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(AU) Some Hope Amongst The Climate Change Foolishness

Lethal Heating - 23 November, 2019 - 04:00
Canberra Times - Mary McMillan*

Regular readers of my column will know I usually try to take a light-hearted approach in my writing - exploring current issues in science with, hopefully, a touch of humour.
But today, I am not feeling particularly light hearted. And there's nothing funny about the situation we are currently facing.
I live in an area that, like much of Australia, is being affected by bushfires. An area where people have lost their properties, their livelihoods and their lives.
And yet, daily, we see in newspapers, on social media and coming out of politicians' mouths, a denial of the science that says climate change is behind this.
So here's a brief lesson in climate science.
Human activities - burning fossil fuels, our transportation, agricultural practices and changes in land use - produce greenhouse gasses. They produce more greenhouse gas than can be taken up by carbon sinks - plants, soil and oceans. The excess gas released into the atmosphere creates an insulting blanket around the earth, trapping more solar radiation. The end result: the earth gets hotter.
We learn in primary school science classes that fire needs three things: it needs fuel, it needs a source of ignition, and it needs oxygen. Climate change is causing increased temperatures. Climate change is resulting in less rainfall. Combined these create more dry fuel, ready to burn. Add a source of ignition, whether the action of an individual person, or work of nature, and, well ... we all know the result.
Yes, bushfires have always been a threat in Australia. But the science tells us that, unless we do something, this threat is only going to increase.
But there is hope. Around the world we have smart people working on solutions that can help to stop the progression of climate change.
We have scientists and engineers developing more efficient alternative energy sources, which can reduce our reliance on burning coal and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
We have companies starting to provide new, more environmentally friendly transport options.
We have researchers developing materials and products that can be used to replace plastics and concrete, again reducing emissions.
We have scientists who can advise on ways we can change our land usage and management to capture more carbon.
Scientists have been warning us about what is going to happen, and why. Scientists are also providing solutions.
Now we just need our politicians, our decision-makers, to listen.

*Dr Mary McMillan is a lecturer at the School of Science and Technology, University of New England

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(US) As Smoke From Bushfires Chokes Sydney, Australian Prime Minister Dodges On Climate Change

Lethal Heating - 23 November, 2019 - 04:00
TIMERachael Bunyan

As hazardous smoke from raging bushfires blanket Sydney’s landmarks on Thursday, the Australian Prime Minister refused to admit a direct link between the fires and the country’s carbon emissions, which are among the highest per capita in the world.Health officials have issued warnings over “hazardous” air pollution levels as Sydney’s Opera House was shrouded with smoke. The smoke around Sydney and the north-coast is set to settle and remain in the area for the rest of Thursday, fire officials said. Members of the public, especially those with respiratory health issues, are advised to avoid all outdoor physical activities.
Fires have devastated large areas of the country since Oct. 20. New South Wales has seen the most severe and dangerous fires, with six people killed and around 1.7 million hectares burned. Climate Change has played a key role in the bushfires, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology has said. They said: “Climate change is influencing the frequency and severity of dangerous bushfire conditions in Australia and other regions of the world.”
A fire rages in Bobin, 350km north of Sydney on Nov. 9, as firefighters try to contain dozens of out-of-control blazes that are raging in the state of New South Wales. Peter Parks—AFP/Getty ImagesHowever, amid the bushfire crisis, Scott Morrison, Australia’s Prime Minister has argued that there is no direct link between Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and the severity of the fires burning across the country.
He told ABC AU during a radio interview on Thursday that there was no “credible scientific evidence” that cutting carbon emissions could reduce the severity of the fires.At first, Morrison acknowledged the contribution of climate change has had on the bushfires in Australia.
“These are things that are very well known to the government — the contribution of these issues to global weather conditions and to conditions here in Australia are known and acknowledged,” he said. “In February I acknowledged the contribution of those factors to what was happening in Australia — amongst many other issues.”
But, he then argued that the actions of Australia are not impacting the bushfires.
“The suggestion that in any way shape or form that Australia, accountable for 1.3% of the world’s emissions, that the individual actions of Australia are impacting directly on specific fire events, whether it’s here or anywhere else in the world, that doesn’t bear up to credible scientific evidence either.
“Climate change is a global phenomenon and we’re doing our bit as part of the response to climate change — we’re taking action on climate change,” he added. “But I think to suggest that at just 1.3% of global emissions, that Australia doing something more or less would change the fire outcome this season — I don’t think that stands up to any credible scientific evidence at all.”

Raging Bushfires Devastate Large Areas Of Australia

Australia only accounts for 1.3% of global emissions when calculating the carbon dioxide released within a country. According to research by science and policy institute Climate Analytics, Australia also produces another 3.6% in global emissions as a result of coal, oil and gas exports.
This latest research, published in July this year, argues that Australia is in fact responsible for nearly 5% of global emissions. In addition, Australia’s population is 0.3% of the global total, meaning this level of global emissions is highly disproportionate, argues Peter Thorne, a climate change expert at Maynooth University in Ireland. “[The 1.3% figure] doesn’t include exports either,” he said. “It ignores the fact that it makes Australia per capita one of the very worst offenders.”
Indeed, Climate Analytics argue that Australia remains one of the world’s highest per capita carbon dioxide emitters. On a per capita basis, they argue, Australia’s carbon footprint, including exports, surpasses China, the U.S. and India.
In February this year, Australia’s sparse drought-stricken lands featured on TIME’s cover. The conditions Australia experienced earlier this year count as the most severe in its modern history.
Scientists have long warned that increasingly hot and dry climates, the result of the climate crisis, will lead to a worsening of wildfires around the world. And we are seeing the effects in Australia with unprecedented early fires. The wildfires also aggravate climate change by destroying treats that could absorb carbon in the atmosphere.
“Climate change is a likely factor,” argues Thorne. “It’s changing the odds because it’s hotter and is drier on average in the summer in Australia.”
Thorne said that while it is difficult to attribute particular events exactly to climate change, “what is undoubtedly true is that we are changing and shifting the odds of the events occurring to be much more likely.”
“Historically, Australian emissions have had a demonstrable impact, along with the emissions of other countries.”
RFS Firefighters battle a spot fire on Nov. 13 in Hillville, Australia. Sam Mooy—Getty ImagesThe Bureau of Meteorology argue that in southern and eastern Australia, where the fires are currently spreading, they have observed more extreme conditions during the summer months, including an earlier start to the bushfire season.
“These trends towards more dangerous bushfire conditions are at least partly attributable to human-caused climate change, including through increased temperatures,” they added.
Morrison has faced criticism this month of avoiding the issue of climate change a group of former Australian fire chiefs. They said that the government “fundamentally doesn’t like talking about climate change” and that politics is getting in the way.
“Just a 1 C temperature rise has meant the extremes are far more extreme, and it is placing lives at risk, including firefighters,” Greg Mullins, the former chief of NSW Fire and Rescue, said on Nov. 14. “Climate change has supercharged the bushfire problem.”
Politicians and mayors residing over areas affected by the bushfires have also been critical of Morrison’s response to the climate emergency. For them, there is no doubt that the devastating bushfires area a result of climate change.
Carol Sparks, the Mayor of Glen Innes, where two people died in early November, argued that the government, including Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, needed to refer to scientific evidence. “I think that Michael McCormack needs to read the science, and that is what I am going by, is the science,” she said.
“It is not a political thing — it is a scientific fact that we are going through climate change,” she added.
Chris Bowen, the Australian Labor Party’s health spokesperson accused the Australian government and international community of not acting quick enough on climate change.
“The world, and Australia, has failed to act with appropriate seriousness and haste, and so we will need specific policies to deal with the health impacts of climate change,” Bowen said at a lecture at Sydney University on Wednesday.
“The Australian government needs to be far more proactive in looking for climate solutions,” echoes Thorne. They could easily produce enough renewable energy from wind and solar, not just for themselves but for others.”
Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Since Morrison’s government scrapped the national carbon price in 2014, total national emissions have increased each year, according to a report published by Australia’s environment department in August this year.
National emissions increased by 3.1m tonnes in the year up to March 2019 and are estimated to be 538.9m tonnes, according to the report. The 0.6% increase in emissions are largely due to the liquefied natural gas (LNG) export industry.

Air Pollution

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(AU) Scott Morrison Says No Evidence Links Australia's Carbon Emissions To Bushfires

Lethal Heating - 22 November, 2019 - 04:00
The Guardian

PM suggests Australia could increase emissions without worsening current fire season, and says government finalising plans to crack down on environmental protests
Former fire chiefs have accused Scott Morrison’s government of avoiding the issue of climate change. On Thursday the PM said there was no ‘credible scientific evidence’ that cutting Australia’s emissions could reduce the severity of bushfires. Photograph: Steven Saphore/AAPScott Morrison has argued there is no direct link between Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and the severity of fires ravaging the continent, even suggesting Australia could increase its emissions without making the current fire season worse.Under pressure due to a record season of early bushfires and the accusation by a coalition of former fire chiefs that the government has avoided the issue of climate change, Morrison said on Thursday there was no “credible scientific evidence” that cutting Australia’s emissions could reduce the severity of bushfires.
On Thursday Morrison defended the government’s handling of the bushfire season, telling ABC’s AM it had put additional resources into emergency services and praising the “outstanding” response and coordination of state governments.Morrison said he “took issue” with the suggestion by Greg Mullins, the former chief of NSW Fire and Rescue, and 23 other fire chiefs that the government was not adequately prepared.
Explaining why he didn’t meet Mullins, Morrison said the government already had the same advice about the impact of climate change from “existing fire chiefs doing the existing job”.
At first, Morrison appeared to accept that climate change was affecting the severity and frequency of bushfires.
“These are things that are very well known to the government – the contribution of these issues to global weather conditions and to conditions here in Australia are known and acknowledged,” he said.
“In February I acknowledged the contribution of those factors to what was happening in Australia – amongst many other issues.”
Morrison then said “the suggestion that any way shape or form that Australia, accountable for 1.3% of the world’s emissions, that the individual actions of Australia are impacting directly on specific fire events, whether it’s here or anywhere else in the world, that doesn’t bear up to credible scientific evidence either”.
“Climate change is a global phenomenon and we’re doing our bit as part of the response to climate change – we’re taking action on climate change,” he said.
“But I think to suggest that at just 1.3% of emissions, that Australia doing something more or less would change the fire outcome this season – I don’t think that stands up to any credible scientific evidence at all.”
The comments follow a controversy in September when the minister responsible for drought and natural disasters, David Littleproud, said he doesn’t “know if climate change is manmade”, before a total about-face.
The link between rising greenhouse gas emissions and increased bushfire risk is complex but, according to major science agencies, clear. Warmer weather increases the number of days each year on which there is high or extreme bushfire risk.
Australia’s response to climate change has been ranked one of the worst in the G20, with rising greenhouse gas emissions since the Abbott government abolished the carbon price in 2014.
Australia’s target of 26%-28% emissions reduction by 2030 will require it to cut emissions by 695m tonnes cumulatively across the next decade.
The Morrison government said more than half of that cut, 367m tonnes, would come from carryover credits from overperformance of earlier targets and not from practical emissions reduction.
The centrepiece of federal climate policy is the $2.55bn emissions reduction fund, now rebadged as the climate solutions fund, a reverse auction processes that pays landowners and businesses to cut pollution.
The most recent auction bought emissions cuts equivalent to only 0.01% of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas pollution after officials found just three projects worth backing.
The government has been quietly pursuing an overhaul of the emissions reduction fund, appointing a panel of four business leaders and policy experts to suggest options to expand it, and will consider the issue with the states at a meeting of energy ministers on Friday.
On Thursday Morrison refused to give further details of his proposed crackdown on environmental protests and secondary boycotts, saying the government would make announcements when it had “finalised those arrangements”.
The attorney general, Christian Porter, has suggested measures could include extending the prohibition on secondary boycotts to environmental campaigns, and a crackdown on environmental litigation and use of litigation funders for class actions against mining companies.
In a speech to the Business Council on Wednesday, Morrison flagged an overhaul of environmental approvals for major projects to reduce the length of time it takes for businesses to navigate environmental approvals.

