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Australian fires and the climate crisis everybody wanted to ignore

Written By: - Date published: 11:05 am, January 7th, 2020 - 51 comments
Categories: australian politics, climate change, Environment, International, science - Tags: , , , , ,

The start of 2020 has been a truely horrible one for Australia. The fires that are sweeping the country have been wreaking havoc. Currently more than 20 people have lost their lives and hundreds more have lost their homes and possessions. In the state of New South Wales its estimated that over half a billion animals have perished in the blaze. 

Image result for australian fires kangaroo

Fires across Australia have caused over $4 billion Australian dollars in damage. 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has come under considerable fire over his response to this national emergency. He has been criticised for being slow to return from his family vacation in Hawaii, and generally for his government not showing adequate support to those impacted by the fire. 

Image result for scott morrison meeting fire victims

Australian PM is not he’s not Welcome by bush fire victims.

There is no question that Scott Morrison’s response and leadership during this national emergency has been weak. But the abysmal response of the Australian Government to this issue predates Morrison’s leadership of the country.

Few sane people would dispute that climate change is a significant factor for the fires in Australia. Those who have warned about the consequences of human created climate change have warned for many years that events like this will be the result. Yet Australia has had a long history of denying the looming climate catastrophe. Scott Morrison’s government was re-elected in May 2019 with a very weak climate change policy. With some parallels to the recent UK General election, where I blogged about Boris Johnson’s weak leadership on the Climate Crisis, Scott Morrison and his government has been poor on this issue. But this is nothing new.

Back in the late 1990s, the Liberal Government led by John Howard refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, a global treaty aiming to reduce carbon emissions. In 2007 there was a glimpse of hope that Australia would start to take this issue seriously. That year Australia elected Kevin Rudd’s Australian Labor Party (ALP) in the federal government elections. The ALP stood on a policy of tackling climate change. The situation seemed even more hopeful when in 2009 the Liberal opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull came out in support of the ALP’s proposed Mining tax.

But then came Tony Abbott. Tony has been a longstanding climate change denier. He recently made a speech in Israel claiming the world was in the “grip of a climate cult”, while his country burns. Tony successfully rolled Turnbull as Opposition Leader, and changed the Liberal Party policy to oppose the governments mining tax. The Liberals shot up in the polls, the ALP got the spooked and abandoned the policy. Shortly after Rudd was replaced by Julia Gillard, Australia’s first and only women PM. Gillard was very narrowly reelected in 2010 but relied on independent MPs in parliament for numbers. In 2013 Kevin Rudd once again became PM, briefly, before losing the election to Tony Abbott. 

Abbott only served two years as PM, before he was rolled by Malcom Turnbull. As PM Turnbull was more moderate in some policy areas than the rabid Tony Abbott. But on climate change he knew he didn’t have the numbers in his party to push for any significant policy change. By 2018, having only narrowly won the 2016 election and consistently polled badly thereafter, Turnbull was replaced by Scott Morrison. Scott’s backers were the same people who’d backed Abbott, thus action on climate change was out of the question.

Mining companies have considerable power in Australia. They also have a truck tonne of money. According to Forbes Magazine Australia richest person, mining magnate Gina Rinehart is worth $15.5 Billion US. According to the Minerals Council of Australia mining is worth 198 billion to the Australian economy and accounts for 54% of the country’s GDP. Thousands in Australia depend on mining jobs for their livelihood. Many more live in communities that rely on the mining industry. 

Mining companies put considerable time and resource into lobbying the Australian Government on policies that impact on their industry. They spent millions and worked overtime to oppose the mining tax in 2009. Politicians are scared of the mining sector. And recent history shows that those who serve their interests fare well in Australian politics. Also the voting public are influenced by what the mining sector say. Specifically they get concerned when mining companies and their political representatives say there could be job losses if mining companies are taxed or regulated. These messages impact how people think, and how they vote. 

Most Australians and their politicians realise the climate change is real. But it’s been easier and more convenient to face up to the reality of the climate crisis. It’s easier to believe that the environmentalists are exaggerating. It’s convenient to believe scientific evidence is not conclusive regarding human activity causing climate change, when actually the evidence overwhelmingly concludes that it is. So Australia continues to do nothing about climate change. And now the country is going up in flames.

