We've all been shocked and saddened by the forest fires in Australia and the dreadful loss of life. I suppose it was inevitable that the global warming alarmists would try to take advantage of the situation to suit their own peculiar brand of evangelism. Here's one Tim Flannery writing in the Guardian …
A deadly reminder that we must tackle climate change
The day after the great fire burnt through central Victoria, I drove from Sydney to Melbourne. Smoke obscured the horizon, entering my air-conditioned car and carrying with it that distinctive scent so strongly signifying death, or, to Aboriginal people, cleansing.
It was as if a great cremation had taken place. I didn't know then how many people had died in their cars and homes, or while fleeing, but by the time I reached the scorched ground just north of Melbourne, the dreadful news was trickling in. And the trauma will be with us forever.
I was born in Victoria, and over five decades I've watched as the state has changed. The long, wet and cold winters that seemed insufferable to me as a boy vanished decades ago, and for the past 12 years a new, drier climate has established itself. I could measure its progress whenever I flew in to Melbourne. Over the years the farm dams filled less frequently while the suburbs crept further into the countryside, their swimming pools oblivious to the great drying.
Climate modelling suggests the decline of southern Australia's winter rainfall is caused by a build-up of greenhouse gas, much of it from coal burning. Victoria has the most polluting coal power plant on earth, and another plant was threatened by the fire.
There's evidence that global pollution caused a significant change in climate after the El Nino of 1998. Along with the dwindling rainfall has come a desiccation of the soil, and more extreme summer temperatures.
This February, at the zenith of a record-breaking heatwave, Melbourne recorded its hottest day ever - a suffocating 46.1 degrees, with even higher temperatures in rural Victoria.
This extreme coincided with exceptionally strong northerly winds, followed by an abrupt change to southerly. This brought a cooling, but it was the shift in wind direction that caught so many in a deadly trap. Such conditions have occurred before. In 1939 and 1983 they led to dangerous fires. But this time the conditions were more extreme, and the 12-year "drought" meant plant tissues were bone dry.
Despite narrowly missing the 1983 Victorian fires and then losing a house to the 1994 Sydney bushfires, I had not appreciated the difference a degree or two of extra heat and a dry soil can make to the ferocity of a fire. This fire was different from anything seen before.
Australia is in shock at the loss of so many lives. But inevitably we will look for lessons. The first, I fear, is that we must anticipate more such terrible blazes, for the world's addiction to burning fossil fuels goes on unabated. And there is now no doubt that emissions pollution is laying the conditions necessary for more such fires.
When he ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, described climate change as the greatest threat facing humanity. Shaken, and clearly having seen things none of us should see, he has now witnessed proof of his words. We can only hope Australia's climate policy, which is weak, is now significantly strengthened.
Rudd has said the arsonists suspected of lighting some fires are guilty of mass murder, and the police are pursuing the malefactors. But there's an old saying among Australian firefighters: "Whoever owns the fuel owns the fire".
Let's hope Australians ponder the deeper causes of this horrible event, and change their polluting ways before it's too late.
The sheer hypocrisy of this argument beggars belief. When Europe and North America are gripped in the coldest winter for many years, this is dismissed as a mere blip in the steady march of Global Warming. When Australia, lying in a Southern Hemisphere that statistics show has not warmed at all, has a particularly hot and dry summer this isn't a similar mere blip, but undeniable evidence of the holocaust to come.
Even if Flannery were right and these tragic events were attributable to climate change and not just to the kind of extreme weather that has affected every part of the earth from time to time throughout history, to say that "there is now no doubt that emissions pollution is laying the conditions necessary for more such fires" represents a leap of faith of biblical proportions.
Other Australians take a rather different view; writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Miranda Devine laid the blame at the door of the Green Lobby itself …
It wasn't climate change which killed as many as 300 people in Victoria last weekend. It wasn't arsonists. It was the unstoppable intensity of a bushfire, turbo-charged by huge quantities of ground fuel which had been allowed to accumulate over years of drought. It was the power of green ideology over government to oppose attempts to reduce fuel hazards before a megafire erupts, and which prevents landholders from clearing vegetation to protect themselves.
So many people need not have died so horribly. The warnings have been there for a decade. If politicians are intent on whipping up a lynch mob to divert attention from their own culpability, it is not arsonists who should be hanging from lamp-posts but greenies.
Governments appeasing the green beast have ignored numerous state and federal bushfire inquiries over the past decade, almost all of which have recommended increasing the practice of "prescribed burning". Also known as "hazard reduction", it is a methodical regime of burning off flammable ground cover in cooler months, in a controlled fashion, so it does not fuel the inevitable summer bushfires.
