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(AU) News Corp Employee Lashes Climate 'Misinformation' In Bushfire Coverage With Blistering Email

Lethal Heating - 11 January, 2020 - 04:00
The Guardian

Senior employee’s reply-all email to executive chairman calls the company’s coverage ‘irresponsible’ and ‘dangerous’
 A News Corp employee has criticised the company’s bushfire coverage for failing to acknowledge the contribution of climate change. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP A senior News Corp employee has accused the company of “misinformation” and diverting attention from climate change during the bushfire crisis in an explosive all-staff email addressed to executive chairman Michael Miller.
The email accuses News Corp papers, including the Australian, the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun, of misrepresenting facts and spreading misinformation to focus on arson as the cause of the bushfires, rather than climate change.
The email was penned by a senior member of News Corp’s commercial arm in response to an all-staff email from Miller detailing the leave arrangements available to staff and announcing other bushfire-related initiatives.
“This does not offset the impact News Corp reporting has had over the last few weeks,” the employee wrote. “I have been severely impacted by the coverage of News Corp publications in relation to the fires, in particular the misinformation campaign that has tried to divert attention away from the real issue which is climate change to rather focus on arson (including misrepresenting facts).
“I find it unconscionable to continue working for this company, knowing I am contributing to the spread of climate change denial and lies. The reporting I have witnessed in the Australian, the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun is not only irresponsible, but dangerous and damaging to our communities and beautiful planet that needs us more than ever now to acknowledge the destruction we have caused and start doing something about it.”
The email landed in the inbox of all News Corp staff, and was leaked to the Guardian by multiple sources, but not the author.
Sources say the email has since been deleted from News Corp inboxes.
News Corp papers have been accused of placing undue emphasis on issues such as arson and hazard reduction in a way that diverts attention from climate change’s role in creating longer, more severe fire seasons.
That includes in editorials that argued no climate policy change would stop the current bushfires, and a perceived emphasis on inadequate hazard reduction and arson as causes.
News Corp has been approached for comment.
The company has previously defended its coverage of climate change and the current bushfires.
It told the New York Times this week that its coverage had “recognised Australia is having a conversation about climate change and how to respond to it”.
“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.”
The Australian has published pieces making clear the link between climate change and the bushfires, including a piece by Jack the Insider, which stated: “It is true that arson and acts of criminal stupidity are common reasons for the ignition of fires. We need to acknowledge that, understand it and take steps to prevent it.”
“But we also need to appreciate that while climate change doesn’t start fires, it is the fundamental reason six million hectares and counting of this country have been ravaged by fire.”
But other pieces have tended to exaggerate the role arson played in the current bushfire season.
This week, the Australian reported that 183 arsonists had been arrested during the current bushfire season. The figure was the sum of data from various states and territories. But it wrongly characterised figures from a number of states, some of which were 12-month totals, and included statistics from other bushfire-related offences, like contravening a total fire ban.
That report was spread globally, including by Donald Trump Jr and conspiracy theorist website InfoWars, which said it undermined “the media and celebrities” who “continue to blame ‘climate change’ for the disaster”.

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(AU) Climate Change Can ‘Supercharge’ Wildfires In Australia Through More Extreme Heat, Drought

Lethal Heating - 11 January, 2020 - 04:00
ABC News America

Climate experts say Australia's hottest, driest year has made the fires worse.

Australia fires burn through 15 million acres of land, kill at least 25 people
ABC News chief meteorologist Ginger Zee shares a look at the fires that have scorched at least 2,000 homes. Australian Dept. of Defense via Reuters

Climate change can increase the chances that areas prone to wildfires see both record high temperatures and drought simultaneously, creating the potential to ”supercharge” the wildfires in Australia after 2019's record-high temperatures, climate experts say.
These fire conditions match what climate scientists have been predicting for more than a decade. A United Nations climate report published in 2007 said heatwaves and fires were “virtually certain to increase in intensity and frequency” as global average temperatures increase.
“An increase in fire danger is likely to be associated with a reduced interval between fires, increased fire intensity, a decrease in fire extinguishments and faster fire spread,” the 2007 report said.
A Royal Australian Navy helicopter departs HMAS Adelaide as part of bushfire relief operations, Jan. 5, 2020. Australian Dept. of Defense via AFP/Getty ImagesThe brush fires in Australia this season have burned more than 12.35 million acres of land. At least 25 people have been killed and 2,000 homes destroyed, the most casualties from wildfires in the country since 2009, according to the BBC. The University of Sydney estimated that 480 million animals have died in South Wales alone.
Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst and climate researcher at Berkeley Earth, said those factors play a significant role in the severity of the ongoing fires in Australia.
“Wildfires around the world and in Australia in particular have been happening for a long time but what we do see is years where it's been hotter and drier tend to be years where we see more area burned,” Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst and climate researcher at Berkeley Earth told ABC News.
Hausfather said warmer temperatures and extreme weather have made Australia more susceptible to fires and increased the length of the fire season. He said the hotter, drier conditions combined with record high temperatures in 2019 created prime conditions for the devastating fires.
"The combination of those two can really supercharge Australia's fires. 2019 was the perfect storm for being the warmest year on record for Australia and the driest year on record for Australia,” Hausfather said Friday.
Burnt letter boxes line a street after an overnight bush fire in Quaama in Australia's New South Wales state, Jan. 6, 2020. Reserve troops were deployed to fire-ravaged regions across three Australian states on January 6 after a torrid weekend that turned swathes of land into smoldering, blackened landscapes. Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty ImagesNoah Diffenbaugh, a climate researcher and earth system science professor at Stanford University, echoed that climate change is elevating the risk of severe fires through more extreme heat and drought conditions while also causing average temperature to rise.
“When low precipitation does occur, it's much more likely to occur in conjunction with high temperature. And when low precipitation occurs in conjunction with high temp it's much more likely to create the very high fuel loads we're seeing around the world including in Australia right now," he told ABC.


ABC News chief meteorologist Ginger Zee shares a look at the fires that have scorched at least 2,000 homes. Australian Dept. of Defense via Reuters

He added that more severe wildfire conditions from heat and drought can’t be reversed and will increase if temperatures continue to warm, but that different policies about how to manage land vulnerable to wildfires can help reduce the risk.
"What we see clearly is that the odds that different regions around the world experience warm and dry conditions simultaneously has already increased substantially as a result of the 1 degree of warming we've already had," he said. "We're already in a regime where different regions of the world are much likely to be warm and dry simultaneously compared to 50 years ago or 100 years ago.
“Approaches that ignore the fact that the climate is changing and the odds that these kinds of hazards like wildfires, like heat waves, like heavy rainfall, like extreme storm surge flooding," Diffenbaugh added. "Not acknowledging that these hazards are changing is a recipe for continuing to be exposed to these kinds of unprecedented conditions.”
And Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, said warmer ocean temperatures are also contributed to more variable weather around the world. Trenberth researches energy imbalances in the atmosphere attributed to greenhouse gases and global warming and said hot spots in the oceans can create a wave in the atmosphere that locks weather patterns in places, causing longer rain events in Indonesia, for example, and at the same time contributing to drought in Australia.
"Under El Nino conditions, Australia tends to be in drought and has more wildfires. In this case, it's not El Nino as such, but there's certainly a role for the oceans in setting up the weather patterns that have been very, very persistent," he said. “The drought conditions in the dry areas are downstream in terms of the atmosphere so it's like a big wave and you have the crest of the wave in the Indonesian region and the trough of the wave over Australia.”
Jesse Collins who organizes donations at an evacuation center in Cobargo, Australia, talks about how hard getting water has been, as bush fires continue in New South Wales, Australia, Jan. 5, 2020. Tracey Nearmy/ReutersHe said that once an area is in drought conditions for two months or more, it increases the risk of fires catching and spreading, and those changing weather patterns due to global warming make drought events longer.
“The proximate cause comes about from multiple reasons, but the fact is that the trees and the plants in the area have been dried out, they're wilted, once that starts the risk of the fire growing and expanding is greater because of the climate change factor. So the climate change doesn't start these fires but they catch more readily and they can spread more readily,” he said.
Climate experts emphasize that climate change is not the only factor in the severity of wildfires. How land is managed can impact the amount of fuel available for fires through practices like controlled burns and other factors can impact the risk to people and property through warning systems and the type of development in a given area. And changing those policies have great potential to limit future damage from wildfires along with changes to how fire management resources are dispatched.
The U.S., Australia, and other countries share fire suppression planes and personnel between countries like the U.S. and Australia during their respective fire seasons, but the fire seasons are stretching longer into the fall and overlapping adding to the strain on resources.

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Earth Posts Second-Hottest Year On Record To Close Out Our Warmest Decade

Lethal Heating - 10 January, 2020 - 04:00
Washington PostAndrew Freedman | Jason Samenow

A kangaroo stands on burned land in Lithgow, New South Wales, Australia, on Tuesday. (Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg)The planet registered its second-hottest year on record in 2019, capping off a five-year period that ranks as the warmest such span in recorded history. In addition, the 2010s will go down in history as the planet’s hottest decade, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), a science initiative of the Europe Union.
The service, which monitors global surface temperatures, determined Earth last year was a full degree warmer (0.6 Celsius) than the 1981-2010 average. This data provides the first comprehensive global look at the state of the climate in 2019, with U.S. agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expected to announce similar results next week.
“2019 has been another exceptionally warm year, in fact the second warmest globally in our data set, with many of the individual months breaking records,” said Carlo Buontempo, head of C3S, in a news release.
The past five years averaged 2 to 2.2 degrees (1.1 to 1.2 Celsius) above preindustrial levels, C3S found. The magnitude of warming puts the planet perilously close to one of the temperature guardrails outlined in the Paris climate agreement, in which policymakers agreed to limit by 2100 global warming to “well below” 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above preindustrial levels.
The aspirational goal in the agreement is to hold temperatures to a 2.7-degree increase, or 1.5 Celsius, above preindustrial levels, which is a target favored by the countries considered most vulnerable to climate impacts, such as small island nations.
The rapid warming has occurred as concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a long-lived heat-trapping greenhouse gas, continue to increase. Copernicus cited satellite measurements showing the amount of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere in 2019 increased by 2.3 parts per million, which was larger than the growth rate in 2018 but below the growth rate of 2.9 ppm in 2015.
Surface air temperature departures from average during 2019. (Copernicus Climate Change Service)Overall, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now the highest level in human history and probably has not been seen on this planet for 3 million years. However, to meet the Paris targets, the world would need to commit to rapidly slashing carbon emissions at a rate far outside the plans of any of the largest emitters, making the 2.7-degree goal technically possible but politically unlikely.This past year featured numerous climate milestones, most of which indicated human and natural systems are already being buffeted by extensive impacts from relatively low levels of climate change, considering the warming projected to come in the next several decades.
Last year, extreme climate events, such as a searing European heat wave, drove home the urgency of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. The recent bush fires in Australia charred millions of acres in December, which was that country’s hottest month on record, capping off its hottest and driest year.
Last year was also the warmest summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and Europe had its hottest year on record. Europe also had its hottest December on record as 2019 came to a close.
The year also brought fierce hurricanes that rapidly intensified from weak to monstrous storms — a process in which climate change is thought to play a role. Among them was Hurricane Dorian, which devastated the northwestern Bahamas. In the United States, Alaska experienced record warmth, with an astonishing lack of sea ice in the Bering and Chukchi Seas even during winter.
The year also brought troubling signs that natural systems that serve to store huge quantities of carbon dioxide and methane, the latter being another powerful greenhouse gas, may be faltering as temperatures increase. In December, a federal report indicated the permafrost that rings the Arctic may already be a net source of atmospheric carbon, which would accelerate global warming in what is known as a positive feedback. Raging fires in the Amazon during the year, largely as a result of a pro-development government in Brazil, now threaten to turn the world’s most productive rainforest into a drier, less carbon-rich savanna.

