Australia Creation Media Politics

What is the Truth about the Australian Bushfires?

This weeks article in Christian Today – you can get the original here. 

What is the truth about the Australian bushfires?

australian fires
A resident uses a garden hose to wet down the house as high winds push smoke and ash from the Currowan Fire towards Nowra, New South Wales, Australia January 4, 2020.(Photo: Reuters/Tracey Nearmy)

It’s hard to write objectively about something that you and your loved ones are directly involved in. But I have read so much hysteria and misinformation from both mainstream and social media that I thought it was time to add to my earlier reflections on the tragedy we are experiencing in Australia, which you can read here if you haven’t done so already.

What is happening?

The BBC have this helpful summary of what is going on and some of the main issues. Each year, there is a bushfire season in Australia, but this year it started weeks earlier and they are now the largest in living memory. The bottom line is that over 10 million hectares have been burned (that is an area the size of Scotland and Wales combined), hundreds of homes have been destroyed, at least 20 lives lost, and almost 500 million animals and birds destroyed (including an estimated third of the koalas in northern New South Wales).

The fires continue to rage – Sydney has had 38 poor air quality days in the past two months because of the smoke from fires burning over 50km away. Even as I write I am looking out over what is normally a clear and sunny view from our apartment, but today it’s cloudy with the smoke – to the extent that we cannot sit outside. And the fire season has hardly begun!

The impact of this is seen in so many ways. Yesterday, we were in Western Sydney visiting a shopping mall – which in these conditions become very popular as they are air-conditioned. When we entered our car, I assumed the outside temperature gauge was not working – it read 47 degrees! We later discovered that the area we were in had just recorded its highest temperature ever – 48.9 degrees – a full 1.5 degrees higher than the previous record.This was the hottest place in the world that day!

Over New Year’s Day, I was speaking at the Belgrave conference centre, near Melbourne in Victoria. On the Monday we were evacuated from the conference centre and moved to another area because of the ‘catastrophic’ fire threat. At the new venue in Berwick, the temperature in the afternoon was 44 degrees at 3pm. At 7pm it was 35 degrees, but by 8pm it was 16 degrees and raining. It was such a dramatic drop within the space of one hour.

I think of a friend in the coastal town of Nowra whose children and wife were evacuated as he sat in the garden at night seeking to save his home and business from the spot fires that are so easily started by the embers carried in the strong winds. These personal stories can be multiplied thousands of times.

Why is this happening?

When great catastrophes happen, we look for simple explanations. In this case, there is a very simple explanation that has the advantage of being the cause celebre for much of the commentariat. So from Greta Thunberg to Harry and Megan, we are being told that the Australian bushfires are proof that the world is burning and time is running out.’We told you so’ is the not so helpful message.

Simple messages are of course more effective if they contain some truth, and the general scientific consensus is that the increased temperatures, which are a great contributing factor, are at least partially caused by global warming from human activity. But that is by no means the whole story.

Consider the following:

These fires are not new. This afternoon I was reading about the impact of the 1851 Black Thursday bushfires that burnt a quarter of Victoria, killed 12 humans and over a million sheep. Or this report of the Blue Mountains (another hard hit area today) facing a tragedy where a million hectares were burnt in 1968. Or the more recent 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria which resulted in 173 deaths and more than 2,000 homes destroyed. Many of these and many others occurred before global warming.

The Indian Ocean Dipole is the main reason for both the extreme heat and drought in Australia. This is an effect where the western half of the ocean is warmer than that of the eastern. Added to this is the problem of the winds. Normally the strong southerlies blow several hundred kilometres to the south but for some unknown reason they are much closer to Australia.The combination of heat, drought and wind is devastating.

In reality, there is not much that the Australian government can do to control the wind, waves and heat. If Australia were to destroy its own economy (and impoverish many poor people even more) and reduce its emissions from 1.3% to 1% of global emissions, the new power stations being planned in China would make up for that within a year.

Fires need fuel. Bushfire scientist David Packham warned in this prescient article in 2015 that unless fuel reduction burns were increased, Victoria and New South Wales were facing potential disaster.The Volunteer Fire Fighters Association (VFFA) issued a statement asking people not to blame either the fire crews or climate change, but rather the fuel loads – the amount of dry combustible material that has been allowed to build up.

