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David Attenborough Says Australia's Bushfires A 'Major International Catastrophe' And Calls For Climate Action

Lethal Heating - 18 January, 2020 - 04:07
ABC NewsReuters/ABC

David Attenborough says the moment of crisis has come. (ABC News)

Key points
  • Attenborough says rising temperatures are behind Australia's bushfires
  • He has also called on China in particular to reduce its carbon emissions
  • Malcolm Turnbull called for the "self-destructive idiocy of climate denialism" to stop
British naturalist Sir David Attenborough says the "moment of crisis" has come in the fight against climate change, warning that governments' targets for decades in the future were not enough to save the planet.
Noting the destruction being caused by Australia's current wave of bushfires, he criticised the Federal Government's approach to climate change during an interview with the BBC, saying the support for coal mines showed the world it did not care about the environment.
"As I speak, south-east Australia is on fire. Why? Because the temperatures of the Earth are increasing," he said.
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"That is a major international catastrophe. And to say, 'Oh it's nothing to do with the climate', is palpably nonsense."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said earlier this week that Australia was improving its resilience and responding "to the reality of the environment in which we live".
"I think that's what Australians would want to know coming out of this bushfire season, ultimately, that the resilience efforts that are being made at all levels are meeting the need," Mr Morrison said.
"Our policy is to reduce emissions, to build resilience and to focus on adaptation.
"All of these are the necessary responses to what's happening with our climate."
Sir David Attenborough has called for urgent action on climate change. (Climate Change: The Facts)Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said climate change denial had "infected our politics" in Australia, in an essay he wrote for US-based news magazine Time.
"These fires show that the wicked, self-destructive idiocy of climate denialism must stop," Mr Turnbull said.
On his time in power, he said the National Energy Guarantee policy was "sabotaged" and "brought down my government".
"Both times, my efforts to take concerted action on climate change were followed by my losing my job."
Last year, Prince William launched a prize to find answers to Earth's biggest environmental problems. (AP: Gian Ehrenzeller/Keystone)How spending $200 a year
could help prevent climate change
On average, Australians are willing to chip in an extra $200 a year to prevent climate change. It turns out that money could go a long way.Sir David also called on China in particular to reduce
its carbon emissions, saying he thought other countries would follow if China set a lead.
"The moment of crisis has come — we can no longer prevaricate," he said.
"We have been putting things off year after year, raising targets and saying: 'Oh well if we do it within the next 20 years…'
"This is an urgent problem that has to be solved. And what is more is that we know how to do it — that's the paradoxical thing — that we are refusing to take steps that we know have to be taken."
Sir David's interview was part of the BBC's drive to increase coverage of climate change ahead of a UN conference, COP 26, in Glasgow in November 2020.
The 93-year-old raised public awareness around the world of the danger of plastic pollution in oceans with his television series Blue Planet II.
Last year, Britain's Prince William launched a multi-million-pound prize to find answers to Earth's biggest environmental problems, saying the planet was now at a tipping point.

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Denmark Floats A Possible Model For Climate Policy

Lethal Heating - 18 January, 2020 - 04:06
U.S. News & World ReportColleen de Bellefonds

The country's new climate law shows that governments don’t have to choose between the environment and the economy.
"Climate Safari," a giant globe that can accommodate up to 300 children to teach them about green energy and help raise awareness of the consequences of climate change on the natural environment is seen in front of the Danish parliament on Sept. 13, 2018 in Copenhagen. (Ole Jensen/Getty Images)PARIS — After millions of people worldwide took to the streets last September to demand politicians take action against climate change, climate scientists were disappointed by the outcome of December's U.N. climate summit.
Developed countries made no commitments to cut emissions in the near-term or to finance developing countries' emissions goals. Although the European Commission (aside from Poland) separately pledged a "Green Deal" to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, experts say it isn't enough.
"Everyone needs to get to net zero by 2050, but we won't stay on track if we don't see significant reductions by 2030," says Rachel Cleetus, policy director and lead economist in the Climate and Energy Program at the Union for Concerned Scientists, an independent advocacy nonprofit that represents a network of 25,000 scientists, economists and other experts around the world.
The European Union needs to come up with a timetable before the U.N. Climate Change Conference this year in Glasgow, Cleetus says. "It's the key to unlocking other places, like China and India."
One country, however, has committed to making climate neutrality happen — and soon: Denmark's parliament overwhelmingly passed an aggressive new climate law on Dec. 6. The legislation aims to reduce the country's carbon emissions to 70% below its 1990 levels by 2030, with carbon neutrality targeted for 2050.
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More importantly, the law has teeth. Every five years, the government must set a legally binding emissions target across sectors of the economy including energy, housing, industry, transportation, agriculture and forestry. Parliament holds the minister for climate and energy accountable and can force that person out of office if insufficient progress is made.
"It's a very significant goal that we haven't seen from any other developed country," Cleetus says. "This isn't just a commitment, it's a promise that's enshrined in law. It's the kind of robustness that we need to see."
Politicians in many developed countries remain hesitant to act due to the complexity of climate change and the potential political and economic fallout of making carbon neutrality commitments. Political analysts and climate change experts say Denmark's unique political system played a role in the country pursuing the policy.
Still, the country promises to prove that climate laws and the economy can work hand in hand, setting the path for other countries to pursue tangible policies.

Political Parties Make Climate Change a Priority
The Danish people have been concerned about climate change for years, but the issue didn't become a political priority until parliamentary elections this past June. Polls suggested that 46% of voters ranked climate change as their top concern, compared to 27% in 2017.
"Usually elections are about social, economic, health care, immigration or education issues," says Paul Parker, a professor and associate dean for strategic initiatives at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.
Flemming Juul Christiansen, a political science professor at Roskilde University in Denmark, credits a left-wing coalition — which chose to focus on climate issues because it was the only issue it could unite behind — for the change in the public's priorities.
The coalition's promotion of a climate agenda during the electoral campaigns put climate change in voters' minds at the polls, he says.
In the end, more than 90% of lawmakers in the Folketing, Denmark's parliament, voted for the new law. Even if the measures turn out to be unpopular with the public, politicians "can't just point fingers, because the agreement was so broad," Christiansen says.
The Danish government's unique setup also makes the law virtually impossible for future governments to overturn before 2050.
Denmark has a minority government, which means that the ruling Social Democratic party had to rely on support from its three leftist competing political parties in 2019 to take office. Together, these four parties drafted a binding agreement that required the climate law to be passed as a condition for agreeing to the government to take office.
A broad group of parties agreed on the climate law — in essence holding all of the country's major political parties accountable for the climate law in perpetuity.
"It's as if it's been embedded in our policies," Christiansen says.

A History of Investment in Clean Energy
Denmark has been on the forefront of the move to carbon neutrality for the past three decades. The country began reorienting its energy policies to replace coal with wind and biofuels following the 1970s oil crisis.
In the 1990s, the then-minister for environment and energy, Svend Auken, was a committed environmentalist who supported Denmark's growing wind turbine industry, says Helene Dyrhauge, a political science professor at Roskilde University, whose research focuses on transportation and sustainability.
Denmark, home to Vestas, the world's largest developer of wind turbines, supplied almost half of its electricity needs from wind power last year, according to the country's grid operator.
 That is the highest level in Europe, as Denmark has taken advantage of expertise in the field and the new demand for clean energy in other EU countries by exporting its wind technology and excess power. In 2017, wind accounted for 63% of Europe's investments in renewable energy in 2018, up from 52% in 2017.
"Their economy has grown while emissions have declined," Parker says of Denmark.
In 1970, Denmark's carbon dioxide emissions were 12.6 metric tons per capita, according to the World Bank. By 2014, emissions dropped to 5.9 metric tons.
By comparison, the U.S. emitted 21.1 metric tons per person in 1970 and has declined to 16.5 metric tons today. Meanwhile, Denmark's projected gross domestic product growth rate is 1.4%, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Making the Law a Reality
In order to reach the new law's targets, Denmark needs to focus on reforming the transportation sector, a main source of emissions in Denmark, says Dyrhauge. The government will need to create financial incentives for people to switch to cheaper electrical vehicles and phase out fossil fuel vehicles.
It will also need to further invest in renewable energies, energy infrastructure, and research into energy storage to stockpile its surplus wind energy. "The goal is ambitious, but it is possible," Parker says.
The Danish energy ministry announced in December plans to build an artificial island tying in power from offshore wind farms of up to 10 gigawatts (GW) of capacity, which Christiansen says should be more than enough to supply Denmark's population of 6 million.
 The excess energy would be sold to neighboring countries. The plan could cost in the neighborhood of 200 billion to 300 billion Danish crowns ($29.5 billion-44.2 billion), much of which will be financed by private investors, including Danish pension funds.
This project will be expensive to build, but it should cover Denmark's need for energy, Christiansen says. That means new taxes – although the law stipulates that climate goals can't compromise the economy or jobs.
"It will be a little painful in the short run and take means away from other public investments," Christiansen says. "But in the long run, it could bring Denmark into the lead and it could be the future."
Parker adds, "By being an early adopter, Denmark knows that it gives them a financial advantage."

An Example for Other Developed Countries
The United States, meanwhile, is producing record amounts of oil and gas, says Cleetus. It's formally begun pulling out of the Paris Climate agreement and is dragging its heels on attending the 2020 Glasgow Climate Summit.
But the U.S. has the resources and capacity to make change, given the political will, she adds. "We are a clean energy leader," says the Union of Concerned Scientists' Cleetus of the U.S. "We could be part of this expanding global market, but we need policies to accelerate the momentum." Most climate policies have been on the state level, and federal funding for clean energy was just cut. "We need policies and investments or it won't happen fast enough," Cleetus says.
Denmark could set an example for how to build a successful carbon-neutral economy. "It's a false narrative that you have to choose between a good economy and climate," Cleetus says.
"Denmark is fairly small, but they show it can be done without compromising on quality of life. It's a thriving economy with a good standard of living and low carbon emissions."
The stakes are high, experts warn. "There's already a significant impact all over the world, from wildfires to tropical storms to rising seas to record ice loss in the arctic. People are losing their lives," Cleetus says.
"That's what in store for us as the temperature continues to go up. We need to act with urgency."