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(AU) Australia's Wildfires And Climate Change Are Making One Another Worse In A Vicious, Devastating Circle

Lethal Heating - 10 January, 2020 - 04:00
TIMETara Law



The hot, dry conditions that primed southeastern Australia’s forest and fields for the bushfires that have been ravaging the country since September are likely to continue, scientists warn — and climate change has likely made the situation much worse.Over the past few months, the bushfires have already scorched millions of acres, killed two dozen people, and slaughtered an estimated half a billion animals in the country, where it is currently summer. But scientists say that the risk of additional fires remains high. Southeastern Australia has been “abnormally dry” since September, which means that it would need significant rainfall repeatedly over a period of weeks to become damp enough to cut down the risk of fires, says Dan Pydynowski, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather.
Unfortunately, such prolonged rain does not appear to be imminent in the next few weeks. Although the region experienced some rain early this week, Pydynowski warns that it has “not been impressive” and is not enough to substantially reduce fire risk. Significant rain from Tropical Storm Blake is also not expected to reach the area most affected by the fires.
“Everything is so dry right now, it doesn’t take much for a fire to spark and blow up and spread,” Pydynowski says.
A cemetery recently hit by bushfires near Mogo, New South Wales, on Jan. 5. Adam Ferguson for TIME
Climate scientists warn that the scale and devastation of the wildfires are clear examples of the way climate change can intensify natural disasters.The Australian bushfires were exacerbated by two factors that have a “well-established” link to climate change: heat and dry conditions, says Stefan Rahmstorf, department head at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and a lead author of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report.
In recent years, Australia has experienced long-term dry conditions and exceptionally low rainfall. Scientists say that droughts in the country have gotten worse over recent decades. At the same time, the country has recorded record high temperatures; last summer was the hottest on record for the country.
“Due to enhanced evaporation in warmer temperatures, the vegetation and the soils dry out more quickly,” says Rahmstorf. “So even if the rainfall didn’t change, just the warming in itself would already cause a drying of vegetation and therefore increased fire risk.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has resisted calls for the country to reduce its carbon emissions, has been accused of deemphasizing the the link between the bushfires and climate change, saying during a November interview that there isn’t “credible scientific evidence” that curbing emissions would diminish the fires.
However, scientists stress that while many sources may ignite fires — including arson — climate change is a major reason why recent the blazes in Australia have been so destructive.
“There are now disingenuous efforts to downplay the clear role of climate change in worsening the intensity and severity of the Australian fires, or to blame ‘arson’ as a way to distract from the growing threat of climate change. These efforts should be called out for what they are: gross climate denial,” Peter Gleick, a climate scientist and co-founder of Pacific Institute in California.
Gleick says that the bushfires are a “very clear example of the links between climate change and extreme weather.” He points out that these fires are very similar to recent highly destructive fires in Brazil and California.
“It’s not a question of whether climate change has caused these fires. Fires start for natural reasons — or for human cause reasons. What we’re seeing is a worsening of the conditions that make the fires in Australia unprecedentedly bad,” says Gleick. “All of these factors — record heat, unprecedented drought, lack of rain — all contribute to drying out the fuel that makes these fires worse. What we have are fires that might have occurred anyway, but the extent, the severity, the intensity of these fires is far worse than it otherwise would have been without the fingerprints of climate change.”
Rahmstorf also says that climate scientists believe wildfire conditions are worsening because climate change affects the water cycle, which in turn “leads to less rainfall in already dry parts of the world, and more rainfall in the already wet parts of the world.” Australia is especially vulnerable to climate change because the continent is already hot and dry; a large swathe of the country is facing increased risk of drought, says Rahmstorf.
Gleick says that the bushfires can have a ripple effect both on the local landscape and on the global climate. Fires can cause “ember storms,” which can lead to additional fires when embers from smaller fires are picked up by the wind.
Fires also add carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere, which can in turn amplify climate change, Gleick says. “Climate change is making these disasters worse, and these disasters are making climate change worse,” says Gleick. “We’ve only seen a tiny fraction of the climate change that we’re going to see in the coming years and the coming decades. If we’re seeing these disasters with a 1 degree warming of the planet so far, and we know that we’re headed for a 1.5 or 2 or 3 degree warming, we can only imagine how bad these disasters are going to get.”

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(AU) BOM Review Shows 2019 Was A Year Of Weather Extremes

Lethal Heating - 10 January, 2020 - 04:00
ABC WeatherKate Doyle

The attitude required to get through our hottest and driest year on record. (ABCMyPhoto: Clancy Paine)From heatwaves and fires to floods and snow, 2019 was a big year of weather.
It wasn't just hot and dry, it smashed the records.
Australia's average maximum daytime temperatures really sizzled — last year was 2.09 degrees Celsius above the 1961-to-1990 average, smashing the previous record by half a degree.
Dr Karl Braganza, the Bureau of Meteorology's head of climate monitoring, said it was the first time an annual anomaly had been two degrees above average.
Annual mean temperatures were also the highest on record for the country as a whole, at 1.52C above average.
There has been a clear upward trend in average temperatures over the past century. (Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology)It was also Australia's driest year on record, with only 277.6 millimetres of rain for the country on average, 40 per cent less than the long-term average.
Dry years are often hot because rain cools things down, but this is the first time a year has been both the hottest and driest on record.
The previous driest year was 1902, at the end of the federation drought and before the official temperature record began.

2019 wasn't all fire
In Melawondi, near Kandanga and Imbil on the Sunshine Coast, residents collected hailstones in buckets. (Supplied: Bobbie Hamilton)Major flooding from February to April across western Queensland brought relief to some and devastation to many.
It has been estimated 664,000 cattle died when floodwaters covered much of the Channel and Gulf country.
The on-flow ended with the ephemeral Lake Eyre reaching 65 per cent capacity, its fullest since 2011.
Then, dust storm after dust storm swept across the country along with a number of storm storms that caused havoc — from wrecking the vineyards of South Australia's Riverland to pelting down 11-centimetre hail in Queensland's Wide Bay region.
Widespread snowfall in August feels like a lifetime ago. (ABCMyPhoto: Ross Long)The south-east of the country was even sprinkled with snow at one point, with the AFL's first snow match in Canberra in August.
Doesn't August feel like a lifetime ago?
But yes, the main story of 2019 was the heat and the fires.
The 2019-20 fire season will forever go down in the record books. (ABCMyPhoto: Martin Von Stoll)January was plagued by heatwaves, making it Australia's hottest month on record.
Fires burned through Tasmania for weeks, resulting in the state's worst fire season since 1967.
There were also major blazes in Victoria and Western Australia early in the year, only for that devastation to be eclipsed by the recent horror fires.
2019's rainfall was below that of even the millennium drought years. (Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology)Fires have been raging since September.
On December 17 and then 18, Australia surpassed its hottest day on record — the 19th only missed out on the hat-trick by a whisker.
By the end of December, the BOM's report states more than 5 million hectares have been burnt across Australia since July.
"The extensive long-lived fires appear to be the largest in scale in the modern record in New South Wales, while the total area burnt appears to be the largest in a single recorded fire season for eastern Australia," it said.

Yes, climate change is involved
The majority of Australia recorded rainfall well below average during 2019. (Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology)The main climate drivers this year were the strongest positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) on record, with a strong negative burst of the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) late in the year.
Both contributed to the hot dry conditions, but this natural variability happens on the foundation of rising temperatures and increasing fire danger for Australia, Dr Braganza said.
"We've got very-well-defined and clear trends, underlying the change that we've seen over the past several decades," he said.
"We've seen clear trends in maximum, minimum and average temperatures across Australia.
"We've seen quite clear trends in reducing rainfall across south-west WA and parts of the south-east."
Red regions indicate where fire weather increased between 1978 and 2017. (Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology )He said the BOM had also seen a clear trend in fire weather, both in terms of longer and more severe fire seasons.
"The fire season has extended by months in some locations, particularly along the south coast and east Gippsland.
"We're getting more fire weather during the season, and the fire weather we're seeing is more severe."That's reflected in heatwaves as well in many parts of the continent."

The year that will be
How 2020 will follow is yet to be determined, but that underlying trend is not going away.
The current outlook is for relatively neutral conditions; the positive IOD broke down as the monsoon moved into the Australian region.
The #IndianOceanDipole (IOD) has returned to neutral, indicating the end of one of the strongest positive IOD events to impact Australia in recent history—a key driver of the warm & dry conditions during the second half of 2019. Read more in #ENSO Wrap-Up: https://t.co/Eq0Mz3VDnZ pic.twitter.com/Q52oaFG5iw— Bureau of Meteorology, Australia (@BOM_au) January 8, 2020But that doesn't mean we are out of the woods.
"We're not seeing an indication of odds favouring a lot of widespread, above-average rainfall, but we are seeing indications of some rainfall starting to come in with the northern monsoon," Dr Braganza said.
"The hope is that they start to cool down parts of the continent over the central and north-west, which tends to assist in cooling temperatures down a little.
"But really, it's been very hot and dry already. It's still the start of January, there is a deal of summer to go."
Rain and cyclones might finally be coming in the north, but the call is to remain vigilant as the traditionally hottest months of summer are still to come.

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(AU) The World Has Made The Link Between Australian Coal, Fires And Climate

Lethal Heating - 9 January, 2020 - 04:00
Sydney Morning HeraldNick O'Malley

With our south-east coast aflame, our dead uncounted, our holiday beaches rendered into evacuation zones; with our queues for water, fuel, food and for simple escape, Australia now has the world’s attention.
In international eyes, our leaders have been found wanting not only in planning for such a catastrophe, and not just for the failure of some to match the tenacious heroism of our volunteers, but for their refusal to accept the catastrophic reality of climate change and its link with the burning of coal.