It is generally recognized that the indigenous Aboriginal people, as well as the early farmers and settlers, were much better at managing the land because they regularly burned it.So why has this happened? The irony is that Greens/environmentalist activism has greatly hindered effective management of the bush. In NSW, fire trails were abandoned in order to keep out campers and four wheel drives. The trouble is that these trails both acted as fire breaks and provided access for fire crews into remote areas.In Gippsland – the area in Victoria most devastated by the latest fires – some of the load reduction burning was stopped because, as one campaigner put it, “I’m more worried about climate change and the impact the burns are having. I’m worried for my grandchildren.”Protestors held signs saying “stop burning nesting birds”. The burns were cut back from 370 hectares to nine. Nowa Nowa was evacuated in the latest fires. Arson

Arson – It seems incredible but one of the major causes of the bushfires is arson. As the Sydney Morning Herald stated in this informative report, 13% of bushfires are natural; 87% are human and of these at least 40% are believed to be arson. The situation is so serious that today it was reported that NSW police are to set up a taskforce to investigate how many of the fires were caused deliberately and to seek to bring the culprits to justice.

When great catastrophes happen we often seek for people to blame and someone to lash out against. People want to blame the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Others want to blame the Greens. The fact is that there is probably truth in some of the accusations – the government cutting funding to the fire services was a big mistake and I have already mentioned the Greens above. But instead of blame, we should seek to ask what we can do.

We can’t control the wind and the waves, but we can manage the land and we can support those such as the ‘Firies’ – the mainly volunteer firemen who have been the real heroes in this drama. We should not offer simplistic solutions. For example, somewhat counter intuitively, electric cars in NSW have a larger carbon footprint than diesel!

Yes, we should cut down on carbon emissions.  We should not feed hysteria or incite the mobs. We should not use tragedy for political ends and we should not deny science for the sake of politics. And please avoid the hypocrisy. For example, the Sydney Morning Herald seeks to make political capital out of this by using it to attack the Prime Minister and claiming that climate change is the real reason.Yet in my weekend SMH, there are pages of adverts for wealthy readers to jet off to exotic holidays all over the world. To complain about climate change that you say is caused largely by air travel, and then to take the 30 pieces of silver in order to promote that travel is as hypocritical as those who fly to conferences which seek to discuss how to stop people flying!

And please don’t make the poor pay for your beliefs about climate change. If they really believe what they say then it is the wealthy and the powerful who should lead by example. Prince Harry and Meghan urging the poor not to travel by air whilst themselves taking private jets does not make a great example.

We have looked at this ‘under the sun’, but next week it’s time for a greater overview as we look at this from above the sun – a theological perspective. Meanwhile can I echo the cry of the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney for prayer – especially for ‘drenching rain’.

Australia is Burning – Here Are Some Possible Explanations.

PS.  Since I wrote this article more news has come to light.  Firstly we are thankful for rain today…there needs to be a lot more.  Secondly it was reported today that 180 people have been arrested for arson.

And then there is another impact which the fires have – the news tonight reported that the reports of fires were driving away tourists and visitors from the affected communities who most need them. Irresponsible reporting, catastrophising and exaggeration do a great deal of harm.  Take this classic piece of dumbed down reporting from America’s ABC….this is a map they posted of the extent of the fires.

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It shows the whole of Victoria, most of NSW on fire.  It is a grotesque exaggeration – and as yet is still uncorrected.

One woman tweeted that ‘half the continent of Australia is on fire’.  When I pointed out that it was actually around 1% she responded ‘it has to be more than that’!  Why?   Is this not a classic example of what we feel must be true – rather than what is?