The fall out of these fires will be significant for Australia. For a number of communities their lives are now turned upside down, and many have lost everything. The fires will take weeks if not months to put out. The rebuild and recovery will take could take years. The environmental impacts of these fires will be devastating. Many animal habitats and forests may never recover. Politically, Scott Morrison and his government has taken a big hit over the fires. He may survive, he may not. But ultimately thats not important. What is important is that climate change has caused this crisis. And unless Australia and other developed nations take action on this issue – events like the Australian fires will become more and more common. 

51 comments on “Australian fires and the climate crisis everybody wanted to ignore ”

  1. RedLogix 1

    That year Australia elected Kevin Rudd’s Australian Labor Party (ALP) in the federal government elections. The ALP stood on a policy of tackling climate change. The situation seemed even more hopeful when in 2009 the Liberal opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull came out in support of the ALP’s proposed Mining tax.

    A good potted history, but glosses over exactly what went wrong at that critical moment when a bipartisan agreement was all but finalised. Here is a good read on the issues in play at that moment.

    https://newmatilda.com/2014/08/21/politics-carbon-and-price-doing-whats-right/

    Ultimately the Australian Greens hung Kevin Rudd out to dry. In one sense, and the link above makes this clear, they had good reason to argue Rudd's carbon pricing scheme was not good enough. But it was achievable and had bipartisan support, a support that would have taken the polarisation out of the debate and paved the way for better reform in the following years.

    Instead we have the rest of the sorry saga … five Prime Ministers in ten years. All of them fatally wounded at some point by the CC debate. Has anyone noticed yet that changing PM's doesn't reduce fossil fuel emissions?

    By contrast the NZ Greens seem to have learned the salient lesson and Shaw's commendable approach is taking us in the right direction.

  2. Cricklewood 2

    Been interesting reading about the dipole which influences so much of the weather in Aus and that its the strongest in 6 decades.

    It doesnt seem to have been covered all that much given its actually the major driver of why this fire season is so bad.

    With climate change they think that the extreme dipole events are likely every 6 years rather than 17 which is the more traditional cycle.

    • soddenleaf 2.1

      Would have thought it would continue to speed up. It's like a swing, keep adding co2 and the seat gets higher and higher. The shift from 17 to 6 can be argued to be a change in the climate system, transition. Not, the first, if we continue to force the climate with yet more co2. The fires in oz, and elsewhere, have chilled the air as dust scatters the sunlight back out into space. This can be regarded as akin to us using up a break pad, burn out. If the plant fuel does grow back it'll take a decade before the next big fire. So how will globe cool next? How many more back stops are available to the earth to slow the heating? before out gasing tundra, or some other unforeseeable…. …it's plain frog in heating kettle. We aren't going to do anything until it's definitive and that's too late, it's call momentum, keep pressing harder and harder on the gas and the car breaks burnout, and then the terrain changes, your at the top of a warming tundra. oops. too later.

    • lprent 2.2

      It is a double whammy. Not just the Indian Ocean Dipole which (as it often does) flipped its direction and started pumping warm dry air into aussie, but also the Southern Annular wind system (usually known as SAM).

      That also flipped its direction, probably in response to the very rare Sudden Stratospheric Warming and broke the tight vortex around Antarctica. We have cold air blocks much further north than usual, and it looks like the associated jetstreams aren't moving their oscillations, instead they're getting stuck in place. This is something that happens several times a decade around the Northern pole. Not so much here. But it looks like it is working its way up into much higher variability patterns due to extra accumulated energy as east Antarctica warms up.

      That pattern is why our summer has been pretty shit this years (especially in Invercargill where I 'holidayed'). Right down to the unseasonable Auckland winds that are trying to push me off my e-bike today.. We’ve in the colder part of the wind belt and more on the edge up this end of the country.

      The effect on Aussie has been somewhat different. The cold air winds from Antarctica are just below the continent and is effectively holding the hot dry air from the Indian Ocean in place. That is what is slowly barbequing the country. Every so often a blob of low level hot air breaks free and manages to hit somewhere in NZ – happened in Invercargill on the 31st – had a high of 27C on the day we left the 12C-16C summer days behind.