Scott Morrison has been abused by community members on a visit to the bushfire ravaged town of Cobargo.

A headline in The Washington Post on Friday morning Australian time bluntly captured Scott Morrison’s humiliation upon visiting Cobargo hours earlier: “Australia’s Prime Minister visited families devastated by the wildfires. It did not go well.”
In the same paper, a caption on the video footage of volunteer firefighters declining to shake the PM’s hand read: “Australians resist, shun Prime Minister amid deadly wildfires.”
At the very same time, The New York Times was reporting that “the fires have fueled anger at Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, who has downplayed the role of global warming, opposed measures to combat climate change and rejected additional funding for firefighters. After widespread ridicule, last month he cut short a vacation during the crisis, a trip that critics said showed he did not take the disaster seriously enough.”
It quoted the angry Cobargo resident who told him in front of TV cameras on Thursday, in what will surely be some of the best remembered footage of Morrison’s prime ministership: “You won’t be getting any votes down here buddy. You’re out son.”
The German broadcaster DW noted that locals had called Morrison an “idiot” and described the criticism he had received for his Christmas holiday to Hawaii.
In America, CNN carried a report that said: “Experts say climate change has worsened the scale and impact of the fires, and many have accused the Morrison administration of doing little to address the climate crisis. In December, a woman dumped the remnants of her fire-ravaged home in front of the Australian Parliament, accusing Morrison and lawmakers of failing to act.”
When he saw the footage of Morrison’s reception in Cobargo,  English broadcaster Piers Morgan, normally a reliable friend to populist conservatives, tweeted “he got what he deserved ... absolutely unconscionable for a Prime Minister to holiday in Hawaii as his nation burns”.
By now, NSW Emergency Services Minister David Elliott, at the time of writing still declining to take calls as he returns from a European jaunt that began after the deaths of NSW volunteer firefighters, must feel some relief that he has no international profile.
Illustration: John ShakespeareIn truth though, the world began to pay attention to the Australian conflagrations and its climate change recalcitrance even before the excruciating footage of Morrison’s visits to firegrounds leaked over the wires. On New Year’s Eve, New York Magazine published a piece about lamenting the global response to the fires that likened Morrison to Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro in embodying climate change denial. Two days later, The Economist noted Morrison’s “lethargic approach to climate change”.
On December 23, Al Jazeera reported: "Australia's government is resisting growing calls for a more ambitious response to climate change, even as the country battles devastating bushfires triggered by record temperatures that have sent air pollution to critical levels."
It noted that Australia “releases 1.3 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases ... its population accounts for 0.3 per cent of the world's inhabitants”.
In a feature published just after Christmas, The Washington Post charted the terrible damage already wrought upon Australia’s environment by climate change. “On land, Australia's rising heat is ‘apocalyptic'. In the ocean it’s worse,” read the headline. It recounted how flying foxes and possums were falling dead out of trees in heat waves, how the giant kelp forests of Tasmania had already been obliterated. “This is happening even though average atmospheric temperatures in Australia have yet to increase by 2 degrees Celsius,” it reported.
Australia also captured global attention during the most recent United Nations climate change talks in Madrid in early December, known as COP25, which were widely seen as a dismal failure in the face of existential global threat.
In this international ring, Australia punched well above its weight, identified as one of the nations most responsible for wrecking any chance of securing a meaningful outcome alongside giants like Brazil and the United States.
In a piece entitled “The winners were the brakemen”, Die Welt explained to German readers how Australia had insisted on double-counting old emissions cuts to meet new commitments.
"Countries such as Australia, Brazil and the USA have blocked and delayed the UN climate protection process in Madrid. The growing will in many countries to stop global warming with decisive action could not prevail here because of the unanimity principle,” Michael Schafer, head of Climate and Energy at the environmental organisation WWF Germany, told German broadcaster Welt. Reimund Schwarze, environmental economist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, spoke of the talks as a "long tragedy".
Prime Minister Scott Morrison's approach to climate change has been called lethargic. Credit: AAP
“Australia played its part in this failure with proposals that would have rendered any agreement practically useless,” wrote James Dyke of the University of Exeter in The Independent newspaper.
“But its continual production of coal is more destabilising. It's no surprise that coal mining corporations want to continue coal mining. But the fact that certain Australian political parties and sections of the media strongly promote coal should be a source of immense shame. The greatest gift they could give to Australians and the rest of the world would be to radically rethink their ideological attachment to this fossil fuel.”
The diplomatic cost of Australia’s determination to defend its coal industry in the face global efforts to cut greenhouse emissions is significant, broad and so far incalculable, says Herve Lemahieu, the director of the Lowy Institute's Asian Power and Diplomacy Program, an ongoing project that measures shifting national power dynamics across our region.
Speaking from London, he said that as a result of coverage of Australia’s performance in Madrid and of the bushfires Australia is now seen in a different, darker light across Europe. Where once it existed in the popular imagination as a place of almost pristine natural beauty, it is now viewed as the Western nation most ravaged by climate change. It’s reputation as a global citizen has been irrevocably tarnished.
NSW RFS firefighters work through the night. Credit: Kate Geraghty
“The global media has made a link between Australia’s protection of its coal industry and its climate policy. The cat is out of the bag,” says Lemahieu.
The impact of this new understanding of Australia will not only damage our effectiveness in future climate negotiations, it will hurt all Australian diplomatic efforts, he says.
“Australia is currently negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU,” he explains. “That will have to be ratified by the EU parliament and by some EU nations. Support for [a free trade agreement with Australia] is going to face a democratic test among populations that have made that link.”
Tim Buckley, the director of Energy Finance Studies at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, says his frustration at the government’s intransigent defence of increasingly technologically obsolete thermal coal (coal burnt for energy rather than steel manufacturing) at the cost of effective climate change policy and international reputation is compounded by his view that the industry has commenced its drawn-out death throes, sustained by political muscle rather than economic reality.
Coal power's defenders point to a recent uptick in imports to China and India and the long-term potential of customers such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and Vietnam. Buckley concedes China and India will continue to buy Australian coal in the short term as they seek to maintain economic growth at up to 6 or 7 per cent annually.
But both have made clear their intention to first transition to domestic coal as fast as they can build the necessary infrastructure while concurrently decarbonising their economies in line with the rest of the world. A Bloomberg analysis published on December 23 predicted “misery” for Australian coal exporters as China cut imports.
He says the coal-fired power generation of those other nations mentioned as long-term customers is wholly dependent on subsidies from nations financing and constructing their coal sectors – mainly China, South Korea and Japan. Both South Korea and Japan, he says, are already showing signs that they want to abandon the sector.
Buckley argues that the thermal coal industry’s tipping point has already passed, missed by its champions in Morrison’s government but already factored in by global money markets.
US coal stocks dropped an average 50 per cent in 2019 while Exxon remained flat in a US equity market that rose 28 per cent overall, meanwhile the share price of the world’s largest investor in renewables, the US utility Nextera Energy, leapt by 42 per cent. Banks and insurers around the world – among them ANZ, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs – are increasing restrictions on their dealings with thermal coal and coal-fired power generation operations.
Divestment from fossil fuel is being turbo-charged by the rise of institutional shareholder activism. The Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change now has a combined $24 trillion in assets under management, and is developing “a practical and useable framework for investors to be able to understand what it would mean for a pension fund to align with the goals of the Paris Agreement.” In other words, it is developing a practical guide for its members to use in dumping coal.
Later this month, Morrison had planned to India in order to help sell more coal. That trip might now not go ahead. Buckley reckons he would have received a polite welcome, not least because India is keen on Australian LNG. He might have even helped sell more coal for a few more years.
But it would be delusional, says Buckley, to believe that Australia will get to choose how and when it transitions from coal. The rest of the world will make that decision for us, and it could do so suddenly.
Tipping points can be easy to miss in financial markets, says Buckley. In part, this is because they are by nature sudden and dramatic. In part, it is because it is so tempting to keep basing forecasts on historical trends.
“You can get away with that for years,” he says, “until it makes you look like a fool.”
This summer, Australia has been clobbered by the immediate practical reality of climate change. A similarly violent collision with economic and political realities now faces leaders of both parties and their friends in the coal industry.

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(AU) 'Silent Death': Australia's Bushfires Push Countless Species To Extinction

