Australia’s lethal climate change bushfires


This 30 December 2019 video says about itself:

Elderly man protests [against] climate change | Nine News Australia

A 91-year-old man says he is determined to change the future for his great-great-grandchildren by attending Extinction Rebellion protests [and getting arrested there] to raise awareness of climate change.

2020 is ‘last chance’ to save the planet. ‘We need to change the way we live,’ environmental campaigners warn.

Translated from Dutch daily Trouw, 30 December 2019:

Australia’s right-wing conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison refuses to recognize climate change and extreme weather conditions as the main cause of the fires. Morrison also clearly states he will not tighten climate policy. He said so this month after he had returned early from a family vacation in Hawaii. He received a lot of criticism of the trip because the pleasure trip coincided exactly with the worst fires.

Forest fires are as old as Australia itself, politicians and opinion leaders on the right side of the political spectrum say. They call the forest fires part of a natural cycle that belongs to the country. At the same time, right-wing politicians point the finger at The Greens. The environmentalist party supposedly impeded with stricter rules an important fire-fighting technique: preventative burning.

Right-wing politicians: preventative burning is the cause

For decades, preventive burning of forest parts has been the most important method in Australia to combat the fire hazard. With controlled fire, experts remove the layer consisting of dead leaves and dry branches. This dry biomass is fuel for forest fires. With preventive fires, the amount and composition of that fuel can be temporarily reduced.

The right-wing politicians claim that forest fires are not caused by climate change, but by a lack of preventive fires. But it turns out that in the past year, even more hectares have been preventively burned than the target in New South Wales – the state where the fires are worse than ever before.

And the state government of New South Wales is a coalition of two right-wing political parties, the Liberals (Morrison‘s party) and the National Party; so, not the Greens.

Politicians on the left flank see climate change as the main cause of the fires and propose structural solutions. Eg, the reduction of CO2 emissions in Australia as laid down in the Paris Agreement.

A longer fire season

Meanwhile, leading Australian researchers and scientific institutions are trying to bring their results to attention. The Center for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires (CERMB) sees that higher temperatures and drought due to climate change ensure a longer fire season.

Climate change also endangers the effectiveness of preventive fires. The persistent drought and heat influence the moments when controlled fires can be carried out, says Matthias Boer, professor at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University. Because of extreme weather conditions, it is often too wet or too dry to burn off pieces of forest safely and effectively: it is simply not possible.

Forest areas of millions of hectares

“Australia is the global leader in preventive burning. Both to protect people and houses and to safeguard biodiversity“, says Boer. “The problem is that the favourable conditions that we need for preventative fires are there only for a limited number of days per year. And that limits the size of the area where this management can be performed.”

That means little good for the future. Boer explains that the effectiveness of preventive burning in the future is very likely to decrease. He points to the vast surface of the continent. “We are talking about forest areas of millions of hectares. Suppose you want to treat 5 percent forest with preventative burning, then many days are needed to do that. Preventive burning no longer helps to reduce the number or size of fires if the drought caused by climate change continues in wooded areas.”

Sharnie Moran and her 18-month-old daughter Charlotte look on as thick smoke rises from bushfires near Nana Glen, near Coffs Harbour, Tuesday, November 12. There were more than 50 fires burning around the state of New South Wales, with about half of those uncontained

Translated from Eva Gabeler in Dutch daily Trouw, 29 December 2019:

The fires in the Sydney region have never been more intense than this year. Life in the city is changing now that the state of New South Wales is struggling with an unprecedented long burning season.

Tinke Wesseling (39) is no longer surprised by a burning smell in the living room. “When you get up there is a very specific smell,” she says. ”And small black ash particles gather on the windowsill when the windows are open or ajar. It makes me realize that climate change is no longer an abstract concept.”

Wesseling lives within walking distance of one of the most famous beaches in the country: Bondi Beach. She is used to spending a lot of time outside, but has hardly done so in recent weeks. Very often the city is covered in a thick layer of smoke. Since November, Sydney experienced around forty days when the air quality was poor. Twenty days were downright dangerous.

Australia is experiencing a disproportionately long burning season with a real fire hazard from October to March. That is two months longer than before the turn of the century. In terms of size, this year’s forest fires in New South Wales, the state where Sydney is located, are an absolute record. Never before has such a large percentage of the East Australian forest area been destroyed by fire in a single year.

A collective of 29 experts in the field of emergency and fire fighting services already warned the government at the beginning of this year. Their message: due to climate change, the fires start earlier, they are fiercer and rage in more places in the country.

Australians blame Prime Minister Scott Morrison for not listening to the advice of the so-called “Emergency Leaders for Climate Action” in April. Early intervention would have given the government the option of renting more fire extinguishing aeroplanes, for example. They could have helped with the hundreds of fires.