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Global GDP Will Suffer At Least A 3% Hit By 2050 From Unchecked Climate Change, Say Economists

Lethal Heating - 22 November, 2019 - 04:00

North America and Western Europe have more breathing room
2°C of warming expected by 2050 in a high-emissions scenario might shave between 2.5%-7.5% from global GDP, with the worst affected countries being in Africa and Asia: Oxford Economics. Getty ImagesThe global economy will be at least 3% smaller by 2050 owed solely to the effects of unchecked climate change, including severe weather and rising sea levels.
That’s a figure laid out in a framework from data experts at The Economist Intelligence Unit released Wednesday. Its findings track with select other climate-linked economic warnings sounded recently, including in the long view from central bankers.
Africa is the least resilient region to the impact of climate change and its economy will likely contract by at least 4.7% by 2050 based on environmental factors alone, while not taking into account other cyclical economic tendencies. Next comes Latin America (with an expected 3.8% hit), the Middle East (3.7%), Eastern Europe (3%) and Asia-Pacific (2.6%).
More-resilient North America’s economy is pegged to be 1.1% smaller because of climate change by 2050, while Western Europe should prepare for a climate-related contraction of 1.7%. Both regions are wealthier and more prepared to tackle climate change from an institutional standpoint than other parts of the globe, EIU said.
“The impacts of climate change are already being felt — we are already seeing the effects of more extreme weather events — but the economic impacts will only grow over time,” said John Ferguson, the group’s country analysis director. “It’s important to remember that a 3% loss of real GDP in 2050 is highly significant for the global economy, and that there will be economic losses in every year of the coming three decades.”
The EIU also admitted there’s uncertainty in forecasting the impacts of climate change. For example, the researchers have assumed that countries will make a modest effort to meet their goals as stated in their own contributions to the Paris Climate Agreement. However, the progress in this space and the implementation of these policies could easily disappoint, the EIU said. In fact, the economic impacts could be much worse than those highlighted in the model. President Donald Trump has started the process to pull the U.S. out of the Paris pact, mainly citing what he argues is noncompliance from China and other big emitters.
Oxford Economics offers a more alarming estimate, though one stretched over a longer time frame.
In the absence of efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the Earth is currently on course to warm by around 4°C by 2100, these researchers emphasized. If so, this could strip 30% off the level of global GDP by that date, based on the top end of an estimate range.
More immediately, according to the Oxford Economics study, 2°C of warming expected by 2050 in a high-emissions scenario might shave between 2.5%-7.5% from global GDP, with the worst affected countries being in Africa and Asia.
“So, while over a 10-year horizon the costs seem unlikely to be significant enough to affect our forecasts, the window of indiscernibility looks to be closing rapidly,” the researchers said in a white paper available to its clients.
Many of the world’s top central banks want to move the global financial system away from a reliance on industries — including fossil-fuel giants Exxon XOM, +0.31%   and Chevron CVX, +0.76%  — that scientists largely have cited as posing increased risk for contributing to extreme changes in weather, large fires, rising sea levels and flooding.
The U.S. Fed has been the laggard among is central-bank peers in this regard. However, a rapidly changing climate may present just the kind of “shock” to the economic system that she and colleagues believe can no longer be ignored, Fed Gov. Lael Brainard said in prepared remarks to a recent first-of-its-kind Fed summit.
“There has been an increased willingness to engage on climate-change issues,” New York Fed President John Williams said in remarks earlier this month. “As the Fed, we are careful not to tell Congress what to do, but we can inform the debate.”
Bank of England Gov. Mark Carney said in an October speech in Tokyo that central banks will have to consider the physical risks of climate change when weighing monetary policy. That ranges from the impact on mortgages from flooding to severe weather’s toll on the pricing of government bonds.

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Economies In Asia Pacific Forecast To Shrink By Over 2 Per Cent Due To Climate Change: Study

Lethal Heating - 22 November, 2019 - 04:00
TODAY - Navene Elangovan

The economies of developing countries tend to depend on agriculture, which is vulnerable to climate change, a study found. Malay Mail OnlineSINGAPORE — The Asia-Pacific economy will shrink by 2.6 per cent by 2050 due to its inability to withstand climate change, a study found.
This is slightly lower than the global average shrinkage of 3 per cent.
The study assessed 82 countries to determine their Climate Change Resilience Index, or how their economies will be affected based on their capacity to withstand climate change.
A summary of the findings were released on Wednesday (Nov 20) by research and analysis company The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which is the research arm of newspaper The Economist.
Mr John Ferguson, the EIU’s country analysis director, told TODAY that climate change will have a limited impact on Singapore’s economy even though developing countries within Asia Pacific will be affected.
“High levels of income per head, a lack of dependence on agricultural commodity exports for growth, and the Government's strong ability and willingness to intervene to mitigate the impact of climate change will alleviate related risks for Singapore to a significant extent.”
However, he said that as a small island nation, Singapore will be vulnerable to increasing floods and weather-related disasters such as changes to climate patterns and rising sea levels.
“Some supply-chain risks also exist, particularly if Singapore's imported food supplies are affected by increasing climatic volatility,” he added.

How countries were assessed
The ability and willingness of countries to confront climate change were examined in line with eight indicators:
  • The loss of land or physical capital due to extreme weather
  • The impact on public services, basic needs and government spending
  • The impact on agriculture
  • Loss of labour productivity
  • Tourism losses
  • Trade losses
  • Cost of adaptation to climate change
  • Cost to mitigate climate change
Where the different regions stand
Among the seven regions assessed, researchers expect North America to suffer the least amount of real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) loss (of 1.1 per cent) by 2050.
Conversely, it found that the region which is least resilient to climate change is Africa (loss of 4.7 per cent).
The level of real GDP loss forecasted for all regions:
  • North America – 1.1 per cent
  • Western Europe – 1.7 per cent
  • Asia Pacific – 2.6 per cent
  • Eastern Europe – 3 per cent
  • Middle East – 3.7 per cent
  • Latin America – 3.8 per cent
  • Africa – 4.7 per cent
North America and Western Europe took the top spots because both regions are richer and more prepared to tackle climate change. They are thus likely to see the least impact economically.
Africa took the bottom spot because it faces higher average temperatures and lower levels of economic development. Policymakers there will also face challenges meeting their objectives for policies related to climate change.

Why poorer countries would be hit hardest
Countries which are poorer and have higher average temperatures will be the most affected.Nearly all low-income countries are tropical, increasing their exposure to global warming, the report said.
Poor quality of infrastructure and housing also make these countries less resilient to extreme weather.
Another reason: The economies of developing countries tend to depend on agriculture, which is vulnerable to climate change. A rise in temperature could lead to more competition over dwindling fertile land and deteriorating food security, increasing the possibility of social unrest.
Within Asia Pacific, developing countries such as Bangladesh will be affected by climate change the most.

What else is needed for climate resilience
While a rich country is better prepared to confront its challenges and so has an advantage in withstanding climate change, the institutional quality of a country matters as well, the report stated. This refers to attributes such as the level of corruption, the quality of the bureaucracy and the protection of property rights in a country.
Institutional quality is thus tied to a country’s initiatives to adapt to climate change, such as building flood defences. Institutional quality can also affect policies which aim to reduce carbon emissions, such as carbon taxes.
The United States is an example of a North American economy that is well-prepared to confront economic and social challenges related to climate change, the study found.
It has a well-funded research and development sector as well as strong national institutions.
It is also less exposed to geographic risks related to climate change as compared to developing countries.
The report noted that US President Donald Trump may have negative polices on climate change such as withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, showing that strong institutions do not always facilitate climate-friendly policies, but policies can still be formed and implemented quickly when there is political will.

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(AU) Climate Change The Biggest Threat To Great Barrier Reef: Ley

Lethal Heating - 21 November, 2019 - 04:00
Sydney Morning HeraldTony Moore

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley and Queensland's Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch released a statement on Tuesday afternoon acknowledging climate change as the biggest threat to the health of the Great Barrier Reef.
The United Nations scientific body, UNESCO, will in 2020 make a decision on whether or not to list the Queensland's Great Barrier Reef as a world-heritage site that is in danger.
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley. Credit: Lukas Coch/AAPThe Great Barrier Reef has been a UNESCO world-heritage listed site since 1981.The two environment ministers - part of the Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Forum - met in Townsville on Tuesday to discuss the progress of policies set over the past five years to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
They will on December 1 release the report that will be provided to UNESCO's world heritage committee, which will ultimately make the ruling on the future listing of the Great Barrier Reef.
Ms Ley said she was confident the policies of both governments would protect the Great Barrier Reef of the impacts of climate change.
"There is clear acceptance of the science and it is also telling us that we are taking important steps to strengthen the Reef’s resilience," Mr Ley said in a statement.
"This year’s reef Outlook Report highlighted the challenges we face but it was also clear about the steps we can and are taking to protect its future and its World Heritage status."
The Great Barrier Reef Management Authority's August 2019 Outlook Report downgraded the future health of the Great Barrier Reef from "poor to very poor".
In September 2019, the Queensland government moved away from voluntary measures by agricultural groups to control sediment run-off into coastal reef areas to a new system where minimum standards for nutrient run-off are set and enforced by the Queensland government.
Ms Enoch said that decision was one of a number which showed governments were taking concerted steps to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
A project to slowly reduce eroded soil flowing down the Burdekin River onto the Great Barrier Reef has also received recognition by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
"These regulations, along with other efforts including tree-clearing laws and action on climate change, are all steps that are being taken by the Queensland Government to support the health of the Reef and prevent it from being listed by the World Heritage Committee as in-danger next year," Ms Enoch said.
"The partnerships being developed with traditional owners are driving key recommendations under the Reef 2050 plan, and the work of Indigenous rangers on the land and sea are also proving vital to protect precious ecosystems."
The two levels of government "endorsed" the existing range of policies, despite conservationists arguing for a faster shift from carbon-intensive energy sources and agriculture sources.
Conservation groups argue a faster shift towards renewable energy is needed because the the world's atmospheric temperature has risen by more than one degree centigrade, an issue highlighted by the Federal Government's own Great Barrier Reef Management Authority's in it's 2019 Outlook Report.
Australia is a signatory to international efforts to keep atmospheric warming below two degrees.
"The rapid increase in greenhouse gas emissions has caused an estimated one-degree centigrade increase in global average temperature since pre-industrial times," the report says.
"The rising global temperature is causing an increase in sea temperature, which has a multitude of impacts, including destructive marine heatwaves."
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority released this blunt statement in July 2019: "Only the strongest and fastest possible actions to decrease global greenhouse gas emissions will reduce the risks and limit the impacts of climate change on the reef. "
Queensland's Great Barrier Reef

No commitment was made by either environment minister to increase the pace of a shift towards renewable energy.
Queensland promises to provide 20 per cent of it energy by 2020 from renewable energy sources and 50 per cent by 2030.
The Australian government has a commitment to provide 23.5 per cent of its energy from renewable energy by 2020.