Lethal Heating - 9 January, 2020 - 04:00
The Guardian

Millions of animals have been killed in the bushfires, but the impact on flora and fauna is more grim even than individual deaths
Habitat of the endangered southern brown bandicoot has been obliterated by fire on Kangaroo Island, one of many Australian species whose survival has been further threatened by this summer’s terrible bushfires. Photograph: Simon Cherriman/WWF AustraliaClose to the Western River on Kangaroo Island, ecologist Pat Hodgens had set up cameras to snap the island’s rare dunnart – a tiny mouse-like marsupial that exists nowhere else on the planet.
Now, after two fires ripped through the site a few days ago, those cameras – and likely many of the Kangaroo Island dunnarts – are just charred hulks.
“It’s gone right through the under storey and that’s where these species live. The habitat is decimated,” said Hodgens, of Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife, a not-for-profit conservation group.
On Friday afternoon, word came through that three other Land for Wildlife sites protecting dunnarts and other endangered species, such as the southern brown bandicoot, had also been consumed by fire on the island off the South Australian coast.Prof Sarah Legge, of the Australian National University, said the prognosis for the Kangaroo Island dunnart was “not good” and its plight was symbolic of what was happening all across the east coast of Australia.
She said “many dozens” of threatened species had been hit hard by the fires. In some cases “almost their entire distribution has been burnt”.
So far, the current Australian bushfire season has burned through about 5.8m hectares of bush, known across the world for its unique flora and fauna.
Ecologists say the months of intense and unprecedented fires will almost certainly push several species to extinction.
The fires have pushed back conservation efforts by decades, they say, and as climate heating grips, some species may never recover.
Climate scientists have long warned that rising greenhouse gases will spark a wave of extinctions.
Pat Hodgens with burnt cameras that had been monitoring threatened species on Kangaroo Island. Photograph: KI Land for WildlifeNow ecologists fear the bushfires represent the catastrophic beginning of a bleak future for the country’s native flora and fauna.
“It feels like we have hit a turning point that we predicted was coming as a consequence of climate change. We are now in uncharted territory,” Legge said.
Bushfires don’t just burn animals to death, but create starvation events. Birds lose their breeding trees and the fruits and invertebrates they feed on.
Ground-dwelling mammals that do survive emerge to find an open landscape with nowhere to hide, which one ecologist said became a “hunting arena” for feral cats and foxes.
These fires are homogenising the landscape. They benefit no species.
John Woinarski
“It’s reasonable to infer that there will be dramatic consequences to very many species,” said Prof John Woinarski, of Charles Darwin University.
“The fires are of such scale and extent that high proportions of many species, including threatened species, will have been killed off immediately.”
He said footage of kangaroos and flocks of birds fleeing fires was no evidence of their survival. With fires of such wide extent, they run out of places to escape.
“We know that the species that can’t fly away – like koalas and greater gliders – are gone in burnt areas. Wombats may survive as they’re underground, but even if they do escape the immediate fire front, there’s essentially no food for them in a burnt landscape.”
A burnt carcass of a kangaroo in Sarsfield, East Gippsland. Photograph: James Ross/EPA Woinarski said the critically endangered long-footed potoroo was restricted almost entirely to East Gippsland, which has been devastated by this year’s fires.
In southern Queensland, much of the known range of the silver-headed antechinus “has been obliterated by fires”, he said.
He said fires had always been a feature of the Australian landscape, but in normal circumstances extensive patches of unburnt areas were left, that helped species survive.
“There are no winners in fires like this,” he said. “These fires are homogenising the landscape. They benefit no species.
“This is a harbinger of a bleak future for our wildlife. They have set back conservation in Australia for a very long period, but [the fires] are a sign of an even more bleak future ahead. Because of climate change, they will become more frequent and more severe. It’s a sad time for conservation in Australia.”
He said it was “quite likely” the fires would have caused some extinctions, but “we won’t know until after this summer ends”.
“There’s an obligation now to do immediate reconnaissance for these species.”
Legge offered other examples. The endangered Hastings River mouse, she said, had had about 40% of its known distribution “toasted”.
Fire has covered about one-third of the range of the vulnerable rufous scrub-bird
“Even some species that are not snuffed out completely will struggle in the coming months. I think this is the end for a number of species,” she said.
One estimate of the number of animals affected by the fires has come from University of Sydney ecologist Prof Chris Dickman.
Using previous research compiled in 2007 on the impact of land clearing in New South Wales, Dickman estimated about 480m mammals, birds and reptiles had been affected – but not necessarily all killed. His estimate did not include bats, which are susceptible to fires and also critical for moving around seeds and pollination.
“There is a suite of small animals that live on the forest floor. If the cover is removed, then foxes and cats move in and they use the burned areas as open hunting arenas,” he said.
There is a silent death going on.
Richard Kingsford
As the fires moved into Kosciuszko national park, he was now concerned about the endangered mountain pygmy possum.
One important factor, he said, was the ecological role that many affected animals played.
Bandicoots and poteroos help to move fungal spores around after fires that promote regrowth. If those animals die, that “ecological service” goes with them.
Prof Brendan Wintle, a conservation ecologist at the University of Melbourne, said the scale and timing of the fires was “terrifying”.
“If this is what we are seeing now are the beginnings of changes due to climate change, then what are we looking at 2C or 4C? I don’t think we can get our heads around what that could be like. This is not the new normal, but it’s a transition to something we have not experienced before.
“This is really concerning not just for the impact that this event will have, but the prospect of this happening on a regular basis is really quite terrifying, and it will be to the point where forest ecosystems have changed to have a different character. When they change you definitely lose species.”
Wintle said species such as the yellow-bellied glider and the greater glider, already threatened by climate change, would be severely affected. “These species require large old trees to den and they can’t survive without at least some large old living trees in their range.”
He said East Gippsland was a stronghold for the two species, but it appeared that “vast swathes” of its habitat had been burned in recent days.
A burnt brushtail possum rescued from fires near the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. Photograph: Jill Gralow/ReutersMuch of the known range of the endangered brush-tailed rock wallaby – a species already “right on the edge of extinction” – had also been burned, he said.Three quarters of threatened species in Australia are plants, many of which exist in only small pockets, such as the dark-bract banksia and the blue-top sun orchid.
“You can lose the lot in one big fire,” Wintle said. “If the timing is wrong, or the fire is too hot, you can also lose the seed bank and that’s then another species on the extinction list.”
Prof Richard Kingsford, director of the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science, said the fires would rob many bird species of vital old growth trees they need to breed.
Fire had taken away the invertebrate bugs the birds feed on, and that food source would not return until there was significant rain.
“There are a whole lot of things that are ecologically off the scale,” he said.
“We won’t really know how much of a tipping point these fires have been, but the scale in terms of extent and severity I think will be a serious problem for many, many species. It will set back biodiversity in our forests for decades.
“You have these incredibly savage blows and these animals have not evolved to cope with it. These fires are not, in the scheme of things, natural.
“We don’t see these smaller animals being incinerated. There is a silent death going on.”

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Everyday Weather Is Linked To Human-Caused Climate Change In New Study

Lethal Heating - 9 January, 2020 - 04:00
Washington PostAndrew Freedman

A pedestrian walks in Southwest Washington on a wet and misty December day. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)For the first time, scientists have detected the “fingerprint” of human-induced climate change on daily weather patterns at the global scale. If verified by subsequent work, the findings, published Thursday in Nature Climate Change, would upend the long-established narrative that daily weather is distinct from long-term climate change.
The study’s results also imply that research aimed at assessing the human role in contributing to extreme weather events such as heat waves and floods may be underestimating the contribution.
The new study, which was motivated in part by President Trump’s tweets about how a cold day in one particular location disproves global warming, uses statistical techniques and climate model simulations to evaluate how daily temperatures and humidity vary around the world. Scientists compared the spatial patterns of these variables with what physical science shows is expected because of climate change.
The study concludes that the spatial patterns of global temperature and humidity are, in fact, distinguishable from natural variability, and have a human component to them. Going further, the study concludes that the long-term climate trend in global average temperature can be predicted if you know a single day’s weather information worldwide.
Rural Fire Service firefighters undertake property protection measures Tuesday near the town of Sussex Inlet, Australia. (Sam Mooy/AFP/Getty Images)Study co-author Reto Knutti, of ETH Zurich, said the research alters what we can say about how weather and climate change are connected.
“We’ve always said when you look at weather, that’s not the same as climate,” he said. “That’s still true locally; if you are in one particular place and you only know the weather right now, right here, there isn’t much you can say.”
However, on a global scale, that is no longer true, Knutti said. “Global mean temperature on a single day is already quite a bit shifted. You can see this human fingerprint in any single moment.
“Weather is climate change if you look over the whole globe,” he added.
The research uses the techniques applied in other “detection and attribution” studies that have sought to identify the signal of human-caused climate change in longer-term changes at the global level, such as the seasonal temperature cycle of the planet or heating of the oceans.
The authors, from research institutions in Switzerland and Norway, use machine learning to estimate how the patterns of temperature and moisture at daily, monthly and yearly time scales relate to two important climate change metrics: global average surface temperatures and the energy imbalance of the planet. Increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are causing Earth to hold in more of the sun’s energy, leading to an energy surplus.
The researchers then utilized machine learning techniques to detect a global fingerprint of human-caused climate change from the relationships between the weather and global warming metrics, and compare it with historical weather data.
By doing this, scientists were able to tease out the signal of human-caused global warming from any single day of global weather observations since 2012. When looking at annual data, the human-caused climate signal emerged in 1999, the study found.
In what one outside expert, Michael Wehner of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, deemed a “profoundly disturbing” result, the study found that the global warming fingerprint remained present even when the signal from the global average temperature trend was removed.
“This . . . is telling us that anthropogenic climate change has become so large that it exceeds even daily weather variability at the global scale,” Wehner said in an email. “This is disturbing as the Earth is on track for significantly more warming in even the most optimistic future scenarios.”
Stanford University climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh, who was not involved in the study, said it advances our understanding of climate change’s effects.
“The fact that the influence of global warming can now be seen in the daily weather around the world — which in some ways is the noisiest manifestation — is another clear sign of how strong the signal of climate change has become,” he said in an email. “This study provides important new evidence that climate change is influencing the conditions that people and ecosystems are experiencing every day, all around the world.”
The research may provide a bridge between two approaches to detecting the human fingerprint on the changing climate. One of these techniques focuses on long-term trends, while another looks at regionally specific, shorter-term extreme weather events. Until this new study, there was no way to integrate these two specialties.
“Because it’s not possible to disentangle the fingerprint of climate change from natural internal variability for any particular extreme event, these studies use model simulations to estimate how the probabilities of such ‘class of events’ may have changed under anthropogenic climate change,” said study lead author Sebastian Sippel, of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science at ETH Zurich.
“Our study could be seen also as linking these two sides of the same coin,” he said.
The study contains uncertainties, particularly when it comes to the accuracy of computer models in simulating various climate cycles. It also does not tease out the importance of other factors that influence the climate, such as land-use change and human-made and volcanic aerosols.
Knutti notes that the use of machine learning techniques, which can help tease out patterns in large data sets, can introduce uncertainties as well, although he’s confident those were minimized here.
While the new study does not attribute the climate change trends they found completely to human activities, Sippel said it’s unlikely there is another plausible explanation.
“We know from many other studies that the warming in the last 40 years is almost entirely human,” he said, adding that this is the subject of follow-up work.

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(AU) Craig Kelly And Piers Morgan In Tense Good Morning Britain Exchange Over Bushfires And Climate Change

Lethal Heating - 8 January, 2020 - 04:00
ABC NewsStephanie Dalzell


Liberal MP Craig Kelly and Piers Morgan clash over bushfire crisis (ABC News)

Key points
  • Piers Morgan blasted the Liberal backbencher on air, telling him to "wake up"
  • Mr Kelly said the cause of the fires was the "build-up of fuel load and the drought"
  • Scott Morrison sought to reassure the public his Government accepted the link between climate change and natural disasters
Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly has defended his Government's handling of the bushfire crisis, during a combative UK television interview in which he argued the fires were caused by high fuel loads and not climate change.
Appearing on ITV's Good Morning Britain, Mr Kelly — who has long questioned whether the climate is indeed changing, and whether human activity has played a part — was grilled by outspoken British host Piers Morgan, who introduced him as a "climate change sceptic".
Mr Kelly nodded along during the introduction.
"You believe this has nothing to do with climate change, explain that," Piers Morgan began.
Mr Kelly replied: "Well Piers, you have to look at science and what our scientists are telling us.
"What causes the fires is the build-up of fuel load and the drought.
"To try to make out — as some politicians have — to hijack this debate, exploit this tragedy and push their ideological barrow, that somehow or another the Australian Government could have done something by reducing its carbon emissions that would have reduced these bushfires is just complete nonsense."
The Bureau of Meteorology has said climate change is influencing the frequency and severity of dangerous bushfire conditions in Australia and other regions of the world.
Morgan blasted the Liberal backbencher on air, telling him to "wake up".
"Climate change and global warming are real, and Australia right now is showing the entire world just how devasting it is," Morgan said.
"For senior politicians in Australia to still pretend there's no connection is absolutely disgraceful."


