11 December 2019

Australia burns, Canberra chokes and all of us worry about our future climate

| Rebecca Vassarotti MLA
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Currowan fire

The smoke in Canberra has brought back painful memories of the 2003 fires. RFS and Fire and Rescue crew at Bawley Point on 5 December. Photo: Queanbeyan Fire and Rescue.

As the smoke rolled into Canberra on Saturday evening, householders across the city reacted with alarm, and many checked if anything close by was burning. For some of us who lived through the horror of the 2003 fires, the smell of smoke brings back difficult memories.

Thankfully it was not our city that was burning, but the smoke from fires from our NSW neighbours. These NSW fires have seen many Canberra residents pitching in to help with the fire-fighting effort over the last week or so.

Many of us have family members or friends who have been confronted by threats to property in some of Canberra’s favourite holiday destinations. Many Canberra households are wondering if their summer break plans will still be possible. Business groups are expressing their concern about the economic impacts of this unprecedented fire season.

Throughout this week, we will continue to be subject to thick smoke haze, and we are being warned to take care of our health, particularly those of us with asthma and respiratory issues. With the arrival of this smoke haze, Canberra joins a range of cities across the east coast of Australia, including Sydney, that have been living with the smoke for weeks.

Serious fires have been burning across Australia since September. Lives have tragically been lost as well as people’s homes and businesses being lost to the fires. Areas of forests that have never been subject to fire are burning this summer (including rain forests) and there are major concerns for wildlife losing their lives and habitat.

This is not normal.

While there has been debate about whether or not it was appropriate to talk about climate change as a key driver of this unprecedented long and fierce fire season, ex-fire chiefs, survivors of the fires and scientists argue that we must confront these occurrences as one of the consequences of a changing climate. While this is a global phenomenon, it is already impacting our local environment and climate. As analysis has demonstrated, our region is getting drier and hotter and with this, we will need to prepare and respond to more extreme weather events and changing fire patterns.

Concern about climate change is not the sole domain of committed environmentalists or climate scientists but has emerged as a top-level concern across the community more generally. As the recent Australia Talks Survey undertaken by the ABC recently revealed, it is one of the top worries of Australians everywhere. With mass strikes and rallies organised by school students here and across the nation, we know our young people see this as an urgent and pressing issue.

As such, it is not a surprise that all six of the lead candidates selected by the ACT Greens to contest next year’s Territory election cite concern around climate change as one of their key concerns. These are not alarmist calls but ones that mirror many in the community.

I am one of these candidates, and my concern around the climate has strengthened through engaging with the science and watching the climate change throughout my lifetime. This is impossible to ignore. It’s also impossible to separate from my everyday work that centres around social justice, and responding to issues of inequity, poverty, marginalisation and disadvantage. As with extreme weather events and disasters generally, it is clear that those who will be most impacted are the poor, the marginalised and disadvantaged. As such, there is an urgent need to focus on climate and economic justice as we engage in decision making at a local, national and global level to ensure that the inevitable transition to a low carbon future will not leave people behind.

Canberra is rightly proud of the work we have done to respond to climate change – particularly our commitment and achievement of 100 per cent renewable electricity. Action on climate has been a priority of the ACT Greens, and part of parliamentary agreements since 2008, when the ACT Green’s first called for the setting of a timetable for the purchase of 100 per cent renewable electricity by the ACT Government. Subsequent agreements have set the framework for the pathway to achieve this.

However, as highlighted in the new Climate Change Strategy, there is still much work to be done, and we will need to work together to ensure that we do all we can to protect this beautiful place we call home, and look after the people who make up our community.

I think we need to continue to ensure strong action on climate continues to be a key priority of our local Government. What are your ideas about how we ensure Canberra remains liveable in a changing climate?

Rebecca is a lead candidate for the ACT Greens contesting the seat of Kurrajong in the 2020 Territory election.

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We are now reaping lack of proper hazard reduction burning, which has allowed these monster fires to occur.

Even a 5C higher temp wont make much difference if there is nothing to burn……its just logical.

Capital Retro10:29 pm 16 Dec 19

“Everyone is worried except our PM”

No, we are not all worried, and what has him going on holidays got to do with it?

Bushfires in NSW and Qld have emitted a massive quantity of CO2 into the atmosphere since August equivalent to almost half of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Analysis by NASA shows the NSW fires have emitted about 195m tonnes of CO2 since 1 August, with Qld fires adding a further 55m tonnes. In 2018, Australia’s entire greenhouse gas footprint was 532m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

As yet the Government cannot bring rain and cannot control CO2 emitting bushfires so emissions reduction targets are pointless. Rather than ranting about unrealistic emissions targets the Greens would be more productively engaged sitting in a collective circle chanting mantras and performing rain dances.

The Government can do many things but it can’t make it ? rain. Blaming the Government for the climate is beyond ridiculous.