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2019 Capped Off The World’s Hottest Decade In Recorded History

Lethal Heating - 17 January, 2020 - 04:05
Washington Post - Brady Dennis | Andrew Freedman | John Muyskens

It also marked the second-warmest year ever. “What happens in the future is really up to us," said one scientist.
Source: NASA’s Goddard's Global Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP)The past decade was the hottest ever recorded on the planet, driven by an acceleration of temperature increases in the past five years, according to new data released Wednesday by the U.S. government.
The findings, released jointly by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), detail a troubling trajectory: 2019 was the second-hottest year on record, trailing only 2016. The past five years each rank among the five hottest since record-keeping began. And 19 of the hottest 20 years have occurred during the past two decades.
The warming trend also bears the unmistakable fingerprint of humans, who continue to emit tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, scientists say.
“No individual hot year — or hot day or hot season, for that matter — is by itself evidence for climate change. But this hot year is just one of many hot years in this decade,” said Kate Marvel, a research scientist at NASA and Columbia University. “The planet is statistically, detectably warmer than before the Industrial Revolution. We know why. We know what it means. And we can do something about it.”
According to NOAA, the globe is warming at a faster rate than it had been just a few decades ago. The annual global average surface temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.07 degrees Celsius (0.13 Fahrenheit) per decade since 1880, NOAA found. However, since 1981, that rate has more than doubled.
That trend has shown few signs of changing. “Every decade since the 1960s has been warmer than the decade previously — and not by a small amount,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which keeps the temperature data, told reporters Wednesday.
Leaders from nations around the world have vowed to try to limit the Earth’s warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, in an effort to head off catastrophic sea level rise, ever-deadlier extreme weather events and other climate-related catastrophes. But hitting that ambitious target would require a rapid, transformational shift away from fossil fuels that has yet to materialize.
Instead, global greenhouse gas emissions hit a record high in 2019, even as they fell slightly in the United States, and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now sits at the highest level in human history — a level probably not seen on the planet for 3 million years.
The 2019 figures from NASA and NOAA match similar data released by Berkeley Earth, an independent group that analyzes temperature data. The U.K. Met Office also rated 2019 among the top 3 warmest years. The findings also are in line with data released last week by the Copernicus Climate Change Service, a science initiative of the European Union. The World Meteorological Organization confirmed the analyses.
In fact, Berkeley Earth researchers said, no place on Earth experienced a record cold annual average during 2019. But 36 countries — from Belize to Botswana, from Slovakia to South Africa — experienced their hottest year since instrumental records began. Those same researchers estimated that more warming lies ahead, and that a 95 percent chance exists that 2020 will become one of the five hottest years.
For 10% of the planet, 2019 was the hottest year on record
Source: Berkeley EarthWednesday’s figures offer the latest evidence of the globe’s inexorable temperature rise, particularly in recent decades. But the warming over the past century — and the impacts of climate change — have affected different parts of the world in vastly different ways.
A recent Washington Post analysis found numerous locations around the globe that already have warmed by at least 2 degrees Celsius over the past century. That’s a number that scientists and policymakers have identified as a red line if the planet is to avoid catastrophic and irreversible consequences.
Some entire countries, including Switzerland and Kazakhstan, have already warmed by 2 degrees Celsius, and other hot spots exist around the world, particularly in the fast-warming Arctic. Scientists say extreme warming is helping to fuel wildfires from Australia to California, melt permafrost from Alaska to Siberia and fuel more intense storms and floods. It is also altering marine ecosystems from Canada to South America to the African coast, threatening wildlife and the livelihoods of those who depend on the sea.
Temperature change, 2019 compared with 1880-1899
Source: Berkeley Earth
“The evidence isn’t just in surface temperature,” Benjamin Santer, a researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said of the human-fueled warming trend. “It’s Arctic sea ice. It’s atmospheric water vapor increases. It’s changes in glaciers in Alaska. It’s changes in the Greenland Ice Sheet. It’s all of the above."
The past year alone featured a litany of disasters that scientists say were worsened by climate change — disasters they argue are only more likely in the future unless global emissions begin to fall sharply.
During a tragic and terrifying December in Australia, with bush fires proliferating amid heat and drought, the country shattered its record for the hottest-ever day. On Dec. 18, the national average high temperature was a blistering 107.4 degrees (41.9 Celsius). Europe recorded its hottest year ever, and a sizzling heat wave in July saw temperature records crumble. Paris, for example, registered a sweltering 108.7 degrees July 25, shattering a record set in 1947.
Alaska also had its hottest year on record in 2019. It included an alarming lack of ice cover during the winter in the Bering and Chukchi Seas, and in the summer the temperature at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport hit 90 degrees for the first time.
Hurricanes such as Dorian devastated the Bahamas and other areas after rapidly intensifying, which some studies show is linked to warming seas and air  temperatures. A pair of powerful cyclones hit Mozambique in rapid succession, killing hundreds of people, destroying homes and causing devastating floods.
The year also brought signs that the natural systems that serve to store huge quantities of carbon dioxide and methane, another powerful greenhouse gas, may be faltering as temperatures increase.
In December, a federal report indicated that melting permafrost throughout Arctic may already be a net source of atmospheric carbon, a shift that could accelerate global warming. Raging fires in the Amazon now threaten to turn the world’s most productive rainforest into a drier, less carbon-rich savanna.
Reports from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last year detailed how climate change is already threatening food and water supplies, increasing the threat of droughts and floods, killing coral reefs, supercharging monster storms, fueling deadly marine heat waves and contributing to record losses of sea ice.
new study this week also found that 2019 was the warmest on record for the world’s oceans, with all of the top five hottest years coming since 2015. The oceans have long absorbed the vast majority — about 93 percent — of the extra heat humans are adding to the climate through greenhouse gas emissions.
Still, even as millions of protesters have taken to the streets to demand action, world leaders have so far shown little ability to move as fast as scientists say is necessary to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
In a bleak report last fall, the United Nations warned that the world had squandered so much time mustering the willpower to combat climate change that drastic, unprecedented cuts in emissions are now the only way to avoid an ever-intensifying cascade of consequences. The U.N. report said global temperatures are on pace to rise as much as 3.2 degrees Celsius (5.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, and that emissions must begin falling by 7.6 percent each year beginning 2020 to meet the most ambitious goals of the Paris climate accord.
So far, many countries have failed to live up to the promises they made as part of the 2015 global agreement, including some of the world’s largest emitters. More than 100 countries have vowed to submit more ambitious plans to fight climate change the end of 2020, but they collectively represent only about 15 percent of global emissions. The Trump administration plans to exit the international accord later this year.
Zeke Hausfather, a climate researcher for Berkeley Earth, said that despite the clear warming trend, humans still have an opportunity to shape what lies ahead.
“We don’t have any sign yet of global warming slowing down, but we also don’t have any sign of global emissions slowing down,” he said. “What happens in the future depends a lot on our emissions of greenhouse gases as a society. If we continue emitting at current levels, we will continue warming at about the same rate.
“What happens in the future is really up to us."

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2019 Was A Record Year For Ocean Temperatures, Data Show

Lethal Heating - 17 January, 2020 - 04:03
New York TimesKendra Pierre-Louis

Bleached coral in the south Pacific in May. Rising temperatures contribute to the bleaching. Credit...Alexis Rosenfeld/Getty ImagesLast year was the warmest year on record for the world’s oceans, part of a long-term warming trend, according to a study released Monday.
“If you look at the ocean heat content, 2019 is by far the hottest, 2018 is second, 2017 is third, 2015 is fourth, and then 2016 is fifth,” said Kevin E. Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and an author on the study
The study, published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, follows an announcement last week by European scientists that Earth’s surface temperatures in 2019 were the second-hottest on record.
Since the middle of last century, the oceans have absorbed roughly 93 percent of the excess heat caused by greenhouse gases from human activities such as burning coal for electricity. That has shielded the land from some of the worst effects of rising emissions.
“Ocean heat content is, in many ways, our best measure of the effect of climate change on the earth,” said Zeke Hausfather, the director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute in California, who was not involved in this study. Surface temperature measurements are more variable from year to year because they are affected by things like volcanic eruptions and El Niño events, cyclical weather patterns that pump energy and moisture into the atmosphere.
While 2016 was the fifth-hottest year on record for the oceans, it was the hottest year on record in terms of surface temperatures. There was a significant El Niño that year, Dr. Trenberth said, which moved the heat from the ocean into the atmosphere.
“And so, the global mean surface temperature is actually higher in 2016, but the ocean temperature is a little bit lower,” Dr. Trenberth said.
Measuring the ocean’s temperature has long been a challenge for scientists. Thermometers on land around the world have tracked temperatures for more than a century, but the ocean temperature record is spottier.
Argo, a global network of 3,000 drifting floats equipped with sensors that measure temperature and depth, was implemented in 2007 and created a comprehensive temperature data record. Before that, researchers had to rely on an ad hoc system of ocean temperature measurements. Many of these were taken from the sides of ships and excluded Antarctic waters until the late 1950s.
For the new study, Dr. Trenberth and his colleagues overcame some of the gaps in the historical ocean temperature record by exploiting an understanding of how a temperature reading in one area relates to ocean temperatures across the ocean overall gleaned from data from the Argo system. The new method allowed them to take the limited temperature observations from the pre-Argo era and extrapolate them into a broader understanding of past ocean temperature.
“What we find is that we can do a global reconstruction back to 1958,” Dr. Trenberth said. That year was when systematic temperature observations began in Antarctica, creating enough temperature points for the extrapolation to be feasible.
The past 10 years have been the warmest 10 on record for global ocean temperatures. The increase between 2018 and 2019 was the largest single-year increase since the early 2000s, according to Dr. Hausfather.
Increasing ocean temperatures have harmed marine life and contributed to mass coral reef bleaching, the loss of critical ecosystems, and threatened livelihoods like fishing as species have moved in search of cooler waters.
But the impacts of warming oceans don’t remain at sea.
“The heavy rains in Jakarta just recently resulted, in part, from very warm sea temperatures in that region,” said Dr. Trenberth, who also drew connections between warming ocean temperatures to weather over Australia. The recent drought there has helped to propel what many are calling the worst wildfire season in the nation’s history.
“These sea temperatures influence regional weather patterns and sometimes even global weather patterns,” Dr. Trenberth said.

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Climate Change Protest At Bank 'Necessary And Proportional': Swiss Judge

Lethal Heating - 17 January, 2020 - 04:02
ReutersEmma Farge

Supporters of twelve activists celebrate after the non guilty verdict of the District Court of Lausanne for their tennis sit-in protest inside a branch of Credit Suisse bank in 2018 in Renens, Switzerland January 13, 2020. REUTERS/Emma FargeLAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - The imminent danger posed by climate change means activists were not guilty of trespassing when they occupied a Swiss bank and played tennis to demand an end to funding of fossil fuel projects, a judge ruled on Monday.
Wearing whites and wigs, a group of young people staged the tennis sit-in at the Lausanne branch of Credit Suisse in November 2018 to highlight their campaign and urge Swiss maestro Roger Federer to end his sponsorship deal with the bank.
The activists were charged with trespassing and fined 21,600 Swiss francs ($22,200), but in their appeal hearing on Monday Judge Philippe Colelough said they had acted proportionately and waived the fine.
The activists had argued they were in the bank in the face of an “imminent danger” - and the judge agreed.
“Because of the insufficient measures taken to date in Switzerland, whether they be economic or political, the average warming will not diminish nor even stabilize, it will increase,” he said, pointing to the country’s melting glaciers.
“In view of this, the tribunal considers that the imminence of danger is established,” the judge said. “The act for which they were incriminated was a necessary and proportional means to achieve the goal they sought.”
The packed court room in Renens, Lausanne, reacted with whoops of excitement and a standing ovation.
“I didn’t think it was possible,” said one of the accused, Beate Thalmann, in tears of joy. “If Switzerland did this, then maybe we have a chance.”
Pressure is rising on Switzerland’s financial sector to divest from fossil fuels and thousands of students have marched through Swiss cities in recent months demanding action on climate change.
The country, which is warming at twice the global average due to the heat-trapping effect of its mountains, has an target to cut net carbon emissions to zero by 2050 but activists say that the country’s biggest impact is via the financial center.
Credit Suisse, which had filed charges against the activists, said last week, when they launched the appeal after refusing to pay the fine, it respected their cause but deemed their actions unacceptable. The state will pay the fine instead.
The bank said in December said it would stop financing the development of new coal-fired power plants.
Federer, who was also criticized by teen climate activist Greta Thunberg over the sponsorship, said at the weekend: “I appreciate reminders of my responsibility as a private individual, as an athlete and as an entrepreneur, and I’m committed to using this privileged position to dialogue on important issues with my sponsors.”
“I take the impacts and threat of climate change very seriously, particularly as my family and I arrive in Australia amidst devastation from the bushfires,” the 38-year-old, preparing for the Australian Open, said in a statement.
A spokeswoman added on Monday that his dialogue with Credit Suisse on its climate change impact had already begun, without giving details.