Some Cobargo residents refused to shake Scott Morrison's hand, others hurled abuse at him. (ABC News)

Mr Kelly backed his decision to appear on the UK program in an interview with Radio National Breakfast host Tom Tilley.
"I went on that program to defend the Prime Minister, he was being attacked for what people were saying was a not-adequate response from Australia," Mr Kelly said.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said his reaction to Mr Kelly's comments that were aired in the UK was "one of despair".
"Despair, not just that Craig Kelly has those views and continues to advocate them — not just here in Australia, but globally, and be seen to be representing the Australian Government's position — but the knowledge that he's one of the people who has held back action," he said.
"He's one of the people who has stopped action on climate change domestically, which has led us to be in a position whereby we're actually, as well, arguing for less action internationally, rather than more."
As fires burn across the country, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been under pressure to develop a stronger climate change policy.
The Australian leader has also made global headlines for his handling of the bushfire crisis, with international media outlets watching the fires closely.
His confrontational meeting with angry residents — who heckled the Prime Minister and refused to shake his hand during the brief visit — in the bushfire-ravaged New South Wales town of Cobargo was streamed across the world.
The criticism has left Mr Morrison repeatedly seeking to reassure the public — both domestically and abroad — his Government accepts the link between climate change and natural disasters.
"I should stress that there is no dispute in this country about the issue of climate change globally, and its effect on global weather patterns, and that includes how that impacts in Australia," he said on Sunday.
And when asked later in the day what he would say to those around the world who were watching, he simply said: "Thank you very much for your support. Thank you."
Mr Kelly's senior Liberal colleagues are frustrated with the timing of this intervention, at a time when the Government is eager to highlight its $2 billion commitment to rebuilding towns devastated by the fires.
At a press conference in Canberra, Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said Mr Kelly's views were not representative of the Government's position.
"Quite frankly, I've got better things to do than worry about what a backbencher goes and says on national TV," Mr Littleproud said.
"There's peoples' lives I'm trying to rebuild, there's 26 Australians who have lost their lives, I couldn't give a rats what he said, it's irrelevant.
"Let's just focus on those people who are out there who need our help, that's what we should be focused on. These tidbits on the sidelines, I couldn't care less about."

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(NYT) Australia Is Committing Climate Suicide

Lethal Heating - 8 January, 2020 - 04:00
New York Times - Richard Flanagan

As record fires rage, the country’s leaders seem intent on sending it to its doom.
An out-of-control fire in Hillville, in the Australian state of New South Wales, on Nov. 12. Credit...Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

Richard FlanaganRichard Flanagan won the Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North and is the author, most recently, of the novel First Person. BRUNY ISLAND, Australia — Australia today is ground zero for the climate catastrophe. Its glorious Great Barrier Reef is dying, its world-heritage rain forests are burning, its giant kelp forests have largely vanished, numerous towns have run out of water or are about to, and now the vast continent is burning on a scale never before seen.
The images of the fires are a cross between “Mad Max” and “On the Beach”: thousands driven onto beaches in a dull orange haze, crowded tableaux of people and animals almost medieval in their strange muteness — half-Bruegel, half-Bosch, ringed by fire, survivors’ faces hidden behind masks and swimming goggles. Day turns to night as smoke extinguishes all light in the horrifying minutes before the red glow announces the imminence of the inferno. Flames leaping 200 feet into the air. Fire tornadoes. Terrified children at the helm of dinghies, piloting away from the flames, refugees in their own country.
The fires have already burned about 14.5 million acres — an area almost as large as West Virginia, more than triple the area destroyed by the 2018 fires in California and six times the size of the 2019 fires in Amazonia. Canberra’s air on New Year’s Day was the most polluted in the world partly because of a plume of fire smoke as wide as Europe.
Scientists estimate that close to half a billion native animals have been killed and fear that some species of animals and plants may have been wiped out completely. Surviving animals are abandoning their young in what is described as mass “starvation events.” At least 18 people are dead and grave fears are held about many more.
All this, and peak fire season is only just beginning.
As I write, a state of emergency has been declared in New South Wales and a state of disaster in Victoria, mass evacuations are taking place, a humanitarian catastrophe is feared, and towns up and down the east coast are surrounded by fires, all transport and most communication links cut, their fate unknown.
An email that the retired engineer Ian Mitchell sent to friends on New Year’s Day from the small northern Victoria community of Gipsy Point speaks for countless Australians at this moment of catastrophe: “All
we and most of Gipsy Point houses still here as of now. We have 16 people in Gipsy pt.
No power, no phone no chance of anyone arriving for 4 days as all roads blocked. Only satellite email is working We have 2 bigger boats and might be able to get supplies ‘esp fuel at Coota.
We need more able people to defend the town as we are in for bad heat from Friday again. Tucks area will be a problem from today, but trees down on all tracks, and no one to fight it.

We are tired, but ok.
But we are here in 2020!
Love

Us”
The bookstore in the fire-ravaged village of Cobargo, New South Wales, has a new sign outside:
“Post-Apocalyptic Fiction has been moved to Current Affairs.And yet, incredibly, the response of Australia’s leaders to this unprecedented national crisis has been not to defend their country but to defend the fossil fuel industry, a big donor to both major parties — as if they were willing the country to its doom. While the fires were exploding in mid-December, the leader of the opposition Labor Party went on a tour of coal mining communities expressing his unequivocal support for coal exports. The prime minister, the conservative Scott Morrison, went on vacation to Hawaii.
Since 1996 successive conservative Australian governments have successfully fought to subvert international agreements on climate change in defense of the country’s fossil fuel industries. Today, Australia is the world’s largest exporter of both coal and gas. It recently was ranked 57th out of 57 countries on climate-change action.
In no small part Mr. Morrison owes his narrow election victory last year to the coal-mining oligarch Clive Palmer, who formed a puppet party to keep the Labor Party — which had been committed to limited but real climate-change action — out of government. Mr. Palmer’s advertising budget for the campaign was more than double that of the two major parties combined. Mr. Palmer subsequently announced plans to build the biggest coal mine in Australia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia. Credit...Joel Carrett/EPA, via ShutterstockSince Mr. Morrison, an ex-marketing man, was forced to return from his vacation and publicly apologize, he has chosen to spend his time creating feel-good images of himself, posing with cricketers or his family. He is seen far less often at the fires’ front lines, visiting ravaged communities or with survivors. Mr. Morrison has tried to present the fires as catastrophe-as-usual, nothing out of the ordinary.
 This posture seems to be a chilling political calculation: With no effective opposition from a Labor Party reeling from its election loss and with media dominated by Rupert Murdoch — 58 percent of daily newspaper circulationfirmly behind his climate denialism, Mr. Morrison appears to hope that he will prevail as long as he doesn’t acknowledge the magnitude of the disaster engulfing Australia.xxxMr. Morrison made his name as immigration minister, perfecting the cruelty of a policy that interns refugees in hellish Pacific-island camps, and seems indifferent to human suffering. Now his government has taken a disturbing authoritarian turn, cracking down on unions, civic organizations and journalists. Under legislation pending in Tasmania, and expected to be copied across Australia, environmental protesters now face up to 21 years in jail for demonstrating.
“Australia is a burning nation led by cowards,” wrote the leading broadcaster Hugh Riminton, speaking for many. To which he might have added “idiots,” after Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack blamed the fires on exploding horse manure.
Such are those who would open the gates of hell and lead a nation to commit climate suicide.
A man drags away plastic garbage bins from a property engulfed in flames in Lake Conjola in New South Wales. Credit...Matthew Abbott for The New York Times
More than one-third of Australians are estimated to be affected by the fires. By a significant and increasing majority, Australians want action on climate change, and they are now asking questions about the growing gap between the Morrison government’s ideological fantasies and the reality of a dried-out, rapidly heating, burning Australia.
The situation is eerily reminiscent of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, when the ruling apparatchiks were all-powerful but losing the fundamental, moral legitimacy to govern. In Australia today, a political establishment, grown sclerotic and demented on its own fantasies, is facing a monstrous reality which it has neither the ability nor the will to confront.
Mr. Morrison may have a massive propaganda machine in the Murdoch press and no opposition, but his moral authority is bleeding away by the hour. On Thursday, after walking away from a pregnant woman asking for help, he was forced to flee the angry, heckling residents of a burned-out town. A local conservative politician described his own leader’s humiliation as “the welcome he probably deserved.”
As Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, once observed, the collapse of the Soviet Union began with the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. In the wake of that catastrophe, “the system as we knew it became untenable,” he wrote in 2006. Could it be that the immense, still-unfolding tragedy of the Australian fires may yet prove to be the Chernobyl of climate crisis?

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(AU) Foreign Media Rips Into Australia Over Causes Behind Bushfire Crisis

Lethal Heating - 8 January, 2020 - 04:00
NEWS.com.auSam Clench

The rest of the world, still transfixed by Australia’s bushfire crisis, has warned we are trapped in a “spiral” – one partly of our own making.
The fires were mentioned multiple times during the Golden Globes today, with the likes of Pierce Brosnan, Ellen DeGeneres, Patricia Arquette and Cate Blanchett chiming in with messages of support.


Hollywood stars have used their moments in the Golden Globes spotlight to highlight the bushfires ravaging Australia.

