Greens MP Adam Bandt came under fire for daring to mention a connection between the NSW bushfires and climate change. Indecent to talk about “politics”, apparently, while people were losing their homes. Tony Abbott was also quick to poo-poo the idea, calling any connection between global warming and the bushfires “hogwash”.
Climate deniers like Abbott would like us to believe that bushfires have always happened, and what’s more, any increase in bushfire danger is mainly due to nasty greenies preventing controlled burns. Because it follows that if bushfires are national disasters and climate change means a lot more of them, then the Australian government should be doing a lot more to help prevent it happening. That’s not a message that suits this government, busy dismantling Australia’s climate change policies.
Yet as this roundup from Climate Code Red http://www.climatecodered.org/2013/10/climate-change-and-fire-risk-what.html amply demonstrates, plenty of scientists believe there is a link.
Of course bushfires have always happened, but the science says increased temperatures and reduced rainfall in many parts of Australia, due to climate change, are resulting in more days of extreme fire danger and therefore more frequent bushfires.
And is it true that Greens, or more broadly greenies, are preventing controlled burning? but I haven’t found much actual evidence – only unsubstantiated claims by anti-greens. In fact it seems to me the main reason there isn’t more prescribed burning is due to a lack of funding from state governments. Permitting inappropriate residential development in heavily forested, high-risk bushfire zones is another key factor. Neither of these factors can be blamed on the Greens.
And a huge increase in controlled burning on urban fringes would significantly increase air pollution, which could even result in more (but less newsworthy) deaths than we currently get from bushfires. Not as simple as it seems, is it?
Is it even true more controlled burning would reduce the number of bushfires? My gut feeling, like most people’s, is surel it would. But expert opinion seems more nuanced than the “burn burn burn” cheersquad would have us believe.
For instance, bushfire researchers Matthias Boer and Ross Bradstock wrote in the Drum after the Victoria fires: “However, when weather conditions are severe, differences in fire behaviour between treated and untreated areas can become negligible or irrelevant, as seen during the 2009 bushfires in Victoria.”
That is to say, in extreme weather conditions we’ll get bushfires no matter what we do.
And climate change of course means more extreme conditions.