      There is another hotspot well out of our east coast – but out over the ocean, so less of a problem (unless it starts spawning typhoons).

      But to my eye while this is current emergency is a coincidental confluence of weather/climate events. The problem for aussie (and us) is that with increasing energy in the climate and weather, these kinds of extreme events are going to get more frequent – and also more likely to coincide with unfortunate outcomes. More frequent droughts, fires, massive rain, typhoons, and snow as air masses get more energy to move with.

      It will also generate more pitiful excuses by idiotic people trying to blame everything else like ‘greenies’ (yeah right – like they get policy decision in aussie), government funding decisions, that more people are farting in church, and anything else their hypocritical minds can generate….

  3. RedLogix 3

    This isn't over. And just north of the red circle is a small little town called Tumbarrumba I lived in for almost six months back in 2003. A place I grew rather fond of and almost settled in permanently.

  4. Ad 4

    I hate to mention market forces on a leftie site, but when you concentrate people's minds on property there's one market that is well in advance of anything the Federal government is getting together.

    By that I mean: insurance.

    As ever, the insurance industry is already calculating premiums which factor in all known climate change risks to property.

    Within this article is a set of scenarios for each main Australian capital city, showing how premiums change, suburb by suburb, through to 2100.

    For example by the year 2011 2100, Sydney will have 91,000 homes that are uninsurable.

    The article has an interactive that breaks down the major cities suburb by suburb.

    Anything near a river, near a flat bit of coast, anything on the hills with forest.

    Whole towns like Burke, Nyngan, and Cunnamulla: uninsurable.

    Huge swathes of the Gold Coast like Palm Beach and Broadbeach Waters: uninsurable.

    Sunshine Coast: 40,000 homes uninsurable.

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-10-23/the-suburbs-facing-rising-insurance-costs-from-climate-risk/11624108

    The data that has gone into the analysis covers five hazards: coastal inundation, riverine flooding, bushfire, extreme winds and soil subsidence caused by drought drying out clay soils and causing them to crack or shift, damaging to building foundations.

    The model combines climate change projections with:

    1. Information about the specific location, such as flood mapping and depths, elevation above sea level, soil type, and forest cover; and
    2. Data on the assumed building at that address, such as age, construction materials and design.

    This is then used to calculate the probability of property damage from climate change and extreme weather for every address in Australia.

    In the ensuing recovery packages and reviews and commissions, insurance premiums and uninsurability need to be a strong focus.

    [lprent: 2011? Oh 2100 – correcting. ]

    • pat 4.2

      "In the ensuing recovery packages and reviews and commissions, insurance premiums and uninsurability need to be a strong focus"

      And that would be good advice for NZ as well…..with risk based pricing now the norm it has the potential to undermine the whole model of spreading risk ….as premiums increase and locations priced out the pool will decrease creating a negative feedback loop.

      It is difficult to see how the house of cards can remain standing

      • AB 4.2.1

        "it has the potential to undermine the whole model of spreading risk "

        And that is the whole problem of relying on the insurance industry to drive action on CC. It individuates risk, and ultimately it will individuate harm. Sooner or later the owners of uninsurable homes will suffer a catastrophe (fire, flood, storm) and be wiped out financially. Are we going to have a roving internal population of the destitute, who are then herded into refugee/internment camps so as not to offend the sensibilities of the still financially secure? Are we going to let the devil take the hindmost – or mobilise the entire wealth of the country (which was created collectively but appropriated individually in a bizarrely disproportionate manner) to fund a just transition?

        • pat 4.2.1.1

          Collective action re insurance is problematic….it operates in the same reinsurance market as the private insurers

          Expecting a positive outcome with public cover has been well disproved by EQC

  5. Anne 6

    And just to accentuate the point about CC cretins in the Australian government:

    https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jan/07/craig-kelly-interview-piers-morgan-calls-mp-disgraceful-for-denying-climate-link-to-bushfires

    Calls a female meteorologist with PHDs in Physics and Meteorology plus years of practical forecasting experience:

    "Just a weather girl and has no idea what she is talking about".