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(AU) Global Heating Supercharging Indian Ocean Climate System

Lethal Heating - 21 November, 2019 - 04:00
The Guardian |

Indian Ocean dipole events, linked to bushfires and floods,are becoming stronger and more frequent, scientists saySmoke haze blanketing Sydney as bushfires burn in New South Wales, Australia. Photograph: Neil Bennett/AAPGlobal heating is “supercharging” an increasingly dangerous climate mechanism in the Indian Ocean that has played a role in disasters this year including bushfires in Australia and floods in Africa.
Scientists and humanitarian officials say this year’s record Indian Ocean dipole, as the phenomenon is known, threatens to reappear more regularly and in a more extreme form as sea surface temperatures rise.
Of most concern are years in which the sea surface off the coast of Africa warms up, provoking increased rains, while temperatures off Australia fall, leading to drier weather.
It is similar to El Niño and La Niña in the Pacific, which cause sharp changes in weather patterns on both sides of the ocean.
Temperature changes in the Indian Ocean lead
to extreme weather events in Australia and east Africa
Guardian graphic. Source: The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
Caroline Ummenhofer, a scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts who has been a key figure in efforts to understand the importance of the dipole, said unique factors were at play in the Indian Ocean compared with other tropical regions.
While ocean currents and winds in the Atlantic and Pacific can disperse heating water, the large Asian landmass to the north of the Indian Ocean makes it particularly susceptible to retaining heat. “It’s quite different to the tropical Atlantic and tropical Pacific events. There you have you have steady easterly trade winds. In the Indian Ocean that’s not the case,” Ummenhofer said.
“There is a certain season where you have easterly winds. Otherwise you have seasonally reversing monsoon winds, which makes for very different dynamics.”
Recent research suggests ocean heat has risen dramatically over the past decade, leading to the potential for warming water in the Indian Ocean to affect the Indian monsoon, one of the most important climate patterns in the world.
“There has been research suggesting that Indian Ocean dipole events have become more common with the warming in the last 50 years, with climate models suggesting a tendency for such events to become more frequent and becoming stronger,” Ummenhofer said.
She said warming appeared to be “supercharging” mechanisms already existing in the background. “The Indian Ocean is particularly sensitive to a warming world. It is the canary in the coalmine seeing big changes before others come to other tropical ocean areas.”
Australian climatologists have pointed to this year’s dipole as at least one of the contributing factors in the bushfires. Jonathan Pollock, of Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, said this dipole was “up there as one of the strongest” on record.
Flooding has affected more than
2.5 million people in eastern Africa since July
Guardian graphic. Source: OCHA
Gemma Connell, of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, raised concern over the impact of stronger and more regular Indian Ocean dipole events on Africa.
“What we are seeing from the current record events is large-scale flooding across the region. Entire swathes are under water, affecting 2.5 million people,” she said.
“And putting it in the broader picture of the climate crisis, this flooding is coming on the back of two droughts. What we are seeing, and what we are going to see more of, is more frequent climatic shocks coming. And all that is on top of the violence and conflict that has already displaced many of the people involved.
“In Kenya, for example, the region hardest hit has been around Lake Turkana, where there are already global malnutrition rates above 30% following drought. People are trying to cope with back-to-back shocks and their resilience has been eroded.”
Another concern for Connell and other humanitarian officials is that although climate scientists are racing to try to develop predictive modelling, there is disagreement over whether stronger Indian Ocean dipole events will lead to a wetter climate for Africa or a drier one.
“As non-meteorologists trying to plan ahead, we’re being faced with complex and changing scenarios. We’re just running to keep up. Looking now at southern and eastern Africa, with failed rainy seasons and then flooding, none of it looks normal,” she said.
“The new normal is a severe weather events. Looking at the Indian Ocean dipole’s effects, you have to see this is as a preview of what can be expected in other parts of world. And while I’m not surprised that attention of the world is elsewhere, that is still unforgivable given how many are suffering from a phenomenon the rest of the world helped create.”

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(AU) Firestorms And Flaming Tornadoes: How Bushfires Create Their Own Ferocious Weather Systems

Lethal Heating - 21 November, 2019 - 04:00
The Conversation

A firestorm on Mirror Plateaun Yellowstone Park, 1988. Jim Peaco/US National Park ServiceAs the east coast bushfire crisis unfolds, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Rural Fire Service operational officer Brett Taylor have each warned residents bushfires can create their own weather systems.
This is not just a figure of speech or a general warning about the unpredictability of intense fires. Bushfires genuinely can create their own weather systems: a phenomenon known variously as firestorms, pyroclouds or, in meteorology-speak, pyrocumulonimbus.
The occurrence of firestorms is increasing in Australia; there have been more than 50 in the period 2001-18. During a six-week period earlier this year, 18 confirmed pyrocumulonimbus formed, mainly over the Victorian High Country.
A pyrocumulonimbus cloud generated by a bushfire in Licola,Victoria, on March 2, 2019. Elliot Leventhal, Author providedIt's not clear whether the current bushfires will spawn any firestorms. But with the frequency of extreme fires set to increase due to hotter and drier conditions, it’s worth taking a closer look at how firestorms happen, and what effects they produce.

What is a firestorm?
The term “firestorm” is a contraction of “fire thunderstorm”. In simple terms, they are thunderstorms generated by the heat from a bushfire.
In stark contrast to typical bushfires, which are relatively easy to predict and are driven by the prevailing wind, firestorms tend to form above unusually large and intense fires.
If a fire encompasses a large enough area (called “deep flaming”), the upward movement of hot air can cause the fire to interact with the atmosphere above it, potentially forming a pyrocloud. This consists of smoke and ash in the smoke plume, and water vapour in the cloud above.
If the conditions are not too severe, the fire may produce a cloud called a pyrocumulus, which is simply a cloud that forms over the fire. These are typically benign and do not affect conditions on the ground.
But if the fire is particularly large or intense, or if the atmosphere above it is unstable, this process can give birth to a pyrocumulonimbus – and that is an entirely more malevolent beast.

What effects do firestorms produce?
A pyrocumulonibus cloud is much like a normal thunderstorm that forms on a hot summer’s day. The crucial difference here is that this upward movement is caused by the heat from the fire, rather than simply heat radiating from the ground.
Conventional thunderclouds and pyrocumulonimbus share similar characteristics. Both form an anvil-shaped cloud that extends high into the troposphere (the lower 10-15km of the atmosphere) and may even reach into the stratosphere beyond.
NASA image of pyrocumulonimbus formation in Argentina, January 2018. NASAThe weather underneath these clouds can be fierce. As the cloud forms, the circulating air creates strong winds with dangerous, erratic “downbursts” – vertical blasts of air that hit the ground and scatter in all directions.
In the case of a pyrocumulonimbus, these downbursts have the added effect of bringing dry air down to the surface beneath the fire. The swirling winds can also carry embers over huge distances. Ember attack has been identified as the main cause of property loss in bushfires, and the unpredictable downbursts make it impossible to determine which direction the wind will blow across the ground. The wind direction may suddenly change, catching people off guard.
Firestorms also produce dry lightning, potentially sparking new fires, which may then merge or coalesce into a larger flaming zone.
In rare cases, a firestorm can even morph into a “fire tornado”. This is formed from the rotating winds in the convective column of a pyrocumulonimbus. They are attached to the firestorm and can therefore lift off the ground.
This happened during the infamous January 2003 Canberra bushfires, when a pyrotornado tore a path near Mount Arawang in the suburb of Kambah.

A fire tornado in Kambah, Canberra, 2003 (contains strong language).

Understandably, firestorms are the most dangerous and unpredictable manifestations of a bushfire, and are impossible to suppress or control. As such, it is vital to evacuate these areas early, to avoid sending fire personnel into extremely dangerous areas.
The challenge is to identify the triggers that cause fires to develop into firestorms. Our research at UNSW, in collaboration with fire agencies, has made considerable progress in identifying these factors. They include “eruptive fire behaviour”, where instead of a steady rate of fire spread, once a fire interacts with a slope, the plume may attach to the ground and rapidly accelerate up the hill.
Another process, called “vorticity-driven lateral spread”, has also been recognised as a good indicator of potential fire blow-up. This occurs when a fire spreads laterally along a ridge line instead of following the direction of the wind.
Although further refinement is still needed, this kind of knowledge could greatly improve decision-making processes on when and where to deploy on-ground fire crews, and when to evacuate before the situation turns deadly.

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(AU) Sydney's Bushfire Smoke Haze Leaves 60 People Needing Treatment From Paramedics

Lethal Heating - 20 November, 2019 - 04:00
ABC News

Sydney was wreathed in bushfire smoke. (ABC News)

Key Points
  • Sydneysiders woke to a thick blanket of smoke on Tuesday morning
  • It was from a bushfire at Gospers Mountain, north-west of Sydney
  • The Rural Fire Service is monitoring dozens of blazes around the state
The thick layer of bushfire smoke blanketing Sydney on Tuesday morning has largely moved on, but dozens of Sydneysiders required medical assistance from the haze.
At least 60 people were treated by paramedics for health complications caused by the smoke haze, according to NSW Ambulance.
Superintendent Jordan Emery said some calls for help were severe and required transport to hospital.
"Western Sydney has been particularly heavily affected as a result of the proximity to the bushfire burning just north of Sydney," he said.
Superintendent Emery said that although older people were more vulnerable to respiratory problems, younger people with asthma also required assistance today.
Authorities said while conditions had improved in Sydney's west, further east and around the CBD the air had not completely cleared.
The haze came amid total fire bans in many parts of the state, and forecasts of a heatwave later this week, with temperatures expected to climb past 40 degrees Celsius in some areas.
Sydney CBD blanketed with a smoke haze on Tuesday. (AAP: Joel Carrett) Emergency Information
The Department of Environment said the smoke pushed air quality beyond "hazardous" levels in Sydney's north-west, and NSW's northern tablelands and north-west slopes.
NSW Health's Director of Environmental Health Doctor Richard Broome said the bad air quality and hot temperatures posed a serious risk.
"If you are somewhere where it's smoky it continues to be really important to avoid outdoor physical activity if you can.
"Especially if you're someone who has a chronic respiratory or heart condition and are more sensitive to smoke."
The smoke spread from the Gospers Mountain fire, which has burnt more than 120,000 hectares north-west of Sydney and remains out of control.
Hot and dry conditions also created challenging conditions for firefighters at Ebor, between Armidale and Coffs Harbour.
There are dozens of fires burning across the state and today's conditions had the Rural Fire Service (RFS) on high alert.
There are 1,400 firefighters working to curb the spread of those fires, but RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said there was "the potential for real challenges".
Smoke haze blanketing the Parramatta River near Rhodes. (AAP: Danny Casey)"We've got not only these high temperatures, the mid to high 30s, the dry atmosphere, but we've got this real mix of converging winds today," he said.
A northerly wind will make its way down the coast and inland, before swinging around to the south-west and strengthening, and later a blustery southerly will travel up the coast.

How to cope with the smoke
Just  because you don't live in the bush doesn't mean you're immune to the health effects of bushfires. Here's how to manage the risks.Keep windows and doors shut
The air quality was worst in western Sydney, around Richmond and Rouse Hill, where air pollution is around two to three times the national standard.
Dr Broome said the risks from the smoke were minor for most people, with sore eyes and a sore throat the most common symptoms.
However, people who have pre-existing conditions like asthma or emphysema may be at slightly higher risk of developing problems.
"[For those people] it's actually better to stay indoors, keeping your windows and doors shut," he said.
But with no end in sight for the fires, which kicked off earlier than normal this year, Dr Broome advised people to adapt.
"People just need to build it into their routine a little bit for the next period of time," he said.
Dr Broome also said it could be smoky again tomorrow, with that pattern continuing until the end of the week.
"It's also going to be very hot, especially in Western Sydney and further north in New South Wales. We're expecting heatwave conditions, mostly from Wednesday onwards," he said.
The smoke came from a bushfire in Gospers Mountain, north-west of Sydney. (ABC News: Antonette Collins)Many Sydneysiders struggled in this morning's smoky conditions.
"My eyes are stinging, my daughter's coughing her guts out," said one woman at Milsons Point.
Another said: "It's disgusting. I was woken up about two o'clock this morning and it was terrible."
"I'm finding it difficult to breathe and I don't have any health issues."
Some people exercising outdoors were unfazed by the health warnings. (ABC News: Antonette Collins)
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(AU) Doctors 'Obliged To Speak On Climate Risk' As Smoke Blankets Sydney

