Fire and the big lie

Here is a combination of blog topics. Mad Genius Club touches on the Australian fires as a topic. It’s an OK piece by Kate Paulk about fire seasons and flood seasons in Australia. However, it ends with a truism:

“When I was growing up, it was common knowledge that there should be regular controlled burns in the off-season. Every time the environmentalist lobby forces a stop, there are catastrophic fires, and every time once the fires die down there’s a new resurgence of locally extinct plants coming back. I’ve seen the cycle a few times now – it’s way past time everyone realized that nature is not tame and nature is not a mother (except in a rather specialized sense that involves rather nasty language). It’s also time we remembered that we can, for the most part, live with nature. We just need to remember that there will be no mercy and every mistake can be fatal.”

Paulk really is repeating “common knowledge” but it is “common knowledge” that I’ve discussed before [ ] Yes, hazard reduction burns are an important part of managing the risks of fire. Yes, people know that. No, they aren’t a panacea and no the “environmentalist lobby” isn’t stopping them. Aside from anything else why on earth would the “environmentalist lobby” want to stop something if it was such a part of the natural cycle? The idea doesn’t make sense on its own merits. It also has little connection with the reality on the ground. No major environmental group is lobbying against hazard reduction burns in general. Here is what I said last time:

“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.”

I should also add, that climate change has resulted in longer fire seasons which has reduced the window within which hazard reduction burns can be conducted safely.

However, it’s also worth noting that additional hazard reduction burns in national parks wouldn’t have stopped the scale of the fires this season. Fires ripped through areas of bush that had had hazard reduction burns or had had relatively recent major fires. For example, consider the 2013 Blue Mountains bush fires [ ] which prior to 2019 were probably the biggest fires this century to impact the greater Sydney region. Those fires consumed, among other areas, a large region running from Lithgow in the west, past Mount Victoria and into a section of the Blue Mountains called the Grose Valley.

2019? Again, among many other fires there was a major fire covering nearly 20 thousand hectares officially designated as the Grose Valley fire running from Lithgow, past Mount Victoria (damaging the train line) and flowing further east through the Grose Valley. Only 6 years later and an area that had experienced massive fires (international headline generating fires) was burning again.

And that is just one example. The 2019/2020 fires have burnt through a huge variety of territory, including farm land, including places that had recent significant fires, including places that had strategic burning back. Hazard reduction is “reduction” and not elimination. If there is bush then there is fire. Combine that with periodic drought and increased temperatures then you get worse fires more often. The NSW RFS, fire brigade and the National Parks service aren’t ignorant fools who somehow don’t know the “common knowledge” of the internet experts or Murdoch journalists nor are “greenies” or whoever the scapegoat-du-jour is. The obstacle to hazard reduction is time, money and resources but even then it’s not a panacea.

Of course, I’ve seen some even dafter people suggest getting rid of the bush altogether — that it is the very existence of the national parks that is the problem. That’s even more ignorant and specifically forgets the other species of disaster that regularly befalls Australia: floods.

16 thoughts on “Fire and the big lie

  1. Where the hell were you during the USS Clueless era?? Coudl really have used the backup. You are doing real Yeoman’s work here.

    Mad Genius Club is a worthy foil. I notice though that no one sanity-blogs the SSC people. That way lies madness

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As soon as the right knew they were in trouble politically over the fires, Murdoch and Co. tried to blame it on the Greens and environmentalists. KP is just repeating one line of that rhetoric. The blame is always the group trying to help with policy problems or contribute to the economy. They blame immigrants for crime and job difficulties. They blame poor POC and the aboriginals for economic woes. They blame environmentalists and renewable energy for pollution, fires, floods, etc. If something isn’t being done because the right is in power and slashed the budget for it, it’s the left supposedly keeping the right from getting that thing done that they deliberately set out not to do until public outcry said they better do it.

    And it works because people don’t want to have to change anything or they want services without any requirements to finance them and so snarl and whine about people coming forward with policy to fix problems, saying that it probably won’t work, costs too much, will be incompetently handled. Then when they find they do need the policy, instead of admitting they were wrong, they claim the people who were trying to get the policy through were the ones who somehow messed things up. It saves face — keeps their status intact as the superior, wise, nice, successful, reasonable and competent people that conservative thinking absolutely requires them to be seen as.

    No matter how often throughout history progressive policies have been shown to work and dramatically improve the world and humanity, they are opposed as too much trouble to do, especially if they are preventative against problems, like adequately funding fire response and preventive fire response. And then when the fires hit the bush, conservatives demand that progressives clean it up while blaming them for causing it because clearly they aren’t as good as conservatives, plus they are snooty, and no, the conservatives aren’t going to be cooperative and cough up the funds either. The progressives can just pull magic out of their asses for it.

