Climate clippings 93

Climate clippings_175

1.Three reports

First, the Climate Change Authority released a Draft Report of its Targets and Progress Review.

I have a draft post in the bin, which I’ll publish after Easter. Labor are likely to adopt the enhanced targets it recommends, whereas the LNP have confirmed they won’t go beyond 5% by 2020.

Second, I’m working on a post on the IPCC’s second report in the current series, released on 31 March Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. To get a head start you can follow the links from the report website.

I should be able to finalise the post for the week after Easter.

Third, the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC’s third report Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change was released on Monday. I hope to tackle it over Easter, aiming for publication the second week after Easter. The ABC has comment: politicians and Frank Jotzo and John Connor. The Carbon Brief has a lot of useful material.

2. The cost of mitigation

The IPCC mitigation report puts the cost of action at 0.06% of GDP, but calculating the cost is complex, especially when looking at the damage caused by doing nothing.

Researchers Rosen and Guenther find that the economic modelling is not possible, there are too many variables and too many unknowns.

Yet crisis trumps uncertainty, we have no real choice but to act.

3. Trouble in the vineyards

Early ripening is becoming a huge problem for growers and wineries.

growers say they’re having trouble processing their crop because it’s ripening too quickly.

Researchers are blaming climate change, with warmer conditions and drier soils accelerating the ripening process.

4. Microbes cause Permian–Triassic extinction?

The Permian–Triassic extinction event, commonly known as the Great Dying, was responsible for the extinction of roughly 90% of all life on Earth.

According to new research at MIT the event may have been caused by microbes.

The team’s research indicates that the catastrophic event was in fact triggered by the tiniest of organisms, a methane-releasing microbe called Methanosarcina. New evidence suggests that at the time of the extinction, the microbes appeared in massive numbers across the world’s oceans, spreading vast clouds of the carbon-heavy gas methane into the atmosphere. This had the effect of altering the planet’s climate in a way that made it inhospitable to most other forms of life inhabiting Earth at that time.

5. Land clearing returns to Qld

According to The Wilderness Society the Queensland Government has approved the clearing of 30,000 hectares at Strathmore Station in the Gilbert River catchment in the Gulf country, which will add the equivalent of 4.2-6.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the same as running up to another 2.6 million cars on our roads.

Strathmore wants to clear another 70,000 hectares. Together with another proposed Gilbert River project, IFED’s so-called Etheridge mega farm, the two schemes would clear and flood 200,000 hectares of land.

That would be like bulldozing a 10km wide strip for 200km.

6. Instruments of persuasion

Dr Rod Lamberts of the Australian Centre for Public Awareness of Science at the ANU says it’s time to dump science and facts as instruments of persuasion in favour of advertising and marketing. He says we need to appeal to people’s emotions, which will

have a stronger effect than trying to appeal to their brains via some kind of, you know, fact channel.

But please note, the facts are needed to support the campaign:

If the goal is to affect change, then I believe we need to step more into the realms of advertising and marketing and so on, in terms of delivering messages that are supported by what the science is telling us, but don’t have the science in those messages. (Emphasis added)

Jane Caro agrees on the need for a different approach:

Facts have never changed anyone’s mind about anything, sadly. It’s very hard for scientists to understand this, because they’re highly rational people, but in actual fact, no-one has ever been rationalised out of a belief.

There are only two things that change people’s attitudes and behaviour, particularly their behaviour, and they’re two emotions, and they’re hope and fear.

Again, facts and the science are surely needed to rationalise a changed belief. Beliefs need reason to support them.

Who mounts and pays for an advertising and marketing campaign? We look to governments, but in Australia they are the actual problem.

7. Direct Action less popular than the price on carbon

Meanwhile Essential Media Communications have done a survey of opinion that shows Direct Action distinctly less popular than the price on carbon. In terms of age, there is a tipping point beyond which the doubters predominate and it’s age 55. Abbott’s climate policy may come back to bite.

as the flat-earthers take control of the Federal Government, more Australians than ever have come to the conclusion that the Earth is in fact round.

Changing our policymakers seems the best way home but then Labor needs to offer more than tokenism. In my opinion Labor politicians should be the prime target group. The current mob won’t change without a spell in opposition and transformational ideological renewal.


Use this as an open thread for climate topics.