Lethal Heating - 20 November, 2019 - 04:00
SBS News

High temperatures mixed with changeable winds will likely spread flames in different directions and pose challenges for tired NSW firefighters.
The Sydney Business District seen through smoke haze in Sydney, Tuesday, 19 November, 2019. Source: AAPDoctors have a responsibility to speak out about the dire health impacts of climate change, an expert says, as bushfires burning across NSW create hazardous air pollution in Sydney.
Sydney woke to a thick blanket of smoke as NSW residents are urged to "stay vigilant" amid severe fire dangers and a hot, windy weather forecast.
Parts of the city reached unhealthy levels of air pollution due to smoke from the fires on Tuesday, with areas in north-west Sydney matching the level of air pollution in New Dehli.
Most of NSW's east coast is under severe or very high fire danger ratings as almost 50 blazes burn across the state, with more than half of those uncontained.
Darren Irwin from Muogamarra brigade posted a message this morning on a local community Facebook page which sums up the smoke nicely. Thanks Darren for the artwork!A "watch and act" alert was on Tuesday morning issued for an 11,000-hectare blaze at Guyra Road in Ebor, east of Armidale. Activity on the fire's southern edge has increased but the blaze remains under control.
"It's fair to say all of these fires have got the potential to present real challenges today," Rural Fire Service NSW Chief Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said on Tuesday.
The smoke filled sky of Sydney. Good luck to the fire fighters pic.twitter.com/j1QJ0AG1Xc— Rob D'Elsini (@BobbieDownunder) November 18, 2019#Sydney is also known as the 'big smoke' and is living up to the nickname today. #Bushfire smoke will slowly ease during the day, increasing tonight. A Poor air quality alert is current. Latest air quality: https://t.co/WnjvEYhOiq Latest weather forecast: https://t.co/swGZ6BSLY0 pic.twitter.com/6Ba4IgZRIH— Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales (@BOM_NSW) November 18, 2019But Public health physician Dr Kate Charlesworth said the medical profession has an obligation to discuss the link between climate change and poor health.
"From a health perspective, refusing to talk about these bushfires is like refusing to talk about smoking and lung cancer," she told AAP.
"There's a proud history of health professionals standing up on issues of importance - think of asbestos and tobacco control - that is our role."
Dr Charlesworth says doctors are increasingly seeing the health impacts of climate change on patients and speaking up is "part of our duty of care".
The Doctors for the Environment Australia members said poor air quality caused by bushfire smoke puts vulnerable groups at risk, including people with pre-existing heart and lung disease as well as the elderly, babies and young children.
Dr Kate Charlesworth. GREENPEACE"The key thing is people need to keep their medication at hand - they need to stay indoors, avoid exercise, and see their doctor if they feel it's necessary," Dr Charlesworth said.
The central Sydney air quality rating is poor and people with asthma or other breathing issues are advised to stay indoors, avoid outdoor exercise and seek medical advice as needed. Visibility is also extremely low.
In Sydney's northwest, air quality has been deemed hazardous, with Rouse Hill and Prospect the worst affected areas.
Following weeks of difficult bushfire conditions and last week's 'catastrophic" warnings, Mr Fitzsimmons said it was crucial people didn't take anything for granted.
"The last thing we want is lethargy or complacency or fatigue to set in when it comes to monitoring these conditions," he said.
Six lives and 530 homes have been lost since the NSW bushfire season hit some weeks ago, with more than 420 homes destroyed in the past fortnight alone.
It's quite smoky in Sydney today. Had to shut all the windows. #Sydney #smoke pic.twitter.com/3Zx7fR1Tr3— Ali R. Moeinian (@alremo__) November 18, 2019Parts of the state under severe fire danger on Tuesday are Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter, Illawarra-Shoalhaven, Southern Ranges and Central Ranges fire regions.
These regions, along with the Northern Slopes and North Western regions, are also under a total fire ban.
Much of the rest of eastern NSW is under very high fire danger.
Wildlife that survived the bushfire in Wollemi National Park near Sydney graze for food, Sunday, November 17, 2019. AAPSome 1.6 million hectares of land have been lost so far - more than the entire 1993/1994 bushfire season.
Emergency Services Minister David Elliott on Monday said the biggest risk this week would be firefighters becoming fatigued.
A DC10 air tanker has been drafted in from North America to help drop up to 38,000 litres of water and retardant on blazes and efforts will be bolstered by help from New Zealand firefighters, Mr Elliott said.

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(AU) Climate Change And The Economy Are Linked — It's Time The Morrison Government Accepts That

Lethal Heating - 20 November, 2019 - 04:00
ABC NewsIan Verrender

The PM can see fires burning, he and others may need to act. (AAP: Lukas Coch)Time is a precious commodity. And it is rapidly running out for the Federal Government on two key fronts.
With fires raging across a parched eastern Australia, exacting an intolerable toll on life and property even before the onset of summer, the Government is facing a growing backlash against its long-held belief that our energy should be generated by antiquated, coal-fired steam engines that pollute the atmosphere and accelerate the onset of global warming.
Given the prospect of another scorching summer, pressure is likely to build for a coherent, science-based climate and energy policy given the devastating impact climate change is having on the nation and the economy.
It's now clear that it is not just rising sea levels that pose challenges for Australia as rural output declines and the economy takes a direct hit — not from drowning, but burning.
The three factors demand
Morrison rethink climate approach
Scott Morrison doesn't see climate change as a central issue for the Government, but when the nation's top fire chiefs call him out he should listen, writes Michelle Grattan.
Equally contentious is Canberra's rigid determination to deliver a budget surplus even as the economy weakens, which runs the risk of transforming a prolonged downturn into something quite ugly.
It's a stance that has put it at loggerheads with an increasingly desperate Reserve Bank now being forced to canvas an array of unpalatable policy options in an effort to stave off recession.
At the May federal election, financials trumped the environment, once again validating the advice to Bill Clinton in his campaign against George Bush: it's the economy, stupid.
Both issues, however, have begun to intersect and being behind on both fronts at the next election would be political suicide.

Rate cuts not enough to boost growth
There's little doubt interest rates will be cut to 0.5 per cent by February and that, in the absence of direct government stimulus, rates will be lower than otherwise necessary and for a much longer period. Every economic indicator is weakening.
Inflation has been below stall-speed for almost four years. Growth is sputtering, at its slowest since the financial crisis a decade ago. Wages growth has stagnated to near all-time lows. Retail spending is in reverse. Household debt, meanwhile, remains among the highest in the world.
The one area of relative strength in recent years — employment — also has begun to deteriorate. For the first time in three years, figures released last week showed jobs were lost in October.
While monthly employment numbers are notoriously volatile, all the signals were discouraging. The number of people out of work rose by 17,000 and fewer people were looking for work.
That's despite three interest rate cuts since June to an unprecedented 0.75 per cent and tax cuts that were supposed to jolt the economy out of its funk.
Cutting interest rates — the only real tool the Reserve Bank has — is supposed to encourage households and businesses to borrow and spend, thereby lifting demand, boosting profits and economic growth.
That's not happening, and you don't need to be an economist to understand why. Australian households are hocked to the eyeballs, coming in near the world's most indebted at around 200 per cent of income.
With no wages growth, there is very little desire to take on even more debt, no matter how low rates go.
Rather than borrow more, it's now clear Australians are using the recent cuts to reduce debt. Just 7 per cent of ANZ customers have lowered their mortgage repayments.
The Commonwealth Bank has seen deposits grow 10 per cent, mostly mortgage offset accounts.
That's no bad thing in itself. But it illustrates a key phenomenon that John Maynard Keynes noted. When things look like turning ugly, consumers pull in their horns and spend less. That makes a downturn even worse.

Drought to hit export earnings
The drought of 2002 was among the worst on record. It was followed by one equally as severe in 2006. Back then, the Reserve Bank described weather patterns at the start of this millennium as "exceptional by historical standards".
This drought is just as severe and intensifying.
Where once we had droughts of this magnitude every 40 years (Federation, early 1940s, early 1980s), they are now increasing in frequency and duration.
As this Bureau of Meteorology chart below shows, a substantial portion of the continent has recorded the lowest rainfall on record with a huge proportion either below or very much below average.
The tiny patches of blue show where rainfall has been above average.
The map paints a dire picture of Australia's rainfall. (Supplied: BOM)The extreme rainfall shortages have been accompanied by a steady increase in temperature which is drying out the sub-soil and increasing evaporation rates of surface water.
This adds to the difficulty and length of time farmers face trying to recover and raises questions about our longer term ability to maintain food and fibre exports.
Farm output is likely to be around 8 per cent down on last year's levels, farm profits are off 20 per cent and rural exports are falling.
That will subtract from national economic growth this year at a time when mineral prices are in decline. Iron ore prices are almost 15 per cent below their peak earlier this year.
And that spells pain.

Big business and climate action
Mike Henry was anointed BHP's new chief last week, immediately seizing the opportunity to declare the company — one of the nation's biggest coal miners — was committed to reducing emissions.
A decade ago, then BHP head Marius Kloppers agitated, successfully for a while, for the introduction of a carbon price.
That's put the company on a collision course with various other members of the Minerals Council and the Business Council of Australia.
Insurers, power generators, steel producers and a host of major Australian corporations have embraced the idea that climate change is real, that it is a long term threat to their business and that immediate action needs to be taken. Globally, companies like Shell and BP, major hydrocarbon producers, are committed to a renewable energy future.
For 20 years, however, there has been no consensus in Canberra, no coherent climate policy and repeated failures on energy policy with a continued push from some quarters to produce electricity from new coal burning steam engines.
Australia's carbon emissions reached a new record this year, partly because of a spike in gas exports.
It is debatable that even a shift to a completely renewable energy economy would have halted the devastating drought and fires spreading across the nation. But if we are to become one of the worst affected nations from climate change, perhaps it's time to take a leading role in affecting change.
It just might be good for business.

Categories: External websites

(AU) Australia's Bushfire Politics: The Parties Prevaricate While The Country Burns

Lethal Heating - 19 November, 2019 - 04:00
The Guardian

Summer was yet to begin and the bush was on fire. But the last thing on the government’s mind was climate change
‘Those who linked the bushfires to climate change were “raving inner-city lunatics”, according to the deputy PM.’ Photograph: Jessica Hromas/The GuardianEven for modern Australian political discourse, it jarred.
Michael McCormack, deputy prime minister and representative of regional and rural electorates, began the week by “calling out” those “raving inner-city lunatics” who dared to link climate change with Australia’s worsening bushfire season.
“We’ve had fires in Australia since time began, and what people need now is a little bit of sympathy, understanding and real assistance – they need help, they need shelter,” McCormack told the national broadcaster.
“They don’t need the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time, when they’re trying to save their homes, when in fact they’re going out in many cases saving other peoples’ homes and leaving their own homes at risk.”
The comments were made early Monday morning as the nation woke to learn it was facing a “catastrophic” fire emergency along much of the east coast, with worse conditions to come.Emotions were already high. Three people – Julie Fletcher, George Nole and Vivian Chaplain – had died in the 48 hours prior, as a firestorm swept across their northern New South Wales properties.
Australia has always equated the start of summer with bushfire season. But every year it seems to get earlier. It began in September, the first month of spring, for Queensland, when fire crews battled to save life and property in areas which had stood untouched by bushfires for decades.
Then, rainforest burned. Just over four weeks later and rural firefighter volunteers and emergency service personnel got the call again, with fires stretching from the mid-north coast of NSW to the Queensland border. Summer was yet to begin, and Australia was already on fire.
McCormack’s comments followed criticism of a prime ministerial tweet offering “thoughts and prayers” as the bushfire crisis took hold.
Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been so directly and horribly impacted by these fires. https://t.co/XvgsLv4eht— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) November 9, 2019Scott Morrison, who less than three years ago smuggled a piece of coal into parliament as a question time prop, imploring “this is coal – don’t be afraid, don’t be scared” at the opposition, and now leads a government threatening to crack down on environmental activism against the resource sector, was condemned by Greens MPs for inaction on climate change.
I’m deeply saddened by the loss of life. Hearts go out to all affected & to brave firefighters.

But words & concern are not enough.

The PM does not have the climate emergency under control.