Bothered by the smoke

Nine people died, more than a thousand homes were destroyed and thousands of outbuildings were swept annihilated. Hundreds of people had to evacuate. Taken together, an area larger than the Netherlands burned down in Australia.

… Sydneysiders, as the inhabitants of the city are called, regularly suffer from smoke. Prolonged exposure to smoke and ash particles is harmful, warns a group of more than twenty doctors. They call the consequences of the smoke an emergency for public health.

The smoke comes from the mountain area at Gospers Mountain. There, five forest fires have merged into one large, unquenchable fire. Only substantial rainfall can still extinguish the flames. But that rain is not expected before February.

Not all days are equally harmful to health. Sydney is smoke-free in a south wind. But even on lesser days, the poor quality of the air penetrates Wesseling’s home. Suddenly, mouth caps appear in the streets of Sydney and air filter systems are completely sold out. On bad days, the quality of the air is worse than in cities such as Delhi and Beijing.

Apocalyptic

Wesseling also purchased a dust mask when the air quality deteriorated for a long time. She works as a managing director in the business area of ​​the city, an area similar to the Amsterdam Zuidas with many head offices of large companies and law firms.

She says that the dust masks have been distributed in the office and the normal work rhythm on smoky days is being adjusted. “When air pollution got worse and the air became apocalyptic, we got dust masks for everyone at the office. Safety and health are paramount. That means that travelling on bad days can be limited or cancelled as much as possible.”

More large offices took that measure in early December. Public life came to a standstill for one day. Fire alarms went off everywhere because of the smoke that stuck in the city. The ferry service was stopped. Schools were closed. Wesseling: “At the place where we work, the quality of the air was ten times worse than the limit that is considered dangerous.”

Warragamba, the largest water collection area in the city, is also threatened by the surrounding fires. A risk is on the one hand direct damage to the pumping station by the flames, on the other hand, the contamination of the water with ash, resulting in the growth of algae.

Wesseling is impressed by the emergency services around the forest fires. Australia has the largest voluntary fire brigade in the world. “So they are people who are extinguishing fires for weeks next to their paid job. I also have a number of colleagues who are committed to helping during the forest fires. I find that very special.”

Apps

Wesseling has now downloaded two apps on her phone that she views several times a day. One app gives her information about the status of the forest fires, the other about the air quality. “If the air quality turns out to be poor, for example hazardous, I try to minimize exposure to the polluted air. A strange sensation, because many people here – including myself – can normally be found outside during the summer in Sydney. I really hope that the fires will come under control quickly and that we can prevent such a situation in the future.”

But for the time being the fires have not been extinguished and the burning season continues, currently most intense in the states of New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. Although 80 millimetres of rain fell in some places after Christmas, the rainfall in the places with the most severe fires was minimal.

A little bit of rain provides temporary relief, but does not offer a lasting solution, says the Bureau of Meteorology, the national weather institute of Australia. When the hot, dry wind blows again, the flames flare up again.

This 21 December 2019 video says about itself:

Bushfires are common during the summer in Australia, but firefighters say this year’s conditions are catastrophic.

At least eight people have been killed since September, including two firefighters who died on Thursday when their truck was hit by a falling tree.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison cut short his holiday to Hawaii and issued a rare public apology in response to mounting anger.

Australia’s not alone in having to deal with ferocious fires this year. There were more than 16-hundred recorded in Europe, large parts of the Amazon rainforest have been destroyed, and tens of thousands of hectares of land and hundreds of buildings in California.

And we’ve seen wildfires in the Arctic too – more than 100 – a sign of warming conditions in one of the coldest places on Earth.

Is the political will there to tackle the problem?

Presenter:

Folly Bah Thibault

Guests:

Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University.
Martin Wooster, professor and chairman of Earth Observation Science at King’s College London.
Emmanuel Raju, associate professor of disaster risk management at the University of Copenhagen.

By James Cogan in Australia, 30 December 2019:

Worsening Australian fires pose the need for urgent action on climate change

30 December 2019

The risk to life and property posed by the fires burning across large swathes of the Australian continent will increase over the coming days, due to a combination of extreme heat, electrical storms and the over-stretching of largely volunteer emergency services.

In the state of Victoria, authorities issued evacuation warnings yesterday to residents and some 30,000 holiday makers in the entire East Gippsland district—an area the Guardian observed that is half the size of Belgium. The southern island state of Tasmania is predicted to experience its hottest day in well over a century and possibly since records were taken. The state of South Australia will once again bake in heatwave temperatures well over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, will also face temperatures over 40C. The city of five million is ringed by fires that have been burning, in some cases, since September. The internationally admired New Years’ Eve fireworks display over Sydney Harbour may yet be cancelled due to the heightened fire risk. In parts of the country, including the capital Canberra, music festivals and fireworks have already been called off.

