Australia’s burning – again

by Gareth on October 22, 2013

NSWfiresNASAEO2013294

Smoke from the bush fires burning in the Blue Mountains blows over Sydney in this NASA Earth Observatory image captured yesterday. The scale of the fires and their impact on the skies over Sydney and much of New South Wales is prompting much discussion in Australia about the link between weather, climate warming and wildfires, and bringing international pressure to bear on new PM Tony Abbott’s plans to scrap carbon pricing. Here’s researcher Roger Jones, writing in The Conversation:

We found that fire danger in Victoria increased by over a third after 1996, compared to 1972-1996. The current level of fire danger is equivalent to the worst case projected for 2050, from an earlier analysis for the Climate Institute.

While it’s impossible to say categorically that the situation is the same in NSW, we know that these changes are generally applicable across south-east Australia. So it’s likely to be a similar case: fire and climate change are linked.

This early start to the fire season comes after a year of record warmth in Australia — the hottest summer on record, the hottest 12 month period (to September), and it’s looking odds on that calendar 2013 will be the warmest on record. NSW also had its second warmest winter on record, which helped to dry soils out more than usual. With summer still a month away, the prospect for SE Australia’s fire-prone states looks grim.

For historical background on Aussie bush fires, see this overview from Weather Underground expert Chris Burt, and keep up to date with excellent analysis at The Conversation by following the NSW bushfires 2013 tag.

[Update: For pithy comment, do not miss today’s First Dog On The Moon1. ]

  1. Do something about climate change you disingenuous muppet! []

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob Bingham October 22, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Abbott and his cronies won the election with bullshit and Murdoch and now he is in power he does not know what to do. There is no plan B for the carbon tax and there is no master plan for fixing the budget. Australians have one of the highest standards of living in the World and they owe a good deal of that to digging coal. When the price of coal dropped the budget went to pieces and its not likely to recover any time soon.
Australia has a very fragile ecology and will be one of the first to suffer from climate change which is largely caused by by the coal they sell. How they are going to reconcile this I do not know but they have some very hard decisions to make.

bill October 22, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Do something about Climate Change you disingenuous muppet.

Yes!

there is no master plan for fixing the budget

They campaigned in Tea Party mode on deficits bad, bad, bad, never, never, never and today they’ve announced they’re lifting the debt-ceiling by $200 billion to half a trillion!

(At least they’re not Stupid enough to try to implement their own absurd posturing policies! But Lord Rupert will be very aaaaangry, because for some reason he likes the idea of crashing the economy…)

We’re still screwed on the climate, because this bunch really are anti-Science muppets, as is their electorate. Bob’s right – there is no Plan B because they never intended to do anything about the problem anyway, and the ‘unrepresentative swill*’ that have the balance of power in the Upper House are Tea Partyites!

*PJ Keating

bill October 22, 2013 at 9:22 pm

The NSW Rural Fire Service says tomorrow’s conditions across fire-hit areas of the Blue Mountains are forecast to be “about as bad as it gets”, with temperatures in the high 30s, humidity at 10 per cent and wind gusts of up to 100 kph.

Roger Jones October 23, 2013 at 12:38 am

Thanks for the plug Gareth. I get really frustrated when we have these events and everyone gets totally engaged in the disaster then we go back to the same old, same old.

Until next time.

Gareth October 23, 2013 at 11:35 am

Glad to help to spread the word, Roger. As you know, I find your take on the “jerkiness” of change compelling…

Also: The NZ Herald web site reproduced your Conversation article in full today.

Kiwipoet October 23, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Yes, and its very frustrating the way the media refuses to connect the dots and continually separates the disaster in all its detail from Global Warming,the root cause. That’s our NZ media, too. Consensus denial at its most painfully obvious. Global warming not mentioned at every opportunity. It must get hard to not talk about the elephant in the room when it’s right in your face.

Anyone noticed the way ‘Mother Nature’ gets trotted out when someone, usually a local official or politician, does look for something to blame for these fires and other disasters. Oh capricious, unpredictable Mother Nature! The same people who have looted the earth for all its worth, or who have played along, now ruefully blame Mother Nature for the consequences of the havoc they have wrought! And get furious when Global Warming is raised, as if looking for the root cause is somehow disrespectful to those who suffer in the disaster. Oh how wicked of you to politicise the issue!