Unless we lead a global effort to quit coal & cut pollution, more lives will be lost.— Adam Bandt (@AdamBandt) November 9, 2019It was in that context that McCormack, in the face of disgruntled rumblings within his own party room, where a former leader who maintains electoral popularity and media cut-through still sits, turned his outrage meter to 11, sparking Australia’s week of stupid in the process.
From the ABC studios in Sydney, the interview spread as quickly as smoke. From Ballarat in the south-east to South Australia’s border towns, Townsville in the north, Perth in the west and everywhere in between, McCormack’s “raving inner-city lunatics” comments overshadowed almost everything but the fire coverage itself.
It set the tone for the week in political discourse. Wanting to talk about climate change as a cause of the increasingly unpredicted and unprecedented bushfires marked you as a “leftie”. Those on the right pointed to “Green party” policies as having stymied hazard reduction efforts and other fire preparations.
Neither was true. But McCormack’s comments took hold, fuelling debate about whether or not Australia was allowed to have a debate on climate change as more than 100 fires scarred the landscape and capital cities were choked by smoky haze.
More than 2,000 news articles, opinion pieces, radio slots and TV segments were taken up by the comments. The prime minister and his opposition counterpart shared a “not today” unity ticket whenever climate change was raised, while authorities, past and current, stressed all preparations had been made within a shortening window of time, exacerbated by the record drought, as they tried to inject some facts into the debate.
McCormack’s comments were still ringing around the country as the man who used to hold his position, as deputy prime minister and leader of the National party, attempted to interject his own take into the debate. Barnaby Joyce didn’t want to attack the Greens, he told Sky News, because two of the people who died, had “most likely” voted for the party.
Joyce had raised his view of the deceased’s voting preference apropos of nothing.
He’d been asked about firefighting resources, but the man once described as Australia’s “best retail politician” strayed into voting beliefs in a garbled bid to explain sections of his northern NSW electorate.
“I acknowledge that the two people who died were most likely people who voted for the Green party, so I am not going to start attacking them,” he told Sky News, in comments that flashed around the nation.
“That’s the last thing I want to do. What I wanted to concentrate on is the policies that we can [use to] mitigate these tragedies happening again in the future.”
He agreed climate change was an issue but maintained the solution to Australia’s coming bushfire woes was to get back to hazard reduction burning, claiming fire authorities could do it in “the winter” and that the process “has been confounded by excessive bureaucracy”.
“And I think that the bureaucracy is driven by, let’s call it by conservation principle, by people who do not live in the forest, they do not live near the area.”
Again, fire authorities pushed back, calling out the claim as a furphy, and maintaining fire season preparation, including hazard reduction burns, had been done, but the old ways of preparing Australia’s bush no longer addressed the rapidly coming new normal.
But more than 1,000 media pieces later, Joyce’s words had taken hold. The following day, they were echoed by a fellow backbencher, this time from the Liberal party benches, with Craig Kelly taking one line from a scientific paper which found the amount of land burned by wildfires had decreased globally by 24% in the past two decades, and using it to explain to Sky News why Australia’s early bushfire season, already rated catastrophic, was not overly unusual.
But he neglected to mention the research pointing to human changes in the landscape, where environments had been altered for agriculture, as the leading explanation for the decrease. Instead, Kelly said, someone needed to tackle the Greens’ mentality that had led to a reduction in hazard reduction burns.
Again, apolitical fire experts, who had been responsible for preparing entire Australian states for bushfire seasons, dismissed the claims as false. Misleading. A furphy. A lie. But with talkback radio hosts and TV talking heads “asking the question” of Australia’s political armchair expert class, the narrative stranglehold remained.
On Tuesday, the same day Joyce was linking voting preferences with those who had died, the Greens senator Jordon Steele-John accused the major parties of being “no better than a bunch of arsonists” for supporting coal-fired power stations.
“How dare any of you suggest that in this moment at this time it is appropriate to be prosecuting a piece of legislation with the aim of propping up coal,” he announced to the Senate chamber.
“You are no better than a bunch of arsonists – borderline arsonists – and you should be ashamed.”
The condemnation was swift. But again, the comments had taken hold.
On Friday, after a week of back and forth about who was allowed to speak on what issues, and when, and a fourth death was announced, the National Parks Association of NSW issued a statement calling for the “all-too familiar claims after each fire disaster” – the lack of prescribed burning – to stop.
“[It’s] not only unhelpful, it’s dangerous and takes away from the importance of developing new ways to deal with the increased threat fire is having on our communities.”
What was needed, the group said, was pushing emotion to the side, and listening to the experts.
“Focusing purely on hazard reduction, and in one tenure at that, is a recipe for future disaster.”
At the same time, mayors of fire-stricken communities, representing a wide swathe of the political divide, came together to plead for the government to “acknowledge the link between climate change and bushfire,” and to provide more funding and leadership as Australia was pushed into a new reality: anticipating the previously unprecedented.
But from the major parties and their leadership, there was nothing, as the “not today” bipartisan narrative held.
With authorities warning the latest threat is not over, and to brace for a potentially catastrophic summer, it will be months before the smoke clears.