    • John Clover 6.1

      She is obviously just jumping on the current fad of CC as seemingly the author of this thread.

      • RedLogix 6.1.1

        Well she has a degree in meterology, and has worked in the field for almost a decade.

        And you? What competency are you bringing to this debate …

        • John Clover 6.1.1.1

          None that people would recognise and I was just expressing my opinion based on what I have read in connection with this event mainly from this thread and radio rerports. as I read further down this page you seem to have a lot of experience which I respect and I think Anne's infor adds to the picture.
          I do not tjhik ‘Trust’ comes into it. It was my opinion based on my experience of life.

          • RedLogix 6.1.1.1.1

            Accepted. I've no problem with people expressing honest opinions in good faith … that's what sites like this are for. yes

          • Anne 6.1.1.1.2

            Yes, I accept your explanation too John Clover. We have a number of smart-arses who come here and try to undermine well thought out comments and I thought you were one of them. My apologies.

      • Anne 6.1.2

        Laura Tobin:

        Yes I’m a Meteorologist
        -A degree in Physics & Meteorology
        -4 yrs as an aviation forecaster at the RAF
        -12 yrs as a broadcast meteorologist
        -Attended a @WMO Climate course last year & upto date with all the science.

        You know who I trust? Not you John Clover.

        Our very own weather boy, Dan Corbett was originally a senior meteorologist in Britain with a list of impressive scientific credentials. But yes, I suppose he's only an ignorant weather boy in John-boy's eyes cos John-boy knows it all.

        • RedLogix 6.1.2.1

          Thanks for adding the details Anne … it took some courage and capability to speak out like that. Laura Tobin nailed it.

          In the meantime Craig Kelly made such a fool of himself it looks like even his own party couldn't stomach it … and he's apologised. Sort of.

  6. Jackel 7

    Australia, maybe when you've had a few of your own people burned alive until death by Mother Nature, you might want to have a look at your climate change policy.

    • RedLogix 7.1

      This comment is a bit shitty imo. Bushfires have killed at least 20 people this season. Nor has it much to do with CC; fires have killed at least 800 people since records have been kept in 1851.

      After the 2009 Black Saturday event which killed 180, it was realised the sheer intensity of these canopy fires meant that the old practice of 'stay and defend' was no longer working. In places like Kingslake and Marysville with very limited roads in and out it was suicide. Now the modern practice is to evacuate as the first choice. This has saved hundreds of lives in the past few weeks.

  7. infused 8

    majority were lit by humans.

    lots of this has been caused by bills stopping the removal of bush which caused the fires to spread.

    this needs to happen every now and then for certain trees to spread their seeds.

    fuck all media are reporting this though except a couple

    cLiMATe ChANgE!!

    yeah no

    • Leapy 8.1

      I think infused post hits a 10 out of 10 for getting as many CC denier tropes in the shortest amount of space.

      Some of what you say is based in reality, but CC is still driving the ever worsening of the fires year on year and that is pretty incontravertible according to the scientists.

      • infused 8.1.1

        bullshit. it was state this was pretty much the same as the big fires in 1890 or 1900

        also im not denying it. in this instance its been hijacked for political purposes. your blind if you cant see that

        • RedLogix 8.1.1.1

          Yes Australia has had bad fire seasons … well since forever. There have been at least five in the past century. The stats on them look impressive, but in terms of lives and homes lost what has comparatively changed is the RFS organisation is now a nationwide organisation with far better communications, equipment and skills at managing these events.

          While similar events in the past have killed hundreds, this season it's only 20 so far. While the loss of homes has numbered up to a thousand or so … this year they've lost around 2,000 but have saved over 10,000. That's a remarkable number that reflects access to water bombing and suppression from the air, and the ability to insert ground crews at critical locations without undue risk. Satellite images give planners unprecedented detail and modern communications get reliable real-time information back to the commanders. None of that was readily possible in the past.

          Making comparisons with past events isn't simple, each event has it's unique character. But what is utterly beyond all dispute … 2019 has started early, threatens to go on for at least another few months and has so far devastated an area vastly greater than ever before.