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James Murdoch Criticises Father's News Outlets For Climate Crisis Denial

Lethal Heating - 16 January, 2020 - 04:05
The Guardian

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and Fox cited for ‘frustrating’ coverage of Australian bushfires
James and Kathryn Murdoch have issued a statement criticising Rupert Murdoch’s firms for ‘ongoing denial’ on the climate crisis. Photograph: Joel Ryan/Invision/APRupert Murdoch’s son has strongly criticised his family’s news outlets for downplaying the impact of the climate crisis, as bushfires continue to burn in Australia.
James Murdoch and his wife, Kathryn, issued a rare joint statement directly criticising his father’s businesses for their “ongoing denial” on the issue, which has been reflected in the family’s newspapers repeatedly casting doubt on the link between the climate emergency and the bushfires.
“Kathryn and James’s views on climate are well-established and their frustration with some of the News Corp and Fox coverage of the topic is also well-known,” a spokesperson for the couple said, confirming a report in the Daily Beast. “They are particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial among the news outlets in Australia given obvious evidence to the contrary.”
James Murdoch was most recently the chief executive of the family’s 21st Century Fox entertainment business, leaving when it merged with Disney. He is making media investments through his own Lupa Systems company but continues to sit on the board of the family’s newspaper business, News Corp, which also owns the Times and the Sun.
The bushfires have focused attention on the likes of Andrew Bolt, a political commentator for News Corp’s Australian newspapers who is known for promoting the views of climate science deniers, and for his own attacks on “alarmists” and his derision of climate change science.
He also has a programme on the Murdoch-owned Sky News Australia, where he has criticised the “constant stream of propaganda” on the public broadcaster ABC about the role of the climate crisis in the bushfires.
“Politicians who should do better are out there feeding the fear and misinformation,” he said in a recent broadcast criticising politicians who said carbon emissions needed to be cut to avoid future fires. “As if that would stop a fire. You’d have to be a child like Greta Thunberg to believe that fairytale.”US viewers have also heard commentary from Fox News presenters such as Laura Ingraham, who has said that “celebrities in the media have been pressing the narrative that the wildfires in Australia are caused by climate change”, before introducing guests who cast doubt on this interpretation.
James Murdoch’s criticism sheds light on the family’s internal rifts, amid speculation over his 88-year-old father’s succession plans. James’s older brother Lachlan is still actively involved in the family businesses as the US-based chairman and chief executive of the slimmed-down Fox Corporation, which owns Fox News.
Last year, Rupert Murdoch told shareholders “there are no climate change deniers” around his company and said his business was early to commit to “science-based targets to limit climate change” and was working to reduce its climate emissions.
However, he has been publicly critical about the “alarmist” approach to the issue. In 2015, he used his Twitter account to describe himself as a “climate change sceptic not a denier”.
A climate change skeptic not a denier. Sept UN meets in NY with endless alarmist nonsense from u know whom! Pessimists always seen as sages— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) August 27, 2015Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch and News Corp have all separately donated millions of dollars to bushfire recovery efforts in recent days, although the Daily Beast claimed the donations were made after it requested comment about James Murdoch’s statement.
James Murdoch has a long history of advocacy on environmental issues, inviting the former US vice-president Al Gore to present a version of his An Inconvenient Truth slideshow to Fox executives in 2006. At the time he was the heir apparent to the media empire and had been trusted with running BSkyB in London, where he would push environmental issues to the fore, working on ways to reduce the power used by Sky’s set-top boxes and insisting on using hybrid taxis long before such things were standard corporate behaviour.
Since stepping back from day-to-day roles with the family business at the end of 2018, the multibillionaire has made clear he feels uncomfortable about much of Fox News’ output and was unsuccessful in an attempt to cash-in his stock completely and make a clean break with the company – an effort that failed after Lachlan declined to buy him out.
Kathryn Murdoch has already set out the couple’s vision, telling the New York Times last year that she was increasingly focused on the issue of global heating: “There hasn’t been a Republican answer on climate change. There’s just been denial and walking away from the problem. There needs to be one.”
She said she was particularly moved to act after seeing Al Gore’s speech at the Fox event in 2006: “I decided to switch everything I was doing. I wanted to be able to look my children in the eye and say ‘I did everything I could.’”

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Opinion: The Climate Crisis – Sport Is Both Victim And Sinner

Lethal Heating - 16 January, 2020 - 04:04
Deutsche Welle (DW) - Joscha Weber, DW Sports editor

At the Australian Open, a player struggles to breathe because of air pollution while Greta Thunberg challenges Roger Federer. Sport must face up to its responsibilities with regards to the climate, writes Joscha Weber.

Dalila Jakupovic is gasping for breath. After a rally, the Slovenian bends over in pain during a qualifying match for the Australian Open against the Swiss Stefanie Vögele. Jakupovic's struggles can be clearly heard through the microphones on the edge of the court.
Then it gets worse. She has to kneel down, hold her hand in front of her pained face and crouch, curled up on the blue floor of Court 3. Coaches and organizers rush to help, but there is little they can do except talk and calm her down. Finally the umpire announces that Jakupovic cannot continue. "Game, set and match Stefanie Vögele." It is the first retirement at the Australian Open due to the poor air quality caused by the country's devastating bush fires.
The climate crisis has reached international sport. Beyond a few appeals for donations, PR campaigns and the interjections of a few climate activists, the sporting world has done little more than take note of the issue.
But it is logical that the consequences of climate change and the discussion about the sustainable use of resources are now also affecting sports - after all, top athletes are not only victims of the climate crisis, as they are now in Melbourne, but are also partly responsible for it.
Athletes jet to competitions, PR appointments or training camps around the world. Big cars are part of the lifestyle of many sports icons. And now some are having to justify their sponsors. Climate activist Greta Thunberg has told tennis star Roger Federer to "wake up" via a retweet, because his sponsor Credit Suisse is financing industrial firms that rely on fossil fuels.
Awful scenes in Melbourne.

Dalila Jakupovic has abandoned her #AusOpen qualifying match after suffering a coughing fit while playing in thick smoke caused by the #AustralianFires. pic.twitter.com/WAJv6TzTjW— ESPN Australia & NZ (@ESPNAusNZ) January 14, 2020Athletes are heroes - but with special responsibilities
Federer has probably never thought much about this connection before, and many professional athletes will feel the same way. But that is exactly what is about to change. All over the world, young people in particular are demanding a more thoughtful approach to the environment, from everyone.
The world of top-class sport is now particularly exposed, even if its stars are otherwise celebrated as heroes. A high degree of integrity is expected of those heroes and if one of them errs through doping or cheating, the outcry is great. The same may now be the case for the environment. The public sometimes expects more from great sports stars than politicians.
The great popularity of sportsmen and women brings astronomically high salaries and advertising revenues. The price for this is the burden of always having to behave in a correct, socially desirable manner.
Sport can, sport must do more for the climate. If athletes travel to their competitions as often as possible in a climate-friendly way, many of their fans will imitate this. When sporting events with their huge numbers of visitors do without plastic cups, use energy from renewable sources or support climate-friendly local transport, this has a noticeable effect.

Protecting athletes better
And the organizers of sporting events must do more to protect athletes. Many sports take place in the open air and some athletes are already criticizing the Australian Open for the fact the Grand Slam is even going ahead despite the considerable air pollution caused by the fires.
Shocked to see that qualifying matches have started @AustralianOpen
What about the health of all the people that have to work out there, especially the ballkids? #wherearethelimits? pic.twitter.com/2oldEptT2g— mandy minella (@mandyminella) January 14, 2020So far there is no sign that major sporting events will be canceled due to the bushfires in Australia, neither the Australian Open in Melbourne nor the Tour Down Under cycling race around Adelaide. The financial pressure is apparently so great that the events are being held despite the worrying circumstances. As almost always in sports, the show must go on.

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(AU) 'Dystopian Future': Climate Change To Force Review Of Military's Role

Lethal Heating - 16 January, 2020 - 04:03
Sydney Morning HeraldPeter Hannam

Climate change poses "a major security challenge for Australia" that experts warn has the potential to rapidly stretch the capability of the military, as demonstrated by the current bushfire emergency.
Michael Thomas, a retired army major, said "rising emissions will result in a more unstable and insecure world that will have far-reaching human, national and international security consequences", in an article published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute on Tuesday.
No longer over the horizon: climate change is already creating challenges for Australia's military, including the current bushfire season. Credit: ADF/AP
"The bushfire crisis that’s unfolding across Australia provides some insight into what that dystopian world will look like," he said.
Major Thomas, who published a 2017 book on the security risks of climate change, said the fires that caused at least 27 deaths and burnt millions of hectares revealed the limits of Australia's forces to cope with traditional threats abroad and concurrent new ones at home.
"Climate change is talked about as a 'threat multiplier' but it's actually a 'burden multiplier'", he told the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
The Morrison government copped criticism for waiting until earlier this month to deploy 3000 dedicated reserve troops to assist with the bushfire relief despite major fires burning in some states since September.
It also dispatched the navy to assist in the evacuation of people stranded in Victoria's East Gippsland.
Major Thomas said "the bushfire crisis may be the moment that opens genuine but critically honest policy debate on climate change in Australia".
ADF Reservists preparing at Holsworthy Army Barracks in south-west Sydney earlier this month for deployment to respond to the unprecedented bushfires across the country. Credit: James AlcockRising sea levels and more intense storms not only threaten the stability of domestic and foreign communities, they also undermine the capability of Australia's own military to respond.
The type, location and frequencies of challenges for armed forces everywhere were already changing, with flow-on consequences for the equipment, training and structures they need, Major Thomas said.
"What was meant to be tomorrow’s security problem has been catapulted into the here and now," he said.
Major Thomas pointed to Australia's participation with South Pacific partners in 2018 in the Boe Declaration on Regional Security as a recognition by the government that defence forces have "a unique and important role" to play in a warming world.
However, while countries such as New Zealand had followed up with a defense assessment later that year and an implementation plan last month, the Australian government had made little public about the military's readiness to respond to climate change.
Major Thomas, who served in the military for 20 years, said the lack of a bipartisan political consensus in Australia - unlike in its partner across the Tasman - meant Australia's defense forces were largely absent from the public debate.
"The [ADF's] voice has been lost in the Australian debate," he said.
The government has committed some $70 billion for new submarines and joint strike fighters. In light of the emerging threats, Major Thomas said it should reconsider buying more landing craft - such as those used at Mallacoota in Victoria - or building a reserve fire-fighting or other disaster-relief capacity.
A spokesperson for Defence said the 2016 Defence White Paper identified climate change "as one of the causes of state fragility, a key driver of our security environment to 2035".
"Defence factors climate change considerations into our strategic planning for defence capabilities, estate, personnel and equipment, as well as related operational responses and preparedness," the spokesperson said.