41 thoughts on “Climate clippings 93”

  1. The cost of mitigation?

    What cost? Since a significant part of mitigation consists of the cumulative effects of millions of us changing our habits and attitudes, where are the costs? How does deciding to walk rather than drive to the shops to buy small items contribute to 0,06% of GDP?

    This “cost of mitigation” sounds like old-fashioned figure-fiddling to me.

    There are Unknowns and Variables galore, of course, but there is one certain Known: failing to take any responsible and effective action today will have very harmful and irreversible effects on the generation who are children right now.

  2. When we talk about the cost of climate action, there are two quite separate issues here.
    Firstly there is the simple cost – How much will it cost to build the wind farms etc. etc. The highest estimates will come if we simply assume BAU with clean energy replacing dirty energy. However, it may be possible to radically reduce this cost if we look at ways of changing consumption patterns to better match the changes in energy production patterns.
    Secondly there is the impact on the economy. (Both world and Australia.) In an economy that is running flat chat the economic impact may be neutral or negative because resources will have to be diverted to climate action.
    The impact may also be negative for a country that already has a high debt level and ends up being forced by the WTO fanatics into importing the solar panels etc. required for climate action despite their debt problem.
    On the other hand, think of a hypothetical country with 6% unemployment, people being laid off from the public sector, manufacturing and Qld coal mines and a pending dramatic slowing down of the mining construction boom. For this country, a surge in renewable energy investment sounds like the best thing that could happen to the economy. Best of all, once the loans have been repaid, the low operating cost of renewable power production means that this country will be the low energy cost capital of the world.

  3. Land clearing: In the district where I live, the land was dominated by a single dominant species of tree; so dominant that it resembled a giant monoculture; little else could grow there. Aborigines were confined to the district’s creeks and swamps which were rich in food sources – they had no reason at all to go into the endless and impenetrable bush.

    When the whiteman came, the soil in this useless wasteland was found to be suitable for rainfed agriculture and for grazing. The land was cleared by axe and mattock and by horses dragging the fallen tangle into heaps. It was said that it cost ten gallons of sweat to clear each acre. The cleared land then produced bountiful crops or supported herds of livestock for decades.

    Then along came the urban hippies who imagined that by forbidding the management of regrowth, that, somehow, the land would revert to their imagined wonderful natural parkland. The response to this wilful ignorance and abuse of bureaucratic power was the rise of the tree-hating bulldozer brigade, the rural nong-nongs who say that “the only wilderness is between the greenies’ ears”.

    So when I drive around here and see all the regrowth on land that was cleared with such great difficulty, I feel really sad. The whole land management agenda is being fought out by extremist ratbags on both sides – and the dominant species continues to wipe out more and more productive fields.

    Maybe it is time to bring in experts from Italy, France, Slovenia, Germany and suchlike countries, places that have had centuries of experience in having wilderness co-exist with farming and grazing. It’s obvious the Australians can’t cope with the concept of having the two co-exist.

  4. Graham, I don’t know where you live, but the scenario seems unlikely. Aboriginal people maintained the land. Read Bill Gammadge “The Biggest Estate on Earth”.

  5. Thanks Val. Central Queensland. Aboriginal people certainly did look after their land, and, over many thousands of years unintentionally modified the flora and fauna on that land by their presence …. but they were an economical people too, people who did a cost-benefit analysis on whatever they did; since there was little or no gain in traipsing off into a wasteland of tangled bush in this district, where there was next to nothing to catch, they stuck to those places where there was a superb and convenient abundance of game and bush tucker – who could blame them? The situation was completely different in true forest country and in open timbered country with a wide variety of plants and animals therein..

  6. Val, I wouldn’t gainsay Graham on the specifics in his area. Tropical and subtropical bush can be impenetrable. I suspect the rainforest Aborigines didn’t manage the forest.

    Over the past 15 years vegetation management has been a battleground between producers and green groups who penetrated the Qld Labor government causing some very oppressive laws to be enacted which breached IMHO principles of natural justice. I have some rellies on the land so I hear both sides of the story.

    I don’t know what’s going on with Strathmore, but I suspect they are being given approvals not available to landholders generally and there may be foreign investment involved. I haven’t had time to research it, but I suspect both green and producer groups may be unhappy.