        • Psycho Milt 8.1.1.2

          also im not denying it.

          Funny how many of the people running denier lines claim not to be doing it. It's almost like they know it's a bad thing…

          • infused 8.1.1.2.1

            you need to learn to read.

            • weka 8.1.1.2.1.1

              Climate denial comes in a range of forms now. It's not hard to say, the fires are driven by CC, and there are also serious issues with arson and fuel reduction burns. People focusing on arson and fuel reduction burns and having a problem with people pointing to CC come across as not wanting to talk about CC. That's a form of denial. The onus is on commenters to make clear their own meaning.

            • RedLogix 8.1.1.2.1.2

              Bushfires are a complex thing. What triggers them, and how they spread have many factors involved.

              Whether any given fire is started by lightening, accident or arson has little bearing on what happens next. How the fire spreads depends on fuel load, topography, wind, temperature, humidity and moisture levels.

              (Incidentally arson is reasonably well understood, The RFS has a team of around 150 specialists who are skilled at determining why a fire starts and tracking down any culprits. It's not that easy to light a fire and get away with it, especially if you're doing it often … you will get caught.)

              The scale and intensity of these fires is absolutely related to CC. Every expert in the field is saying this. It's driving down moisture levels, driving up intense heatwaves, and making controlled burnoffs increasingly difficult to perform safely. That some areas have failed to contain fuel loads also relates to high risk to homes, infrastructure and cuts to RFS funding.

              All the actual conservationists I am aware of support fuel reduction burns because they know it reduces harm to flora and fauna. Everyone knows Australia burns … it's just a question of how bad. The factors relating to CC however are pushing them toward intolerable; pretending this year's season is somehow 'normal' simply denies this fact.

    • RedLogix 8.2

      lots of this has been caused by bills stopping the removal of bush which caused the fires to spread.

      Maybe you should ask the Australians actually fighting the fires.

      What is called 'cultural burning' can be quite effective, but it too has it limits. Once hot winds start firestorms in the tree canopy, with vast pyrocumulus clouds and destructive rotating winds driving fire like a freight train, any past fuel reductions at ground level become irrelevant.

      As for the Greenies stopping fuel load reduction … yeah nah.

    • John Clover 8.3

      Climate change may or may not be having some effect but the carelessness of Aussi politicians in stopping the clearing of undergrowth and tree droppings is a major cause towards the severity of Aussie's problem…. their own fault and likely we will have to pay through increased insurance premiums as usual …. B' aussies twits. cheeky

      • infused 8.3.1

        it was the same issue in California. and 3rhe rich dickheads shoving their mansions in the middle of it all and planting all around it

      • RedLogix 8.3.2

        Another person who needs to listen to the people on the ground. When it comes to climate change nothing is as simple as you imagine.

        The Aboriginal people managed the landscape for thousands of years with controlled cool burning. And even the Europeans have understood this, I've driven past more than a few controlled burn-offs in the past six years.

        But controlled burns work by constraining the fire to ground level, that only works when it's not only cool, but damp enough to prevent the fire from getting out of control. Which it can easily do. However extended droughts, very low moisture levels are dramatically reducing the window of opportunity to safely do this. It doesn't help that the current Liberal govt persists in reducing funding to the RFS services … and fuel load reduction doesn't happen for free.

        Also the Aboriginals didn't have large amounts of building and infrastructure in and near the bush to contend with. If they got it wrong, they could just walk upwind to safety and wait. Modern Australians don't have that option.

        But while fuel load reduction helps a lot, it has it's limits. When CC driven conditions cause intense dry, hot winds with temperatures in the high 40's driving out of a baking outback, to collide with the volatile eucaplypt oils … the resulting crown fires, leaping hundreds of metres at a time renders any ground level fuel reductions irrelevant.

        • Anne 8.3.2.1

          Redlogix, I fear you are wasting your time explaining the nuts and bolts to these deniers. It goes in one ear and straight out the other. In fact I doubt it even gets past the in-ear because there needs to be a brain of reasonable capacity inside that can process the information in the first place.

          • RedLogix 8.3.2.1.1

            You are probably right … but then the other options are to either variously mock or attack them, or remain silent. I don't think either of those choices help much either. I want to look back and think that I did my best to work through this issue.