 

 

32 comments

  1. almost 200 arrested for deliberately starting fires in Australia. The refusal of green politicians to set firebreaks in populated areas and refusal to reduce fuel loads in the bush are entirely responsible for the present fires. Nothing to do with climate change
    A T Jackson Msc MPhil
    Climate physicist

    1. Terri, please, please check your facts. What were the almost 200 people arrested for? — NOT deliberately starting fires. Firebreaks in populated areas — how wide would these need to be — 1Km, 2Km, 5Km …? Reducing fuel loads in the bush — possibly helpful. but where are the 1000s of people coming from in order to do this? And wouldn’t reducing the fuel loads mean removing ALL the trees? There would seem to be other explanations for the devastating fires — like climate — drought, wind, temperature, lightening, …

      1. Bruce – removing fuel loads is not about removing trees…its about removing the debris built up around the trees. We either have thousands of people doing this, or having even more fighting and clearing up after the fires. 180 people were arrested for deliberately starting fires. Firebreaks don’t need to be 5knm or one km. As you said – its good to check facts.

      2. Bruce, did you read the article? 180 people have been arrested for arson – deliberately lighting fires. duh 😭
        The thousands of people – rural fire services 😭
        How about reading the article before attacking the person 😭

      3. David & Bob
        By all means check facts:
        Fire break: ‘a strip of land that has been cleared of all trees, shrubs, grass and other combustible material, providing a ‘fuel free’ area. ‘ Source: WA Government info sheet ‘A guide to constructing and maintaining Fire-breaks’.
        Terri suggested these were prevented by ‘green politicians’. But:
        (a) Firebreaks are not generally constructed in populated areas;
        (b) In the fire situations faced in Australia recently a ‘fire-break- of say 5Km would not have been sufficient to prevent the fires spreading.
        It might be worth choosing better websites.

        True, removing debris MAY help the fire situation. How will the Rural/Country Fire Service have either the time, the opportunity or the financial support to clear millions of hectares of debris? And again how would this have helped the fires at the level they were in the last weeks?

        ’24 people have been charged over alleged deliberately-lit bushfires’ Source: http://www.police.nsw.gov.au/news Monday 6 January 2019. The larger number does NOT reflect ‘deliberately lighting a fire’.

      4. The article talks about fuel reduction not ‘fire breaks’. And yes a fire break of 5km would have prevented the fires from spreading…alhough it is of course totally impractical and not something that anyone is talking about. Yes – there are 180 people charged in connection with fire raising – 24 of whom have been charged with deliberately starting a bush fire – but that is 24 in NSW alone. The situation is so serious that the NSW police have set up a task force to deal with it. I’m not sure what facts you are disputing?!

  2. Our prayers continue for Australia and for all who have been tragically impacted—
    That was my post today—along with a link to find out how to help with donations.

    And maybe I was incorrect when I stated that it is as if Australia is on fire—but that is what we are being lead to believe from watching the news here in the states–that this is truly catastrophic.

    When I read that half a billion animals and birds have been killed—I can’t help but think that
    this is indeed catastrophic…and if you are a person who loses your home and everything you own to the fires, then that is indeed catastrophic…whether it is one family or hundreds.

    When we have the fires here out west —which are similar in that it is a deadly combination of wind, drought, and heat…the fact that we have individuals who know the dangers and yet are deliberately set the fires is so difficult to comprehend.

    But as you state, catastrophic fires are not new.

    So it would be best if the likes of Greta and the climate gang, along with the young Royals, would all just shut up and simply donate money to help those now tragically affected!
    What a novel approach—stop jabbering and pointing fingers and simply offer real help during a time when all that is needed is help!

    Thank you David for keeping the blog world up to speed!

  3. It’s notoriously difficult to ascribe particular weather events with any certainty to climate change.

    Anyone who has done a fire safety course is also aware that you need three factors for fires to occur – the atmospheric conditions is one side of the triangle.

    What I find strange is evangelicals reluctance to accept that climate change is making these fires (and other extreme events) more likely. Why is this? It seems pretty obvious that pouring more and more pollutants into the atmosphere is going to have an impact.

    This resistance is certainly having an impact on the environment. Subsequent coalition prime ministers have disbanded government climate research and have opposed doing anything to combat pollution or ameliorate its impacts.

    I dont get why evangelicals would work so hard to deny these impacts, particularly when in Genesis the first job given to humans is to tend creation.

    1. Thanks Pete – totally agree….there are those who are as ideologically committed to the view that climate change is not responsible for anything – as there are those who are ideologically committed to the view that it is responsible for everything!