    Eighty percent of conservative rhetoric (including the alt right, etc.) is them being sulky teenagers who treat progressives as their parents. While trying to kill their “parents” for the cash.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Paulk is about 110 years out of date with her analysis, and has picked the wrong target. The U.S. Forestry service used to have a policy of stopping all fires at all times and an opposition to controlled burns, but that wasn’t driven by environmentalists, it was driven by the then-current forestry management theories that were being produced by agriculture programs at U.S. universities. This policy was among the factors that drove the Great Fires of 1910 in the American Northwest, but in the aftermath of that, the thinking on forest management changed. No one has advocated for a “no burn” policy for pretty much the last century.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Actually, it was those Great Fires that concentrated the Forest Service into the ‘suppress fires at all costs’, going as far as the 10 am rule. From a great article on the subject (Blazing Battles: The 1910 Fire and Its Legacy):

      In the aftermath of the 1910 fires, a double-edged sword of sorts arose from the ashes. The Forest Service gained the stature it needed to elevate the concept of “the greatest good” of our National Forests—an important moment in conservation history. Yet the rigorous policy of fire suppression that accompanied this turning point set up decades focused on extinguishing every wildfire at all costs. Fire suppression policy reached its extreme in 1935 with the 10 a.m. rule—mandating that any fire spotted in a given day must be controlled by 10 o’clock the following morning.

      It really wasn’t until the 1990s that the US Forest Service and foresters in general started to realize that fire was often part of the ecosystem and shouldn’t be completely suppressed.

      I was listening to an interesting report on the radio that Australia has actually been much better at doing control burns than we are here in the States, but as we’ve seen, sometimes that can’t stop everything.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I also like the part about how “we can, for the most part, live with nature” as if humans were somehow external to the environment.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Speaking of which, in regards to longer fire seasons, we’re seeing that here in California as well. The Camp Fire, which absolutely destroyed Paradise, a city of nearly 27,000 people, started November 8th, which is late in the season here. Usually we get our first major rainfall by the end of October, but in 2018, the rains wouldn’t come until November 21 (ironically, my birthday).

    My mom went to high school in Paradise, so we went up this summer so she could see. Nearly every house she knew, including the one she lived in, were gone. Her high school survived, but the place her dad’s business was didn’t. It wasn’t a small town, but nearly everything was just wiped off the map in a span of just a few hours. Even nine months later, they were still scraping lots clean of fire debris.

    How that fire only killed 86 people, I’ll never know. But Governor Brown referred to it, and the other horrifying fires of 2017 and 2018, as ‘the new normal’. It’s a normal I wish we’d never gotten to know.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I know there were Aussie and Kiwi firefighters on the lines in the fire that happened in my hometown, and I know we’ve got folks down there helping you guys out. But as things overlap more and more, it is going to be harder to share that expertise.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. They genuinely already do! Firefighters swap hemisphere routinely – even is mild fire seasons for training. Fire fighting aircraft are also shared.

        However, the extension of fire seasons due to climate change is making that harder. So September, October, November had significant fires in both places.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Of course, I’ve seen some even dafter people suggest getting rid of the bush altogether — that it is the very existence of the national parks that is the problem.

    *taps temple* can’t have earthquakes if there’s no earth to quake

    Liked by 4 people

  7. “Aside from anything else why on earth would the “environmentalist lobby” want to stop something if it was such a part of the natural cycle?”

    Because it’s a popular talking point in some circles that environmentalists are urban elites who don’t know anything about nature. Things would be much better if these snooty urban know-nothings would just let the rural working class(*) do as they feel best.

    (*) And by “rural working class”, we mean big land owners.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I’m seeing comments from Far-Right people here in the USA that the real cause of the fire isn’t climate change, but arson. That’s not the case, is it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No. It’s a piece of active disinformation sourced from a Murdoch owned newspaper. Basically, they reported on all the fire-related arrests and/or police reports to create an inflated figure and cast that as some sort of arson epidemic. For example, we have total fire bans in place during some periods and if you breach that then the police can be involved but that’s not the same as somebody actually being the cause of any of the fires.
      Obviously some fires are caused by arson or by human carelessness. However, plenty of fires started in places that are nigh on inaccessible – indeed that was part of the issue, how to get firefighters to some of these fires early enough.
      It became a dark joke in my house. A fire appearing on the Fires Near Me app in some part of a national park which you’d need to do some serious hiking to get to (in 40 degree C + heat) and say “it must be very fit arsonists!”

      It’s also a reverse example of the ‘inner city elites’. If you know the terrain of many of these fires, you know that direct human causes are deeply unlikely. If you don’t, then I guess it’s easier to imagine arsonists.

      Oh, the added twist is that these same sources saying “arson” want national parks to be more accessible to private vehicles!

      Liked by 3 people

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