So if Billy Shorten and his Green mates were elected, there’d be no fires. That’s what I’m hearing

Capital Retro10:50 am 14 Dec 19

You claim that “opinion” and “belief” from ignorant people overides science, data and expertise.

You may call it that but I rely on evidence and there is none linking (your type of) climate change to any “event” being discussed on this thread.

Also, just because some of us who do not have an “education” or a “science background”, it does not mean we are ignorant (don’t know what “pig-headed has to do with it). Most of my contributions to the debate against the general narrative of (your) climate change come from established facts. Indeed, I was challenged that when I said the recent bushfires were a repeat of normal activity I was told to prove bushfires had destroyed rainforrests in Australia before the recent fires and when I did the person who issued that challenge crawled under a rock and someone else called me a “vandal climate change denier” and opined that un-educated people were not able to discuss (your) climate change.

In doing so that person contradicted the findings of two CSIRO scientists who had provided that data. Apparently, any “data” that is contrary to your narrative is dismissed with a lot of personal abuse being directed as the person offering same.

They way things are going we will soon witness book burnings and impaling of dissenters and deniers on stakes (made out of renewable wood of course).

Excellent commentary. The climate change industry is acting in the same manner as medieval priests protecting their sole church appointed authority to interpret divine signs. Once they called doubters heretics, now they are ‘climate change deniers’.

Excellent commentary and analysis.
Been a Canberra resident for over 50 years, now I have had to leave, acquired neutropillic asthma….. dust cold air.
With a science background, I have always supported environmental issues.
Carbon dioxide was identified as a problem by Arrhenius in 1896! These uninformed comments re computer modelling, it had always happened, natural cycles, the sun’s magnetic changes almost infuriate me! So much pig-headed ignorance! So much assertion by these ignorants! Yet we keep being made to go down this slide because “opinion”, “belief” over rides science, data and expertise.
For 5 weeks, I have not been able to go outside! Live near tge Scenic Rim. Trivial compared to the losses of many! But, this is one tiny example of the impact of lack of policy and mad ideology!
The need for action is well past its needed start up date.
Communities and ecosystems are being destroyed by deliberate actions of political incompetents. They are actively chooding to do this.
Please keep making your voice heard.
Why don’t journalists start asking. “What actions are you taking to mitigate clins te change?” , rather than, “Do you believe in climate change?”. Could you please start asking them to reframe their questions? This isn’t a “belief” situation. Our media, needs to step up too.

Capital Retro8:39 pm 13 Dec 19

“CSIRO firmly believe in anthropogenic climate change.”

They didn’t 60 years ago. It was invented when computer modelling became trendy.

rationalobserver9:12 am 13 Dec 19

On a practical note; given that the bulk of the NSW fires have started and spread through the national park estate, and given that the hot fires have completely destroyed their conservation values, now is a good time to start a conversation about reducing the amount of land area which is locked up and left, and reducing the NPWS budgets accordingly since there is no longer anything left to look after.

Less people = less pollution. The agenda always seems more and more people and growth but if you want to reduce carbon pollution have less kids instead of buying a throwaway electric car.

No actually, less people does not = less pollution. Counties with lower populations tend to pollute more. The solution to climate change is in the way we generate energy. It’s a technological solution. Obviously needs research into making this work but it is achievable given commitment and agreements between countries. Not an easy solution by any means but we have no choice at this point in time.

I would like to see those figures that the total pollution increases when the population decreases. Especially as at present the countries with more people create more pollution. But by your logic countries such as NZ, Norway etc, with their smaller populations should be creating more pollution than India and China. Not how it works.

As long as the overall pollution goes down that’s what matters, and lower populations create overall lower pollution that larger populations.

This gives some idea of where the highest levels of pollution are being created, and it mostly matches with where there are higher populations.

(Maya123) “I would like to see those figures…” Here you go. http://www.climateinstitute.org.au/verve/_resources/TCI_Australias_Emissions_Factsheet_Final-LR.pdf. There is plenty of evidence published so you may like to do your own research. You are partially correct when you say that “as long as the overall pollution goes down that’s what matters” however you then get a bit confused with an argument about how this would be done. It’s not the population that matters, it’s the way energy is generated. So, for instance. if a technology is developed whereby energy can be generated without carbon dioxide emissions, then it wouldn’t matter how many people are on the planet as far as climate change goes. The flaw in your logic is that, although the response to climate change is worked out on a country by country basis the science of climate change recognises no borders. So the “China India bad/ Australia good” argument collapses. Unfortunately, this mistaken argument is used by some people to promulgate divisive and damaging attitudes. I am sure that was not your intention.

HiddenDragon6:57 pm 12 Dec 19

“….Areas of forests that have never been subject to fire are burning this summer…… This is not normal…….. our region is getting drier and hotter and with this, we will need to prepare and respond to more extreme weather events and changing fire patterns.”