    As to early clearing methods, I grew up on the southern edge of the Dawson-Fitzroy Basin, where brigalow was the dominant species. There were also patches where belah dominated, some iron bark ridges and other vegetation types in the mix. Certainly I recall a remnant 100 acres of brigalow that you couldn’t easily walk through. My father worked on his block from 1921 as a pioneer. The neighbours had a small 7-acre patch that was hand-cleared, but in the main that was only done for roads, dams, buildings and other infrastructure. The main method was to ring-bark or to clear fell by axe. In the latter case the felled timber would be burnt on a hot day. This left a forest of stumps, between which they planted and grew cotton.

    After WW2 Joh Bjelke pioneered scrub pulling with two dozers and a cable or chain. There is no doubt that some were over-enthusiastic in clearing. But Graham is also correct about the vigour of regrowth in many parts of the state.

    The bottom line is that until we know more what’s happening at Strathmore sounds well out of the ordinary.

  7. GB, I didn’t see your @5 when I wrote my comment.

    In the area I grew up in the Aborigines had been pretty much cleared out of the area, I think in the 1860s and 1870s from what my father said of the stories he heard. It wasn’t far away from the dreadful Hornet Bank massacre of 1857. There was certainly plenty wildlife in the area, and Leichhardt when he went through in the 1840s found the place well-populated.

  8. John D @ 2, one of the points made by Anderson and Bows-Larkin is that reductions in emissions of greater than 3 to 4% are incompatible with economic growth. But

    Anderson does say that he believes we can have an increase in human well-being with negative economic growth if we employ new thinking about the economy.

  9. Yes Brian, there were relatively large populations of Aborigines in ironbark country and other open Bush – not sure how this compared with pre-agricultural population levels in similar country elsewhere in the world. I’ve never been a believer in The Homogenous Aborigine; I think there has been an overemphasis on the similarities among various groups and a neglect of all the fascinating differences, especially on all the adaptions to localities and circumstances..

    Killing Aborigines defending their own territory was outrageous and the deliberate hunting down and murdering of them deserved nothing less than hanging for every culprit in accord with the British law of the time. Quite apart from the injustice of it all, it deprived what became the Australian nation of millennia of valuable traditions and wisdom, as well of peoples ideally adapted to living here.

    …. what’s happening at Strathmore sounds well out of the ordinary” and “I suspect both green and producer groups may be unhappy”

    You are right there. Trouble is, all they do around here is either grizzle into their beer and do nothing whatsoever about it …. or believe because it is happening somewhere else, it won’t effect them and their properties. That timidity and lack of vigour is not restricted to this district – I think that docility and lack of purpose probably effects all parts of Rural Australia. This is probably exacerbated by an understandable but undeserved loyalty to “their own” Country Party (=LNP today) without taking a hard look at how much “their own” party has changed direction over the past few decades.

    What’s needed is a well-informed and genuinely consultative approach to beneficial land clearing and to the long-term preservation of our natural heritage. Fat chance of that happening anytime soon with everyone having fun in adversarial brawls and bullying.

  10. Brian and Graham
    I don’t know about the Queensland situation but I once (in the 1980s) wrote a social and environmental history of Cockatoo (in the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria) where I was living at the time.

    That’s tall timber country, mainly stringy bark and Peppermint gums (not high enough for Mountain Ash), and the forest was often very impenetrable. I didn’t quite know what to make of it at the time, but early settlers and explorers seemed to have said that the forest was much more penetrable – you could walk around it.

    It seems possible that a lot of the forest in the 1980s there was actually re-growth of say 30-50 years. Prior to white settlement it may have been more accessible. There’s no evidence that Aboriginal people lived there or stayed there regularly but they certainly came there, probably quite frequently or regularly. They may have done regular burns to increase access to wildlife and encourage edible plant growth, while maintaining mature forest, which is less impenetrable and tangled than re-growth. Fringe lilies, which have an edible tuber, grew like mad for a while after the 1983 bushfire, for example.

    That’s partly why I was so interested in Gammadge’s book – it expanded and clarified a lot of what I’d begun to suspect from my research, about country becoming less hospitable and less penetrable after white invasion.

  11. Brian @8: I would disagree very strongly with the notion that

    reductions in emissions of greater than 3 to 4% are incompatible with economic growth.