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(AU) Fire Inquiry Must Look At Climate Change

Lethal Heating - 15 January, 2020 - 04:00
AFRMichael Pelly

It's essential that climate change be part of an inquiry into the bushfires raging across the country, says former Supreme Court judge Bernard Teague.
Black Saturday royal commissioner Bernard Teague says the impact of climate change "needs to be looked at it in greater depth".  Eamon GallagherThe former supreme court judge who ran the Black Saturday royal commission says it is essential that climate change impact be part of an inquiry into the 2019-20 bushfires and has warned against any move to restrict its terms of reference.
Bernard Teague told The Australian Financial Review he also supported an examination of state and federal protocols for disaster relief
Other lawyers said current roadblocks on federal assistance – a likely focus of the royal commission flagged by Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the weekend – could be overcome by relying on the implied nationhood power in the constitution, which gives the Commonwealth broad authority.
Mr Teague was a judge on the Supreme Court of Victoria from 1987 to 2008 before being tapped to run the inquiry into the Black Saturday fires of February 7, 2009, in Victoria that claimed 173 lives.
He said climate change had been "small beer" for his inquiry because of apparent consensus about its continuing impact.
"We had two hours on climate change – this is 10 years ago – because we could get a stack of scientists who would take one side and not one scientist was prepared to come before our commission and be cross-examined about climate change."
He said that in 2010 "everyone was saying there's only the prospect of worse fires in the future because of climate change".
"It needs to be looked at it greater depth in light of the experience of the past 10 years, which has only shown what everyone now accepts – well almost everyone – that it has an enormous impact that we need to better understand.
"It impacts on a lot of things, like controlled burning for example."
He said the inquiry needed to have the widest possible terms of reference and suggested there were a number of recently retired judges who would be candidates.
Mr Teague said it was better to have multiple commissioners, citing his own experience: "There were so many other perspectives they would bring to bear."
He said the Morrison government should brave the potential criticism that might arise with any examination of the roles of state and federal governments.
"If a government says 'these are the problems that are arising in the present situation and these are potential ways of dealing with them',  I think the community is going to be so much better off."
One issue for any inquiry will be the activation of defence forces. Mr Morrison said on Sunday that the compulsory calling up of 3000 Army Reservists to help in the fire recovery effort had pushed the Commonwealth to the "very edge" of  "extreme constitutional territory".
Mr Morrison said he would take a proposal for a royal commission to cabinet and that it also would include building better resilience and adaption to climate events such as fire, drought, floods and cyclones.

'States need to be consulted'
Fiona McLeod, SC, senior counsel for the Commonwealth at the Black Saturday royal commission, said there was a fundamental problem.
"If you look at the way Commonwealth aid has traditionally been provided, the States have to exhaust their resources – government, commercial and community – before they can ask for help," Ms McLeod said.
Ms McLeod agreed with University of Sydney Professor Anne Twomey that there were doubts about whether such action was supported by the defence power or the external affairs power, which were used to justify using the defence forces in humanitarian and disaster aid overseas.
Both said they felt the implied nationhood power under section 61 of the Constitution would support any deployment for disaster relief, but Professor Twomey added that proper protocols for co-operation with the states were needed.
"The states have the expertise in dealing with bushfires, while the Australian Defence Forces have the expertise in the logistics and management of disaster relief, so it is imperative that systems be developed for them both to work together effectively in a crisis,'' Professor Twomey said.
"It would be counter-productive for the Commonwealth to act unilaterally in calling out the troops, if they were getting in the way of firefighters. States need to be consulted before the troops are called out, so they can fill the greatest needs when they arise."
She added the move to call out the reserves was covered by the provision in section 28 of the Defence Act which covers "civil aid, humanitarian assistance, medical or civil emergency or disaster relief".
Professor Twomey said Section 119, which says the the Commonwealth "shall protect every state against invasion", could also be given a wide application.
Mr Teague said the Black Saturday inquiry had no limitations, in contrast to the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry of 2015-16, over which he also presided.
When the final report offered "matter for further consideration" the state government ordered another inquiry, which led to a recommendations on the long-term rehabilitation of power plants and the impact on human health.
He said if there had been any progress, it would be that there had not been anything like the number of lives lost in recent weeks compered to the devastation of Black Saturday.

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(AU) Opinion: In Australia’s Raging Bushfires, A Climate-Change Warning To Its Leaders — And Ours

Lethal Heating - 15 January, 2020 - 04:00
Los Angeles Times - Evan Karlik

Residents watch flames in Lake Tabourie, Australia. Brett Hemmings / Getty Images Evan KarlikEvan Karlik is a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy and an affiliate at Georgetown University’s Center for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies. In 2018 he served as a defense fellow in the House of Representatives. With more than 14 million acres in Australia blackened by bushfires, climate change is a glaring threat to Australians — and to the standing of their prime minister, Scott Morrison.
Distressed residents in fire-ravaged towns have rebuffed his handshakes and heckled his entourage. The nation’s capital, Canberra, rang in 2020 with the world’s worst air quality, causing airline cancellations and government office closures. Beach evacuations of stranded residents cornered between flames and sea now rank as Australia’s largest-ever peacetime maritime rescue operation.
U.S. firefighters feel kinship with their Australian brothers and sisters, and more than 100 have been dispatched to battle the blazes Down Under. While Americans are no strangers to wildfires, Washington would do well to note how Australia’s climate policies are entwined with this current crisis.
In 2000, an Australian parliamentary committee report acknowledged the country’s per capita carbon emissions were the highest in the world and highlighted the country’s acute climatic vulnerability. A 2013 report by the Climate Council, an independent Australian nonprofit, pointed to the increasing likelihood of high fire danger weather due to spiking temperatures, drought conditions and longer and more frequent heatwaves.
And in a November poll, 60% of Australians said they believed the country should be doing more to combat climate change.
But Australia’s reigning politicians have been deaf to these signals.
Greg Mullins, a former fire commissioner in the Australian state of New South Wales, recently told National Public Radio that the national government has been “missing in action in terms of leadership” and that Morrison “does not have his finger on the pulse of the nation.”
Morrison gleefully wielded a fist-sized chunk of coal on the floor of Parliament in 2017. A year and a half later, his right-wing party — incensed over proposed legislation that would have instituted energy sector emissions targets — ousted his predecessor and made fossil-fuel-friendly Morrison head of state.
Australian journalist Hugh Riminton has lamented the coal lobby’s grip on Canberra, calling his country “a burning nation led by cowards.” Tasmanian novelist Richard Flanagan compared the rabid bushfires to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster — another environmental catastrophe that foretold the demise of the existing, untenable political order — and likened Morrison and his “criminal course of inaction” to the decadent and disconnected Roman emperor Nero, who is famously said to have played a fiddle while flames leveled most of ancient Rome.
These domestic denunciations square with the persistent criticism of Australia from its regional neighbors. Pacific island countries are markedly vulnerable to climate change on account of sea level rise, ecosystem collapse due to ocean acidification and coral bleaching, and saltwater contamination of freshwater wells.
Enele Sopoaga, former prime minister of Tuvalu in Polynesia, scoffed at Canberra’s highly publicized Pacific Step-Up diplomatic initiative, which offers generous infrastructure financing, a work-visa program and new undersea communications cables “while you keep pouring your coal emissions into the atmosphere … and drowning my people into the water.” An official in Palau, 600 miles east of the Philippines, called Australia an “abusive spouse” that provides aid for climate mitigation projects while refusing to adopt meaningful emissions reductions.
Prior to the annual conclave of leaders at last year’s Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, Rev. James Bhagwan pointedly reminded Australia’s prime minister that “he is setting foot in a country that could soon be under water.” The headline on his Sydney Morning Herald commentary said it all: “A climate plea to Scott Morrison from a churchman of the Pacific’s sinking nations.”
“No leader who claims Christian morality can allow this conduct on their watch,” Bhagwan wrote.
Present U.S. policy could benefit from such soul-searching. The White House’s abandonment of emissions targets — and combative legal action against states such as California that pursue their own fuel efficiency requirements or carbon cap-and-trade programs — demonstrate either complete obliviousness or categorical insensitivity to those affected by climate change.
For Morrison, the wrath of a traumatized Australian electorate may become evident at the ballot box. In the United States, legislators who acquiesce to how the Trump administration is undermining the 2015 Paris climate agreement and discouraging state-level climate initiatives could find themselves indicted during campaign season and punished at the polls for their dereliction and inaction.
Climate policy negligence will also undermine U.S. relations with Pacific island states.
Morrison’s “utterly tone deaf” defense of robust coal exports during the most recent Pacific Islands Forum meant Australia “upset its friends, opened the door further to China, and trashed its global reputation,” former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd wrote last fall.
American climate policy requires a course correction, or it’s only a matter of time until the U.S. is pilloried in the strategically essential Pacific, leaving an influence vacuum for opportunistic Beijing. China is all too happy to tout itself as one of the first countries to sign the Paris agreement and to reiterate its pledge of stabilizing its carbon emissions over the next decade.
A heart-wrenching image of a charred juvenile kangaroo trapped against barbed wire captured the devastation of Australia’s bushfires and the bitterness of climate inaction. Distraught onlookers around the world took note. We can only hope that U.S. leaders did too.

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(AU) Australia's Wildfires Provide A Scorching Warning On Climate Change To The Rest Of Earth

Lethal Heating - 15 January, 2020 - 04:00
USA TODAY - Editorial

Kangaroo, koala, livestock carcasses strewn along highways like it really is the end of the world. Yet Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is heading the wrong way: Our view
A mural depicting Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Melbourne on Jan. 7, 2020. James Ross/epa-EFEAmong global-warming skeptics, it used to be popular to mock environmentalists and climate scientists as Chicken Littles, forever frantic that the sky was falling.
That kind of lampooning has worn thin, given the relentless rise in global temperatures coupled, most recently, with hellish images of a fire-ravaged Australian continent: Skies cast in orange. The spectral image of the famed Sydney Opera House, lost behind smoke so thick that breathing is like inhaling a pack of cigarettes a day. A scorched region across Australia nearly the size of South Carolina.
Mountainous clouds of smoke extending 10 miles high that generate their own weather, triggering lightning without rain and on a course to circle the earth. Nearly 30 people dead since fires started in September; 2,000 homes destroyed.

Up to a billion animals dying
And the animals. A staggering estimate of up to a billion lost. Kangaroos, koalas, livestock. Carcasses strewn along highways like it really is the end of the world. The most searing and heart-wrenching disaster photograph shows the blackened, upright remains of a juvenile kangaroo, a joey, halted in flight by a fence, its arms still wrapped around the wire.
There's a warning in all of this about the direction of the planet.
No, climate change doesn't start wildfires. But its twin symptoms of persistent drought and hot weather create tinder-like conditions — particularly in southeast Australia with a climate not unlike that of California — and allow wildfires to rage out of control. Australia is in the third year of a punishing drought, and high temperature records were recently shattered with triple-digit heat.
Despite international commitments under the 2015 Paris climate agreement to curb the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, created in large part by the burning of fossil fuels, CO2 levels in earth's atmosphere are greater than at any time in human history and are continuing to rise.
The results have been made plain not just with more destructive wildfires but also stronger hurricanes, record floods and rising seas from melting ice caps. Last year was the world's second hottest on record.

Australia and USA ranked last
Greenhouse gas emission must be curbed in the next decade if there is any chance of preventing average global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) beyond preindustrial levels, the Paris accord goal.
The independent Climate Change Performance Index ranks Australia and the United States dead last among nations on climate policy. The parallels are beyond troubling. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has scoffed at climate concerns by brandishing a lump of coal before Parliament and exhorting, "Don't be scared. Won't hurt you."
Australia is one of the world's leading exporters of coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels contributing to greenhouse gases, and Morrison seeks to increase exports. While he hasn't gone so far as characterizing climate change as a hoax, as President Donald Trump has done, both administrations were blamed for stalling international negotiations last month in Madrid aimed at advancing worldwide emission-reduction goals.
Morrison's approval ratings are tanking as Australia burns. He was ridiculed for flashing a thumbs up from a beach in Hawaii as the fires grew in December. Demonstrations in Australia for climate justice are on the rise.
Earth is growing warmer, and there's no stopping that reality. But Americans, like their counterparts Down Under, can demand that their leaders heed the lessons of a burning continent and take the hard steps necessary to prevent even worse from happening.