And overseas media outlets continue to dissect Australia’s response to the crisis – often in strikingly harsh terms.
The world has been horrified by Australia’s bushfires. Picture: Saeed Khan/AFPAccording to The Atlantic, Australia is “caught in a climate spiral” partly of its own creation.“Australia is buckling under the conditions that its fossil fuels have helped bring about. Perhaps the two biggest kinds of climate calamity happening today have begun to afflict the continent,” Robinson Meyer wrote.
Those two calamities are, first, the bushfires, and, second, the “irreversible scouring of the earth’s most distinctive ecosystems” – in our case, the Great Barrier Reef.
“Perhaps more than any other wealthy nation on earth, Australia is at risk from the dangers of climate change,” Meyer wrote.
“It has spent most of the 21st century in a historic drought. Its tropical oceans are more endangered than any other biome by climate change. Its people are clustered along the temperate and tropical coasts, where rising seas threaten major cities. Those same bands of liveable land are the places either now burning or at heightened risk of bushfire in the future.
“Faced with such geographical challenges, Australia’s people might rally to reverse these dangers. Instead, they have elected leaders with other priorities.”
Much of the article focused on our reliance on coal exports for economic growth.
“Australia is the world’s second-largest exporter of coal power, and it has avoided recession for the past 27 years in part by selling coal,” Meyer said.
“Australia will continue to burn, and its coral will continue to die. Perhaps this episode will prompt the more pro-carbon members of Australia’s parliament to accede to some climate policy. Or perhaps Prime Minister Morrison will distract from any link between the disaster and climate change, as President Donald Trump did when he inexplicably blamed California’s 2018 blazes on the state’s failure to rake forest floors.”
Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes during the California fires, which burned more than 700,000 hectares. Ninety-seven residents died.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Mr Trump said at the time.
“Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests.”
For the record, Mr Morrison has acknowledged the link between climate change and Australia’s current bushfires, though he has also said hazard reduction burning is the issue raised with him “most commonly” by fire-affected communities.
Meyer went on to speculate the fires could push Australia’s politics “in an even more besieged and retrograde direction”, empowering politicians to “fight any change at all”.
“And so maybe Australia will find itself stuck in the climate spiral, clinging ever more tightly to coal as its towns and cities choke on the ash of a burning world.”
Pessimistic stuff.
The Atlantic wrote that Australia was stuck in a ‘climate spiral’. Picture: Saeed Khan/AFPElsewhere, CNN’s Angela Dewan wrote a piece wondering whether Australia could afford to continue on its current trajectory.
“The devastation and persistent clouds of toxic smoke hanging over major towns and cities are begging the question, can Australia’s way of life go on?” she said.
“Australia’s political inaction on climate change can be hard to understand. Famous for its natural beauty, the country suffers annual fires and intense drought. It is regularly smashing heat records, and its rain patterns are becoming less predictable. Its seasons are beginning to look a little back to front.
“If Australians want to retain their quality of life, they must consider climate change policies that not only address fires but also other pollutants, such as traffic and industry.”
Dewan said Mr Morrison “should be worried” about what Australians think of him in towns like Cobargo, where he got such a hostile reception last week.
Furious locals, some of whom had lost their homes, shouted at Mr Morrison and refused to shake his hand. Their chief complaint was insufficient funding for the Rural Fire Service.
A heat map of Australia from Saturday when Penrith was the hottest place on earth. Picture: BSCHThe most strident critique of the Government, however, came from Australian novelist Richard Flanagan, writing for The New York Times under the apocalyptic headline: “Australia is committing climate suicide.”“Australia today is ground zero for the climate catastrophe,” Flanagan said.
“Its glorious Great Barrier Reef is dying, its world heritage rainforests are burning, its giant kelp forests have largely vanished, numerous towns have run out of water or are about to, and now the vast continent is burning on a scale never before seen.
“Incredibly, the response of Australia’s leaders to this unprecedented national crisis has been not to defend their country but to defend the fossil fuel industry, a big donor to both major parties – as if they were willing the country to its doom.
“While the fires were exploding in mid-December, the leader of the opposition Labor Party went on a tour of coal mining communities expressing his unequivocal support for coal exports.
“The Prime Minister, the conservative Scott Morrison, went on vacation to Hawaii.”
Mr Albanese did voice his support for coal exports – to an extent – before departing on his Queensland tour last month.
“If Australia stopped exporting today there would not be less demand for coal – the coal would come from a different place,” he said.
“So it would not reduce emissions, which has to be the objective. I don’t see a contradiction between that and having a strong climate change policy.
“The proposal that we immediately stop exporting coal would damage our economy and would not have any environmental benefit.”
Flanagan continued his piece by citing a comment from Channel 10’s Hugh Riminton, saying Australia is a “burning nation led by cowards”.
“To which he might have added ‘idiots’, after Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack blamed the fires on exploding horse manure,” he said.
“Such are those who would open the gates of hell and lead a nation to commit climate suicide.”
He finished with a remarkably provocative comparison between Australia’s current crisis and the Soviet Union in its final years.
“The situation is eerily reminiscent of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, when the ruling apparatchiks were all powerful but losing the fundamental, moral legitimacy to govern,” Flanagan claimed.
“In Australia today a political establishment, grown sclerotic and demented on its own fantasies, is facing a monstrous reality which it has neither the ability nor the will to confront.
“As Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader once observed, the collapse of the Soviet Union began with the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. In the wake of that catastrophe, ‘the system as we knew it became untenable’, he wrote in 2006. Could it be that the immense, still unfolding tragedy of the Australian fires may yet prove to be the Chernobyl of climate crisis?”

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(AU) Bushfire Preparations Stymied By Climate Change Deniers In Government, Says Small Business Lobby

Lethal Heating - 7 January, 2020 - 04:00
ABC NewsMichael Janda

COSBOA says it is not only the small businesses destroyed or damaged by fire that are suffering. (Supplied: Lorena Granados) Key points
  • Small business lobby COSBOA warned many businesses "will close and not reopen" as a result of the fires and loss of summer trade
  • COSBOA chief executive Peter Strong said climate change deniers in the Federal Government should "shut-up" and "go and sit at the backbench where they belong"
  • The lobby is urging governments to assist fire-affected regions to put on events once the fires are over to lure visitors back to those areas
A key small business lobby group has urged any climate change sceptics on the Coalition frontbench to quit their ministries, arguing they stymied preparations for this bushfire season.
The Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) said its members who have been affected by the fires, either directly or indirectly, are generally disappointed with the Federal Government's handling of the crisis.
"What I'm hearing from my members is the fact that there should have been better preparation for what was predicted by many to be very bad bushfires, worse than normal," said COSBOA's chief executive Peter Strong.
"The preparation at the state level, I think, was very good. But at the federal level, there are people within Government who firmly believe there is no such thing as climate change or that human beings don't have an impact upon it, and they are adamant that no extra work or extra effort should ever happen because they don't believe in climate change.
"That's where the disappointment is within my membership, and we want to hear from those climate change deniers in the Government ranks that they will now shut up, they will go and sit at the backbench where they belong and they will not interfere in developing processes to respond to this situation."Morrison's fires response has put
his political judgement in question
Within the Government, there is widespread acknowledgement that Scott Morrison's Midas touch has gone missing, writes David Speers.The Federal Government has faced heavy criticism around its handling of the bushfire crisis, including accusations that ads authorised by the Liberal Party were politicising the disaster and that the acquisition of extra aerial firefighting resources was too slow.
However, the Government said its call-up of 3,000 Defence reservists to assist with relief efforts is an unprecedented response to a natural disaster in Australia.
"I can understand why people are angry, absolutely. But when I look at our response as a Federal Government, we've got the ADF [Australian Defence Force] reservists out the door, we've actually deployed defence assets in a way they never have been," Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie told the ABC's RN Breakfast program.

'Businesses will close and not reopen'
Mr Strong told RN Breakfast that the scale and timing of the fires meant thousands of businesses were losing a large part of their annual income.
"In a lot of cases, they might get 80 per cent of their incomes come from this time of year, as you go through December, January, February," he said.
"It's when they make the money they need to stay open for the rest of the year."
Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.


Audio: Finance with Michael JandaABC Radio National Breakfast7m 34secs
He said the summer revenue shortfall meant many will go out of business, especially in tourist areas around national parks where blackened forests may not recover for several years.
"There will certainly be businesses that will close and not reopen," he predicted.
"If you go to the bushfire affected areas, where people won't be visiting for a long, long time, they just won't be able to open because there won't be any passing trade."It will have a huge impact, and the impact on the businesses means an impact on the whole community as jobs are lost."
Parliament House was shrouded by a heavy haze as Canberra was blanketed in bushfire smoke. (AAP: Lukas Coch)Mr Strong said it is not just businesses in towns directly ravaged by the fires that are suffering.
"We have areas that have been smoke affected as well — Canberra's been very heavily smoke affected — and so a lot of businesses there are not trading the way they used to because people aren't
Can Morrison live down his
George W Bush moment?
Scott Morrison has had some perplexing failures of political and policy judgement in recent weeks, writes Laura Tingle.going out, or people are going to the shopping malls so they businesses outside shopping malls are being affected," he said.
Mr Strong said governments at all levels could assist by funding events that would encourage tourists back to affected areas after the fires have passed.
"There's all sorts of things that could be done — putting on fetes and festivals, putting on music festivals, you've still got your beaches, the beaches are still going to be pristine, there's still reasons for people to visit, but now it's up to government, local government, and businesses themselves to send a message out, 'Here's some reasons why you should visit'."

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(NYT) As Fires Rage, Australia Sees Its Leader as Missing in Action

Lethal Heating - 7 January, 2020 - 04:00
New York TimesLivia Albeck-Ripka | Jamie Tarabay | Isabella Kwai