    If anything a big drive to reduce emissions by cleaning up power generation etc, would provide the world economy with the stimulus it needs.
    I tend to agree with the notion that, up to a point, quality of life can improve while the economy is shrinking. Hower, for this to be true we would need to do things to ensure that the available work and income were shared fairly.

  12. Val @ 10, there is no such thing as ‘the Queensland situation’. The place varies from part of the Simpson’s Desert to lush rainforest. Other than that, I imagine what you write would apply to most of the ecosystems here.

    The place where I grew up was a small bit carved out of Juandah Station, which was a cattle run. Clearly the cattle had access to grass and I can’t imagine it was cleared in any real sense. Our place was said to be ‘virgin’ bush. When my father arrived there would have been up to 5 decades when the country was not being managed by the Aborigines. Plenty of time for thickening. Nevertheless I suspect a good deal of our place was always thick, but there’s no actual way of telling.

    Graham, not everyone grizzles into their beer. My elder brother was Chair of Property Rights Australia for a few years. He’s left it to the younger ones now. The current Deputy Chair lives on a property over the back fence from where I grew up.

    My bro was also active in the National Party and crossed swords with greenies at WAMP meetings (whatever that means – watershed management, I think).

    The Productivity Commission looked at the whole issue of vegetation management and recommended a regime where producers with local knowledge had active input to conservation management. The current arrangements are top-down and coercive, with satellite surveillance a crucial element in Queensland. The current mob (Newman/Seeney etc) promised to fix it but I’m not sure where they are up to apart from partially rescinding Wild Rivers.

  13. Thanks jumpy @ 12. That place has only 20,000 litres of water. which seems insufficient to go ‘off the grid’.

    John D @ 11, I think the argument is that additional growth in GDP means additional emissions, so if you want 3% growth and 3-4% reduction in emissions you need 6-7% increased energy efficiency. His thinks that’s not doable. I know you’ll disagree!

  14. Brian: Thanks for that info about the Productivity Commission – they got that bit right! Glad to hear your relatives are as active as you. Satellite imaging can be used beneficially as well as coercively; it would make a nice change; (and I’ll bet there are certain schemes where satellite images were ignored for commercial and political reasons).

    Val: Tangled secondary jungle full of thorny bamboo (regrowth on cleared areas) is nothing compared with the horizontal scrub in parts of western Tasmania, the incredibly dense shrubby country in parts south-west Western Australia or the areas of compacted brigalow on flat land in Queensland; when it is burnt, it is still impenetrable; even birds tend to avoid it too and instead keep to areas where they can see food on the ground and fly to it

  15. Re using instruments of persuasion. Traditional media is very, very expensive to advertise in and the BAU crowd have control of this area anyway, as Dick Smith found out when they simply refused to run and Ad of his.
    There are of course many groups working to spread climate awareness, Getup, Youth Climate Coalition, Conservation Council, the Greens of course. Perhaps they are too disparate and some of them divide their energies with activism on other issues but they all come together somehow for the Climate.
    It’s easy to become disheartened and impatient and so I recommend reading Paul Gilding. This is his latest article.
    Somehow he manages to see the bigger picture and the trends within it and one can’t come away from such an article without a sense of hope.

    Graham at #3, I was wondering if the ‘wasteland’ of ‘Impenetrable’ forest was actually teeming with small mammals, birds and lizards able to move through the undergrowth, some of which actually emerged from the forest to drink from time to time, where they in effect were ‘meals on feet’ for the Aborigines.

  16. Salient Green
    I was wondering if the ‘wasteland’ of ‘Impenetrable’ forest was actually teeming with small mammals, birds and lizards able to move through the undergrowth, some of which actually emerged from the forest to drink from time to time, where they in effect were ‘meals on feet’ for the Aborigines.

    Ive been meaning to ask, the 200 native birds you shot a fortnight ago because they were eating your profits, did you eat any?
    And have you had to kill any more Australian native birds to protect your introduced fruit growing enterprise ?
    Just askin.

  17. Salient Green @ 16: Good points. Yes: some invertebrates but rather few birds or mammals. “Porcupines” were a delicacy and were just about the only thing worth bothering about on the edges of the impenetrable mass. (“Porcupines”? Echidnas, of course – though never tried them myself). Handy material there for spears too – but again, why bother going further than the edge this type of vegetation? The creeks, swamps and the ridges were a completely different story: game and gleanings galore.