The Australian Embassy in Washington declined to provide an opposing view to this editorial.

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(AU) Explainer: What Are The Underlying Causes Of Australia's Shocking Bushfire Season?

Lethal Heating - 14 January, 2020 - 04:00
The Guardian

Despite the political smokescreen, scientists are in no doubt that global heating has contributed to Australia’s fire emergency
Smoke from Australia’s unprecedented bushfires as seen from the International Space Station on January 4. Photograph: NASA Earth Observatory Handout/EPAAs Australia’s unprecedented bushfire season continues to unfold, competing arguments have been made about the principal causes of the human and environmental tragedy – particularly around the role of climate change.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has acknowledged that climate change has had an influence on the fires and has defended his government’s climate record.
But Morrison has also said that “job-destroying, economy-destroying, economy-wrecking targets and goals” on climate change “won’t change the fact that there have been bushfires or anything like that in Australia”.
Backbench MP Craig Kelly denied any link between climate change and bushfires in a combative interview on British TV.
Conservative media have concentrated on other factors, such as the amount of hazard reduction burning carried out, or the activities of arsonists – a claim shown to have been inflated and misrepresented.
Bushfire experts say that in normal years hazard reduction is a way to control the behaviour of fires, but the changing climate is making it harder to carry out prescribed burns and, according to fire chiefs, it is not a “panacea” for extreme bushfires.
Here is what we know about the long-term influences on the bushfire catastrophe.

Why has this bushfire season been so devastating?
Extreme heat and dryness are two important influencers of fire and, on both measures, 2019 was remarkable for Australia.
Australia experienced its hottest year on record in 2019, with average temperatures 1.52C above the 1961-1990 average. Our second hottest year was 2013, followed by 2005, 2018 and 2017.
New South Wales – one state hard hit by the bushfires – broke its record by a greater margin, with temperatures 1.95C above average, beating the previous record year, 2018, by 0.27C.
At a very basic level, rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere change the earth’s radiation balance, allowing less heat to escape.
Australia also had its driest ever year in 2019, with rainfall 40% lower than average, based on records going back to 1900. NSW also had its driest year.
A visualisation from Prof Nerilie Abram, a climate scientist at the Australian National University, examines hot and dry years in Australia since 1910 and how they correlate with major bushfires.

An animated history of average maximum temperatures and rainfall in Australia since 1910.

Fire authorities and the Bureau of Meteorology look at the risk of bushfires using the forest fire danger index, a combined measure of temperature, humidity, wind speed and the dryness, but not the amount, of fuel on the ground.
Australia’s 2019 spring months of September, October and November were the worst on a record going back to 1950 for bushfire risk.

What about ‘natural’ weather patterns?
There have been two other meteorological patterns that helped generate the extreme conditions Australia has been experiencing, and both these “modes of variability” were in “phases” that made conditions worse.
The Indian Ocean dipole was in a “positive phase”, meaning the Indian Ocean off Australia’s north west was cooler than normal and the west of the ocean was warmer.
Positive dipole events draw moisture away from Australia and tend to deliver less rainfall.
But there is evidence that the extra greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are also impacting the dipole and another phenomenon, known as the southern annular mode (SAM).
A 2009 study found that positive dipole events “precondition” the south of the country for dangerous bushfire seasons and that these events were becoming more common.
A 2018 study in the journal Nature Communications found the number of extreme positive dipole events goes up as climate heating continues.
At 1.5C of global warming, the frequency of extreme positive dipole events doubles compared with the pre-industrial period.
The southern annular mode was in a “negative phase” as the bushfires took hold in November and December. This phase was generated by a sudden warming event in the stratosphere above Antarctica.
This caused westerly winds to track further north, blowing hot air across the continent into fire-prone areas, further fanning flames.
Abram’s own research has found that the SAM is being pushed towards more positive phases which, when they occur in Australia’s winter, tend to dry the continent.
Prof Matt England, of the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre, said: “These modes of variability are not changing in a way that’s good for south-east Australia.
“We know with certainty that we are stacking the dice for the chances of these extreme drought years because of the changes in the modes.”

What has happened to Australia’s fire weather?
Scientists have already detected a trend towards more dangerous fire weather in Australia.
A 2017 study of 67 years of FFDI data found a “clear trend toward more dangerous conditions during spring and summer in southern Australia, including increased frequency and magnitude of extremes, as well as indicating an earlier start to the fire season”.
That trend continued in 2019, which was the riskiest year for bushfires on a record going back to 1950.

What role is climate change playing in the risk of fire?
A study of Queensland’s historic 2018 bushfire season found the extreme temperatures that coincided with the fires were four times more likely because of human-caused climate change.
In advice issued in November 2019, Australia’s National Environmental Science Program was unambiguous.
“Human-caused climate change has resulted in more dangerous weather conditions for bushfires in recent decades for many regions of Australia.
“Observations show a trend towards more dangerous conditions during summer and an earlier start to the fire season, particularly in parts of southern and eastern Australia.
“These trends are very likely to increase into the future, with climate models showing more dangerous weather conditions for bushfires throughout Australia due to increasing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Despite such unequivocal statements, Scott Morrison has been irritated that interviewers have asked about his government’s record on climate change, saying it was “just ridiculous” to link “any one emissions reduction policy to any of these fires”.
Morrison’s argument that no emissions reduction policy can be tied to individual events is spurious, as the same argument could be put for any and all efforts to reduce emissions anywhere in the world, at any time.
Scientists also believe that 2019 was a “stand out” year in Australia for the formation of extreme bushfires that became “coupled” with the atmosphere, generating their own lightning and gusty, violent and unpredictable winds. Rainfall is replaced with blackened hail and embers that can be shot out over distances of 30km.
Another study has found that global heating will create more favourable conditions for these “pyroCB” storms to form in Australia.

What about the future?
Climate studies show that conditions in Australia for extreme bushfires will only get worse as more greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere.
On Friday afternoon the president of the Australian Academy of Sciences, Prof John Shine, said Australia would need to further improve its climate modelling ability and understanding of fire behaviour to mitigate against the extreme events that would become more frequent and intense because of climate change.
“Australia must take stronger action as part of the worldwide commitment to limit global warming to 1.5° C above the long-term average to reduce the worst impacts of climate change,” he said.
England said: “We are loading the dice for more and more of these summers. But we have had knowledge of this for some time.
“What we have seen in Australia this year will just be a normal summer if we warmed the planet by 3C. And an extreme summer would be even worse than we’ve seen now.”
Abram said: “Even from my perspective, I am surprised by just how bad 1C of warming is looking.
“It’s worrying that we are talking about this as a new normal, because we are actually on an upward trajectory. Currently the pledges in the Paris agreement are not enough to limit us to 1.5C – we are looking more like 3C.”

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(AU) PM’s Popularity Takes A Dive, As Leading Scientists Fire Back Over Climate Pitch

Lethal Heating - 14 January, 2020 - 04:00
New DailyCait Kelly

Scott Morrison in a sit down interview with the ABC on Sunday. Photo: YouTubeLeading scientists have demanded urgent action on the climate crisis as Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended his government’s policies during the worst bushfire season on record. 
Appearing on Insiders on Sunday morning, Mr Morrison said it was his “intention to meet and beat” Australia’s 2030 commitment to cut emissions 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels. And he left the door slightly ajar to cut more emissions if needed. 
It’s a small but significant step considering just weeks ago Mr Morrison said he saw no need to change his climate policies.
In another move to show it is helping the environment, the Morrison government will on Monday announce it is pledging $50 million to help protect wildlife and fauna impacted by bushfires.
Could it signal that the bushfire disaster has finally woken the government up to do more to acknowledge and fight manmade climate change?
Experts aren’t holding their breath. And now the polls indicate the PM has some work to do to persuade voters amid fury over Mr Morrison’s bushfire response.
The latest Newspoll figures show Mr Morrison’s approval rating has plunged and Labor leader Anthony Albanese is now the preferred leader.
Mr Albanese leads the Liberal leader 43 to 39 per cent, according to the survey results released on Sunday night.
Labor is in front 51-49 on a two-party-preferred basis in the poll conducted for The Australian, a significant turnaround from early December when results showed the coalition led 52-48.
Support for the Greens rose one point to 12 per cent, while One Nation lost ground, falling one point to four per cent.
Meanwhile, scientists say Mr Morrison’s mea culpa on his holiday and hint on climate policy shift are nowhere near the strong response needed to show the government is going to commit to any meaningful change in their climate response.
Lesley Hughes, a professor of biology at Macquarie University and a climate councillor at the Climate Council of Australia, said the government’s targets are so “weak” that it means little when the PM promises to meet or beat them.
“It’s like saying I want a 20 per cent pass rate on my exam. So we met those targets because they were so low,” Professor Hughes told The New Daily.
Meeting the 2030 Paris targets would rely heavily on including emissions reductions from the previous international agreement, the Kyoto protocol.
“The best analogy I’ve heard – and it’s not mine – but it’s like saying I got a really good mark on my kindergarten colouring test and I want to use those to pass my university test now,” Professor Hughes said.

On top of the targets being criticised as too low, the UN reported last year that Australia was not even on track to meet them. 
“There has been no improvement in Australia’s climate policy since 2017 and emission levels for 2030 are projected to be well above the target,” the report found.
Central to the government’s climate plan is the Emissions Reduction Fund, which was allocated an additional $2 billion to purchase about 100 million tonnes of emissions from businesses between 2021 and 2030.
Protesters at the “Sydney is Choking” rally in December demand more action. Photo:  AAPWhile the framework of the ERF has been praised, the OECD said in a 2019 report it would need to be scaled up to meet the Paris targets. 
Australia is part of a growing cohort of G20 countries that are falling short. This will have dire consequences for our environment and economy, Professor Hughes said. 
“If we do meet our 26 per cent reduction, it is not enough if you multiply that on a global scale to stop us from getting to three per cent warming,” she said.
“This fire season has been with just one degree of warming.  Just imagine three times – what that means. That’s what we’re talking about.”

Coal: Australia’s king
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has said the government is “refusing to act” on climate change, but he has also backed coal exports.
Jobs, especially the 37,800 that the coal industry creates, have now been pinned against real action on climate change. 
On Insiders, Mr Morrison said he would not put jobs at risk or apply a tax to meet our emissions goals. 
“What I’m saying is we want to reduce emissions and do the best job we possibly can and get better and better and better at it,” he said.
“I want to do that within a balanced policy which recognises Australia’s broader national economic interest and social interest.”
But Professor Mark Howden, director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University, said ending coal was inevitable – and it would lead to job creation. They just won’t be the same type of jobs.
“At a global level, achievement of the Paris targets is not compatible with large scale coal-fired power,” Professor Howden said.
Coal is the king of Australia’s economy; the industry is valued at $46 billion. Most of it is burnt overseas but including the emissions of exported fossil fuels pushes Australia’s share of global emissions up to 3.3 per cent, making our country one of the highest per-capita carbon emitters. 
We’re selling it off to China and India in rapid rates. But long-term our big-buyers are looking to rely on their own mines.
Australia’s coal exports are adding to our international carbon emissions. Photo: Getty“I think the writing is on the wall for the coal industry,” Professor Howden said.
“Globally the demand for coal will drop, it’ll be harder for coal activities to continue, to insure new coal companies – that’s not an ideology.”
But most importantly, transitioning to a clean future can mean more, not fewer jobs, he said. 
“Whether it’s renewables or gearing up our systems to be more energy-efficient, there are lots of high-quality jobs if we do it sensibly,” Professor Howden said.
“There’s huge amounts of money to be made in new energy sectors. Locking ourselves into the way things have been done in the past does not look like a good proposition.”
Making sure communities don’t suffer in the transition is paramount, he said. 
“We do need to look after those workers and their families. Unless we’re careful those people could suffer,” Professor Howden said.
But if we don’t make the change, he said, other people will suffer. For proof just look at the people left homeless by the bushfires tearing through communities across NSW and Victoria.
“The people on the South Coast, businesses who won’t get customers, lives that will be lost, homes destroyed,” Professor Howden said.
“They’re also costs. We need a much more transparent debate.”