Categories: External websites

(AU) Actually, It Is Climate Change

Lethal Heating - 19 November, 2019 - 04:00
The Saturday PaperMike Seccombe

As the prime minister refuses to discuss the science linking climate change and the bushfires burning in eastern Australia, former Howard adviser Geoff Cousins compares the political strategy to the tactics of the American gun lobby.
Firefighters from the ACT on watch and act near Possum Brush, just south of Taree, NSW, on Tuesday. Credit: Stephen Dupont for The Saturday PaperThe quote you are about to read did not come from Scott Morrison, although our prime minister repeatedly invoked the same sentiments this week, every time someone asked him about the role of climate change in eastern Australia’s unprecedented bushfires.
“This sort of response isn’t helpful. Families are mourning. Offer a prayer and temper your desire for politics …”
Nor is this next quote from New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who deemed it “inappropriate” to talk about the causes of climate change while her state was burning:
“This is a time for people to grieve, to mourn, and to heal. This is not a time for political discussions or public policy debates.”
Those words aren’t attributable to Barnaby Joyce or Michael McCormack, or John Barilaro, or any of the other advocates of a bigger Australian fossil fuel industry. Nor was it Joel Fitzgibbon, or other “coalies” on the Labor side.
Actually, the quotes come from the United States’ National Rifle Association. The first was in response to the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, in which nearly 60 people were killed and more than 400 were injured. The second came after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, in which 32 died and 17 were wounded.
Whenever there is a gun atrocity in the US, the first response of the NRA and its political acolytes is to say words to the effect of “now is not the time to talk about it”. By expressing concern for the victims and the bereaved, and by implying insensitivity on the part of those who would debate the underlying causes of the tragedy, they seek to avoid scrutiny of their culpability. The expectation is that, given a little time, the populace and media cycle will move on.
Geoff Cousins has seen the tactic deployed before in this country. Some 23 years ago, the corporate heavyweight accepted a job as an adviser to the then recently elected prime minister, John Howard, just before Howard was called to respond to Australia’s worst act of domestic terrorism, in which 35 people were killed and at least 18 wounded at Port Arthur.
Cousins was privy to the government’s internal division about how to respond to Martin Bryant’s murderous rampage. He was there when Howard faced down those in his own party, and particularly those in the National Party, who argued it was the wrong time to talk about tighter gun laws, so soon after the event.
“Howard said, ‘Wrong, this is precisely the time to talk about gun control. And more than that it’s precisely the time to do something about it.’ And he did,” Cousins says.
“And now we have a prime minister who is doing precisely the opposite.”
When The Saturday Paper spoke to Cousins on Wednesday this week, he had just driven hundreds of kilometres through the charred and smoky countryside to Sydney from his own tinder-dry but mercifully unburnt property in northern NSW. He recalled one visual memory that remains particularly clear in his mind after so many years.
“As John Howard walked out of the memorial service for the victims, he saw one of the fathers whose son had died, and immediately went and embraced him.”
It was not staged, but the media caught the powerful moment. This week, there was a similar picture of Morrison hugging a man whose home had been lost to the fires.
A similar image, but an entirely different subtext, Cousins says. Howard’s spontaneous gesture conveyed not only sympathy but also a promise of change that might prevent future tragedies.
“It was,” Cousins says, “an absolute sign that action would be taken.” By contrast, Morrison’s embrace offered “some sort of hollow comfort, without any action”.
“Morrison and all the others – the deputy prime minister, all the cabinet ministers who refuse to talk about it – are hollow men,” Cousins says. “And their gestures are hollow gestures.”
Cousins says the response of government this week to those who talked about fossil fuel and climate change was straight out of the NRA playbook.
Fires around the Hillville area west of Taree, NSW, on Tuesday. (Credit: Stephen Dupont for The Saturday Paper)But here’s the thing: the prime minister, who styles himself as the champion of quiet Australians, failed to make Australians quiet. People – not just the usual advocates of climate action, but also rural mayors, firefighters and fire victims – continued to demand the government acknowledge the causes of the disaster and commit to action.
Take Fiona Lee, for example. Until last Friday she lived with her partner and their three-year-old daughter in a house they built themselves at Warrawillah, near Bobin, south-west of Port Macquarie, on the NSW mid north coast.
“Actually, decades ago was precisely the right time to talk about climate change and a lot of people are furious, myself included, that the government has ignored the warnings.”About 1pm that day, a fire that had been burning in nearby bush for about two weeks turned towards their property. They made the decision to evacuate. A few hours later, their house was engulfed by flames.
The now homeless family stayed one night with friends in nearby Wingham, but when that little town also came under fire threat they moved on to Newcastle. On Tuesday, they hit the road again, to Sydney, where they joined a protest outside state parliament. Among the several hundred gathered there were a few other people directly affected, and the crowd heard messages of support from other fire victims who couldn’t be there in person. Lee brought with her a small metal drum. In it were ashes of her home.
“We felt compelled to go down there and call on politicians to face the truth,” she told The Saturday Paper.
“The government has no right to tell us not to talk about what’s causing this. I feel that the majority of people that have been affected by this, and I’ve been talking to them, believe that now is precisely the right time to talk about it. Actually, decades ago was precisely the right time to talk about it and a lot of people are furious, myself included, that they have ignored the warnings.”
Apart from the threshold issue of fossil fuels’ contribution to climate change, she says, there are questions about government’s preparedness to deal with the megafires caused by global heating.
“On the basis of firsthand experience on the ground, it doesn’t seem to me that the RFS [Rural Fire Service] had enough resources,” she says. “In our local area there was just a handful of really dedicated guys protecting 30 or more properties. There was no sign of helicopters or other aircraft.”
Lee accepts they had to prioritise areas of higher population, but thinks they should be able to do both.
Back in April, more than 20 former fire chiefs from all states and territories issued a joint statement making the same points: that climate change was lengthening Australia’s fire season and making fires more intense. They called for increased resources for forestry management, national parks, and urban and rural fire services. And they noted that many governments were instead cutting the budgets for these services. They were ignored.
Another point the fire chiefs emphasised was that fires are affecting areas that have never burned before.
Mark Graham, an ecologist, can attest to that.
“There are areas now burning at an intensity and in a season at which they never have before,” he says.
“And there are communities, vegetation communities such as rainforest communities, which have ancient lineages, where fire has simply never occurred, moist refuges in the landscape since before the break-up of Gondwana, back 60, 80, 100 million years.”
When his father, also an ardent environmentalist, died five years ago, Graham decided the best way to spend his inheritance was to buy and protect some of this land. He acquired 400 hectares on the Dorrigo plateau, “recognised as one of the greatest refuges of ancient biodiversity on the planet”.
He had a little cabin on it and at night he could shine a spotlight on a big old tree, in which lived a family of greater gliders, the world’s largest gliding marsupial, and a species listed as nationally vulnerable.
“The tree is a pile of ashes on the ground now,” he says. “It burned in the first week of spring, and that fire is still burning, 10 weeks later.”
Even if the animals survived the fire, they will probably starve. Graham says the blaze took out 80 per cent of the vegetation on his property, along with the cabin, part of a cumulative total approaching 400,000 hectares.
“We’re basically dealing with walls of fire,” he says, “burning through landscapes that are not fire-adapted, and which have been refuges going back into deep, deep time. The consequences for the biodiversity will be dire.”
Fires around the Hillville area west of Taree, NSW, on Tuesday. (Credit: Stephen Dupont for The Saturday Paper)There would be ongoing human consequences, too. Three major water sources beginning in the fire-affected area – the Bellinger, Orara and Nymboida Rivers – provide water for about 160,000 residents on the coast nearby. Those rivers now are laden with ash and sediment.
That’s what an ecologist says, but what does the government say?
On Monday the federal leader of the Nationals, Michael McCormack, went on ABC Radio’s RN Breakfast to talk about how people shouldn’t be talking about climate change.
He said Australia had always burned.
The thing that set McCormack off was a media release issued last Saturday by Greens MP Adam Bandt, in which Bandt noted that the government had ignored the warning of the fire chiefs about the catastrophic threat. He also pointed out that Australia’s coal industry was a major contributor to global heating, and that “apocalyptic scenes like these will not only continue but get worse in the years to come” unless Australia and the world stopped using fossil fuels.
All this was factually accurate and inarguable on the science. The tendentious bit was where he suggested Scott Morrison, through his support for the fossil fuel industry, had “contributed to making it more likely that these kinds of tragedies will occur”.
Bandt called on the prime minister to “apologise to the Australian people for putting their towns and lives at risk”.
McCormack was livid. What people needed now, he said, was real practical assistance, not “the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital-city greenies”.
When program host Hamish Macdonald repeatedly pointed out that concerns about climate change and demands for greater government action were not coming from only the urban Greens, but also from rural mayors, former and current firefighters, and fire victims themselves, the deputy prime minister dodged. He even suggested the 23 former fire chiefs might be a “front group” for the Greens.
Then he abruptly shifted his argument, moving to step two of the NRA playbook: shift the blame.
“We need our state forests and our parks [personnel] to be able to go in and clean up some of the fuel load,” he said. “What we want to see is not those areas locked up for just ecotourism …”
Later that day, on 2GB Radio, shock jock Ray Hadley and McCormack’s state counterpart, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, escalated the blame-shifting. The real culprits, they argued, were “lefties” and “greenies” who opposed hazard reduction burning.
“When are we going to have the discussion, after this is all over, about the fervent opposition from the Greens to hazard reduction burns?” Hadley said.
Barilaro asked a similar question: “While we lock up national parks and allow that fuel load on the forest floor to grow, why are we surprised when these fires hit they are at the intensity that they are at?”
They could not have been more wrong. For a start, just 9 per cent of NSW is “locked up”, the second-lowest proportion in Australia, after Queensland’s 8 per cent. Second, if those parks are less well tended than they should be, it is substantially because the Berejiklian government cut a total of $121 million from the parks budget for 2016-17 and 2017-18, and a further $80 million in its most recent budget.
More importantly, though, neither the Greens nor any of Australia’s main conservation groups express “fervent opposition” to hazard reduction. They accept that many of Australia’s ecosystems are fire-adapted and need occasional burning to maintain biodiversity.
And while they apply certain caveats – about fire intensity, which ecosystems should and should not be burned et cetera – their position on fire, like their position on climate change, reflects the best science. To suggest otherwise is to be guilty of either ignorance or deliberate untruth.
Many experts – among them Professor Ross Bradstock, director of the Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires at the University of Wollongong, and former NSW fire and rescue commissioner Greg Mullins – are signatories to the statement about climate change and fire risk that the government ignored.
“Blaming ‘greenies’ for stopping these important measures is a familiar, populist, but basically untrue claim,” Mullins says.
Hazard reduction burning – that is, low-intensity burning of the combustible litter on the ground – can be very effective in the right place at the right time, says Brendan Mackey, director of the Climate Change Response Program at Griffith University.
The major impediment to such burns, he says, has actually been climate change itself. As the fire season lengthens and south-east Australia dries out, the opportunity for using controllable, low-intensity fire to burn off the litter shrinks.
And there are some forest types – wet sclerophyll and rainforest – that are not amenable to hazard reduction. They are not fire-adapted and, furthermore, most of the time they are too moist to ignite. When they are dry enough to burn, it is too dangerous to burn them.
For the type of fires we are seeing at the moment, Mackey says, hazard reduction burning would make little difference.
“When you have catastrophic fire weather, you have catastrophic fire irrespective of the fuel load. It doesn’t matter if you have burned off the litter, because a catastrophic fire goes through the canopy and showers embers kilometres ahead of the fire front.”
We now are faced, he says, with a “different type of fire”. The fire hazard index, a formulation from the 1970s based on temperature, dryness, fuel load and wind, had begun to register values greater than the maximum on the scale. Hence the new category of “catastrophic” – used for the first time in Sydney this week.
“That’s what has happened with 1 degree of climate warming: we’re getting higher fire hazard ratings, earlier and longer fire seasons, and we’re getting them in areas of Australia where we have never had them before,” Mackey says.
“If the world fails to mitigate greenhouse emissions, quickly, by 2040 we will get 1.5 degrees of global warming … By the end of this century, three to five. You can only imagine the consequences.”
This week those consequences became a little easier to imagine, and that is the problem for Australia’s major political parties, neither of which betrays any intention to seriously address the climate crisis.
As the week wore on, the efforts by right-wing politicians and their media surrogates to distract and lay off blame grew more ridiculous. Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, a climate change denier of long standing, told Sky News that changes to the sun’s magnetic field could be the cause of the fires. He also, unaccountably, speculated that two people who died in the fires were probably Greens voters.
Graham Lloyd, the environment editor for The Australian, managed to find an elderly hippie from Nimbin – Michael Balderstone, who has stood on multiple occasions for the Help End Marijuana Prohibition Party – who blamed “greenies” for the fires on the grounds that he had been prevented from gathering firewood in national parks.
This was how desperate some in Australia – in the press and in politics – were to avoid talking about the reality of climate change. That reality is that Australia will not – on the evidence supplied by the government’s own bureaucrats – make the necessary reductions to our domestic emissions to meet our Paris carbon reduction targets. Despite this, both major parties remain committed to mining ever more fossil fuels.
Morrison said as much two weeks ago, to a meeting of coal interests in Queensland. His government is working on new laws to punish people who lobby against investment in fossil fuel projects. More effort is being directed here than to climate mitigation.
In the next couple of weeks, the NSW Coalition government hopes to pass new legislation specifically prohibiting its Independent Planning Commission and Land and Environment Court from considering greenhouse gas emissions when assessing proposals for new export coalmines. The Queensland Labor government recently fast-tracked approvals for the Adani megamine.
Fires around the Hillville area west of Taree, NSW, on Tuesday. (Credit: Stephen Dupont for The Saturday Paper)The burning of fossil fuels already causes millions of deaths each year, according to the World Health Organisation, through air pollution. The organisation calculated that, from 2030 to 2050, there would be 250,000 additional deaths a year linked to global heating, as a result of heat stress, malnutrition and the spread of disease.
Two weeks ago, air pollution in Delhi rose to more than 20 times the WHO limit of safety. Breathing the air was equivalent to smoking 40 to 50 cigarettes a day.
This past northern summer saw hundreds of wildfires burning across millions of hectares of the Arctic, from Alaska to Russia to Scandinavia and Greenland. In California last year, fires raged across more than 750,000 hectares. Some 100 people died and the cost in insurance claims alone was more than $US12 billion. This year, another 100,000 hectares burned.
Spain and Greece were ravaged by deadly fires driven by dry winds and record temperatures this northern summer. Across the countries of the European Union, 1600 fires were recorded to mid-August – more than three times the long-term yearly average.
The litany of disaster goes on and on. The science is unequivocal; the changes are happening even faster than it predicted.
According to the most recent Climate of the Nation survey, released by The Australia Institute in September, 76 per cent of Australians believed climate change is causing more bushfires. No doubt recent events have increased that number.
In the US, a similar percentage of people tell pollsters they support tighter restrictions on guns. Yet the NRA remains powerful. Nothing changes.
The fossil fuel lobby in this country, like the gun lobby there, retains its hold on politics with its playbook and its chequebook. And it will keep on winning until the people muster the political will to back their beliefs.
Maybe this week shows that is beginning to happen.

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(AU) Barnaby And The Idiot Foghorns: Not Everyone Got The Memo About 'Quiet Australians'

Lethal Heating - 19 November, 2019 - 04:00
Sydney Morning HeraldJacqueline Maley

The Uluru Statement From the Heart, with its reasoned call for constitutional recognition, has become such a politicised issue that it is easy to forget what a beautiful piece of writing it is. It is not even 500 words, but within it is a world: the struggle, tragedy and dignity of one of the world’s oldest living cultures.
It discusses the ancestral ties of First Nations peoples to the land, unextinguished by colonisation. It talks about children stolen and incarcerated.
Did I really say that? Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce. Credit: Alex Ellinghausen"This is the torment of our powerlessness," it reads.
The torment of that powerlessness was splashed across television screens and newspapers this week when a Northern Territory cop allegedly shot and killed 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker in the remote community of Yuendumu, his home.
It was tragic news at the end of a tragic week, and I keep thinking about that phrase, about the torment of powerlessness, because it seems to be everywhere at the moment.
It’s there in the voices of the coalition of 23 fire and emergency leaders from across the federation, the Emergency Leaders for Climate Change, who say climate change is the key reason that fires are harder to control and why the fire season is lengthening.
They have tried to relay this message to the Prime Minister but he can’t find time to meet them, so this week they went public.Others are taking back power by marching in the streets in frustration, and some are doing it by spending their money consciously, or pressuring companies through the secondary boycotts the Prime Minister has said he wants to outlaw.The Prime Minister loves to talk about the "Canberra bubble" and its irrelevance to the lives of everyday Australians.
I wonder if he’s noticed the bubble is spreading, and enveloping more aspects of our lives, so that little is sacred anymore, from being politicised in the vilest way.

And the people doing the politicising – stop press – are not ordinary folk. They’re politicians, idiot foghorns like Barnaby Joyce, who this week referred to two of the people killed in the bushfires as "Greens voters", followed by an assurance that he was not going to attack them.A close second was Greens senator Jordon Steele-John who used his Senate platform to call Liberal and Labor politicians "arsonists" over their support for the "big stick" energy legislation – a long bow even for the politically desperate.Politicians like to talk sentimentally about how much Australians pull together in a crisis, putting aside differences to help out their neighbours. And of course they have during these bushfires. We always do, when it comes to natural disasters. It was the politicians who failed to. And they keep failing.Increasingly it feels the government, so keen to invoke its "quiet Australians", is using the phrase as a gag on debate. "Quiet Australians" is a genius political term – mystical and impossible to disprove. If you self-nominate as one, you ain’t one.
Strangely the quiet Australians’ biggest boosters in the media tend to be the loudest, un-drown-outable voices.Elsewhere, the quiet is spreading and it’s starting to feel eerie: talk about climate change during the bushfires was treated as a ghastly breach of an invisible etiquette code, with politicians behaving like characters from a Harry Potter book who fear naming the saga’s arch villain.On Tuesday Treasurer Josh Frydenberg gave a landmark speech about the great economic challenges of our times, but didn’t mention the C-words.
I didn’t want to write about bushfires and climate change this week because surely everything has been said. But it is impossible to escape the conclusion that it is the story of our times, permeating everything.
Illustration: Reg LynchTake Thursday’s paper: pages of bushfire coverage, more pages of political reaction to the fires, a story about how NSW public servants were specifically told not to answer questions about climate change at a media briefing on the fires, a story about an exhibition of works by the artist Banksy closing early because humidity threatens to damage the works, a report on research published in The Lancet by 120 experts from 35 institutions which says climate change poses an unprecedented health risk to children.Ah, to the world pages, I thought, for some light relief in the form of impeachment proceedings, or unrest in Chile. Nope. The main story was floods in Venice: 80 per cent of the Unesco world heritage site was under water. The Mayor of Venice blamed climate change.
Soon it will be Christmas, and then January, which used to be a lazy month and is now edged with fear. Stand by for a tedious culture war around Australia Day, and on the "un-Australian" attacks on our national day by those of us who support the Change the Date campaign. This movement is yet another example of ordinary Australians circumventing their inadequate political leadership and voting with their feet.
The extraordinary intervention of the federal government, forcing councils to conduct citizenship ceremonies on January 26, is yet another example of it quashing a form of political speech. And yet again, civil society finds another work-around – this week the Inner West Council announced it will drop its Australia Day celebrations altogether.
Every Australian can and should make their own mind up on the issue, but to increasing numbers of non-Indigenous Australians, it feels off-key to celebrate our nationhood on a day that represents tragedy to First Australians. That’s not a denial of our history, it’s a true reckoning with it.It’s a small recognition of the torment of powerlessness, and a small effort to ameliorate it. The government needn’t get involved.