It’s a doubling down effect. The stronger the evidence, the greater the disasters, the more fervent the denial. Quite a spectacle!

Thomas October 23, 2013 at 4:20 pm

On doubling down: The Australian TOC (Tosser in Charge) Tony Abbott called the United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres as “talking through her hat” for linking climate change with increased bushfire risk.
I guess the bad boy who will one day be made to eat his hat is Tony Abbott as his trash talk is simply utter Tosh!

Ah, just realized that that atoieno beat me to it below…. basically the same story.

It is sickening indeed to see the libertarian muppets rolling in their own dodod….

atoieno October 23, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Indeed Kiwipoet.

The latest report from the ABC on our fire fighting hero (PM):

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-23/tony-abbott-fires-climate-change-rfs-un/5039932

I know that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but I’m at my wit’s end:

Of course he’s always believed in climate change its just that it’s not really happening.

Those of us who are obviously delusional and make a connection between at least 12 months of record breaking weather conditions and a bush fire and climate change just need to get out and fight more fires.

Murray October 25, 2013 at 7:27 am

I think Tony Abbott is right to not jump to conclusions. The fires are within season for that part of NSW and in many respects not unusual. Trotting out climate change to blame for the fires seems somewhat cynical. Where is the long term climate trend for NE NSW overlaid with the bush fire data? Warming might bring more rain to parts of Australia? Picking a few random years with bush fires tells us nothing and only convinces the people already convinced that there is a link. And for the record, scrapping Australia’s carbon tax will not make even the smallest difference to the climate, there is another very tenuous link. Jumping on each and every natural disaster just dilutes the global warming message. We were all told about increasing hurricanes for example yet they have got less common. All this just confuses the issue and promotes more debate. The real issue is the gradual rise in global surface temperatures due to greenhouse gasses. I think most agree it has stayed stable for the last 15 years but all signs suggest it will begin to increase again. Maybe this needs to happen to reignite political interest, but either way that is the issue and that should be the focus.

atoieno October 25, 2013 at 9:21 am

Murray,

That all sounds so very reasonable,

However superciliousness is no substitute for understanding the science. You could start by reading this:

Bushfire Weather in Southeast Australia: Recent
Trends and Projected Climate Change Impacts.

Linked to here:

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?rep=rep1&type=pdf&doi=10.1.1.115.9902

Now wouldn’t knowledge be better way of “reigniting” political interest than a “resumption” of increasing global surface temperatures?

Gareth October 25, 2013 at 9:36 am
Bob Bingham October 31, 2013 at 4:49 pm

From what I have read from the National Hurricane Centre in the USA global warming is going to make hurricanes less common but more powerfull when they happen. The current fire are exactly as forecast and so you could say that they are normal but it would be good practise because Australia may well get similar fires in every state at once and every year. Get used to a warming world.

Fern October 25, 2013 at 11:47 am

Just once, JUST ONCE, I would love to see a news item where the reporter asks “Why did you choose to build/buy a house out in the bush, surrounded by trees? And were you able to get fire insurance?”

bill October 25, 2013 at 12:56 pm

At my workplace we are frequently plagued by a type of person who’s moved to the wooded hills, and then wants the place more-or-less nuked in order to protect them from inevitable bushfires.

After the last major fires interstate I was actually contacted by someone from a state government research agency who was dealing with people from that state who were, in all seriousness, positing that we could stop the ‘dangerous’ natural vegetation from returning by replacing it with less flammable saltbushes. In the Victorian frickin’ highlands! As if!?! I said I wanted no part in it.

My colleagues and I often pause to wonder why anyone would want to move to the hills and then immediately demand they be turned into something else.

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of people love the place precisely because it is what it is, and they accept that the scary side of it has to be endured as the price of the ‘tree change’ experience, and take all the necessary, sensible, and already legally-mandated precautions, including accepting that in the event of genuinely catastrophic conditions being in the offing they may just have to run and pray the house is spared.

It’s only a small number of problematic people we’re talking here, but they’re often disproportionately noisy.