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(AU) Reading The Smoke Signals From Morrison On Climate Change

Lethal Heating - 14 January, 2020 - 04:00
Sydney Morning HeraldDavid Crowe

Australians have heard so many messages about so many climate change policies over so many years that they may shrug off the latest talk from Scott Morrison about his solution to the problem.
The Prime Minister spoke on Sunday about doing “better and better and better” at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to “evolve our policy” over time, while also promising to adapt more to a changing climate.
But he did not outline any substantive change in policy and his office made it clear that he was not signalling a more ambitious target for 2030, the deadline for the government’s 26 per cent cut to emissions.It is easy to dismiss this as meaningless but it is also worth remembering that Morrison can be as cagey with his language as John Howard. A small shift in his words can prepare for bigger changes to come.

Scott Morrison sat down with David Speers for an interview on his response to the Australian bushfire crisis.

This was a considered interview with David Speers on the ABC on Sunday morning. Morrison’s remarks were thoroughly workshopped, totally prepared and carefully calibrated. On the whole, Morrison achieved his goal.
The effect was to give Morrison more room to move in response to a bushfire crisis that has changed the climate change debate. Anxious about cities shrouded in smoke, more Australians are likely to want more action. Morrison has to respond to this reality.
Morrison’s language on climate change has been extraordinarily passive for too long. On Sunday he was more direct. He promised action on climate in a way that offered a way forward for the “modern Liberals” in his party room without declaring war on the climate change deniers. He accepted the science and the need for "resilience" and adaptation.This should be encouraging for anyone who wants the Coalition party room to move on from the climate wars of the past decade. Many of the Liberals and some of the Nationals accept the science. It is wrong to brand them all as sceptics or deniers.
The key word on Sunday – “evolve” – can be used by Liberals to argue for policy change with Morrison's blessing. Whether these moderate voices will push hard for change, and whether they are successful, is difficult to tell.
What happened on Sunday was an adjustment in political positioning, but it is easier to change the marketing than change the product. It is likely to take until the next election to judge whether the government stands for greater action on climate change. Morrison has shifted his language. Whether he shifts his policies is yet to be seen.

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(AU) Australia's Fires Are Terrifying. Will They Get World Leaders To Act On Climate Change?

Lethal Heating - 13 January, 2020 - 04:00
TIMEJustin Worland

Families huddle on a once picturesque beach as their homes burn behind them. Baby koalas, their fur singed, cling to their mothers as they face a fiery demise. And military helicopters whomp overhead, searching the charred landscape for stragglers looking for a last-minute escape.
These bracing scenes illustrate a terrifying reality on the ground in Australia, where more than two dozen people and millions of animals have died in wildfires that have destroyed more than 25 million acres since December and that are not expected to be contained anytime soon.
The blazes, so large that they’ve created their own weather systems, have sparked widespread panic, prompted a military deployment and caused billions of dollars in damage. “We’re in the middle of a war situation,” says David Bowman, director of the Fire Centre Research Hub at the University of Tasmania.
The infernos have also captured the world’s attention. While climate-linked disasters aren’t new–from the uptick in deadly heat waves to increasingly powerful hurricanes, floods and blizzards–images of such destruction often fail to resonate and are quickly forgotten in the next day’s news cycle.
But what’s happening in Australia feels different. Haunting pictures of cute koalas, kangaroos and wallabies that have died en masse tear at our heartstrings. And as cynical as it may sound, the fact that the devastation is occurring in a wealthy, English-speaking country reminds even the most privileged observer that money alone cannot buy immunity from the wrath of nature.
“You have the perfect storm of a story,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, who directs the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. “[It] is happening on literally the other side of the planet, yet it seems to be resonating in this country.”
Most significantly, the Australian fires are burning at a time when the world is becoming increasingly attuned to the catastrophic dangers of unchecked climate change. Activists, a series of dire scientific reports and other recent extreme, climate-linked events–including wildfires more than 7,000 miles away in California–have perhaps succeeded in sharpening the mind. Whether global leaders are able to translate this newfound awareness into meaningful political action is the next test.
There’s no question about the link between the Australian wildfires and climate change. The country’s famed bush–the continent’s vast, often dry expanse that is sparsely inhabited but filled with vegetation–has always been prone to wildfires. But a warming climate has heightened the risk: decades of worsening droughts have killed off plants, grasses and trees, creating tinder for fires, and warmer average temperatures have created furnace-like conditions in which fire can easily spread.
Last year was Australia’s hottest and driest on record, with temperatures in some parts of the country topping 120°F in December, according to government data. A 2019 report from the Australian government concluded that climate change had already “resulted in more dangerous weather conditions for bushfires in recent decades.”
But Australia’s current leadership remains largely in denial about the problem. Along with the U.S., Russia and Brazil, Australia–where coal mining is a significant industry and a powerful lobby–is one of just a handful of countries with national politicians who have steadfastly refused to consider bold action to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
But while U.S. President Donald Trump outright denies the science of climate change, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has taken a different tack in recent months. He isn’t contesting that climate change is real or that it has worsened the bushfires. Instead, he argues that his country can’t do anything about it because Australia’s greenhouse-gas emissions make up only a small share of the global total.
“To suggest that with just 1.3% of global emissions, that Australia doing something differently, more or less, would have changed the fire outcome this season,” he told an Australian radio station, “I don’t think that stands up to any credible scientific evidence at all.”
It’s not clear if, or for how long, Morrison’s position will remain politically tenable among his fellow citizens. Last year, 61% of Australians said their government should take urgent action “even if this involves significant costs,” according to a survey from the nonpartisan Lowy Institute. That number is up 25 percentage points since 2012. “There’s been a backlash against Scott Morrison,” says Lowy’s Daniel Flitton. “Issues to do with the environment have been key to the downfall of successive Prime Ministers in Australia.”
Morrison’s dismissive rhetoric on climate change makes him an outlier among democratic leaders, who are for the most part rushing to proclaim all they’re doing to save the planet.
But his position points to a dilemma: he is correct, of course, that Australia cannot single-handedly prevent climate change in the country’s backyard. Instead, nations–including those that aren’t emitting that much on their own–must act collectively to embrace policies that reduce emissions.
Whether global leaders act boldly will determine if the heartbreaking images from Australia that have now gripped the world are a tragic aberration or a look at what’s to come.

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(AU) Malcolm Turnbull: Scott Morrison Can't Afford To Waste The Bushfire Crisis When Australia Urgently Needs Its Own Green New Deal

Lethal Heating - 13 January, 2020 - 04:00
The Guardian

The lies of the climate deniers have to be rejected. This is a time for truth telling, not obfuscation and gaslighting, writes former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull
The Dunn Road fire in Mount Adrah. Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull says Australia must substantially enhance its firefighting resources. Photograph: Sam Mooy/Getty ImagesHow much of our country has to burn, how many lives have to be lost, homes destroyed before we resolve as a nation to act on climate change?
Have we now reached the point where at last our response to global warming will be driven by engineering and economics rather than ideology and idiocy?
Our priority this decade should be our own green new deal in which we generate, as soon as possible, all of our electricity from zero emission sources. If we do, Australia will become a leader in the fight against global warming. And we can do it.
The cheapest new generation is from wind and solar. And every year they are getting cheaper. That is a fact. But they depend on the wind blowing or the sun shining. That’s why it is called variable renewable energy.
So we have to plan to store the energy when it is abundant so that supply is maintained when it is not. Have we now reached the point where at last our response to global warming will be driven by engineering and economics rather than ideology and idiocy?This is why I prioritised pumped hydro when I was prime minister and started the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro project and the Hydro Tasmania “battery of the nation”. Apart from pumped hydro, there are other storage opportunities including batteries and using renewable energy to make “green” hydrogen, itself a fuel, which brings with it huge export opportunities as well.
But the bottom line is that today in Australia we have the means to decarbonise our entire electricity sector. At the same time we electrify the economy such as by moving to electric vehicles and trucks and using electricity, rather than gas, for heating.
We need to plan this carefully – we have to keep energy affordable and reliable as we make the transition. My government’s policy for a national energy guarantee (Neg) integrated emissions reduction and reliability, and would have enabled us to continue to make the switch to renewables without compromising the reliability of the electricity network.
Today we need common purpose, leadership and planning. We can demonstrate that abundant zero emission energy will create thousands of new jobs that will vastly exceed those lost as coal burning comes to an end.
Take the Hunter Valley. It has enormous transmission capacity which need not be wasted as its coal-fired generators close. The degraded landscape of old mines could be covered with solar panels. Pumped hydro can be created, including around Glenbawn Dam. And that is only one form of storage. The Hunter could become a green energy hub.
The children in Muswellbrook and Singleton will not have to breathe in coal dust and sulphur dioxide from the mines and power stations, and their parents will have jobs in industries that thrive with cheap, green power.
Planning is essential. A practical reality is that it takes much less time to construct new solar or windfarms than it does large-scale pumped hydro for storage. And so we have to plan the storage now.
As we replace big centralised coal-burning generators with many more distributed renewable generators, we will need more and differently designed transmission. A more distributed generation system creates resilience in the face of natural disaster with fewer single points of failure.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison while visiting damaged property on Stokes Bay on Kangaroo Island. Photograph: David Mariuz/AAPAnd those concerned about fuel security would recognise that the most reliable strategy is to use less imported fuels. Far from threatening the Australian weekend, electric vehicles make Australia more energy independent and thus secure.
But above all we have to face this fact; coal is on the way out. It is, as we are seeing today, a matter of life and death. Whether we like it or not, demand for our export coal is going to decline and expire.
The world must, and I believe will, stop burning coal if we are to avoid the worst consequences of global warming. And the sooner the better. The good news is that thanks to technology we can have abundant energy which is both green and cheap.
The cost of solar per watt is declining every year – by 13% last year alone and over 90% over the last eight years. And thanks in large part to research at the University of New South Wales we will soon see a standard solar panel increase its energy efficiency by another 50%. Batteries are seeing similar increases in efficiency and thus affordability. Aemo’s latest estimates show by 2030 new solar backed with six hours of pumped hydro as being more than $40 a megawatt hour cheaper than new black coal even without a carbon price.
And most importantly of all solar and wind are zero marginal cost generators. So they complement storage, like pumped hydro, perfectly. The election is won, and the fires have surely demonstrated that an integrated climate and energy policy is vital.There are simply no more excuses. We cannot allow political prejudice and vested interests to hold us up any longer.
If ever there was a crisis not to waste, it is this one. Morrison has the chance now to reinstate the Neg with higher targets. Both he and Josh Frydenberg were among its strongest supporters when I was PM. They abandoned it in the lead-up to an election, to pacify the right wing of the Coalition that sabotaged it in the first place.
The election is won, and the fires have surely demonstrated that an integrated climate and energy policy is vital if we are to be serious about cutting emissions.
At the same time as we move rapidly to deliver clean and affordable energy we need to make sure that we can respond to the consequences of global warming that cannot be avoided. That too will require careful consideration and planning. The time for spin and bluster is over.
We will need to substantially enhance our firefighting resources, which will have to be done in close consultation with the state firefighting agencies not by dictation from Canberra. Respect, consultation and collaboration are the keys here.
There are many other implications from a hotter, drier climate. Water will be scarcer, droughts more frequent and longer.
But there will be rain again, and good seasons too, so we must not become complacent when the immediate crisis abates. The global warming trend is clear, and it is not our friend.
We can adapt to a hotter drier climate. But the lies of the deniers have to be rejected. This is a time for truth telling, not obfuscation and gaslighting. Climate change is real. As real as the fires that only a month into summer have consumed nearly 10 million hectares. And our response must be real too – a resilient, competitive, net zero emission economy – as we work to make our nation, and our planet, safe for our children and grandchildren.