            The problem is not so much brain capacity … most CC deniers are not fools. It's that they process and value information differently. Bridging that gap isn't easy or obvious … work in progress. 🙂

        • WeTheBleeple 8.3.2.2

          One Firey describing a canopy fire coming at 80 km an hour while raining fire. Completely untenable to stand and fight. Any ground matter just means fire sticks around a bit longer with fuel on the ground in such circumstances. The life and property devouring beast has already passed. Visibility as the fire approaches is near zero – zero in many reports. Wind blowing the smoke in before the fire hits.

          Here's a young lady and her bloke. She's trying to film an upbeat new years vlog as the shit hit the fan. Startling. An hour long but so much of note. Everything becomes broken very fast. Be assured it is not disaster porn – just a startling documentary.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzR1iBIttXU

    • That_guy 8.4

      Hey look! It's an irrelevant person spouting provable lies.

    • Macro 8.5

      majority were lit by humans.

      Bullshit.

      Victoria police say there is no evidence any of the devastating bushfires in the state were caused by arson, contrary to the spread of global disinformation exaggerating arsonist arrests during the current crisis.

      https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jan/08/police-contradict-claims-spread-online-exaggerating-arsons-role-in-australian-bushfires

    • halfcrown 8.6

      You are right Infused, you are always going to get the brain dead nutter who will light fires for fun

      However, Scotty from Marketing and the right wing government have not helped the situation by REDUCING the budget for the RFS by 75%, the same way Boris Johnson reduced the budget for the London Fire Brigade and allowed flammable cladding on towers like Grenfell Tower. We all know what a rightwing clusterfuck that was. Soon forgotten or hushed up by the right wing media.

      Also, I understand that the Fire Service of Australia proposed a national air fleet of tankers for the whole country. This was rejected by the right wing government saying it is up to the individual states to supply their own fire services. In other words, the same way Bo-Jo said to The London Fire Brigade, fuck off there are more important things to consider like less tax to pay by the likes of Murdock and Rinehart or any other parasitical 1 percenter.

      I grieve over these people who have lost everything and the tragic loss of life, plus the massive loss of wildlife some gone forever. All thanks to the fucking greed by the right.

      Bush fires are not preventable naturally lit or deliberately lit, but what could be preventable is the scale of damaged done by having more resources allocated NOT reduced.

  8. Sabine 9

    Has anyone found any data on the numbers of people homeless? Businesses lost? And so forth?

    How will the OZ government house these people, school the kids, provide access to benefits, and such?

    Health benefits for those suffering from living in smog, living with post traumatic stress disorder, etc.

    Might be good for NZ to look at how they handle the aftermath of the fires.

    • That_guy 9.1

      Bill Shorten got hauled over the coals… sorry, bad choice of words…put on the rack by the Murdoch media about how much his policies might have cost. Would love to see ScoMo get the same treatment over how much his lazy response to a national disaster did cost. And how much his lack of climate policy is going to cost.

  9. RedLogix 10

    Claire Lehmann has just posted a lead article that gets the Australian climate story note perfect:

    So what are Australians to do? Firstly, we need to depoliticise the issue of climate change. It should not be considered a “left-wing” issue, and the overwhelming evidence indicating the reality of anthropogenic climate change needs to be decoupled from moral arguments in favour of proposed solutions. It should be recognized that fair-minded and reasonable people can agree with the reality of climate change, while disagreeing about the best way to tackle it.

    https://quillette.com/2020/01/08/lessons-from-australias-bushfires-we-need-more-science-less-rhetoric/

    Absolutely every point she makes here nails it concisely and with precision. And this from an author most people here would dismiss as a ‘conservative’.

  10. Pingao 11

    For anyone interested in wildland fire or the history of humans and fire, I can recommend pretty much anything by environmental historian Stephen Pyne. I came across his books "Vestal Fire" and "Introduction to Wildland Fire" back in my university days and the first book was a real eye-opener to me. I am going to track down two of his books about fire in Australia "The Burning Bush" and "The Still-burning Bush".

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_J._Pyne

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