I’ll start with the usual satellite temperature record:
All the usual caveats apply.
Meanwhile, here is a photo I took yesterday:
Those clouds aren’t clouds but smoke from a huge 26 thousand hectare fire in the southern part of the Blue Mountains/Kanangra-Boyd National Park. The smoke from that fire, another near by, and an even bigger fire in bushland to the north-west of Sydney is pushing smoke into the Sydney Metropolitan area and creating a persistent smog-haze in the city.
Further north in the state, more extensive fires have been burning for months now, impacting farms, regional communities, tourism and wildlife. With no end in sight to the current drought and three months of summer still to come, Rural Fire Service volunteers and NSW Fire Brigade staff are stretched to the limit.
Naturally the issue of global warming is a major topic in Australia. The right, for obvious reasons, want to downplay that discussion. They have been making use of three arguments. Two have some value (but avoids a deeper point) and the other is a rather nasty lie:
- If Australia had taken more extensive action on climate change it wouldn’t have stopped the drought or these fires.
- Periods of drought and fire is just a fact of life in Australia.
- The fires are the fault of the Greens (sometimes they say ‘inner city Greens etc) who stop burning back aka hazard reduction burns in cooler months.
The first of those points is strictly true. If Australia alone had taken stronger action on climate change it would not, BY ITSELF, have prevented global warming and hence the inaction on climate change isn’t to blame for the fires. Of course, that downplays the role Australia has played in undermining global efforts on climate change but there is a worse aspect that I’ll get to.
The second point is true. Australia has some unusual climate cycles, including periods of drought and periods of heavy rains. There is plenty of evidence to suggest substantial bush fires have been a fact of life in Australia since at least human habitation began a very, very long time ago. That fact though tells us nothing about how we might currently be making things worse.
The last is a simple lie and reveals the issue hidden behind the other two. The Greens who currently enjoy no substantial control over any government in Australia have zero influence on hazard reduction policy and ‘greens’ in a generic sense are not particularly opposed to nor are campaigning against hazard reduction burns and even if they were, nobody is going to NOT do a needed burning back because of that. It’s an obvious nonsense that falls down after a moments inspection. Yet it is repeated on talk-back radio stations and by conservative politicians.
So what is the core issue that is being hidden? Mitigation.
We are already past the point where every nation but particularly Australia now has to plan for and adapt to a world with higher baseline temperatures. Reducing emissions will help limit how bad it will get but the bad is happening now whether we like it or not.
But here is a simple fact: mitigation is going to cost money. At a basic level for Australia that means:
- More firefighters
- More firefighting equipment
- Less sharing of specialist equipment with other nations because now our fire seasons overlap (e.g. California and Australia share equipment which is great but not when b0th places have fires at the same time)
None of that, even in the wildest libertarian imaginings, is going to be paid for by magic market forces. That means funding has to come from somewhere and yes, you guessed it, that means taxation.
The real reason why there aren’t more hazard reduction burns in Australia during winter is that they are difficult to do right, dangerous and require lots of expertise and people…all of which costs money…which the two fire services don’t have…because of limits on public spending…by conservatives.
Spending big on fire fighting should be an easy vote winner and an obvious thing to do EVEN IF a politician thought that reducing carbon emissions was not worth it economically. However, spending big on fire fighting in a planned manner (or on mitigation measures against drought or other impacts of global warming) would mean conservatives conceding that global warming really was real and a problem. If they did that then…well they would find it difficult to argue against emission reductions, so they have been playing down the risks of climate change for decades INCLUDING around mitigation.
Note, this avoidance of both mitigation spending and emission reduction doesn’t save money in the long term. The Australian government (and the ‘taxpayer’) still ends up footing a big bill to help out drought stricken farmers, the huge cost of fighting massive bush fires and the huge economic cost to communities of both bush fires and drought. We can add to that the direct deaths caused by the fires and the indirect health problems caused by heat and air-quality and the mental-health impact on rural communities.
Global warming denial is costing lives in Australia. It is a crude diversion to avoid and disrupt a national conversation. By pretending the risks are low or non-existent right-leaning state and federal politicians have avoided taking even the absolutely needed measures needed to mitigate the impact of climate change. Denial is killing us.