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Government must ignore the megaphones and listen to the science

Ian Bushnell 14 January 2020 17
Currowan Fire

The Currowan Fire: the response to the bushfires must be science-based and acknowledge climate change. Photo: Ulladulla Fire and Rescue.

It’s only to be expected but the calls for a greater slash and burn approach to the landscape have come thick and fast during the ongoing bushfire crisis, given prominence on the usual platforms that play down the links to climate change and global warming.

One can understand the logic – reduce the fuel and you reduce the fire, but it’s more simplistic than just simple.

And people from the Victorian Premier to the NSW and Victorian fire chiefs have been quick to put out these spot fires of distraction in the middle of trying to save property and life.

NSW met its hazard reduction targets but has still suffered. Victoria did not, but the opportunities to do so safely were extremely limited. Both fire chiefs stressed that the window for safe hazard reduction is getting smaller as the fire seasons lengthen and the climate changes.

Even where there has been reduced fuel, even in some cases bare fields, fire has been undeterred.

Nonetheless, blowhards such as Coalition backbenchers Barnaby Joyce and Craig Kelly (yes, of that trainwreck of an interview with Piers Morgan) continue to spout half-truths, myths and downright lies about the benefits of hazard reduction and prescribed burning, and those dark (Green) forces preventing it from being practiced.

Despite the Greens having hazard reduction and back burning listed on their platform for years, they are repeatedly demonised for stopping landholders and national park managers doing the work, and blamed when fires break out.

As many have pointed out, the Greens do not control any relevant council or government in Australia and have no power or even desire to veto such work.

Yet, this canard continues to be rolled out whenever a bushfire rears its head.

Some who have lost their properties, including farmers, point to the fuel loads and argue more could have been done, and this is perfectly understandable, if not the entire story.

It feeds into a false narrative that if landowners could just be left alone to manage their properties as they see fit all would be well, ignoring the fact that both Queensland and NSW have loosened rules for vegetation management that has led to an explosion in land clearing.

It’s a persistent 19th-century frontier mentality that can no longer be afforded in these times, which is calling for a transformation in the way we relate to the land.

Others such as the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) and the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) have been, as ANU researcher Professor David Lindenmayer says, ”crassly opportunistic” in calling for more ‘active management’ of forests, including selective logging.

Scientists say the forestry industry’s approach would only increase the fire risk, opening forest canopies to the sunlight and exacerbating drying and understorey growth.

Changes to forest and land management, probably incorporating Indigenous practices, will be part of the response but it must be science and evidence-based.

No doubt in the inquiry to come when the crisis pauses (we can’t say ends because that is the nature of the beast we are now dealing with) the megaphones will be trained on the inquisitors in a bid to drown out the quieter voices of science and reason.

It is worth noting that the events of this spring and summer were predicted with unerring accuracy more than a decade ago in Ross Garnaut’s 2008 Climate Change Review, which examined the scientific evidence around the impacts of climate change on Australia and its economy.

The group of retired fire chiefs who so desperately wanted to meet with the Scott Morrison’s government were strident in their fears about the fire season, but were ignored.

Government in Australia has preferred to listen to the naysayers and the vested fossil fuel interests instead of the experts and scientists, whose alarm is now growing as the clock for action ticks down.

Its narrow focus on what constitutes economic growth has seen it be a laggard in positioning the nation for the inevitable transition to a green economy.

When the investigations begin, government, including a Federal Government seemingly in thrall to its right-wing denialist rump, must look to the science and ignore the megaphones of delusion and blatant self-interest.

It is also time for scientists, professionally a sober and not so communicative lot, to muster their arguments and raise their voices so they can be heard above the din, and the gravity of the disaster facing the country can be fully understood.

It really is time for Australia to wake up before it is too late.


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17 Responses to Government must ignore the megaphones and listen to the science
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Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:37 am 14 Jan 20

I note Ian Bushnell is a Canberra bush lover as many of us are. Very few bushfires have originated in Canberra remnant bushland and perhaps this is because the build up of fuel is managed sporadically by city services. Quite a few fires have gone through the area that was/is Canberra in recorded history and this will always be a risk, albeit a manageable one.