    2. “What I find strange is evangelicals reluctance to accept that climate change is making these fires (and other extreme events) more likely. Why is this?”\
      Perhaps because there is a fair bit of evidence that this is not the case? For example, research has shown that in the period 1998 to 2015 the total area burnt by fire globally has fallen (here).

      “It seems pretty obvious that pouring more and more pollutants into the atmosphere is going to have an impact.”
      If you’re talking about CO2, that’s not a pollutant. That’s one of the deceptions that the warming alarmists foist on us.

  4. We all need to be praying for rain for Australia. I’m saddened when I see what suffering this is causing to not only the population but also the wildlife. Was holidaying in Northern Queensland just a few months ago photographing birds.

  5. At least 15 years ago I listened to a talk given by, of all people, Germaine Greer who was speaking about exactly this – the build up of dense dry bush around populated areas. She made the point that in previous years / decades / centuries this would have been dealt with by controlled fires. But since this has been stopped then many populated areas of Australia were living on tinder boxes. So all this was already known, but people closed their eyes to the truth.

    The bible says that, “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12, 29) but people close their eyes to this truth too!

  6. I live on a military base in Southern California, which as many of you will know, has a fire season of its own. Our home has been threatened by fires here two years in a row, so my sympathy for the people of Australia is acute and personal.

    Having said that, I wanted to address the issue of firebreaks and brush clearing (I believe you called it fuel load clearing).

    1.) Firebreaks are, indeed, made all around residential areas here. They are not kilometers wide. The firebreak around my own neighborhood, for example, is about 30 meters wide. It is cleared once per year at the start of the fire danger season. It is allowed to grow with grasses and natural weeds, etc. through the rest of the year. The entire base (which is more than a million acres) is covered with a system of similar firebreaks to protect the people and structures. This base experiences large burns at least once per year, and the breaks are miraculous for keeping fires under control. Just because an ember can travel 5km and start a spot fire doesn’t mean you have to have firebreaks that large. The firebreak is a narrow strip of cleared land to buy firefighters TIME for saving structures and evacuating people.

    2.) The clearing of brush in forested areas does NOT include clear-cutting trees. Trees typically survive fires–even really horrible ones. If there is no massive pile of dry kindling underneath the trees to accelerate the fire, then firefighters can control it. Fewer animals are caught up in it. And…people can access the areas that are on fire to fight them. In addition, fewer fires are naturally started if the underbrush is maintained. If lightning strikes a tree and the sparks fall down into a blanket of dry pine needles, a fire will start and spread. If the same sparks fall on a floor of mostly earth and green, living ground cover, no fire starts. This is basic, basic stuff.

    3.) Our firefighters in this area are widely heralded as some of the best in the world, and I know that Aussie firefighters have come out here on many occasions to teach and learn with our people. You have wonderful, smart, and extremely competent firefighters working on this, and our prayers are with them all over SoCal right now. We know what they’re up against and how frightening it is to watch them work until they’re exhausted and then keep going.

    4.) The climate is changing. How to remedy that is where the debate comes in. In the current fire situation in Australia, however, it seems to me that some basic education for the public is in order if you think firebreaks are 5km wide and clearing the dry undergrowth from forests involves destroying trees and nesting birds. In order to be effective at helping the planet, environmental groups should first know what the hell they’re talking about.

    1. Amy, it seems that I started the idea on this thread of fire breaks needing to be 5km wide. My point (if you will allow an Aussie/Kiwi approach to discussion) was that EVEN IF fire breaks were 5Km wide (a ridiculous idea, as David said) this would not have had much effect on the current bushfires. There is a reason for this.
      I agree with your comment generally but I wonder if there is one aspect that you haven’t taken into account — the place of eucalpytus oil in the Aussie bush. I understand this has been talked about sometimes as trees being full of petrol. So in the extreme conditions of ‘fire days’ even a ‘small’ bushfire has the potential to become a massive, uncontrollable conflagration. So, sure, clearing undergrowth can help, but not clearing undergrowth is NOT NECESSARILY a big contributor to the current situation.
      Which brings me to the other point I was trying to make about the number of arrests for what some have called ‘deliberately lighting fires’ (or ‘arson). Thank you David for noting the ’24 charges’ (rather than ‘nearly 200’). In NSW you can be arrested for FAILING to comply with a hazard reduction notice. Or for lighting a cigarette within 15 metres of dry grass. Were some of the ‘nearly 200’ arrested on these charges?
      So, ‘disputing facts’? Yes. Especially when the whole picture can’t be inferred from the unnuanced statements made.

