.0 degrees the darkest red, according Ed Hawkins, a UK-based climate scientist.Credit:Ed Hawkins/University of Reading.

As Fairfax Media reported this week, evaporation across eastern Australia is not only at record levels for the first seven months of 2018, but there's bright, unstinting daylight between the nearest rival year when it was this bad.

Fire authorities prefer not to stir alarm but they are quietly preparing for what could be a catastrophic season of bushfires in eastern states.

NSW is entirely drought-declared and the outlook is for a drier and hotter than normal spring for many areas - all this as crews have fought dozens of fires across the state even before spring arrives.

Places such as Richmond on Sydney's north-west fringe are showing vegetation moisture readings as low as the time of the last big bushfires to threaten the Harbour City.

And those readings are in late August - not December 2002 when that previous high was marked. Those conditions are true for most of the forests around Sydney.

Remember how Turnbull and Josh Frydenberg, the current environment and energy minister, told us lowering power prices had to be "the main game in town" when it came to the now defunct National Energy Guarantee?

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Robyn Eckersley, an expert in climate policy at Melbourne University, is as bemused as any that a government has again foundered on global warming.

"Everyone's fascinated by the sharpening of knives - it's all very Machiavellian," she says. "But no-one is talking about the problem of climate change.

"No one is talking about the cost not to act. If you put those in the balance sheet, you'd be absolutely daft not to take anticipatory action as fast as possible."

Peter Hannam is Environment Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. He covers broad environmental issues ranging from climate change to renewable energy for Fairfax Media.