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(AU) 'There's A Passion': Encountering Extinction Rebellion

Lethal Heating - 18 November, 2019 - 04:00
Sydney Morning Herald - Julie Perrin

After a week of disruptive action and widespread demonstrations activists have warned their work has just begun.

The week that the Extinction Rebellion protests begin to block the streets of Melbourne I am parked in a camping area at the southern end of Gariwerd - the Grampians National Park in western Victoria. The bush around the walking trails is studded with wildflowers. But when camping in wild places, your neighbours are an unknown.
One evening my friends and I find ourselves watching a couple of vehicles roll into our remote campsite at dusk. Three people spill out of two four-wheel-drives and begin setting up. One appears solo, down the steps of his car-top camper, wearing his dressing gown. Bemused, we figure that - unlike last night's group - he won’t be staying up late and yahooing into the wee hours. A bit later, the woman comes by our campfire and introduces herself.
Angela Crunden and her partner Tony Peck are from Gippsland. When this composed, silver-haired woman tells us that for the last three days they’ve been protesting with Extinction Rebellion (or XR for short) in Melbourne, our eyebrows lift. These are not the young ‘anarchist’ ratbags Peter Dutton would have us repelling.
“There were 30 of us from Gippsland,” says Crunden, adding with satisfaction, “nine from Gippsland were arrested, including a previous mayor from Bass shire.”
The next day we peel off to other parts of the park, but I arrange to speak with the couple when they’ve returned home.
I discover both have had careers in nursing. They have brought up their children while living off the grid in East Gippsland for 25 years. Retired now, they have moved to Bairnsdale but are still immersed in sustainability practice, from which there is no retirement. The couple have been part of a local environmental coalition for years.
Angela Crunden and her partner Tony Peck came from their home in Bairnsdale, East Gippsland, to take part in Extinction Rebellion protests in Melbourne. Credit: Tony WellsCrunden tells me about earlier lonely moments in which she’s been a sometimes unwelcome presence, setting up a one-person climate change information stall outside her supermarket. When the couple speak about Extinction Rebellion’s group training, artists’ offerings, and practices of non-violence, it is easy to see the appeal of solidarity after such solitary vigils.
I ask them why they were pleased about the arrests. Crunden says: “There’s a passion attached to the sacrifice.”
Peck adds: “When people tell us to stop wasting time protesting, we ask them what alternatives they’d suggest. Invariably they say ‘Talk to local politicians, write to your local member.’ We have been doing that politely for 20 years, and we will continue to do it. But it has not brought about the needed change.”
Prior to the phone call I had researched Extinction Rebellion in Melbourne and internationally. The weight of opinion is against their actions in stopping the traffic, but something else catches my eye.
I see snatches of video and photos of people wearing whiteface and flowing red costumes. At first the red people’s appearance is reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale. But there are no white bonnets. Draped in red, the performers wear headdresses all of a piece with flowing red garments. Performing stylised gestures with great slowness, they offer utter attentiveness towards what is happening around them. Their movements are made in unison, they walk in slow motion and silence.
These visually striking ‘Red Brigades’ remind me of the chorus in classical Greek drama, only in this instance there’s no speaking.
Red Brigade protesters in Russell Street, Melbourne.When Peck describes the Red Brigade in Melbourne, his voice catches. “There is a yearning in their movement. They stood nearby and leant towards the people being arrested. We all felt embraced by their presence.”
Following our call I watch a Red Brigade group from Britain in a YouTube clip called “The Rising Tide”. I am mesmerised. A group of 20 or more descend a sea cliff in Cornwall and process along the beach below - first in rows of pairs and later in a V formation. The video and soundtrack are just over two minutes long - no words are spoken, but there are subtitles and hand-painted banners. The Red Brigade members walk calmly into the sea and stand immersed to their waists, unflinching. The ritual action is complete. Fully clothed in the water they stand together: they are a flock, a massed appearance to remind us of what is disappearing.
There is something about the considered gestures and silent action that speaks to me, a leaning-in to give ear to what is happening. They are bearing witness. I want protests that look like this. Would beauty and sorrow persuade people?
A friend says to me: “You can’t make change elegantly, it doesn’t come without discomfort. Someone has to be rude.”
Remembering the outcry about traffic congestion during the Spring Extinction Rebellion, I ask Crunden and Peck their thoughts on the inconvenience and disruption caused to commuters; it does not sit easily with them.
Police intervene to protect Shaun Islip, lying on the ground, from protesters outside the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre during the climate protests on October 29. Credit: AAPThey are horrified when I tell them about Shaun Islip, a choir leader I’ve met who was thrown to the ground by environmental protesters at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC). Islip had nothing to do with the mining conference - he was going into the venue on October 29 to do a sound check for the WorkSafe conference the following day. The protesters refused to hear this.  Islip was wearing a suit - that, it seems, was his mistake.The Gippsland couple say the XR training they have received is to avoid blaming and shaming any one individual. And Crunden reminds me that in a public context it is hard to control who is representing you. At the rebellion in early October, she felt very concerned when a man in sunglasses and a balaclava tried to attach himself to their group. She spoke to him: “We don’t wear masks like this, it is not XR practice.”
The protests at IMARC were organised by an alliance of groups including Frontline Action on Coal and Socialist Alternative. Extinction Rebellion maintain that they chose not join the blockade part of the protest, as this type of confrontation is not what they seek.
Miriam Robinson, a spokesperson for XR Melbourne, says: “One of the hallmarks of Extinction Rebellion actions is a creative element, often involving music and costumes. We organised actions during IMARC such as a bicycle ride, a 'disgust-ation dinner' and a 'Dance with Death'. The Red Brigade did not attend the IMARC blockade. They decided that this event was not for them.”
She adds: “Some of our people came in the morning, they were free to come as individuals, but when they saw the police, the horses and the shouting, they put their flags away and left."
Several people from XR Gippsland had travelled up to join the actions, but they turned around and went home again.
The Gippsland contingent at the Extinction Rebellion protests in Melbourne.The federal government’s business-as-usual attitude admits little need to respond to extinctions. In his defence of the economy and the "quiet Australians", our prime minister is beginning to shout. But there are thousands of Australians on both sides of the political divide who protest this denial. They come from the country, the suburbs and the city; they have jobs and farms and businesses and children and grandchildren. They are unlikely to accept being dismissed as anarchists or members of cults. And they are less and less likely to remain quiet.

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(AU) We Mustn’t Bring Politics Into The Disastrous Situation That Was Created By ... Wait For It ... POLITICS

Lethal Heating - 18 November, 2019 - 04:00
The Guardian - First Dog On The Moon

Should we only talk about climate change outside the fire season?
 That’ll soon be one (single) Thursday in July (at long as it’s raining)

Cartoon by First Dog on the Moon
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(AU) If You Can’t Talk About Climate When The Country Is Burning, When Can You?

Lethal Heating - 18 November, 2019 - 04:00
The Guardian*

Performance is at the heart of politics. That’s why Labor needs to seize this moment of crisis to push for climate action
‘The PM is expected to be there, touring around, being seen listening to briefings by the local emergency services chief, with a bit of looking at maps and so forth, and showing emotion.’ Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAPIn weeks like this one it becomes quite clear just how much of federal politics is performative. Politicians do things for no discernible reason other than to be seen to be doing something, or to put on a show that will elevate their profile or position.
Once the New South Wales and Queensland fires reached a critical level, politicians were always going to do all they could to be seen to be involved.
The problem is that during such a crisis there is very little for a prime minister to do. He actually has no role – the fire services are state based, and anything that will require federal coordination, whether it be Australian federal police or Australian Defence Force, does not really need the prime minister at all.
In reality, he just gets in the way.
But getting in the way is expected of prime ministers at such times.
When an emergency such as this occurs, the PM is expected to be there, touring around, being seen listening to briefings by the local emergency services chief, with a bit of looking at maps and so forth, and showing emotion.
Scott Morrison this week was not actually doing anything of note – and to be honest, neither was the ALP leader, Anthony Albanese, who also toured parts of NSW and received a briefing on the situation.
About the best the PM could have done this week was made sure the NSW fires services had the phone number of the ADF to contact and then to let them get on with their work.
But had he done that, the criticism of course would have been about where was he, why hadn’t he visited the scene, talked with emergency services and so on.
Back in 2011, Julia Gillard was accused by Tony Abbott and others for being too “wooden” when she visited the Queensland floods. It was all the usual sexist crud that was directed towards Gillard. She was regarded as not emotional enough compared to Anna Bligh, who was premier of Queensland at the time and had an actual role, whereas Gillard – like Morrison this week – really had nothing to do.
Gillard’s failure was not about action, it was about the performance. (And the reality that she could do no right – even when she later cried in parliament. Andrew Bolt wrote a column in which he was at pains to say that while he thought her tears were genuine, “it will seem calculated to some” because she needed to show that she was not wooden.)
Morrison, the man from marketing, sure as heck was not going to make the mistake of appearing too wooden – he is very much a politician in tune with the performative nature of the job. We saw this during the election campaign when he would “do things” that made the travelling press pack happy because it gave them something to report about.
He also knows how to make use of a crisis.
Does anyone remember the crisis of needles in strawberries? In reality the biggest concern was the risk of copycat acts due to the attention Morrison gave the contamination scare, but nevertheless he used the occasion to perform the role of the leader who was tough on crime.
He also used the occasion to rush through laws that were neither asked for nor needed, but which show that while we might dismiss the performative art of politics as a sideshow, politicians on their game will use it to push their agenda and get their way.
Our media system is driven by what Italian media academic Gianpietro Mazzoleni calls “spectacularisation” – the demand for the spectacle in our political news – and good politicians use it to their advantage.
And so Morrison brings in a lump of coal to parliament. Why? The performance – it annoys the left and it is a good spectacle.
The ALP this week has tried their best to not provide any spectacle. There was no fightback of any real note against the idiocy of Barnaby Joyce or Michael McCormack – a lot of “now is not the time”.
And that might seem the mature and sensible response, and yet with the spectacle and the performative aspect of politics comes the opportunity to sell your policy and push your agenda.
Australia is burning, and it is burning because of climate change. Scientists and fire chiefs know this – and they have been ignored by the government. That’s reason enough for the ALP to raise the issue with fervour.
This week the Swedish central bank sold off Australian government bonds because of our high emissions dependency. That won’t be the last time climate change has a major impact in international finance.
We all know it is coming, but the government chooses to ignore it and suggests we put off discussion for another time.
We should be talking about it now – no debate on climate change is going to hamper the ability of firefighters to do their job.
No firefighter is standing off to the side waiting for Albanese and Morrison to finish their debate so they can go off and put out a fire.
It might seem mature to wait for a more appropriate occasion to talk about climate change and bushfires, but politics is about capturing the moment. The conservative side of politics knows this, and uses it again and again on issues of national security and crime.
Conservatives want to wait, because they want to wait until a time when the public will be less invested, less angry and less attentive. Next month it will be Christmas holidays and the attention of voters will be gone.
Progressives too often cower and take the mature road and let opportunities go begging.
The performance and spectacle of politics might be annoying and distracting but it can’t be ignored. The ALP did not need to come out this week going over the top like Joyce and McCormack, but they need to use these occasions to capture the imagination of the public and push for action.
Because if you can’t bring yourself to talk about climate change while the country is burning, then you can’t blame voters for thinking it must not be that big of a deal, or just as bad, that the ALP doesn’t really care.