I have a spotted gum tree in my garden and each year it sheds enough bark to fill a 240 litre green bin. There are millions of these trees on the south coast where the current bushfires spread and the dropped bark is “cleaned up” every 30 odd years when a bushfire goes through as part of a natural process. Anyone who chooses to live in or near where these trees grow naturally must expect the consequences that come with these regular and random bushfires. “Leadership” must come from government agencies to ban further development in these areas.

I make regular excursions to “real” bush in areas totally uninhabitated that have been devastated by the current bushfires. There is no doubt that there has been a massive build up in forest litter and vehicle access roads that were trafficable 20 years ago are now overgrown and washed away.

One common denominator is the way introduced blackberry bushes have clogged up gullies and ravines so that lengths of bark from our native trees have been snagged by the blackberry bushes. In some areas the build up was metres high. These gullies are now “cleaned out” by fires and unless the opportunity to stop the blackberries regenerating is taken we can expect the same thing to happen in another 20/30 years.

Acton Acton 9:24 pm 13 Jan 20

Insulting language, hyperbole, arrogant bias and emotional hysteria are not persuasive or conducive to rational debate, but typical of a cult or religion which dismisses any alternative views, opinions or explanations as heretical.

    astro2 astro2 5:26 pm 14 Jan 20

    Here, here Acton, about the best description of climate change denialism we’ve heard so far. Well done/

    stevew77 stevew77 9:31 pm 14 Jan 20

    I dont deny the climate is always changing…gas fone for 1000s of years…will continue yo do so long after we are gone.

    Now, every enquiry into srioys bushfires lij the 1939 and 2009 bushfirs recomnended more hazard reduction burning.

    Lets assume if CAGW was in fact real and temps globally went up 5C everywhere. With no fuel to burn through proper hazard reduction burning how can you have fires? Its just common sense.

    The other poster is right about climate change being more le a religion – it favours belief over science. Global temps havent moved up in 20 years. People should research it instead of listeng to politically driven drivel from the IPCC. Hiw many ipcc authors have ties to green groups- quite a few. Biased much?

    Many sceptics are highly educated smart people who have spent a lot of time in industry and farming and actually know science.

rationalobserver rationalobserver 12:17 pm 13 Jan 20

Let’s examine some of those spot fires and half truths you speak of.
NSW fire commissioner has been selective quoted as saying that hazard reduction burns are not the panacea. What was omitted from his quote was the acknowledgement that these HRB’s are an important part of an integrated fire management regime. Fact.
Recent weather conditions which have constrained hazard reduction burns in some areas, and an assumption that the current weather conditions will continue for ever, are presented as reasons why we must look to other solutions. What is omitted is that hazard reduction is not a year by year proposition but rather works on a 20-30 year rotation. If you miss an area this year because it’s dry, do more when conditions allow. Even better, get ahead of schedule before the next drought. Fact.
There have been multiple Royal Commissions and inquiries into fires and every one for the last 80 years has found that we are not doing enough fuel management. Every. Single. One. Fact.
There appears to be a concerted attempt to get selected snippets into the mainstream, presumably in the hope by progressive types that this becomes accepted as fact.
By politicising these fires, and by hitching them to the green climate change agenda, you are effectively opening every aspect of your argument to objective scrutiny by a royal commission.
The final report will be on the public record, and I for one suspect that you will not like the outcome.

    astro2 astro2 9:03 pm 13 Jan 20

    You have a funny idea of “Fact”. Every single point you made is your opinion, not “Fact” and your opinion is based on not wanting to acknowledge that the underlying reason for the severity of this fire season (as predicted by numerous experts, including fire managers), is climate change (because of the extreme dry conditions). It’s obviously of critical importance to you to deny the science, the impacts of which are becoming patently obvious. Both major parties accept the science now so it’s pretty sad to be still chanting “Not climate change!” in a narrowing echo chamber of denial.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:41 am 14 Jan 20

    Please read my latest post which is fact. There is no science involved in the build up of fuel. How many “climate scientists” have ever ventured into the Australia bush?