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(AU) PM Morrison Flags Climate Policy Change

Lethal Heating - 13 January, 2020 - 04:00
Canberra TimesPaul Osborne, AAP

Scott Morrison says it's the government's position that climate change increases bushfire risk.Scott Morrison says he accepts climate change is driving longer, hotter and drier summer seasons and the government's emissions targets need to "evolve".
The prime minister has faced criticism for lacking ambition on cutting Australia's emissions and a number of his coalition partyroom colleagues have downplayed the link between climate change and the devastating bushfires.
Australia has pledged to cut emissions by 26 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, under the Paris Agreement.
"It is my intention to meet and beat that target," Mr Morrison told ABC TV on Sunday.
"In the years ahead we are going to continue to evolve our policy in this area to reduce emissions even further and we are going to do it without a carbon tax, without putting up electricity prices and without shutting down traditional industries."
Asked whether he was open to moving the existing target, he said: "What I'm saying is we want to reduce emissions and do the best job we possibly can and get better and better and better at it."
Mr Morrison acknowledged some within coalition ranks felt climate change had nothing to do with the bushfires.
But it was the government's "uncontested" advice and position that climate change was impacting on longer, hotter, drier summer seasons.
"That is the position of the government - let there be no dispute about that," he said.
Mr Morrison said one of the issues which should be explored by a royal commission into the bushfires, which he will put to cabinet and the state premiers in coming weeks, would be the impact of climate change.
Australia Institute executive director Ben Oquist said it was a "good move" to include climate in the terms of reference for a royal commission.
"But Australia will have to do more to tackle coal and gas to have a credible climate policy on the international stage," Mr Oquist said.
"The coal and gas industry should begin to help pay the mounting costs of climate impacts, recovery and adaptation through the introduction of a climate disaster levy."
Mr Morrison has rejected the idea of a levy, arguing it would hurt the broader economy.

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(AU) An 'Absolutely Seminal Moment': Climate Change Opinion Shifting In Face Of Fires

Lethal Heating - 12 January, 2020 - 04:00
Sydney Morning HeraldDeborah Snow

Social researcher Rebecca Huntley began to detect a shift in the way Australians felt about their summers while working with focus groups about 18 months ago.
“There was a sense that summer was not necessarily a relaxing time for Australians anymore,” she says. “They were worried about crazy temperatures, high electricity prices, about whether Nan was going to put on the aircon ... A lot of people were recognising that Australian summers were not just the old summers of icy poles and running around outside and novels any more, and the community were kind of getting it, even though no one had a premonition it would get this bad.”

Residents are now able to return to Wingello after the fire threat passed.

With this season’s ravening fires yet to be defeated, the immediate focus is on battling the blazes and providing aid and comfort to those who’ve lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods.
But waiting in the wings, it seems, is an opportunity for a more consensus-driven national conversation about climate change once the worst of the crisis has passed.
Veteran pollster John Utting believes the fires have been an “absolutely seminal moment. The conversation in the past has been kind of abstract, with [the case for stronger action] very much in in the hands of the virtue signallers; people felt they were being lectured. But now, everyone is breathing the proof. There is an incredible amount of evidence that the issue is beginning to bite … people are worried about a huge loss of lifestyle, and the impact on how they want to live and what they like about this country.”
Huntley agrees, though she’s not yet as certain as Utting that this season’s fires are a complete game-changer. “People can respond to traumatic events in very different ways, and some can push back and say, ‘I don't want you to play politics with this disaster’,” she says.
Fires hit Lithgow in December. Credit: Dean SewellBut she senses a change in public opinion. This summer’s infernos have meant images of what climate change looks like are no longer so remote for many Australians.
“Polar bears on icebergs, Pacific islands sinking, ice floes melting … it hasn’t felt like that hit at the heart of our identity or way of life. Now, tragically, critically, we have really compelling images in our minds of what climate change might mean for us.”
Huntley is midway through writing a book on the emotional response to climate change and says her research points to “a very high level of concern about climate. All the surveys show that, and whether you believe in surveys or not, they can’t all be wrong all the time”.
“This is an opportunity for leaders to show that actually we are all in this together, that this affects us all ... It’s an opportunity to drop some of the really destructive partisan politics on climate and step forward.”
Bushfire smoke chokes Sydney in December. Credit: James BrickwoodGroups that Coalition governments generally listen to – the Business Council of Australia, the insurance sector, parts of the finance industry, investors, even some religious communities – have been “talking about the importance and opportunity of transitioning to a low-carbon economy for some time”, she says.
The federal government could bring those interests together and ask what should be put on the table in terms of climate action, she suggests. “You would not need one environmental group there and you could still have a meaningful conversation about what needs to be done.”
The CEO of the Investor Group on Climate Change, Emma Herd, also sees an opportunity to “put aside the [toxic partisan debate] of the last decade and to face forward”.
“It is simply not good enough for Australia to say we are only 1.3 per cent of global emissions and there is nothing [more] we need to do. Because we will feel the effects if nothing happens. We really need to be increasing our international engagement to ensure that the world is acting because we are on the front line of the worst effects.”
Properties destroyed in Conjola Park in the New Year's Eve fires. Credit: James BrickwoodFormer foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop stepped into the ring this week, telling Nine's Today show that “we should be showing leadership on the issue of climate change ... If a country like Australia fails to show leadership, you can hardly blame other nations for not likewise showing leadership in this area.”
The remarks were squarely aimed at the federal government’s widely panned performance at the recent Madrid climate summit, where Australia was seen as cheating on targets for emission reductions by insisting on using “carry-over” carbon credits from the much earlier Kyoto treaty.
Experts overwhelmingly believe Canberra’s targets are too low in the face of the mounting evidence that climate change effects are accelerating. Yet, thus far, the Prime Minister has baulked at revising those targets upwards, telling ABC radio again on Friday morning that “our policies don’t pursue reckless job-destroying and economy-destroying targets”.

A selection of the most powerful images and footage captured of the bushfires that started in 2019 by the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age photographers.

State Liberal leaders are proving far more willing to embark on stronger climate policies than their federal colleagues.
Last month, NSW Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean caused a stir by telling a Sydney summit that climate change was a factor in the severity of the fires and “exactly what the scientists have warned us would happen” – a comment that only looked brave because so many of his federal colleagues had run a mile from acknowledging the link.
He told the Herald this week: “For a long time climate change has been something theoretical, but what we are seeing now is tangible impacts on people, property and the environment. We are actually seeing it played out. My view is that the public wants meaningful action in a way that won’t destroy the economy.”
The state government has a stated goal of net zero emissions by 2050, though little has been on offer so far to show how that will be achieved. Concrete measures to make good on the promise are likely to be unveiled soon. By 2030, the goal is a 35 per cent emissions cut on 2005 levels, though that’s yet to become official.
NSW Minister for Energy and Environment, Matt Kean. Credit: AAP“Business is already doing it, not because they are greenies but because they are capitalists,” Kean says. “Markets are shifting, community sentiment is shifting, and it’s time government caught up.”
He says he’s excited by what he saw in international markets at the end of last year, particularly in the Netherlands where they were “overbuilding” wind generation capacity to produce “green” hydrogen. “They will export [it] to the rest of Europe and will make a killing out of it,” he says.
“I think we can win the climate wars by lowering our carbon emissions in a way that creates jobs, sees investment coming into our country and underwrites our prosperity for future generations.”
Kean was unimpressed by federal Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly’s starring turn on British TV this week, when the hapless MP was lashed by high-profile host Piers Morgan after arguing that the savage fires were not linked to climate change but to high fuel loads and the drought.
“Craig Kelly is as qualified to talk about atmospheric physics as he is to perform brain surgery,” Kean says.
Liberal governments in South Australia and Tasmania are also pinning high economic hopes on renewable energy. South Australia produces just over 50 per cent renewable energy now and aims to up that to between 75 and 85 per cent in five years’ time.
That leap in capacity will be aided by a planned new interconnector to link SA’s riverlands and the Riverina in NSW, smoothing out peaks and troughs between the two different weather systems.
Steve Marshall’s government is also investing in closed-loop hydro, large-scale battery storage and subsidies for home batteries to make the most of a high uptake of rooftop solar. The state’s goal is 100 per cent renewable energy by the 2030s, if not 2030 itself.
“We have a good working relationship with Canberra, but the attitude here is we are running our own race,” a senior source says. “Tasmania is in a similar place … we are both talking about how we can become net exporters of renewables.”
Even the cautious Business Council of Australia is chafing at the bit. It made no secret of its dismay when the then Turnbull government ditched the proposed National Energy Guarantee, which would have enshrined lowering emissions as one of the key aims of a national energy plan.
The group was wary of harnessing the fires to pressure for policy change this week. However, a spokesman said: “The climate science tells us that extreme weather events and natural disasters will become more frequent and intense. So we need a credible climate change and energy policy that puts us on a transition path to net zero emissions by 2050.”
John Utting believes the fires have changed the electoral calculus. “Someone running for office now has to be on the right side of the issue at the next election,” he says. “Governments are reluctant to lead opinion, they only respond when community sentiment overwhelmingly backs a change. But look what happened with same-sex marriage - I think it will happen on climate change.”