    Anyway, I still do not believe that all land clearing is evil – but still think any land clearing should be done responsibly in consultation with others who have a real, rather than imagined, interest in seeing that it is beneficial and contributes to long-term sustainability. Oh yes, now I’m being picky, land clearing should not worsen soil erosion, salinity, watercourse turbidity and silting up – and, wherever possible, not cut across well-defined animal pads.

    John D @ 11: I tend to think that controlling harmful emissions will create lots of new economic opportunities – if the Society of Buggy-Whip Makers and Whale-Oil Lamp Sellers will allow that to happen

  18. Val @ 10, does the forest at Cockatoo in the Dandenongs burn?

    It came to me today. The thick bush (not impenetrable) on our farm didn’t burn. You could use it as a fire break. That’s why I think it was always much the way it was. Similarly the rainforests on the border ranges behind the Gold Coast don’t burn. There would be other ecosystems where the trees don’t burn.

    SG one of the problems with remnant patches of bush like the 100 acres I mentioned is that they can become a dormitory for wallabies which then come out and feed on your crops and pastures at night.

    jumpy, we used to eat wallabies, wallaby tail soup and make stew out of the rump part. The dogs got the rest.

    I can also remember eating pigeons and plains turkeys. I think parrots, cockatoos, scrub turkeys, crows etc were too tough.

  19. SG @ 16, I meant to thank you for the link to Paul Gilding. The article was also published at RenewEconomy.

    I’ve listed his site on my Other Links page under Cockatoo Chronicles.

    Basically I think the Gilding is optimistic because he’s optimistic, but his thinking is, as you say, inspirational.

  20. jumpy, it was 3 months ago and well over 200, all of which were left for the foxes to get lead poisoning. Left to themselves they would have destroyed the entire crop, not just the profits and they don’t actually eat much of the fruit, just peck some big holes and the rest goes rotten. You also have to realise that what I shot was only a fraction of the population.
    Hopefully there will never be another season like it for bird damage. I’m pretty sure that where they normally live was food- challenged by drought or fire.

  21. Graham, yes I’m sure the Aborigines recognised the wasteland as a reserve for certain creatures and that, apart from the fact that it may not have burnt anyway as Brian suggested, it served a purpose of contributing to life outside of that area.
    These days of course having a farming enterprise on the edges of any large reserve can be a challenge but I think we have done enough clearing of natural vegetation unless it is infested with feral species.

  22. Aborigines used a wide range of plants and animals including many that would not appear to be useful to someone without the necessary knowledge. For example, Steve and Alison Pearson “Plants of Central Queensland” list hundreds of plants that were “used by Aborigines for…” Many of these plants had multiple uses. I also know from personal communications with Dulcie Levitt and Julie Waddy that the Warnidilyagwa people used over a thousand plant species. Many of these species would not have been obviously useful to an outside observer and many would have been gathered rarely.
    On the mainland, rabbits, hooved grazers, foxes, land clearing and the demise of Aboriginal land management would have changed some species from important food sources to rare or extinct.
    In spinifex country the end of fire stick farming made a big difference. Spinifex goes through a cycle that starts with a newly burnt out area where a variety of plants grow through the gradual growth of spinifex clumps that are too disconnected for a fire to propagate through to the final stage where the clumps are close enough for a fire to propagate and go back to the start of the cycle.
    Fire stick farming involved controlled burning small patches. This meant that fires couldn’t go far before running into a patch where the fire could not propagate. Species threatened by fire could escape to a patch at the right stage of the cycle.
    Without firestick farming large areas would be covered by land at the same stage of the cycle. The result was that more animals would be killed when fires eventually started and that it was harder for plants and animals to move as the patch they were on changed into something too mature for their means.
    Two points: Areas that look inhospitable to us may have been important resource areas to Aborigines from time to time.
    Secondly, We need to ask ourselves just what we are trying to preserve with National parks. If what we want is something similar to what existed at the time before the European invasion we need some form of land management – not just stand back and let it rip.

  23. Salient Green@ 23: Some types of bush were regarded by Aborigines as “rubbish country”, in other words, it was not worth the bother of going in there. Such areas may have served a very useful purpose as barriers between different groups so as to prevent conflict arising from occasional incursions into another’s territory – and where ceremonial get-togethers and trading occurred, participants would have followed more circuitous routes through easier country. Part of my upbringing was in the wet tropics where movement through scrub was fairly easy and, given the high density of pre-settlement population, inter-group conflict was very common indeed.