*Greg Jericho writes on economics for Guardian Australia

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Venice Is Underwater — And A Preview Of What Climate Change Will Bring To Coastal Cities

Lethal Heating - 17 November, 2019 - 04:00
Washington Post - Alex Horton | Andrew Freedman

The Washington Post's Rome bureau chief Chico Harlan spoke about what Venice was like after floodwaters submerged the city as of Nov. 13. (Alexa Ard, Chico Harlan/The Washington Post)

More tidewater roared into Venice on Friday, layering more catastrophic floods into the lagoon city and panicking residents over the viability of living on the lip of the Adriatic Sea.
Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said the “dramatic situation” was brought on by climate change, in an appeal for additional donations to repair the devastation caused by the worst flooding in half a century.While the city may recover on the surface, as it has before, climate scientists have said Venice is a harbinger of the problems facing all coastal cities, as melting ice sheets and warming oceans raise sea levels to unprecedented heights.“Venice is the pride of all of Italy,” Brugnaro said in a statement, the Associated Press reported, as officials said the city was 70 percent submerged. “Venice is everyone’s heritage, unique in the world.”St. Mark’s Square, the city’s famous piazza, was closed as seagulls swarmed the knee-high water. The flood rose to over six feet in some areas. Italy declared a state of emergency and released 20 million euros to repair the extensive damage.

Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro closed St. Mark's Square on Nov. 15, deeming flood waters too high to be safe as high tide peaked at five feet. (Reuters)

The total damage could run into the hundreds of millions, Brugnaro said.
Because of rising seas, extreme flooding that used to occur in Venice once every 100 years is expected to recur every six years by 2050, according to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This could become far more common by 2100, recurring every five months. This only takes sea-level rise into account, which will become a progressively greater concern as time goes on.
The bigger issue: Venice is sinking. That means these flood recurrence periods, calculated for the IPCC report, are on the conservative side.
People walk in the flooded street near the Rialto bridge in Venice. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images)Friday’s floods are due to another storm in a similar position southwest of Italy, with winds blowing from the southeast to northwest across the Adriatic, piling water toward Venice. Coming atop astronomical high tides and long-term subsidence plus sea-level rise, it’s becoming easier to flood the city to severely damaging levels.
All around the busiest parts of the city, water slicked the floors of cafes and Murano glass shops and seeped into hotel lobbies, leaving a smell of sewage in its wake.
Venice, over the centuries, has diverted rivers to protect the lagoon and extended the barrier islands. But now, the sea level is rising several millimeters a year.
Offshore, at the inlets between those barrier islands, a massive project known as MOSE could potentially boost Venice’s protection — with floodgates that could be raised from the sea during high tide, sealing off the lagoon.
The project, launched in 2003, was once forecast to finish in 2011. Then 2014. Now, projections call for completion in 2022.
Venice has thrived since the fifth century. But even locals with canal water in their blood are taken aback at the flooding and predictions to come.
“It’s a city full of history,” said Vladimiro Cavagnis, a fourth-generation Venetian gondolier who chauffeurs tourists on the city’s trademark boats. “A history that, little by little, with water, will end up like Atlantis. People are destroyed, anguished, sad. They see a city that is disappearing.”

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(AU) Coalition Inaction On Climate Change And Health Is Risking Australian Lives, Global Report Finds

Lethal Heating - 16 November, 2019 - 04:00
The Guardian

Urgent national action is needed to prevent serious declines in public health from climate change, the multi-institutional Countdown study says
Bushfire smoke blankets the morning sky in Glen Innes, NSW, on 11 November. Respiratory illnesses are rising as a result of air pollution from this week’s fires, cardiologist Arnagretta Hunter says following the release of the latest Countdown report on climate change and health worldwide. Photograph: Brook Mitchell/Getty ImagesThe federal government’s lack of engagement on health and climate change has left Australians at significant risk of illness through heat, fire and extreme weather events, and urgent national action is required to prevent harm and deaths, a global scientific collaboration has found.
On Thursday, international medical journal the Lancet published its Countdown report, a multi-institutional project led by University College in London that examines progress on climate change and health throughout the world.
Its first two assessments were published in 2017 and 2018, with annual assessments continuing until 2030, consistent with the near-term timeline of the Paris climate agreement. Findings relating to Australia were tracked and published by the Medical Journal of Australia.
Australia was assessed across 31 indicators divided into five broad sections: climate change impacts, exposures and vulnerability; adaptation, planning and resilience for health; mitigation actions and health co-benefits; finance and economics; and public and political engagement.The report found that while there had been some progress at state and local government levels, “there continues to be no engagement on health and climate change in the Australian federal parliament, and Australia performs poorly across many of the indicators in comparison to other developed countries; for example, it is one of the world’s largest net exporters of coal and its electricity generation from low-carbon sources is low”.
“We also find significantly increasing exposure of Australians to heatwaves and, in most states and territories, continuing elevated suicide rates at higher temperatures,” wrote the authors, led by Associate Professor Paul Beggs of Macquarie University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
“As a direct result of this failure, we conclude that Australia remains at significant risk of declines in health due to climate change, and that substantial and sustained national action is urgently required in order to prevent this … This work is urgent.”
Spokeswoman for Doctors for the Environment Australia, Dr Arnagretta Hunter, agreed Australia was poorly prepared for the health challenge of climate change.
“Doctors around Australia are already seeing multiple health effects from climate change,” Hunter, a cardiologist, said.
“On the coast of NSW this week we know there are more respiratory illnesses, heart attacks and strokes as a consequence of the terrible air pollution from the fires. Doctors see the mental health effects of drought in rural communities. Patterns of infectious diseases are changing.
“Average summer temperatures in Australia have risen by 1.66C in the past 20 years, with the intensity of heatwaves rising by a third. And with the increasing temperatures over summer we know there has been increased hospital admissions with ill health. Mortality rates are also affected.”
In 2014, Melbourne experienced temperatures over 41C from 14 to 17 January, as well as 167 excess deaths and a new record set for the highest number of calls for ambulance services ever received in a day, she said. Hunter described Australia as the developed country with the most serious vulnerability to climate change through heat, fire, water shortages and extreme weather events.
“Doctors for the Environment Australia joins the loud chorus across Australia calling for the federal government to acknowledge the risk and act in proportion to the magnitude of the threat,” she said.
In 2019, the Australian Medical Association, Doctors for the Environment Australia and the World Medical Association recognised climate change as a health emergency.
Public Health Association of Australia senior policy officer Dr Ingrid Johnston said the priorities of the fossil fuel industry had been placed ahead of the health of Australians.
“No one can dispute that climate change poses significant immediate, medium-term and long-term risks to the health of Australians and communities around the world,” she told Guardian Australia. “And yet the government appears to believe that climate change is not a mainstream health issue. This is tragically wrong. The issues cannot be siloed.”
She called on the prime minister, Scott Morrison, to issue a statement unambiguously acknowledging the link between climate change and health.
Johnston said the activities of the federal government’s disaster and climate resilience reference group – a group of senior officials which considers the risks and opportunities arising from climate change and natural disasters – had not been transparent in its work.
“The public has a right to know what that working group is doing,” she said. “How much information is the government giving consideration to regarding climate impacts in national assessments of health?
“Australians are crying out for genuine, smart and empathetic national leadership. The above cannot happen without a well-resourced and national effort to reduce future threat levels from fires and drought.”
She said the Public Health Association of Australia wanted a Coag health and climate change forum consisting of ministers with responsibility for health, environment, energy and other portfolios.
“No area is untouched by climate change,” Johnston said. “This Coag working group would incorporate academic expertise on how to adapt the health system to a changing climate with more natural disasters, with adequate funding for proposals. The sniping politics has to stop so we can get on with working for health and the national interest.
“Finally, we call out the policy that does exist. It is a policy that places the fossil fuel industry above the health and wellbeing of all Australians. It backs subsidies for fossil fuels and subverts tough environmental planning for mines and gas projects.”
General practitioner Dr Peter Tait, who also has a master’s degree in climate change and is involved with health and environmental groups, said there was no mechanism in the national health system to collect information about climate-related illnesses other than in a random or anecdotal way.
“Even in emergency departments where the severe end of these conditions go, data collection is dependent on the treating doctor using a code to identify heat stress or natural disaster effects, and apart from the obvious ones, like burns, they don’t,” he said.
“We do know that the mental health toll from destructive fires and other natural disasters will be high. This is a supernatural disaster occasioned by decades of purposeful neglect by governments and as that dawns on people, anger and distress will rise.”

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Climate Explained: How Growth In Population And Consumption Drives Planetary Change

Lethal Heating - 16 November, 2019 - 04:00
The Conversation

The growth of the human population over the last 70 years has exploded from 2 billion to nearly 8 billion, with a compounding net growth of over 30,000 per day. We all breathe out carbon dioxide with every breath. That equates to about 140 billion CO₂ breaths every minute. Isn’t it logical that atmospheric carbon will continue to increase with the birth rate regardless of what we do about fossil fuel reduction?
Rapid population growth and increased consumption are now seen as the main drivers of environmental changes. from www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND This question touches on the core of our impact on planetary change. It highlights the exponential growth in the human population, but also homes in on the potential direct input of carbon dioxide from humans, through respiration.
As I explain in more detail below, our breathing does not contribute to the net accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But population growth, combined with an increase in consumption, is now seen as the main driver of change in the Earth system.

Humans: a moment in geological time
Earth has been around for 4.56 billion years. The earliest evidence for life on Earth comes from fossilised mats of cyanobacteria that are about 3.7 billion years old.
From around 700 million years ago, and certainly from 540 million years ago, life exploded into its present myriad forms, from molluscs to lung fish, reptiles, insects, plants, fishes and mammals – culminating in hominids and finally Homo sapiens. Genetic studies suggest hominids evolved from primates around 6 million years ago, with the oldest hominid fossil dating from 4.4 million years ago in East Africa.
Our species appeared around 200,000 to 300,000 years ago, a blink of an eye in geological terms. From Africa, Homo sapiens migrated through Europe and Asia and spread across the world, at lightning speeds.
Part of the question is about a putative link between human biological functions and climate. Homo sapiens is one of more than 28 million living species today, and some 35 billion species that have ever lived on Earth. There has always been a link between life and Earth’s atmosphere, and perhaps the clearest indicator is oxygen.

Life, carbon and climate
Cyanobacteria were the first organisms to master photosynthesis and began adding oxygen to Earth’s early atmosphere, producing levels of 2% by 1 billion years ago. Today oxygen levels are at 20%.
While people inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide (billions of tonnes each year), this does not represent new carbon in the atmosphere, but rather recycled carbon that had been taken up by the animals and plants we eat. Furthermore, the hard parts of human skeletons are potential carbon stores, if buried sufficiently deep.
There is a constant cycling of carbon between geological, oceanographic and biological processes. Homo sapiens is part of this carbon cycle that plays out at the Earth’s surface. Like all living organisms, we derive the carbon we need from our immediate environment and give it up again through breathing, living and dying.
Carbon is only added to the atmosphere if it is taken out of long-term geological stores such as carbon-rich sediments, oil, natural gas and coal.

Planetary impact of humans
But the remarkable growth in human population is surely the critical issue. Ten thousand years ago, there were 1 million people on Earth. By 1800, there were 1 billion, 3 billion by 1960 and almost 8 billion today.
When these figures are plotted on a graph, the growth line looks almost vertical from the 1800s onwards. Population growth may eventually flatten out, but only at around 10-11 billion.
Alongside the unprecedented population growth of humans has been the loss of many non-human species (10,000 extinctions per million populations per year, or 60% of animal populations since 1970), the rapid loss of wilderness habitat and consequent growth in farmed land, over-fishing (with up to 87% of fisheries fully exploited), and a staggering growth in global car numbers (from zero in the 1920s to 1 billion in 2013 and a projected 2 billion by 2040).
The world production of copper is an instructive proxy for human global impacts. As with many commodity curves, the trend from 1900, and particularly from the 1950s, is exponential. In 1900 around half-a-million tonnes of copper was produced worldwide. Today it is 18 million tonnes per year, with no sign of lowering consumption rates. Copper is the feedstock for much of modern-day and future green technologies.
Most parts of the world now experience material consumption as never before. But serious inequality remains, with over 3 billion living on less than US$5.50 a day, and a tiny percentage who own so much.
Some argue that it is not the numbers of people on Earth that count, but rather the way we consume and share. Whatever the politics and economics, the gross consumption level of billions of humans is, surely, the main cause of planetary change, especially since 1950. Present-day atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are one of many symptoms of human impact.

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