The country is venting frustration with Prime Minister Scott Morrison over what many view as a nonchalant response to the disastrous blazes and his unwavering dismissal of climate change.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday in Sarsfield, Australia, a town hit by bush fires. Credit Pool photo by James RossHASTINGS, Australia — The posters have popped up on streets around Australia, showing the prime minister looking very tropical: floral wreath on his head, ocean-blue shirt open at the collar.
“MISSING,” they blared. “Your country is on fire.”
The immediate reference was clear. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has been widely castigated for taking a vacation to Hawaii last month, and trying to keep it quiet, while Australia was in the early clutches of one of its most devastating fire seasons ever.
But the message went well beyond one island getaway. Angry and frightened, Australians have been venting their frustration with Mr. Morrison over what they see as his nonchalant and ineffectual response to the disastrous blazes and his unwavering dismissal of the force that has made them so intense: climate change.
With thousands fleeing eastern towns this weekend as fires swept from the hills to the coast, the inescapable realities of a warming world were colliding with the calculated politics of inaction.
Mr. Morrison has minimized the connection between climate change and Australia’s extreme environmental conditions, even as the country just completed its hottest and driest year on record. He has derided calls to end coal mining as “reckless,” prioritizing economic interests and loyalty to a powerful lobby. He has opposed taxing heat-trapping emissions or taking other significant steps to reduce them, although a majority of Australians say the government should take stronger action.
Mr. Morrison and the defense minister, Linda Reynolds, on Saturday. Credit Lukas Coch/EPA, via ShutterstockAnd he has signaled no change in his policies even as 24 people have died, hundreds of homes have been destroyed, and more than 12 million acres have burned, an area larger than Denmark. On Sunday, weather conditions eased a bit, with light rain in some areas, but blazes were still burning in Victoria and New South Wales, and some towns were being evacuated.
“The thing that strikes everyone about the present situation is the federal government’s disengagement and lethargy, to put it politely,” said Bill Hare, director of Climate Analytics, a policy institute.
“People are just bewildered,” he added.
As the fire conditions worsened over the weekend, Mr. Morrison defended his government’s response and announced a military mobilization — one that he quickly promoted in a video on social media, drawing widespread criticism. He also denied that his government had played down the links between global warming and changes in Australia’s weather patterns.
“The government has always made this connection, and that has never been in dispute,” he said.
The prime minister said he was undeterred by the anger directed at him. “There has been a lot of blame being thrown around,” he said. “Blame: It doesn’t help anybody at this time, and over-analysis of these things is not a productive exercise.”
Mr. Morrison’s attempt at damage control came as Australians have been voicing a growing sense since November, when the fires arrived early and with far more force than usual, that the government is no longer protecting them in the way it once did.
For much of the time since, the prime minister said that it was not the time to talk about climate change, and that those who did were merely trying to score political points.
But each surge of the flames into crowded suburbs and coastal getaways has presented a fresh test of Mr. Morrison’s defense of the status quo. He has sought to tamp down outrage mostly with photo opportunities and a populist appeal that echoes President Trump. Mr. Morrison has portrayed those who support greater climate action as effete snobs trying to impose their ways on an unwilling quiet majority.
The prime minister published a New Year’s message in newspapers across Australia that pushed back against international pressure for the country to do more.
Mr. Morrison flying over bush fires in New South Wales last month. Credit Adam Taylor/Australian Prime Minister's Office
“Australians have never been fussed about trying to impress people overseas or respond to what others tell us we should think or what we should do,” Mr. Morrison said. “We have always made our own decisions in Australia.”
Critics suggest that his antipathy toward action on climate change has contributed to what they consider a hands-off response to the fires, treating them as a tragedy rather than a turning point.
For months, Mr. Morrison rebuffed calls for a more forceful intervention by the federal government — like a broad military deployment or the largely symbolic declaration of a national emergency — by noting that firefighting had long been the responsibility of individual states. He changed course on Saturday, announcing a call-up of military reservists and new aircraft resources.
The prime minister also initially resisted pressure to compensate the thousands of volunteer firefighters who are performing the overwhelming bulk of the work to protect communities. He later relented, approving payments for each of up to about $4,200, or 6,000 Australian dollars. The decision came a week after he cut his Hawaii trip short and returned to Australia following the deaths of two volunteer firefighters.
Mr. Morrison, who began his professional life in tourism, has been mocked online with the hashtag #scottyfrommarketing. On New Year’s Day, as fire victims surveyed the destruction from the wildfires under orange skies, photos emerged of Mr. Morrison hosting the Australian cricket team in Sydney.
Destroyed property in Conjola, New South Wales, on Tuesday. Credit Matthew Abbott for The New York Times“It reminds me of the George W. Bush moment after Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” said Daniel Flitton of the Lowy Institute, a nonpartisan policy center in Australia. “He seemed to be out of touch, and misread the depths of public concern. That became a lodestone he had to carry for the rest of his term in office.”
More recently, Mr. Morrison has tried to defend Australia’s environmental policies, portraying his government as taking firm action. He said repeatedly in a news conference on Thursday — his first since before Christmas — that the government was on course to “meet and beat” its emission reduction targets.
Climate scientists say those targets were low to begin with. And Australia’s emissions have been rising, while the leadership continues to fight for the right to emit even more.
During United Nations climate talks in Madrid late last year, Australia came under heavy criticism for proposing to carry over credits from the two-decade-old Kyoto Protocol to help it meet its targets under the landmark Paris accord.
“We are laggards,” said Joseph Camilleri, an emeritus professor of politics at La Trobe University in Melbourne, where he specializes in existential threats, including climate change.
“What the Australian fires do best is show us that climate change is now with us here and truly,” he added, “and everyone, including Australia, needs to do an awful lot more than we are doing.”
Australia’s conservative leaders often point out that the country accounts for only a tiny percentage of the world’s heat-trapping emissions. But some experts called the Madrid maneuver a potentially pernicious example from a country that continues to extract and export huge amounts of coal that ends up being burned in power plants around the world.
Protesters marched on Mr. Morrison's official residence in Sydney in December to demand greater climate action. Credit Wendell Teodoro/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesProtesters marched on Mr. Morrison's official residence in Sydney in December to demand greater climate action.Credit...Wendell Teodoro/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
“The government claims it has reduced emissions,” Mr. Hare said. “What they’re using are essentially accounting tricks to justify or explain their reasoning.”
In his news conference on Thursday, Mr. Morrison framed the government’s climate policy in a way he often has before, as something he will not let get in the way of continued prosperity. He also asked Australians to trust the government and to be patient.
To many, that appeal did not match the gravity of the fear and anxiety coursing through the country.
Jim McLennan, an adjunct professor specializing in bush-fire preparedness at La Trobe University, said that many of the regions affected this season had no recent history of severe bush fires, making it difficult for communities to prepare.
Australians are also emotionally unready, he added, for the extreme future that most likely awaits them. Some scientists say
people may have to throng to cities to escape the threat of bush fires.
“I can’t think of a time,” he said, “where we have had so many serious fires occurring in so many different parts of the country at roughly the same time. It is a kind of new world.”
Mr. Morrison may be able to weather the political storms. The next election is two years away, and he is fresh off a surprise electoral victory in which he was buoyed by support in Queensland, a coal-mining center.
But across the country’s heavily populated eastern coast, the public’s patience is nearly exhausted and turning rapidly to fury. Hours after the news conference on Thursday, Mr. Morrison visited a fire-ravaged community, Cobargo, to see the damage and pledge support to residents.
They heckled him out of town. “You left the country to burn,” one person yelled before the prime minister walked away and set off in his car.
In Mallacoota, another devastated community in southeastern Australia where hundreds of people were evacuated by naval ship to the town of Hastings, Michael Harkin, a vacationer from Sydney, said his experience during the fires had intensified his anger toward the government over its inaction on climate change.
The Morrison government, he said, was exhibiting “incompetent governance avoiding the inevitable.”
“They’re not keeping us safe at all,” he added.
A mural of Mr. Morrison in Sydney by the artist Scott Marsh. Credit Steven Saphore/EPA, via Shutterstock 
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(AU) The Bushfire Crisis Has Given The Government A Political 'Out' To Its Climate Change Problem

Lethal Heating - 7 January, 2020 - 04:00
ABC News - Frank Jotzo

The bushfire emergency, arising from the drought, has become a national crisis. (Supplied: DELWP Gippsland) Frank JotzoFrank Jotzo is a professor at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy.
He is representing the ANU as an observer at the UN climate conference.  The fires across Australia are taking a terrible toll. For those who have lost their loved ones and for those who have lost their homes.
For those who suffer weeks and months of fear, and for the firefighters working beyond exhaustion.
For the millions who breathe harmful smoke with the risk of future illness, and for the many businesses that go broke.
And for nature: we are losing animals and their habitat, biological diversity and natural beauty at massive scale.
The physical and mental scars will be with us for years. Every drive or walk in the woods will be a reminder. Spring will bring fear of the summer.
The bushfire emergency, arising from the drought, has become a national crisis.

You need to lead
It could be the turning point for Australia's climate change politics and policy that is so deeply in the ditch.
It could allow Government politicians to discard their past destructive stance on climate change, and give the opposition an opportunity to look to the future.
How climate change has impactedthe world since your childhoodGlobal warming is already changing the world before our eyes — let's see what has happened in your lifetime, and what's in store for your future.So dear Prime Minister and Cabinet, please find it within yourselves to drop the old anti-climate change stance.You have created the perception of being aloof, uncaring and ineffective on the fires. This was epitomised in the way the Prime Minister turned his back on a resident of fire-ravaged Cobargo when she pleaded for help and the partisan way of going about the announcement of the federal measures.
You will need to lead, and that means showing concern and acknowledging that climate change is a huge issue for Australia.
And you will need to pivot on climate change policy. You've been politically locked into a no-action position, but the bushfires give you the reason to change. The bulk of Australia's business community will be behind you, they yearn for sensible national climate policy.
You can make it your mission to protect the country from harm, an essential conservative cause.
Your biggest problem will be the Murdoch media, some rabid backbenchers and some coal companies. But you are in charge, right?

We need a strong and positive voice
And dear Labor, please be a strong and positive voice. You'll need to get over the idea that the way to electoral salvation is by singing the praises of coal to differentiate from the Greens.
The party of progress and social justice needs to stand for strong action on climate change, and for helping workers and communities in the transition that will sweep Australia's energy and industrial sector.
An all-around strong position on climate action is the natural position of the progressive centre.
Under climate change, the conditions for catastrophic fires will likely be much more frequent. (Supplied: Adam Meredith)A large majority of voters know that climate change is real and important and say that something should be done about it. That sentiment will likely strengthen.The usual limitation is the fear of costs. But the fires and drought remind people that our high standard of living depends on nature, and that the very underpinnings of our wellbeing slip away when nature gets out of balance.
The bushfire catastrophe will put climate change policy once again into the mainstream of public concern. And perhaps 2020 will be the year when the political contest starts being over what specifically to do about it, rather than whether or not to act.
It is possible: the UK and Germany have conservative governments that pursue strong climate change policy, and the main opposition parties are broadly in agreement.

If there was ever a 'nation building' program, this is it
Under climate change, the conditions for catastrophic fires will likely be much more frequent — along with the conditions for drought, flooding and storms.
It is plain to see how hard climate change could hit Australia's economy: the rebuilding after catastrophes like the fires, the costs of upgrading infrastructure including to better withstand flooding, and the losses in tourism and agriculture which are major sources of export income. Add to that the widespread damage to unique ecology, which is not only a value in itself but part of what makes Australia attractive to the world.
There is no need to despair. There will be rebuilding and regrowth, but as a nation we need to muster the courage to accept the inevitability of future catastrophes, and have an honest conversation about how we will go about them in a future of accelerating climate change.
It is plain to see how hard climate change could hit Australia's economy. (Instagram: @travelling_aus_family)We need to plan ahead, provide the resources to fully deal with the impacts as they come, invest in infrastructure and raise capability. If ever there was a "nation building" program, this is it.A good starting point is the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework that was prepared within the Department of Home Affairs.
It argues for better anticipation of future disasters in the context of climate change, and for more integrated decision making.
It has been buried, but Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and the Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo could now take the running with this blueprint.
Dealing with disasters is only the start of it. We need a comprehensive strategy for responding to climate change impacts.
That means a shakeout of government policy and planning at all levels of government, testing investments for whether they are climate change proof. It also means giving businesses — including farmers — the best information and right incentives to plan ahead for climate change.
Worryingly, in recent years Australia has fallen behind in climate change adaptation research and planning.

Your legacy is at stake
And of course we need to do what we can to limit future climate change. That means encouraging strong global action on emissions.
We cannot do that as long as we are seen as a recalcitrant on the global stage, as we are now.
How spending $200 a yearcould help prevent climate changeOn 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.We should invest to transition Australia's economy to a zero carbon powerhouse, and to build up renewables-based energy export industries.With our unrivalled renewable energy resources, we are extremely well placed to prosper in a global zero-carbon energy system. But we need to get started, and be seen to be playing ball on climate change.
Australia has profited from fossil fuels for decades. The workers and architects of the carbon industries deserve respect. But the future for our economy lies in services, clean industries and smart agriculture.
This is all quite obvious to most of our young people, and that is where things will turn.
For those who see their future in peril, climate change action is not a left-right divisive issue, but one of common sense.
The pressure and that will come from the young generation will sweep the climate nay-saying aside.
So dear politicians of all stripes: get with sensible climate policy, or be left behind. Your legacy is at stake.