    My main worry though, is about regrowth that has been mandated for ideological reasons and not through any multidisciplinary understanding of particular places, their ecology, their history and pre-history, their potential and so forth. And on the other side, the slash-and-smash ratbags hell-bent on giving us our very own Dustbowl and our own Aral Sea.

    John D @24: A lot of the genuine old bushmen learnt a lot from their Aboriginal fellows, including how to use the incredible wealth of natural material all around them. Naturally, when they offered their advice on a new project, they were always ignored. What would an illiterate Bushie know anyway? (Even if he did read Shakespeare or Keats back in his humpy!). I’m just waiting for the ghosts of the old Bushies who advised against the Burdekin Dam to be vindicated – that won’t be an earth tremor you’ll feel, it will be the ghosts laughing in their graves.

    You are spot on about spinifex country – when it was being “fire-stick farmed”, it supported a wide variety of life. Only a couple of decades of neglect makes some spinifex areas almost like an impassable monoculture. Like it or not, the carbon dioxide from very carefully controlled burning has to be factored into overall emissions – and if that means removing some tens of thousands of motor vehicles from the roads to balance such burn-offs, so be it.

  24. Graham: In the tropical area that I am familiar with the Aborigines burnt off after the wet season to make it easier to get around and to encourage green shoots to grow to feed/attract wallabies. It would also have allowed some plants to grow that could not have grown in the tall grass as well as protecting people from large, out of control fires.
    I am a bit sceptical about impenetrable forest. I suspect this problem would have been solved in the past by systematic burning.
    As for rubbish country there is certainly country that has always had low productivity. However, some of the unproductive country will be unproductive because of rabbits etc.

  25. Brian @ 23
    Yes the forest around Cockatoo burns ( as in most of Victoria)

    If you think back you may recall that Cockatoo was one of towns hardest hit by the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfire.

    I don’t know a lot about fire management but I think it’s generally accepted that controlled burning ( such as Indigenous people did) reduced risk of major fires, as well as serving other purposes.
    Controlled burning is used in Victoria to reduce fire risk.

  26. A big thing is that people now live in forested areas ( as I used to), which makes it more difficult. Indigenous people could come and go, which made controlled burning easier, I would think

  27. John D. @ 26: The wet tropical areas of N.Q. I was familiar with was (a) Primary rain forest (=scrub; jungle) with full overhead cover and, at ground level, tree buttresses, fairly sparse shrubs and the occasional wait-a-while, as well as having lot of open spaces making movement rather easy but with few reference points for finding direction, and, (b) Open mixed forest. Both types of country chock-a-block full of food and raw materials. Clearing SOME open mixed forest for farming was a good idea but clearing primary rain forest was full of foreseeable risks
    Tightly-packed brigalow scrub further south was the opposite story: clearing much of it produced excellent farming and grazing land, if it was managed in accord with local conditions – furthermore, clearing it led to a marked increase in native fauna populations. Don’t get the wrong idea: I have never been in favour of unthinking wholesale clearing of such country but allowing cleared areas to become overgrown with regrowth is downright counter-productive.

  28. Val @ 27: Regular, carefully controlled burning of small patches of such forest country, during periods of weather with a very low bushfire risk, would have saved a few hundred lives over the years. That’s why I get angry each time people die in a bushfire – most such deaths could have been avoided.

  29. I’ve just heard that Clive Palmer has declared Direct Action dead. A waste of money, he says. He’s also against carbon pricing, so that would leave us up the creek without a paddle!

  30. No sweat, says Greg Hunt. Direct Action is just part of the budget. Presumably no separate legislation required.

  31. Land Clearing As well as being concerned about inappropriate stopping the control of regrowth on previously productive land – I am very worried about the loss of formerly very productive horticultural and agricultural land to urban sprawl; look at what happened to Sunnybank, Rochedale, Redland Bay, Strathpine and the like around Brisbane and to all the farming country to the west and south-west of Sydney. Australia isn’t the worst culprit when it comes to destroying prime horticultural land: what’s happening in China and in Japan would make anyone cry.