  7. “I was speaking at the Belgrave [Heights] conference centre, near Melbourne in Victoria. On the Monday we were evacuated from the conference centre and moved to another area because of the ‘catastrophic’ fire threat.”
    The official designation was “Extreme”, the second-highest rating (the highest is “Code Red”).

    “At the new venue in Berwick, the temperature in the afternoon was 44 degrees at 3pm. At 7pm it was 35 degrees, but by 8pm it was 16 degrees and raining. It was such a dramatic drop within the space of one hour.”
    Welcome to Melbourne, where, if you don’t like the weather, just wait a moment!

  8. “In NSW, fire trails were abandoned in order to keep out campers and four wheel drives.”
    I was recently looking at the aftermath of last season’s Bunyip State Park fires, not far from me here in Victoria, and came across a series of alternating deep holes (about a metre deep) that really had me puzzled. It looked like a series of giant footprints. I eventually realised that these were man-made on the site of old logging or other tracks, in order to keep four wheel drives and trail bikes out of the forest.

    It’s not just the presence or absence of man-made firebreaks and fuel reduction. I’ve seen plenty of photographs from the early 1900s of railway lines where the foliage was cleared from fence to fence (about 20 metres), and I’m guessing made roads were the same. But today, it’s more fashionable to allow growth right up to the railway or road. Trees close to a road can be dangerous (cars hitting them), but the thinking these days is to put a barrier between the roadway and the trees rather than remove the trees. I’m guessing that such changes in practice have also had an effect on the ability of a fire to spread or be contained.

  9. When describing fires at the worst ever, the first thing I want to know is, what is the measure? Number of fires? Area burnt? Houses destroyed? Lives lost?
    According to Wikipedia (which is probably a reasonable source for information such as this), the 1974-75 fires in the Northern Territory burnt over four times the area so far burnt in the current fires.
    The 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria (which you mentioned) holds the record for the most deaths.
    The 1983 Ash Wednesday fires in Victoria and South Australia holds the record for the most homes burnt (2400, including my home), with the Black Saturday fires being second and the 1898 Victorian bushfires being close behind at 2000 buildings, although the count for the current fires is not far behind and might yet exceed each of those.

  10. “If Australia were to destroy its own economy (and impoverish many poor people even more)”

    What is the level of impoverishment that will happen when countries become less habitable than they already are? Where will the poor and vulnerable live when land in better areas becomes more expensive.

    If individual countries engage in whataboutery (e.g. your China comment) then nothing will be done. Which is probably not the most successful strategy.

    Your comments show your disdain for science and the need for action now. You see the woke and the activists who are not your type of people trying to make changes and you disdain them.

    Tell us then. Instead of bowing down to mammon which is what your whataboutry line really means, what should really be done. Should Gods creation be protected. Or should we just instead destroyed the planet but do it whilst being saved so we can leave the Hell that earth will become for the Heaven promised? Tell me, are the animals being burnt to a crisp in heaven too?

    1. Again not the most logical of responses – and sadly again arguing what is not being said. To recognise that this is a world wide problem is not ‘whataboutery’. Nor does it take away from the fact that if Australia stopped all its carbon emitting power stations right now China would make up for it in 9 days. It is an illusion and a lie to imply that going the Extinction Rebellion route would make any difference to the bushfires.

      You may have missed this but ‘land in better areas’ is already more expensive – and the poor are being pushed out of city centres to the edges. The rich will continue to demand that the poor pay the price for their eco concerns and virtue signalling.

      There is no disdain for science. But your comments show your ignorance of the science and your rather pathetic faith that somehow it is no your side. You have no idea who my type of people are. If you are going to comment try to stick to facts, what is being said and avoid the rather silly know it all judgementalism..

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