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(AU) Australia Fire Crisis Fuels Protests Calling For Bolder Action On Climate Change

Lethal Heating - 12 January, 2020 - 04:00
Washington Post - Kate Shuttleworth

Students march behind a banner during a “Fund the Firies and Demand Climate Justice” protest in Sydney on Jan. 10. The fires in Australia have come as the country is polarized by the debate over global warming. The government has downplayed the link between the fires and climate change and Prime Minister Scott Morrison is not bowing to demands from environmentalists for more concerted action. (Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg)MELBOURNE, Australia — The bush fire crisis gripping Australia is piling political pressure on its government to take bolder action on climate change, as the scorching of vast tracts of forest and farmland amplifies demands for a hastier transition away from fossil fuels.
At rallies nationwide Friday, thousands called for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to resign over what they say is his administration’s passivity on an issue that has hit home to millions of Australians as a clear and present danger. The conservative leader has defended his disaster response after facing criticism from victims and firefighters for its perceived inadequacy.
In Melbourne, close to 10,000 people took to the streets, spurning calls from police and the state’s center-left leader, Daniel Andrews, not to risk diverting emergency resources.
“Look at this through the lens of emergency services and the communities ravaged by fires — is this the best way to demonstrate your support?” said Tim Hansen, acting assistant commissioner of Victoria police. The force later said no officers would be pulled back from the fires to manage the protest.
The demonstrations unfolded as blazes burned out of control in several states. Victoria, much of it already declared a disaster area, faced extreme conditions again Friday, while firefighters in New South Wales warned that existing blazes whipped up by strong gusts could merge into one giant inferno.
Protesters in nine cities directed rage at Morrison, chanting “ScoMo has got to go” — using the prime minister’s nickname.
Erin Kimsey, 20, held a sign that read, “We can’t breathe.” She said her father was a volunteer firefighter and had been sent to the state’s east to help. “It’s shocking what’s happening, and there’s not really any action on climate change,” she said.
Maddie Chung, 21, said her family in rural Victoria was at risk from fires and might have to evacuate. “This is a very real situation, and we are calling for action,” she said.
While summer wildfires are a regular and often deadly occurrence in Australia — 173 people were killed when blazes torched Victoria in 2009 — this season’s fires have been far more extensive, fueled by a three-year drought and high temperatures.
Structures destroyed by fires on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, on Friday. (Lisa Maree Williams/AFP/Getty Images)At least 27 people have been killed, more than 2,000 homes destroyed, and wildlife devastated across a swath of the continent since October. Thousands have been forced to evacuate, some sheltering on beaches from encroaching flames. The fires have turned the skies red and blanketed cities in smoke.
“We are running out of time to act on climate,” said Anneke Demanuele, a convener of Uni Students for Climate Justice who joined the Melbourne protest, as a cooler change brought rain to the city.
A speaker at the rally, Jerome Small, said there has been a groundswell around the issue as a result of activists such as Greta Thunberg. But he slammed politicians, calling them a “massive political and economic roadblock.”
“What we’re seeing is the direct result of climate change and a series of decisions made by the most powerful people in Australia,” he told the crowd.
An organizer of a similar rally in Sydney, Gavin Stanbrook, said the events of recent weeks revealed a nation polarized over how to tackle the challenge.
“We are divided between coal interests and politicians on the one side and then firefighters and volunteers on the other and the rest of us who are either impacted or our friends and family are on the front line, or in cities surrounded by smoke,” Stanbrook said. “We need to come together and say that we will not accept it anymore.”
Demonstrators climb a tree and carry placards during a “Fund the Firies and Demand Climate Justice” protest in Sydney on Jan. 10. (Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg)
Morrison has said he is considering an inquiry into the disaster, with officials weighing its likely scope. Last week he called up army reservists to help contain the crisis and assist with evacuations, while also announcing funding to help communities recover.
“This is initial, and this is urgent — there will be more,” Morrison told reporters Friday.
Polls show that Australians consider climate change a menace to the nation. Some 64 percent see climate change as a critical threat, an increase of 6 percentage points from 2018 and 18 points since 2014, according to a Lowy Institute survey last year. And 61 percent of respondents wanted mitigation steps even if they involve significant costs.
Yet the climate debate has riven Australia’s politics in recent years and contributed to the downfall of at least three of Morrison’s predecessors.
In elections in May, voters in mining-dependent regions punished the opposition center-left Labor Party over fears that its climate policies would endanger jobs, while support for the ruling conservatives slipped in some urban areas where voters want a bolder approach. Former conservative prime minister Tony Abbott, who once dismissed climate science as “absolute crap,” lost the Sydney seat he had held since 1994 to an independent candidate who made climate action central to her campaign.
While Australia directly accounts for a little over 1 percent of the world’s greenhouse emissions, its status as one of the world’s largest coal exporters means it contributes to considerably more.
Veterinary surgeons Oliver Funnell and Gayle Kothari treat an injured koala Friday at Australia’s Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, where dozens of koalas have been rescued from fires in recent days. (David Mariuz/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)The country’s economic growth of the past three decades was driven in large part by exporting coal, iron ore and other resources to the fast-expanding economies of Asia. Yet this summer’s apocalyptic scenes have prompted many to call for a rethink.
Tim Flannery, a climate scientist, said the link between many politicians and polluting industries was too strong.
“It’s completely irresponsible that Australia continues to rely on coal for the majority of its electricity. The coal industry has a lot to answer for,” he said.
Australia signed the Paris climate agreement, pledging to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. But based on current trends, the country is not expected to meet that target, according to Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis of climate policies, despite growth in renewable energy.
In November, a group of more than 20 retired fire chiefs said they had been trying to get a meeting with Morrison since April to brief him on the expected catastrophic conditions.
“We predicted exactly what’s happening now, and measures could have been taken months ago,” said former fire chief Greg Mullins.

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(AU) How Rupert Murdoch Is Influencing Australia’s Bushfire Debate

Lethal Heating - 11 January, 2020 - 04:00
New York TimesDamien Cave

Critics see a concerted effort to shift blame, protect conservative leaders and divert attention from climate change.
Burning bushland in Tomerong, in the Australian state of New South Wales, on Saturday. Credit...Matthew Abbott for The New York Times WOMBEYAN CAVES, Australia — Deep in the burning forests south of Sydney this week, volunteer firefighters were clearing a track through the woods, hoping to hold back a nearby blaze, when one of them shouted over the crunching of bulldozers.
“Don’t take photos of any trees coming down,” he said. “The greenies will get a hold of it, and it’ll all be over.”
The idea that “greenies” or environmentalists would oppose measures to prevent fires from ravaging homes and lives is simply false. But the comment reflects a narrative that’s been promoted for months by conservative Australian media outlets, especially the influential newspapers and television stations owned by Rupert Murdoch.
And it’s far from the only Murdoch-fueled claim making the rounds. His standard-bearing national newspaper, The Australian, has also repeatedly argued that this year’s fires are no worse than those of the past — not true, scientists say, noting that 12 million acres have burned so far, with 2019 alone scorching more of New South Wales than the previous 15 years combined.
And on Wednesday, Mr. Murdoch’s News Corp, the largest media company in Australia, was found to be part of another wave of misinformation. An independent study found online bots and trolls exaggerating the role of arson in the fires, at the same time that an article in The Australian making similar assertions became the most popular offering on the newspaper’s website.
It’s all part of what critics see as a relentless effort led by the powerful media outlet to do what it has also done in the United States and Britain — shift blame to the left, protect conservative leaders and divert attention from climate change.
“It’s really reckless and extremely harmful,” said Joëlle Gergis, an award-winning climate scientist at the Australian National University. “It’s insidious because it grows. Once you plant those seeds of doubt, it stops an important conversation from taking place.”
Firefighters waiting at a police checkpoint in Cambewarra, New South Wales, on Saturday. Credit...Matthew Abbott for The New York TimesNews Corp denied playing such a role. “Our coverage has recognized Australia is having a conversation about climate change and how to respond to it,” the company said in an email. “The role of arsonists and policies that may have contributed to the spread of fire are, however, legitimate stories to report in the public interest.”
Yet, for many critics, the Murdoch approach suddenly looks dangerous. They are increasingly connecting News Corp to the spread of misinformation and the government’s lackluster response to the fires. They argue that the company and the coalition led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison are responsible — together, as a team — for the failure to protect a country that scientists say is more vulnerable to climate change than any other developed nation.
Editors and columnists for News Corp were among the loudest defenders of Mr. Morrison after he faced blowback for vacationing in Hawaii as the worst of the fire season kicked off in December.
In late December, the Oz, as the News Corp-owned paper is known here, heavily promoted an interview with the government’s energy minister, Angus Taylor, warning that “top-down” pressure from the United Nations to address climate change would fail — followed by an opinion piece from Mr. Taylor on New Year’s Eve.
Other News Corp outlets followed a similar playbook. Melbourne’s Herald Sun, for example, pushed news of the bushfires to Page 4 on New Year’s Eve, even as they threatened to devastate towns nearby and push thick smoke into the city.
Days later, residents in a town nearly flattened by the fires heckled and snubbed Mr. Morrison during a visit to assess the damage. A new hire for Mr. Murdoch’s Sky News channel, Chris Smith, branded them “ferals” — slang for unkempt country hobos.
A man in Lake Conjola, New South Wales, sprayed water on New Year’s Eve as fire consumed the house next door. Credit...Matthew Abbott for The New York TimesAs is often the case at Murdoch outlets around the world, there have been exceptions to the company line — an article about the Australian golfer Greg Norman’s declaration that “there is climate change taking place”; an interview with an international expert who explained why this year’s fires are unique.
But a search for “climate change” in the main Murdoch outlets mostly yields stories condemning protesters who demand more aggressive action from the government; editorials arguing against “radical climate change policy”; and opinion columns emphasizing the need for more backburning to control fires — if only the left-wing greenies would allow it to happen.
The Australian Greens party has made clear that it supports such hazard-reduction burns, issuing a statement online saying so.
Climate scientists do acknowledge that there is room for improvement when it comes to burning the branches and dead trees on the ground that can fuel fires. But they also say that no amount of preventive burning will offset the impact of rising temperatures that accelerate evaporation, dry out land and make already-arid Australia a tinderbox.
Even fire officials report that most of the off-season burns they want to do are hindered not by land-use laws but by weather — including the lengthier fire season and more extreme precipitation in winter that scientists attribute to climate change.
Still, the Murdoch outlets continue to resist. “On a dry continent prone to deadly bushfires for centuries, fuel reduction through controlled burning is vital,” said an editorial published Thursday in The Australian. It went on to add: “Changes to climate change policy, however, would have no immediate impact on bushfires” — a stance that fits hand in glove with government officials’ frequent dismissals of the “bogey man of climate change.”
A DC-10 dropping water on a fire front in Tapitallee, New South Wales, on Saturday. Credit...Matthew Abbott for The New York TimesIt’s that echoing between officialdom and Murdoch media that has many people so concerned.
“Leaders should be held to account and they should be held to account by the media,” said Penny D. Sackett, a physicist, astronomer and former chief scientist for Australia.
Timothy Graham, a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology who conducted the study of Twitter accounts exaggerating the role of arson in Australia’s fires, said media companies also needed to be cognizant of the disinformation ecosystem and stop contributing to the problem. That includes mainstream outlets, like ABC News, sharing inaccurate maps that exaggerate the reach of the fires.
But in the case of the arson issue, he said, scores of bots and trolls — many of which previously posted support for President Trump — have joined conservative media like the Murdoch outlets in promoting the idea that Australia’s fires are not a “climate emergency” but an “arson emergency.”
“Maybe 3 to 5 percent of fires could be attributed to arson, that’s what scientists tell us — nevertheless, media outlets, especially those that tend to be partisan, jump on that,” Dr. Graham said.
Of course, it is often hard to know just how much influence any media company has. Gerard Henderson, a columnist for The Australian, said he didn’t think there was much need to address climate change because it was already a focal point across the rest of the media.
“It’s hard to distract from climate change because it’s spoken about constantly,” he said.
But there are signs that the Murdoch message is making headway — at least in terms of what people make a priority. Many firefighters working the smoky hills south of Sydney hesitated to state their views on climate change this week (some said senior leaders had told them to avoid the issue). But they were quick to argue for more backburning.
Similarly, in Bairnsdale, Tina Moon, whose farm was devastated by the fires, said she was mostly furious about the government’s failure to clear the land around her property.
“I don’t think it’s climate change,” she said.
A destroyed house in Batemans Bay, New South Wales, on Friday. Credit...Matthew Abbott for The New York TimesLinks
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