The “fire emergency”, as it has been dubbed, has brought into stark relief the consequences of climate change caused by long-term carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. For millions of working-class people, especially younger people, the issue is no longer considered the subject of a legitimate debate. They not only want action to assist their communities prepare for, and respond, to immediate challenges, but the long-term, worldwide change needed to reduce the threat posed by global warming.

Global temperatures have increased by approximately one degree Celsius since the end of the 19th century, with the largest rise taking place since the mid-20th century. Climate scientists do not claim that global warming is the “cause” of weather events that dramatically impact on the lives of millions of people—whether it be drought, fire, flood, snowstorms, wind, or hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones. They have insisted, however, that it is amplifying the scale, intensity and destructiveness of such events, and their warnings are being verified.

While the Australian continent has always been dry, hot and prone to fires, a fundamental shift in climate is taking place. As of 2018, nine of the 10 hottest years on record had occurred since 2005. This year continued the trend, with the hottest daily record being broken on December 16 and then broken again on December 17, with an average temperature across the country of 41.9 degrees Celsius (107.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

Rainfall averages have fallen in the south-east of the continent, where most people live, leading to more intense droughts and a longer fire season. In contrast, in the tropical north, rainfall averages have increased, leading to more intense monsoons. In just 12 days in January–February 2019, more than 2,000 millimetres of rain fell in parts of the northern state of Queensland, causing devastating flooding.

In the drought-affected areas of the continent, major blazes broke out from late August–early September, including in rainforests in southern Queensland and northern NSW where fire generally does not take hold. As the year draws to a close—and with the traditionally hottest and most dangerous summer months of the fire season still to come—well over three million hectares of forest have gone up in flames and over 1,000 homes destroyed. Sydney and other densely populated cities have been repeatedly blanketed with toxic smoke for days on end, with as yet unknown long-term health implications.

No region or nation-state on the planet is immune to the impact of climate change.

This month’s annual report by the organisation Christian Aid on “climate disasters”, for example, identified 15 events in 2019 that caused over $1 billion in damage. They include floods in South America, Australia, the US, Iran, China, North India and Spain; the windstorms, hurricanes or typhoons that tore across southern Africa, the Indian subcontinent, northern Europe, China, Japan, and the Caribbean and southeast US; and, in the closest parallel to the current situation in Australia, the wildfires that ravaged California.

Fire has also engulfed millions of hectares of forest in Siberia this year, as well as large areas of rain forest in the Amazon and Borneo.

The statistics published on the extent of ice melt in the Arctic and Antarctic are among the most alarming, due to the implications for sea-level rise and the potential inundation of regions populated by hundreds of millions of people. Preliminary reports published in recent days by the University of Liege suggest that November–December 2019 has witnessed the largest ever recorded daily surface ice melts in Antarctica.

The challenges and threat posed by climate change will only become more acute over the coming years. Despite decades of warnings and endless promises to take action, the capitalist classes and their governments continue to preside over an ongoing increase in carbon emissions. If current trends are not checked, the consensus among scientists is that the planet will continue to warm rapidly and exponentially.

Scientific study has established what needs to be done to stem global warming to manageable levels. The use of fossil fuels as the main source for energy generation and transportation must be radically reduced, combined with reforestation and the large-scale deployment of artificial means of capturing carbon—promising examples of which are in advanced stages of testing.

The obstacles to carrying out what is necessary on a world scale are also identifiable. The chief one is the subordination of economic life to the accumulation of private profit for the capitalist class. The future of billions of people is literally being put at risk for the short-term profit interests of the financial and corporate oligarchy that owns and controls the productive forces.

The latest Bloomberg Billionaires Index estimates that the fortunes of the richest 500 individuals increased this year by a total of $1.2 trillion, a 25 percent rise over 2018. Their collective net worth now comes to $5.9 trillion. Much of this unearned wealth is derived, either directly or indirectly, from the 100 or so transnational energy conglomerates that are responsible for 70 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and which have used their influence to hinder or outright block a transition to non-carbon forms of energy generation and transportation.

At the same time, the outmoded division of world into rival nation states has blocked the development of an international, scientifically based plan able to address the dangers of climate change. Each nation-state, and particularly the major powers led by the United States, has worked instead to protect the profitability of “their” corporations and wealthy elites at the expense of their rivals.

One of the clearest expressions of the irrationality of the capitalist nation-state system is the dedication of vast scientific resources and trillions of dollars to the preparation of war, while summit after summit on climate change ends in token measures, recriminations, handwringing, and paralysis.

The social force that is capable of taking control of the productive forces on a world scale out of the hands of the capitalist oligarchy and its political servants—before they drag humanity into the abyss—is the international working class. Through socialist planning and the reorganisation of economic life and a vast redistribution of wealth to meet human needs rather than private profit, the challenges posed by climate change can be met.

6 thoughts on “Australia’s lethal climate change bushfires

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