Australia’s remarkable prosperity rests on a balancing act. It mines coal, natural gas and iron ore from a vulnerable landscape. It takes ever more money from China while allied with the American military. With devastating wildfires ripping through its countryside, that balance may become increasingly difficult to maintain. Australia’s leaders face growing pressure to address climate change, as scientists blame the country’s increasingly hot and dry conditions for the disastrous blazes. That would mean reckoning with Australia’s dependence on providing China and other countries with coal.
The fossil fuel, used to fire many of the world’s power plants and steel mills, is one of Australia’s biggest exports. Coal is also one of the biggest sources of climate change gases, and produces most of Australia’s own electricity.
The fires have prompted a national discussion about climate change and the country’s economy. In addition to the personal harm and environmental damage caused by the fires, they have taken a toll on tourism, another essential industry for the Australian economy. Already, Mr. Morrison’s standing in public opinion polls is slumping because of his handling of the wildfires.