Aussie firefighters connect the dots

The recent series of bushfires in Australia are being called the continent’s worst natural disaster in over 100 years. The death toll is expected to rise above 200. Over 1,000 houses have been destroyed. 5,000 are homeless.

In response, the firefighter’s union has issued a stern demand to the government: take global warming more seriously. Every part of this story is basically incomprehensible in an American context.

> The firefighters union has now joined Green politicians and environmental activists in arguing that the deadly infernos are a climate change wake-up call to Australia.

Coalitions! Strange bedfellows!

> In their letter to Rudd, the firefighters cited Australian scientists forecasting a “low global warming scenario” would see catastrophic fire events in Victoria every five to seven years by 2020, and by 2050, a doubling of extreme danger fire days.

Citation of scientific research! A subtle grasp of the statistical nature of extreme weather events!

> “Given the federal government’s dismal greenhouse gas emissions cut of 5 percent, the science suggests we are well on the way to guaranteeing that somewhere in the country there will be an almost annual repeat of the recent disaster,” they said.

Pressure for meaningful action! From outside the environmental community!

Contrast this to a recent New York Times article that spilled over 1,200 words on the horrifying drought in California, and not a single one of them was “climate” or “change” or “global” or “warming”.

Look, it’s tricky business writing about the interplay of climate change and individual weather events. RealClimate recently ran several thoughtful posts on this topic, which basically boil down to this conclusion: the links are there, and they’re getting stronger. How much longer can the U.S. media continue to ignore them? (Or, as the case may be, simply lie about them?)

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  1. Kevin Smith - February 25, 2009

    Wait a moment. I agree that climate change is happening, but climate change doesn’t make people go out and start forest fires, as has been the case in many, if not most, of the recent fires. And perhaps drought can be attributed to global warming, but paying more attention to global warming through policy and behavior will–as you well know–have absolutely NO short term affect on turning global warming around.

  2. Adam Stein - February 25, 2009

    Of course climate change doesn’t cause arson. Nor does it cause people to live in New Orleans, or to plant crops in California. The point is, climate change sets up a set of conditions that heighten the risk to human populations. Over time, those risks become worse and worse the longer we do nothing.

  3. Alex Censor - February 25, 2009

    There is a link between climate change and those fires — even the ones clearly started by arson.
    Having lived for 35 years in San Diego County, and having had my own house surrounded by 50 foot high flames from a 12,000 acre brushfire, and followed innumerable large fire stories down there, here’s the reality of the connection:
    A) The arsonists are clearly, statistically speaking, stimulated to action when conditions are ripe for a rip roaring fire.
    B) When conditions aren’t optimal (drought and winds) for large rapidly spreading fires, even when fires start (whether by arson, or accident, or nature) they are relatively quickly brought under control.
    Alex

  4. Robert O'Connor - February 25, 2009

    Get the facts right first! Those fires were started by dry lightning storms and downed power lines during a high wind event, only a few smaller fires were started by arson…the deniers always make up facts to suit the the need…

  5. nanci - February 25, 2009

    The Facts are that San Diego has had many, many fires started by arson.
    The Santiago fire of Oct 2007 was arson. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/10/24/national/main3401265.shtml
    The Paradise Fire of Oct 2003 was also arson while the Cedar fire that burned at the same time was started by a man with a bogus excuse. http://interwork.sdsu.edu/fire/resources/fire_facts.htm

  6. Robert O'Connor - February 25, 2009

    The subject was Aussie fires and is what I was talking about! get a clue…
    The majority of fires in California last year were started by dry lightning, and the largest San Diego fires by downed power lines during a high wind event and a illegal migrant camp fire(Not Arson)and construction workers accidentally(Not Arson).
    The Cedar fire was started by a hunter signaling for help!Not Arson) Just like the boy Scout handbook tells you too.
    Many fires are started by Arson but many more are started by nature or accident.
    And when they cannot find a cause they blame discarded cigarettes.

  7. dilla - February 25, 2009

    Focusing on whether the fires were started by arsonists or lightning misses the point!
    I’ve read that the Australian government’s agricultural policies promote monoculture of oil-based plants — hectare upon hectare of eucalyptus tree farms is like planting giant fields of roman candles, with water use policies that exacerbate historic drought conditions.
    Climate change and government policies dovetail neatly to create these conditions. That is the point — regardless of whether the spark itself comes from an arsonist’s match or a lightning strike.
    The firefighters literally see the forest for the trees and are trying to push government to change laws and behavior.
    Regardless, nothing we do will have any “short term affect on turning global warming around”. It’s too late for that — all we can do now is mitigate and not do stupid things to make it worse.

  8. parrish - February 25, 2009

    Australia has had a long, long, severe drought. It is said that some children age six have never seen rain. Climate change HAS had an effect on Australia, aided by arson and lightening strikes, etc. And it has to be one of the biggest mistakes ever to do nothing because you can only do something small and seemingly insignificant. The ocean started with one drop of water.

  9. Robert O'Connor - February 25, 2009

    I agree with the above global warming post totally, got off topic correcting the arson cite.

  10. David - February 26, 2009

    Firstly, there is no such thing as a “eucalyptus tree farm”. Eucalyptus forests are natural. Problems arise when they are not maintained properly – they need either regular burning off or the clearing of fallen leaves and branches.
    The issue for the Australian government is the same as for the US – how to combat Climate Change. This requires local action, but in a global context. And how to deal with the host of special interests who either deny the problem, or only see solutions that suit them, hence all the rubbish about “Clean Coal”.
    If the immediate concerns (drought and fires), names of lobby groups, etc seem unfamiliar, the basic problem is the same for everyone in the world, and the search for solutions must also be shared between us all.

  11. michael - February 27, 2009

    David,
    Correct you are!
    Fire Climax Species require fire to scarify seeds. A “Cool burn” fire will not run out of control…in fact, one can walk thru a cool burn event. Often, management practices allow an unnatural level of organic matter to accumulate resulting in unaturally violent fires/firestorms.
    A cool burn will help to open the seed so that it can germinate – fire scarification. A hot burn will destroy everything…and when the fire has been put out, or dies out, there is little chance the existing stand will recover.
    The frequency and intensity of forest fires cannot be completely blamed on natural factors…kind of like saying/writing global warming is causing more tornados. The Fujita scale measures damage, not tornado intenstiy or frequency. Global warming will more than likly help decrease tornado frequency in sync with moderating pole to equator temps.
    F5 frequency may be increasing, but because more of us are living and building in Tornado Alley. Likewise, there may be more forest fires, but are we instigating the fires as well by over managing cool burns?
    Eliminate the human factor while understanding weather is a moving target…then you’ll have the answer.

  12. Fritz Koepp - February 28, 2009

    A statistical analysis by a US Forest Service author at the Riverside Fire Laboratory concluded that “fire weather” has no effect on arsonists behavior.

  13. michael - March 3, 2009

    …don’t understand?

  14. Anonymous - March 12, 2009

    Really it’s true i am agreed with it. Australia has had a long, long, severe drought. It is said that some children age six have never seen rain. Climate change HAS had an effect on Australia, aided by arson and lightening strikes, etc. And it has to be one of the biggest mistakes ever to do nothing because you can only do something small and seemingly insignificant. The ocean started with one drop of water. Great post i look forward to reading more.
    Sydney
    realestate