And yet in spite of this, the people who are fondest of talking about catastrophic climate change and the “climate emergency which is upon us” are in complete denial about the true risks presented by the massive fire fuel loads surrounding and running through our suburbs.

Any inconvenient talk of the latter is simply deflected with waffle about the “urban forest” and the folklore of the “Bush Capital” (now with proliferating apartment towers, but that’s different….) and we go on pretending that it will all be OK as long as we have more solar panels, and batteries, and electric buses etc. etc.

rationalobserver9:07 am 13 Dec 19

I just want to know why all the factories in China which produce our solar panels and batteries are still being fed by coal fired mains power? Doesn’t that tell us something?

Capital Retro11:14 am 14 Dec 19

Business is business.

I have serious COPD and the smoke haze is affecting me, even though I have NOT been outdoors. I am keeping “calm” and avoiding the Emergency Department. Eventually, I will need oxygen but I really don’t want to go that route, just yet.
Have a great Christmas everyone.

“As the recent Australia Talks Survey undertaken by the ABC recently revealed…” Enough said.

ABC most trusted news source. Touche.

rationalobserver9:05 am 13 Dec 19

It’s my ABC, and I want my bloody money back !

Australia is one of the highest per capita emitters of Greenhouse gasses. Improving on this will require a holistic approach.

We should be putting efforts into reducing our footprint.

But logically, we should also be completely halting immigration.

People moving here adopt our lifestyle. If they are moving here from any other than the handful of countries who have a higher per capita emissions rate than us, then that move will be bad for the environment.

I’m not suggesting targeting any particular group. All immigration to Australia should be stopped.

Unfortunately while that would help the environment it will not be supported by many political parties because very few really care about the environment, even if they claim to.

They can loudly proclaim that we are facing an existential crisis, but that concern disappears completely when action like this is suggested.

By your logic we should also limit people having kids as creating new people is even worse for carbon usage than moving them from somewhere else.

Capital Retro3:43 pm 12 Dec 19

Indeed, people in countries that cannot provide the bare basics of water, food and security should be told that unless they can voluntarily change their cultures and breeding habits then all aid from the western world will cease.

Moving them “somewhere else” is not an option either. Natural climate change will not bring about the end of the world but wars over water, food and cultures will.

So we gave agreement that the concept is sound? Slowing Australia’s population growth is good for the environment.

You can encourage people to not have children, but I suspect banning them is probably a Human Rights violation.

Banning all immigration is a far more feasible goal.

Now we just need those who claim that Climate Change is the greatest threat of our time to come on board and support the idea.

Of course that assumes they really care about the environment.

Naturally we still need to keep looking at ways of reducing our per capita emissions.

“”point me to the chapter that shows rainforests burning in spring?””

I think you will find “the images indicate about 400ha of rainforest burned, but this was primarily dry rainforest at lower altitudes known as vine scrub.”

Capital Retro7:24 am 12 Dec 19

“This is not normal.”

History does not agree with you on that and contrary to to your headline, not everyone worries about the future climate.

Really… can you please point me to the chapter that shows rainforests burning in spring?

Only educated people agree with the science. People like you should not be allowed in these discussions due to being a vandal climate change denier.

Capital Retro2:08 pm 12 Dec 19

Page 256 of Bushfires in Australia (CSIRO Division of Forest Research) in the section Fire History in the Queensland eastern bushfire zone from 1917 to 1948 quotes:

“In the very dry spring of 1926 forests, farms, sugar cane and banana plantations, grazing areas and dwellings suffered considerably. Similar damage occurred on the north coast of New South Wales and even rainforests burnt in some places”

rationalobserver8:58 am 13 Dec 19

We can point you to where deserts were once oceans. The coal we burn today was once rainforest. Look at the evidence and believe the scientists, as you demand of others.
And don’t limit your thinking to your own lifetime.

Capital Retro10:13 am 13 Dec 19

That’s a bit deep for me. I tend to rely on established facts not speculation.

Capital Retro10:27 am 13 Dec 19

I hope my grandchildren don’t get the education you got.

rationalobserver10:27 am 13 Dec 19

Those same scientists were making the same claims about acid rain. The same groups that are now latching onto climate change also latched onto acid rain. Acid rain was subsequently shown to be a scientific fraud. Like acid rain, science around climate change is being presented in a very biased manner. The whole topic has now been politicised. It’s now all about the redistribution of wealth.

“Those same scientists…” you’ll need to do better than that…name them then. ‘The same groups” ditto. Not a very ‘rational’ observation.

Yep, and right here we have a proposed silencing of any opposing views.

Hate to tell you this, science supports hazard reduction burning as the best way to stop fires like this. If there is nothing to burn, the air itself could be on fire and nothing would happen….

in 1896 Geraldton in WA recorded 51.7 C , and they put on special trains to bring people to the coast to escape the searing heat.

My Dad in 1939 remembered the catastrophic Melbourne fires, when atmospheric CO2 was much lower than it is now…uh oh…..

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