Coal mines find fewer friends in Australia after wildfire crisis

Bush fire survivors use burnt debris from the recent bush fires to create a symbolic 'trail of destruction' outside Parliament House in Canberra on Feb 11, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

CANBERRA (BLOOMBERG) - Australians' growing concern about the impact of climate change after a summer blighted by a wildfire crisis has been revealed in a survey that shows a plunge in support for new coal mines.

Asked "Should the Government allow the opening of new coal mines?", 37 per cent of respondents answered yes, down from 45 per cent in June, according to an Australian National University survey of more than 3,000 people released on Tuesday (Feb 18).

The survey revealed that the weeks-long fire crisis had impacted almost four out of five people, with the fallout ranging from homes being destroyed to being physically affected by smoke haze to being anxious about safety.

"Nearly every Australian has been touched by these fires and many of us will be living with the effects for years and years to come," the survey's lead researcher Nicholas Biddle said in the statement.

While recent rains have finally extinguished most of the blazes that plagued the nation, Australia is still counting the economic and environmental cost of the unprecedented wildfire season. The blazes burnt out an area about the size of England, destroyed more than 3,000 homes, killed an estimated one billion animals and wreathed majors cities including Sydney and Melbourne in toxic smoke, often for days on end.

GREENHOUSE EFFECT

The survey showed the amount of people who believe global warming or the greenhouse effect will have an effect on them has risen to 72 per cent from 56 per cent in 2008.

The wildfire crisis has put increased pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to abandon his pro-fossil fuel agenda, which includes using taxpayer dollars to fund a study into the viability of opening a new coal-fired plant.

His government is walking back promises to achieve a budget surplus as the fires and the coronavirus outbreak weigh on economic growth.

The Australian National University survey backs up other recent polls that show Mr Morrison's handling of the wildfire crisis has taken a toll on his popularity.

"When it came to confidence in party leaders, Prime Minister Scott Morrison's score was 3.92 out of 10," Mr Biddle said.

"This is a net negative review of the prime minister and substantial decline in his popularity from 5.25 out of 10" in June.

Support for his conservative government fell 5 percentage points to 35 per cent.

The two-week survey began on Jan 20; it didn't provide a margin of error.

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