It’s pretty easy to predict that intense-bush-fire prone areas in Australia may well be among the first straws to break the insurance industry’s camel’s back in the course of the 21st century, to mangle a metaphor.

If, say, a town’s effectively burned down 3 times in the last 120 years, isn’t that kind of a message, guys, that perhaps it’s not really a very good place to have one?

Fern October 26, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Thanks for the reply, Bill.

Murray October 25, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Very good point Fern, that side of the problem is too often overlooked. I can’t say I read all 80 pages of the report Atoieno, but I did not see anything there to change my view. Predicting future fire events is pointless and I did not see any long term fire records correlated to temperature. The problem now is every god damn weather event is blamed on climate change, snow, rain, drought, fire, storms, lack of storms. Are you trying to say this does not confuse the climate change issue? Stick to the core principles I say. The truth is climate change is not proving to be the global disaster forecast, although that is not to say we can go on business as usual. We have time so let’s make the right changes, not knee-jerk carbon taxes that do nothing but slow the economies of the individual countries who implement them.

bill October 25, 2013 at 1:03 pm

I can’t say I read all 80 pages of the report Atoieno, but I did not see anything there to change my view.

Yep, the situation is whatever you choose to think it is, and that’s the end of the matter. Next.

Thomas October 25, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Murray, you doled out the same B… S… on the other post before. Have you lost your spectacles or suffer from amnesia of something worse???

You have some guts to troll out here asserting again with the tone of a bull frog that there is ‘no clear correlation between a warming climate and the Australian fire risk’…. Now here, to refresh your memory and to save you from saying again that you did not read a report in its entirety: Let me cite from This Report by Bushfire CRC and CISRO from 2007:

The number of ‘extreme’ fire danger days generally increases 5-25% by 2020 for the low scenarios and 15-65% for the high scenarios (Table E1). By 2050, the increases are generally 10-50% for the low scenarios and 100-300% for the high scenarios.

and

The annual cumulative Forest Fire Danger index (FFDI) displays a rapid increase in the late-90s to early-00s at many locations (Figure E2). Increases of 10-40% between 1980-2000 and 2001-2007 are evident at most sites. The strongest rises are seen in the interior portions of NSW, and they are associated with a jump in the number of very high and extreme fire danger days. The strength of this recent jump at most locations equals or exceeds the changes estimated to occur by 2050 in the different projections.

The later quote is from the analysis of data before 2007 and speaks about observations, not models or predictions.

Our more recent understanding seems to agree with this:
http://www.smh.com.au/environment/weather/bushfire-risks-will-get-worse-research-shows-20131013-2vgsm.html

Now troll off to your private reality where the fairies dance!

atoieno October 25, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Murray

The point you have missed is that there will be an increased likelihood and severity of fire events as the climate changes. The science does not set out to predict individual events. Therefore we are left with three broad choices:

1. Mitigate further impact of CO2 by reducing our emissions and
2. Adapt by changing building standards. Those who have lost their homes in the current fires and who wish to rebuild in the same area are required even now to build to much stricter standards than were required even ten years ago or
3. Suffer the consequences of inaction

bill October 25, 2013 at 3:06 pm

You do not find many climate change sceptics on the end of [fire] hoses anymore…

There’s a piece that Murray might perhaps ignore at his leisure.

And another –

Climate Council finds ‘clear link’ between bushfires and climate change

You’ll see there they have a forthcoming report on this very issue. Also able to be briefly skimmed and unmoved by, of course.

That’s reporting findings from the newly – and staggeringly promptly – privately-funded Climate Council our enlightened PM had just trashed in its public incarnation, precisely because it was saying things he, and his target audience, and his bankrollers, don’t want to hear.

All this from a government that doesn’t need a Science Minister! After all, all Cabinet members have access to Wikipedia, don’t they?

Personally, I get very annoyed by the lazy reliance on Arguments from (elective) Ignorance and/or Personal Incredulity. The sheer irresponsibility is staggering, and the consequences for all of us are only going to get worse.

And this lumpen, sullen mood has foisted a government on us that literally cannot accept the obvious link between AGW-induced warming and a dramatic increase in fire risk because that would mean accepting that one of only 2 key pillars of their lazy, sloganeering, talkback-radio-friendly lumpen ‘platform’ is irresponsible bollocks, and a perverse denial of the real situation we find ourselves in.