    rationalobserver rationalobserver 8:10 am 14 Jan 20

    My opinion, like yours, matter little in all of this.
    Royal commission findings are there for all to see; I’m not making this up.
    1926 Black Sunday 60 dead 1,000 buildings destroyed
    1939 Black Friday 71 dead 5,000 buildings destroyed
    1967 Black Tuesday 62 dead 1,300 buildings destroyed
    1983 Ash Wednesday 75 dead 3,000 buildings destroyed
    2009 Black Saturday 180 dead 3,500 buildings destroyed
    People like you are fixated on promoting the “predictions of numerous experts” because they suit your dystopian climate change agenda.
    My point is that we already have a catalogue of carefully considered findings and recommendations which are not being implemented.
    Climate change or not, we need to give the climate change megaphone a break and get better at managing fires.

    astro2 astro2 5:29 pm 14 Jan 20

    I’m afraid, with this bushfire season, acknowledged as the most widespread and worst on record, we don’t have the luxury of “climate change or not” when it obviously is climate change. This is acknowledge by both major parties so really nothing more to see on that issue. Managing the effects of worsening bushfires is adaptation. Reducing emissions is mitigation. We have to do both.

    Alastair McKenzie Alastair McKenzie 10:50 pm 13 Jan 20

    At last! At last! The voice of reason speaks. Thanks, whoever you are.

dukethunder dukethunder 9:58 am 13 Jan 20

Read anything from the CSIRO, the only variable in the fire equation we can alter is fuel load. https://www.csiro.au/en/Research/Environment/Extreme-Events/Bushfire/Bushfire-research

Global reduction of co2 in the atmosphere may limit climate change in the decades to come but won’t change the risk of fires for fire seasons to come.

    astro2 astro2 4:23 pm 13 Jan 20

    Thanks for the link to the article clearly showing the link between climate change and the increased risk of severe bushfires that we are currently experiencing. Clearly a reduction in emissions (mitigation) is required along with planning to cope with the extreme fire seasons to come (adaptation).

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:33 am 14 Jan 20

    In what way has the climate changed?

    The last few days, Canberra maximum temperatures have been well below the January daily maximum average of 30C degrees. Using this as evidence, could I now claim we are going into a period of global cooling? Of courese not, and it works both ways.

    astro2 astro2 5:32 pm 14 Jan 20

    “In what way has the climate changed?” …..in this way: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-14/bureau-of-meteorology-chart-shows-how-temperatures-soared/11857404
    Read the maps.

    rationalobserver rationalobserver 3:07 pm 15 Jan 20

    Astro2 I need to thank you as you have prompted me to research the topic of CO2 a little more.
    I’ve learned that we are at historically low levels of CO2 in geological terms, and that NASA and CSIRO has found that the earth is greening due to Carbon Dioxide Fertilisation as CO2 returns to normal levels (which have been up to six times more than they are now). https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/carbon-dioxide-fertilization-greening-earth. F
    I have learned that food plants in particular respond well to CO2. They inject CO2 into commercial greenhouses. Vegetarians rejoice!
    I have learned that rather than CO2 driving temperature increases, in fact the reverse is true. As the earth warms naturally, more CO2 is retained in the atmosphere. Again, not a bad thing, all things considered.
    I learned that Patrick Moore (founder of Greenpeace and PhD in environmental sciences) has criticized the environmental movement for what he sees as scare tactics and disinformation, saying that the environmental movement “abandoned science and logic in favour of emotion and sensationalism.
    Moore willingly states that increased carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is beneficial, that there is no proof that anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions are responsible for global warming, and that even if true, increased temperature would be beneficial to life on Earth.
    Which poses the question, have you actually read this science you keep banging on about? I mean the original research, not the bits your puppet masters have fed you? And are you still committed to the science, even if it doesn’t suit your narrative?

grim123 grim123 9:42 am 13 Jan 20

Says the megaphone should be ignored, then goes on a climate change rant full of misinformation. Hilarious.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:38 am 13 Jan 20

Garnaut, who is an economist, also warned in 2008 that if climate change went unchecked, by the end of the century:

– an extra 4,000 Queenslanders would die each year from heat-related deaths

-an extra 5.5 million Australians would contract dengue fever annually

-that the Great Barrier Reef would die

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