Police have charged at least 24 people for allegedly intentionally setting some of the bushfires that have raged across Australia in recent months.
News of the busts comes as many on the left, including at the Golden Globe Awards, have sought to make the devastating blazes a cause célèbre in the fight against climate change.
The New South Wales Police Force said Tuesday they have taken legal action against more than 180 people, including 40 juveniles, for 205 bushfire-related offenses since November 2019. In addition to the 24 people arrested and charged for alleged arsons, 53 have been accused of failing to comply with a total fire ban and 47 with discarding lit cigarettes or matches.
Since September, the bushfires in Australia have killed at least 25 people. Almost 2,000 homes have been destroyed, and millions of animals have died. The fires have so far scorched some 16 million acres of land and are expected to keep burning for months.
Australians must combat bushfires every year. But this season is said to be one of the worst in the country’s history as a natural weather phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean Dipole has contributed to record temperatures, drought and strong winds. Some experts have also pointed to a record of poor forest management by the state.
Meanwhile, climate scientists had predicted global warming could hit Australia as hard as any developed country, with bushfires becoming more frequent and intense as temperatures rise.
Liberals have been blaming the Australian fires on climate change
In recent days, prominent liberals had shown little patience for nuances like the distinction between weather and climate. Many took the bushfires in Australia as an opportunity to renew their jeremiads against climate change.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat who coauthored the Green New Deal legislation, claimed in a tweet Thursday that her alarmist rhetoric and radical policy proposals had been vindicated by the fires.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg on Saturday blamed Australians for hurting their country and the planet with “political inaction” on climate change. In a Facebook post days after her 17th birthday, she scolded the nation-in-crisis for the increased carbon emissions caused by the fires and for the resulting smoke, which she said was making glaciers in New Zealand “melt faster.”
“That has to change,” Thunberg said. “And it has to change now.”
She ended her post: “My thoughts are with the people of Australia and those affected by these devastating fires.”
On Sunday, at the Golden Globes, a number of celebrities also invoked the fires in Australia to demand the public join them in fighting climate change.
Actress Jennifer Aniston, in presenting the award for best actor in a limited TV series of TV movie, said Russel Crowe could not accept the trophy for his role on Showtime’s “The Loudest Voice” because he was home in Australia “protecting his family from the devastating bushfires.” She then read a statement on Crowe’s behalf.
“Make no mistake, the tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate change-based,” Aniston read. “We need to act based on science, move our global workforce to renewable energy, and respect our planet for the unique and amazing place it is. That way we all have a future.”
Conservatives fight fire with fire
However, on Tuesday, after news of the alleged role of arsonists in Australia’s bushfires broke, conservative commentators pushed back on Twitter.
Radio host Tara Servatius responded to actress turned activist Alyssa Milano, who a day earlier commented on a video of a koala stuck in a brushfire: “We must act on climate change now for f—s sake.”
“The fires were caused by arson,” Servatius said. “You cannot change the weather … by paying money to the government.”
Conservative blogger Wayne Dupree joked, “Wait. I’m confused…Hollywood Celebrities and AOC told me the fires were caused by ‘Climate Change.'”
National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch headlined a blog post on the subject: “Climate Change? Australian Police Arrest Dozens for Intentionally Setting Brushfires.”
If convicted, those charged with intentionally setting the bushfires in Australia could face up to 25 years in prison for property damage with the intention of endangering life, 25 years for manslaughter and 21 years for starting a fire and “being reckless as to its spread.”
The lesser offenses are punishable by up to a year in prison and a $5,500 fine.