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Waking up to climate change | Australia's Bushfires

Posted on 23 January 2020 by Guest Author

As we usher in a new decade, two climate change questions need to be answered: what caused people to finally take action in 2019; and what will it take to start reducing global CO2 emissions?

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Comments 1 to 13:

  1. Good video.

    "What changed in 2019?"

    My take. Nothing all that special about 2019, just that young people have seen Kyoto fizzle out without achieving much, and probably thought give Paris a go, now that looks ineffective so they have had enough. Same with plenty of Adults. Its not just climate that reaches tipping points, so do social phemomena. Things like attitudes and desire for change take time to develop and for silent agreement to spread,  then reach a tipping point. Theres a good book on this called "The Tipping Point."

    Maybe this was reinforced by bad weather, but that seems  secondary. There was nothing spectacularly bad about last years weather was there? Trump may have been more of a factor with his bluster and craziness.

    "And what will it take to start reducing global CO2 emissions?"

    So many things have to change, and so many psychological barriers have to be removed its going to need a miracle. That or truly terrible weather lasting a solid 5 years, something thats a real step change and impossible to ignore or make excuses for like the denialists try and do. These bushfires might prove to be a big motivation.

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  2. Maybe the answer to Adam's question is "all of the above."


    • Skeptical Science experienced a substantial surge of usage disproportionately sourced from the US beginning the latter part of 2016 and through most of 2017. This could certainly be attributed to political events in the US. 
    • During January 2017 January Skeptical Science was used by 69,980 persons in Australia. This current January— so far— the site has been used by 139,371 persons in Australia, with Australia moving from fifth to second largest country traffic source for the respective periods. 
    • Each time Greta Thunberg gave a major address in 2019, Skeptical Science saw dramatic daily traffic surges in the immediately following period.
    • Earlier in 2019 when the "XR" movement began to generate headlines of various kinds, Skeptical Science saw a correlated rise in traffic. 

    Our traffic overwhelmingly arrives via search on climate topics. Increased public curiousity about and awareness of the climate issue for any sufficiently conspicuous reason could be expected to result in more search leading to Skeptical Science. It's unlikely there's any single factor driving this. 

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  3. Recommended supplemental reading:

    Scientists hate to say ‘I told you so’. But Australia, you were warned by Will Steffen, The Conversation AU, Jan 22, 2020

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  4. Nigel,

    My thought as well except I was thinking "critical mass". The number of people frustrated with political inaction has reached a "critical mass" for getting out on the streets and protesting. But, of course, natural disasters, politicians coming out and voicing their ongoing denial of climate change in the face of these natural disasters, and the Greta Thunberg phenomenon are probably all factors behind the numbers reaching "critical mass". 

    I still have my reservations about Climate Adam's style, but horses for courses and whatever helps, but I can't help recommending Potholer again. His latest video is in response to the misinformation spread by the climate denying media about Australian bush fires. You might not want to watch 36 minutes of low key sarcasm though :)

    Whatever you may think of his style, he puts a great deal of work into those videos. In this latest video, he lists the 45 references. And it's had nearly 120,000 views, so it actually gets watched despite its length. 

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Link activated.

  5. High air temperature itself cannot be the cause of a fire, since the self-ignition temperature of dry wood is hardly lower than for paper (451оF). In the absence of thunderstorms at this time, it can be assumed that the fires were initiated by random or deliberate actions of individuals.
    As for the "unprecedented" nature of the current fires, their history since 1851 is reflected in Wikipedia:

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  6. Aleks seems unable to discern the difference between ignition, the proximate cause of the fire, and the drying out of the bush by prolonged drought and elevated temperatures, without which ignition would not have been been so readily possible, making it the ultimate cause, regardless of the source of ignition. He is also quick to assign ignition to the random or deliberate actions of individuals, when in fact ignition in this case has overwhelmingly been the spreading of embers from one fire to cause many more fires.

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  7. Aleks @5, you should read your own wikipedia reference. The huge areas burned in 1974 - 1975 were unused grasslands in central australia. No attempts were made to put them out. This is all  very different from the current situation so its a meaningless comparison.

    The area burned currently in NSW comprises forests, and totals 18,000 hectares, and this is higher than total areas burned in that state in the past (something aound 12,000 hectares), so this fire season is unprecedented in area burned for NSW. 

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  8. According to The Sidney Morning Gerald: "A 2015 satellite analysis of 113,000 fires from 1997-2009 confirmed what we had known for some time – 40 per cent of fires are deliberately lit, another 47 per cent accidental."

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  9. aleks @8, so what? What I mean is we all know fires are started for different reasons, basically lightening strikes, arson and accidents like discarded cigarettes. There is no evidence presented that these problems have grown significantly in recent years, and in this fire season. The fire services has said arson isn't looking like a significant factor this season. 

    What we know is hot dry conditions mean fires catch hold very easily and spread quickly and can burn large areas. Climate change is certainly causing hotter conditions. You need to explain how hotter conditions would not make bushfires worse, and I think it would defy all logic. Granted drought plays a huge part as well.

    There's also evidence that climate change is increasing the length of the fire season.

    Here is a relevant article: How climate change is making Australia's bushfires worse:

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  10. A few months ago, someone had the same argument as Aleks. I pointed to the poster that the logic was flawed by comparing it to the following situation: when I get home in the evening I turn the light on flipping a switch and create a minor spark; if one day there has been a gas leak and the air/gas mixture has reached the right proportions in the house, my ordinary gesture will cause a devastating explosion. By that poster's logic, turning the light on would be the cause of the explosion. 

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  11. It is a fact that some people can and will be careless with fire, I myself have helped put out a bush fire caused by someone’s careless disposal of a cigarette. And it is a fact that some warped individuals do start fires intentionally, but as Nigel asked, so what? This is nothing new. If the NSW and Victoria forests hadn’t been so tinder dry from prolonged drought and sustained elevated temperatures the fires would not have been so wide spread, **regardless** of ignition source, a point conceded in the very opinion piece that Aleks linked to.

    Nor would the fires have grown so quickly and widely from flying embers:
    “Fire officials in New South Wales reported that embers were landing 30km (18 miles) ahead of the front on Tuesday – three times more than the usual distance.”

    And as for Aleks’ insinuation that the absence of thunderstorms precludes lightning strikes, as has been observed in previous fires, this year’s bushfires were so intense that they created their own weather which included dry lightning strikes.

    By digging in Aleks shows again that he is incapable of grasping the difference between proximate and ultimate causation, which Phiippe just illustrated quite nicely.

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  12. A long read, but well worth it...

    These scientists think we're in a 'bushfire spiral'. They have a plan, Analysis by Liam Mannix, Sydney Morning Herald, Jan 26, 2020

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  13. Recommended supplemental reading...

    Australia’s capital city faces worst bush fire threat since 2003, as scorching heat plots a return by Andrew Freedman, Capital Weather Gang, Washington Post, Jan 29, 2020

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