In July 2007 Scott Gentle, the Victorian manager of Timber Communities Australia, who lives in Healesville where two fires were still burning yesterday, gave testimony to a Victorian parliamentary bushfire inquiry so prescient it sends a chill down your spine.
"Living in an area like Healesville, whether because of dumb luck or whatever, we have not experienced a fire … since … about 1963. God help us if we ever do, because it will make Ash Wednesday look like a picnic." God help him, he was right.
Gentle complained of obstruction from green local government authorities of any type of fire mitigation strategies. He told of green interference at Kinglake - at the epicentre of Saturday's disaster, where at least 147 people died - during a smaller fire there in 2007.
"The contractors were out working on the fire lines. They put in containment lines and cleared off some of the fire trails. Two weeks later that fire broke out, but unfortunately those trails had been blocked up again [by greens] to turn it back to its natural state … Instances like that are just too numerous to mention. Governments … have been in too much of a rush to appease green idealism … This thing about locking up forests is just not working."
The Kinglake area was a nature-loving community of tree-changers, organic farmers and artists to the north of Melbourne. A council committed to reducing carbon emissions dominates the Nillumbik shire, a so-called "green wedge" area, where restrictions on removing vegetation around houses reportedly added to the dangers. In nearby St Andrews, where more than 20 people are believed to have died, surviving residents have spoken angrily of "greenies" who prevented them from cutting back trees near their property, including in one case, a tea tree that went "whoomp". Dr Phil Cheney, the former head of the CSIRO's bushfire research unit and one of the pioneers of prescribed burning, said yesterday if the fire-ravaged Victorian areas had been hazard-reduced, the flames would not have been as intense.
Kinglake and Maryville, now crime scenes, are built among tall forests of messmate stringy bark trees which pose a special fire hazard, with peeling bark creating firebrands that carry fire five kilometres out. "The only way to reduce the flammability of the bark is by prescribed burning" every five to seven years, Cheney said. He estimates between 35 and 50 tonnes a hectare of dry fuel were waiting to be gobbled up by Saturday's inferno.
Fuel loads above about eight tonnes a hectare are considered a fire hazard. A federal parliamentary inquiry into bushfires in 2003 heard that a fourfold increase in ground fuel leads to a 13-fold increase in the heat generated by a fire.
Things are no better in NSW, although we don't quite have Victoria's perfect storm of winds and forest types. Near Dubbo two years ago, as a bushfire raged through the Goonoo Community Conservation Area, volunteer firefighters bulldozing a control line were obstructed by National Parks and Wildlife Service employees who had driven from Sydney to stop vegetation being damaged.
The poor management of national parks and state forests in Victoria is highlighted by the interactive fire map on the website of the Department of Sustainability and Environment. Yesterday it showed that, of 148 fires started since mid-January, 120 started in state forests, national parks, or other public land, and just 21 on private property.
Only seven months ago, the Victorian Parliament's Environment and Natural Resources Committee tabled its report into the impact of public land management on bushfires, with five recommendations to enhance prescribed burning. This included tripling the amount of land to be hazard-reduced from 130,000 to 385,000 hectares a year. There has been little but lip service from the Government in response. Teary politicians might pepper their talking points with opportunistic intimations of "climate change" and "unprecedented" weather, but they are only diverting the blame. With yes-minister fudging and craven inclusion of green lobbyists in decision-making, they have greatly exacerbated this tragedy.
There is an opening now in Victoria for a predatory legal firm with a taste for David v Goliath class actions.
The GOS says: So, two opposing viewpoints. I know which one I believe - the one that's backed up by evidence rather than blind faith in an ideology that's rapidly becoming discredited and moribund.
Odd, isn't it, the difference between these two articles? The one that's written by a journalist is based on expert opinion and local observation, while the one that's written by a scientist is full of colourful description and emotive hyperbole. They do say that everyone has at least one novel in them: judging from his first two paragraphs, Flannery will soon be a candidate for the Booker prize. I particularly admire the linking of "Aborogines" with "cleansing", presumably a not-so-subtle attempt to evoke the supposed genocide of the indigenous tribes by the white man. Oh, the guilt, the guilt …
Incidentally, I read something rather intriguing the other day. The book that won the Booker prize in 2005 sold less than 1,000 copies, and its author, despite having written 14 novels, still can't make a living from his writing. Just goes to show how important prizes are, really. Mozart never won any. Nor did Shakespeare.
I did, once. I think it was the Egg and Spoon in 1948. How impressive is that?
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