(The other is also bollocks, but that’s not an issue for here. There was also the whole ‘debt, debt, debt, bad, bad, bad’ thing, but we’ve already discovered – to the tune of $200 billion – that was just austerity candy to entice the BDSM rubes.)

I mean, did IQs just lower, or something?

Or perhaps we are so hopelessly addicted to US courtroom dramas that we nod sagely and consider ourselves as veritable Solomons on the bench in giving weight to the most ludicrously impausible Defence-lawyer apologetics.

We increase CO2 / CO2 traps heat / trapped heat increases temperatures / Australia warms up for decades / Australia suffers the warmest 12 months on record / Australia suffers unprecedented mid-Spring firestorms. What part is hard to understand?

If Uncle Henry contracts lung cancer, and he’s smoked 30 a day for 40 years, I mean, what, gee, maybe it was the funny plastic smell from his new furniture that gave it to him? Is that what you’d think? (This was actually a Tobacco-Industry strategy, and the origin of ‘sick building syndrome’, incidentally.)

Or perhaps you’d exonerate them outright, because no-one could ‘prove’, given a sufficiently ridiculous value of the concept of ‘proof’ – that it was his smokin’ what done it?

Could it be any clearer? No wonder the fireys think it’s obvious! It really takes perverse and bloody-minded dedication not to see it…

And if we await a courtroom standard of proof as a precondition for taking effective action, we’re gonna fry. It’s that simple.

bill October 25, 2013 at 4:13 pm

OK

3. It is crucial that communities, emergency services, health services and other authorities prepare for the increasing severity and frequency of extreme fire conditions.

To deny the influence of climate change on extreme fire weather, and not take appropriate action to prepare for these changed conditions, places people and property at unnecessarily high risk.

This is an undeniable position. To behave in any other manner is recklessly irresponsible. To attempt obfuscate the link between the current fires and the indisputably changed ‘ground state’ conditions in Australia by playing ‘lawyerly’ 100% attribution games is, equally, recklessly irresponsible. Such insouciant do-nothingism endangers the welfare of all Australians, present and future.

In short, your piling up of straw men only serves to fuel the flames. Knock it off.

atoieno October 25, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Hear Hear Bill,

In inner Sydney far from the front what I smell strongly is not straw men burning but the reality to which we must adapt. A reality far worse than any tax.

bill October 25, 2013 at 6:34 pm
Macro October 26, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Haven’t been able to comment for a while – but one of the main reasons has been this:
http://blog.generationzero.org.nz/awa/658
shamelessly promoting daughters show :)
It’s final night in Auckland tonight – but I hope that it can tour. Maybe even to Aussie – bill would enjoy the art and background visuals I’m sure ..

Macro October 27, 2013 at 3:34 pm

No doubt you will have seen this bill – but it just has to be repeated…
When maths speaks louder than words…
https://twitter.com/Jo_MacD/status/393939653998297088/photo/1
Very funny if it wasn’t so bloody serious.

bill October 27, 2013 at 10:24 pm

That’s a beauty! Could it make the Hot Tweets, Gareth?

Gareth October 27, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Your wish, etc…

bill October 28, 2013 at 12:45 am
bill October 29, 2013 at 10:55 pm

Professor Lesley Hughes of the Climate Council on the AGW/Bushfire link.

Demonizing that one is going to be hard, but no doubt the (un)faithful will still try…

bill October 30, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Lord Murdock’s Great Big Government of Choice piles up the Fail

The Authority’s major conclusion is that the minimum unconditional 2020 target of a 5 per cent reduction from 2000 levels is inadequate on a number of grounds. For one thing, the Government’s own conditions for moving beyond 5 per cent have been met. Most tellingly, a 5 per cent target implies very rapid reductions in emissions in the period after 2020, if Australia was to play its part in concerted international action to limit the increase in global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (above pre-industrial levels).

They’ll be getting rid of that pesky department, shortly, of course. This isn’t a joke; this government, on the other hand…

No Science Minister, no Climate Commission, and soon no Climate Change Authority. No nasty dissenting voices at all! Just one great big rattling box of Stupid!…

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