    Aboriginal science Thanks for that link, Val, shall go there right away. 🙂

  32. Graham @30: some time ago I wrote a guest post on the Black Saturday fire. both the post and the comments that go with this post are worth a read.
    On the basis of the reading I did for this post I would have to say that statements like:

    Regular, carefully controlled burning of small patches of such forest country, during periods of weather with a very low bushfire risk, would have saved a few hundred lives over the years. That’s why I get angry each time people die in a bushfire – most such deaths could have been avoided.

    My first reason for saying this that the experts keep saying that increasing the frequency of fires favours the growth of fire resistant plants. Fire resistant plants get often part of their evolutionary advantage by being more flammable and burning more intensely – not necessarily a plus for reducing death from out of control fires.
    The second point is that the black saturday deaths occurred in areas of very tall trees and high rainfall. The fires become very dangerous once the fires move through the tops of the trees. It was worth noting that the commission hearing heard

    Secondly there was a technical problem:

    As many as 20 per cent of those who died had been “well prepared” to stay and defend according to the criteria laid out in the Country Fire Authority’s “Living in the Bush” booklet, meaning there was evidence of fuel management around their property, appropriate firefighting gear and an independent water supply.
    Professor Handmer said that “29 per cent of people killed were either actively defending at the time of their death or had done “some” or “questionable” defence. If you include children and others dependent on those who were defending, he said the figure could be at least 60 per cent.

    Fuel management/firestick farming can be an appropriate technique for reducing the risk of fire death and maintaining environmental diversity. However, I would suggest that most bushfire deaths occur in places where tree size, terrain etc. make fuel management risky, impracticable and/or may have serious environmental impact.

  33. John, it sounds to me that people shouldn’t live in such places, or if they do they should leave well before a fire event.

  34. John D @ 35: Thanks a million for that. Hadn’t realized or remembered that some species thrive by becoming more flammable, not less.
    Hope you don’t mind but I’ve brought over a quote from that enlightening discussion:

    American professor Dutch Leonard put the criteria for a good policy very succinctly:

    “A policy is no good if it only works in theory. In that case it could actually be an “invitation to potential disaster”. …A policy may not be a good policy if we can’t actually get people to comply at the level required in order for them to remain safe. So, I think it is in effect a moral question. I don’t think we can judge the policy as good if it has bad effects by simply saying, ‘Well, the household should have complied and they didn’t.’”

    Where I live is right next to an incendiary patch of bush – everyone with authority is so dead scared about reducing the fuel load, let alone clearing a fire break, that, on the first whisp of smoke far away, my bushfire management plan will kick in: Grab a few photos and personal documents then bolt! On second thoughts, Just bolt!

    Don’t know if you would call this district (in Queensland, not Victoria) prone to crown fires but the ember attack in a stiff wind makes a pretty good imitation of a crown fire.

  35. Graham @37: That post and the comments had lots of interesting things to say.
    The item you quoted is of particular interest for people who plan to use evacuation as their answer. The question you need to ask is “How many times are you going to evacuate before you decide not to bother?” The problem here is that it is usually years between house threatening fires . (I remember a week on Groote Eylandt when we had 5 cyclone warnings in one week – on the 5th the acting manager decided to keep mining during an orange alert – fortunately no-one at the mine was hurt when this cyclone actually hit the mine – it was a lesson to me re what happens when alerts rarely rarely end up being crisis.
    BTW I have no problem with limited fuel management aimed at protecting houses. My problem is the experts who come out after every big bushfire demanding widespread burning as the solution to bushfires.

  36. Thanks for that, jumpy @ 38. The Parliamentary Library is both thorough and authoritative. However, they didn’t deal with Palmer’s threat to leverage the issue through the Government’s desire to eliminate the carbon ‘tax’ of the MRRT.

  37. Home insurance ( and life insurance FTM ) should be a formal contract for no longer than 2 years.
    If you want – it then invite insurers to quote and you choose the successful bidder, a visual inspection is mandatory.
    Rinse and repeat biennially.
    Lets incentivise common sense precautions in home construction, maintenance and ongoing awareness of risk. Be it wind ,water, fire, vegetable, mineral or animal.
    That’s not what we have now.
    What we have now are lazy insurers relying on stupid local council blanket categorisations, where both smart and idiotic pay the same.
    This would piss the Indian call centres off but Im willing to take that risk.
    ( oh and for life ins. replace ” stupid local councils ” with “stupid health departments ” )

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