Anger has flared leading to has been more than a little trashy talk about bushfires and climate change. I would tend to agree with Phillip Coorey when he says (in the print edition) We can do without these dumb, nasty arguments.
Apart from the United States, it is hard to think of any other educated country where this argument would be raging, let alone one as dumb and nasty as this one.
The rest of the world long ago accepted climate change was a reality and grapples with how to combat it.
Here, powerful people in media and politics with no qualifications or expertise whatsoever, continue to ridicule those women and men who have devoted their professional lives to science and fact with no ideological axe to grind.
David Rowe’s cartoon was priceless:
I think the fires have three clear implications for climate change policy.
Firstly, in passing the 1°C of warming level we appear to have triggered a wildfire tipping point. Even the AFR editorialises in Tackling climate risk will put out bushfires about “what might now be the new trend of more frequent and more extreme conflagrations linked to climate change” noting “an emerging international pattern.”
This marked change of pattern has been echoed by virtually all people with expertise and experience of managing bushfires. Annastacia Palaszczuk’s interview with Patricia Karvelas showed calm and a rational response. Large-scale fires appeared as a new pattern in Queensland in November 2018, she said, with rainforest burning unexpectedly in Eungella. The Queensland government allocated more resources, undertook a million hectares of hazard burning, made it easier, she said, for people to gain permits to undertake their own hazard reduction.
Now fire warning language is going beyond “extreme”, using the term “catastrophic” in Queensland, which is new for us. The notion of evacuating 8000 people in the Noosa area because of fire would have seemed risible not so long ago, but it happened.
Whether it is possible to adapt to the conditions now presenting themselves is a real question, with the window of opportunity for hazard reduction narrowing, and the northern and southern hemisphere fire seasons overlapping.
Secondly, then, the folly of presenting a 1.5°C target as a satisfactory outcome, or the best we can do, must come into question. James Hansen told us in 2007 that we had gone too far with 387 ppm of CO2 at that time, and we must aim to bring atmospheric concentrations down, initially aiming for 350 ppm. It’s a no-brainer that 300 ppm which in the Eemian gave us 6-9 metres of sea level rise does not represent a safe climate. Our goals are in the wrong direction.
I’ve been writing about this constantly over the last decade, but in recent time more specifically in:
The time is past when we could concentrate first on reducing emissions to net zero (the IPCC’s planetary target for this is around 2070, Extinction Rebellion wants it done by 2025). We need to do both now with maximum effort.
Third, we need to rethink the whole area of vegetation management, forestry and re-afforestation. Planting trees as a store of carbon has issues which I can’t tackle fully in this post. Trees take a long time to grow and draw down carbon, too slow for a genuine climate emergency. Clearly, there is also a risk that they will burn.
Less obvious, trees are darker than open landscapes so they absorb more heat from the sun, ironically increasing global warming.
Finally, trees alter the hydrology of any area as well as the plant ecology, not always for the best.
Please, I’m not against planting trees, it’s just that the issue is more complex than the science presently understands. We need to proceed thoughtfully, and planting trees is far from a silver bullet. Indeed the rewards may be quite small in relation to the climate emergency.
Obviously, fixing the climate cannot be done by Australia alone. We need the G20 as a minimum plausible effort, because it includes large developing countries. Carbon Transparency have taken a look in their Brown to Green G20 2019 report. They follow the IPCC script, saying:
- Excluding LULUCF (due to country data inconsistencies and uncertainties), total GHG emissions of the G20 countries need to be at least 40% below 2010 levels in 2030 in order to hit global 1.5°C benchmarks derived from the IPCC report. Under a ‘fair share’ approach, allocated G20 GHG emissions excluding LULUCF would have to be even lower: at least 45% (below 2010) by 2030 and 95% by 2050. (p 18)
This is what they say about Australia (p 22):
- Australia’s emissions have been rising since 2015 – after carbon pricing was abolished. Current policy projections show Australia failing to achieve its NDC of a 26–28% reduction below 2005 levels. The country intends to halve its abatement task 2021–2030 under the Paris Agreement by using Kyoto carry-over credits (emissions that could have been released under the Kyoto Protocol 2008–2020, but were not). There is no intention to establish a new renewable energy target for after 2020, and with the 2020 target already achieved, investments in renewable energy are already starting to fall. In the transport and industry sectors, where emissions are rising, the government has nearly no policies in place.
They are polite, but clearly we are bludging on the system, playing silly games and fooling no-one.
The Morrison government doesn’t want to talk about climate change in relation to the bushfires because it might reveal their pathetic lip-service and underlying denialism for what it is. He would like to keep on fooling the people who voted for him, pretending that he has the matter in hand.
We need to get our own house in order before we can join any international effort with credibility.
I’d need to look at the
utility futility of name-calling in a separate post. However, I do think the present government is not fit to run the country. In time, internationally, I would like to see some of their leading members, the Coalsheviks, arraigned for crimes against life on the planet.