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(AU) Morrison's Government On The Bushfires: From Attacking Climate 'Lunatics' To Calling In The Troops

Lethal Heating - 6 January, 2020 - 04:00
The Guardian

From May 2018 to January 2020, the Coalition government has had an evolving stance on the fire crisis
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, speaks with Paul and Melissa Churchman at their Wildflower farm in Sarsfield, Victoria, which was destroyed by the bushfires. Photograph: James Ross/AAPFrom describing bushfire warnings as the concerns of “inner-city raving lunatics” to calling in the defence forces, the following is a timeline of Scott Morrison’s government’s evolving stance on the fire crisis.

May 2018
The National Aerial Firefighting Centre sends the commonwealth government a business case requesting a permanent increase of $11m to its annual budget. Payments are made on a top-up basis only.

April 2019
The Emergency Leaders for Climate Change, a group of 22 former emergency services leaders led by former commissioner of NSW Fire and Rescue Greg Mullins, writes to the federal government alerting them to the threat of “increasingly catastrophic extreme weather events and calling on both major parties to recognise the need for “national firefighting assets”, including large aircraft, to deal with the scale of the threat.

16 September 2019
The Emergency Leaders for Climate Change write again to Morrison asking why the government has not yet given them a meeting, despite being told on 4 July that Angus Taylor’s office would be in touch to arrange one.“It appears that Minister Taylor, or perhaps his office, fails to grasp the urgency of this matter,” Mullins writes. “I must assume from this response and the months of delay in Mr Taylor making contact, that the minister appears at best disinterested in what the Emergency Leaders might have to say.”

8 November 2019
Australian defence force liaison officers start working with Emergency Management Australia.

9 November 2019
Carol Sparks, the mayor of Glen Innes, raises the link between climate crisis, drought and bushfire activity after the town faces down an inferno that killed two of its residents. “We are so impacted by drought and the lack of rain,” she says. “It’s climate change, there’s no doubt about it. The whole of the country is going to be affected. We need to take a serious look at our future.”

11 November 2019
Michael McCormack told Radio National it was ‘pure, enlightened and woke capital-city greenies’ linking climate change with the bushfires. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP The deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, tells Radio National that it is “pure, enlightened and woke capital-city greenies” and “inner-city raving lunatics” like Richard Di Natale and Adam Bandt from the Australian Greens that are “trying to get a political point score” for raising the link between climate crisis, drought and the devastating bushfires.
David Littleproud, the minister for emergency management, says that Taylor’s office has received no formal request for a meeting from Mullins or the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action but that his office will reach out to them.

11 December 2019
Australia is rated the worst-performing country on climate change policy out of 57 countries in a report prepared by international thinktanks. The report also criticises the Morrison government for being a “regressive force” internationally.

12 December 2019
Morrison attempts to reassure voters that he understands bushfires are a natural emergency and that he accepts the link between climate change and an extended fire season, while dismissing international censure of his government’s climate policies as “not credible”.

16 December 2019
Reports circulate that the prime minister has gone on holidays to Hawaii, as Sydney battles extreme smoke pollution as out-of-control bushfires burn through the Blue Mountains. The prime minister’s office says his whereabouts are “not a story” and that claims he is on holiday in Hawaii are “wrong”.

17 December 2019
Littleproud says he met with Mullins and told the delegation they “should take great comfort and great pride in the current cohort of fire chiefs around the country who have planned meticulously for these fires”.
Littleproud says fighting bushfires is “obviously … the responsibility of states but the federal government kicks the tin. We don’t walk away from this.”

17 December 2019
The Emergency Leaders for Climate Action say they will hold a summit after the current bushfire season because of their “huge disappointment in the lack of national leadership during a bushfire crisis”.
It comes as fires raged across New South Wales and Western Australia on Monday and as Australia was named as one of a handful of countries responsible for thwarting a global deal on the rulebook of the Paris climate agreement.

19 December 2019
Two volunteer firefighters, Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, die fighting fires south-west of Sydney when a tree hits their tanker.

20 December 2019
Morrison says he will return from holidays. “I deeply regret any offence caused to any of the many Australians affected by the terrible bushfires by my taking leave with family at this time,” he says in a statement. “Given the most recent tragic events, I will be returning to Sydney as soon as can be arranged.”

22 December 2019
Morrison returns to work and signals the Australian government will not increase its efforts to combat climate change despite the bushfire crisis and record-breaking heatwave. He says drawing attention to climate crisis and emissions reduction policies during the bushfire season is an attempt to “score [political] points” during a disaster.He says the government is considering calls to pay volunteer firefighters but notes that is “in the first instance” a matter for state governments.

23 December 2019
Morrison says calls to reduce carbon emissions are “reckless” and that Australia doesn’t need to do more on tackling climate crisis. He rejects calls from the opposition to bring forward a meeting with state governments to address the bushfire crisis.

29 December 2019
Morrison agrees to compensation payments made to NSW volunteer firefighters who have lost income due to fighting bushfires, but he sees no further role for the commonwealth. “We’re there to help the states and territories as they address these crises. The states are the ones, as premier knows all too well, who are directly responsible for the funding of their fire services and all the other things that are done.”

30 December 2019
A third NSW RFS volunteer, Samuel McPaul, is killed when his truck rolls during extreme conditions at a fire near Jingellic, on the NSW/Victoria border.

31 December 2019
Morrison releases a statement through social media offering condolences to McPaul’s relatives and emphasising the leading role of the state and territory firefighting authorities in the bushfire crisis. He says the commonwealth will continue in its role of providing “support” to those efforts.

1 January 2020
Morrison shares his new year message urging Australians to celebrate living “in the most amazing country on earth” and remember “there’s no better place to raise kids anywhere on the planet”. He does not make any connection between the bushfires and global heating, suggesting that Australians had faced similarly terrible ordeals throughout history.
Later that day, Morrison hosts the annual New Year’s Day Cricket Australia-McGrath Foundation reception with the Australian and New Zealand teams at Kirribilli in Sydney. In his address to the teams, he says forthcoming Sydney Test match will be “played out against terrible events” but that “at the same time Australians will be gathered whether it’s at the SCG or around television sets all around the country and they’ll be inspired by the great feats of our cricketers from both sides of the Tasman and I think they’ll be encouraged by the spirit shown by Australians”.

2 January 2020
At a press conference, Morrison says he’s “always acknowledged the link … between the broader issues of global climate change and what that means for the world’s weather and the dryness of conditions in many places” but that “no response by any one government anywhere in the world can be linked to any one fire event”.
Morrison reiterates he has no plans to change Australia’s emissions reduction policy. He defends his government’s response to the fires by saying he doesn’t want state and federal governments “to be tripping over each other in order to somehow outbid each other in the response”.
Navy ships and army aircraft are dispatched to help fight bushfires in Victoria.

3 January 2020
While initially saying it was “still the plan” to go to India later in January for trade and defence talks, at which Australia’s coal exports were expected to feature heavily, Morrison says only hours later that he is “inclined not to proceed” with the visit, which has now been postponed.

4 January 2020
The army reserve is called in to assist with firefighting efforts.
Morrison says the federal government will agree to a request made 18 months ago to permanently increase funding to Australia’s aerial firefighting capacity.
The prime minister’s office releases an ad spruiking its firefighting efforts, backed by a jaunty jingle.
We’re putting more Defence Force boots on the ground, more planes in the sky, more ships to sea, and more trucks to roll in to support the bushfire fighting effort and recovery as part of our co-ordinated response to these terrible #bushfires pic.twitter.com/UiOeYB2jnv— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 4, 2020 Links
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(AU) We Are Seeing The Very Worst Of Our Scientific Predictions Come To Pass In These Bushfires

Lethal Heating - 6 January, 2020 - 04:00
The Guardian

As a climate scientist I am wondering if the Earth system has now breached a tipping point
‘The thing that really terrifies me is that weather conditions considered extreme by today’s standards will seem sedate in the future.’ Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images Dr Joëlle GergisDr Joëlle Gergis is an award-winning climate scientist and writer based at the Australian National University.Currently, there are tens of thousands of people in coastal NSW and Victoria stranded in towns where the highways are closed, supermarkets are running out of food, and queues for petrol snake down the streets of devastated towns. The scenes experienced by those caught up in the ordeal are being described as apocalyptic – rightly so.
Meanwhile, the locals face the infinitely more serious situation of returning to find their homes completely incinerated. Cars melted, pets killed, beloved landscapes destroyed. A lifetime of memories razed to the ground. As Australia’s climate continues to warm, the most intimate places of human safety – our very homes – are being threatened in an increasingly dangerous world.
It’s confronting to see military evacuations, usually reserved for developing regions of the world following natural disasters, happening right here in 21st-century Australia. The sheer scale and severity of the emergency has actually overwhelmed our capacity as a nation to deal with the unfolding events. Not just in one area following a single event, but across multiple disasters occurring simultaneously in every state and territory of our nation.
As a climate scientist, the thing that really terrifies me is that weather conditions considered extreme by today’s standards will seem sedate in the future. What’s unfolding right now is really just a taste of the new normal.
At this point I could restate all the lines of scientific evidence that clearly show the links between human-caused climate change and the intensification of extreme weather conditions not just in Australia, but all over the world.To avoid sounding like a broken record, instead I will say that as a lead author on the forthcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment report of the global climate due out next year, I can assure you that the planetary situation is extremely dire.
It’s no exaggeration to say my work as scientist now keeps me up at night.
As I’ve watched the events of this summer unfolding, I’ve found myself wondering whether the Earth system has now breached a tipping point, an irreversible shift in the stability of the planetary system.
There may now be so much heat trapped in the system that we may have already triggered a domino effect that could unleash a cascade of abrupt changes that will continue to play out in the years and decades to come.
Rapid climate change has the potential to reconfigure life on the planet as we know it.
We know this because the geologic record contains evidence that these events have occurred in the past. The key difference is that we’ve never had 7.5 billion people on the planet, so the human species really is in uncharted territory.
The scientific community is acknowledging this by including new sections on abrupt climate change throughout key areas of the upcoming IPCC report. We now consider these “low probability, high impact” scenarios an increasingly critical part of our work.
At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, adapting to climate change in the driest inhabited continent on Earth is going to take a bit of work.
To prepare our nation for the very challenging times ahead, we need political leaders – at every level – prepared to face this harsh reality.
I single out our political leaders because the rest of the country is already leading the way. The leadership and true guts being shown out there by our local communities, often with minimal resources and under intense duress, has been staggering. The resilience, dedication, generosity and heart being demonstrated by our emergency services and embarrassingly unpaid volunteer firefighters is truly the stuff of legends.
Cynics might say that our government seems to be taking advantage of the fact that we are a remarkable people willing to do whatever it takes to defend our incredibly unique nation. But the longer we leave things on a national policy level, the worse things are going to get.
Failing to adequately plan for the known threat of climate change in a country like Australia should now be considered to be an act of treason.
The scientific community has been trying to warn the government of the need to plan to adapt to climate change for at least a decade. In fact, the world’s first global conference on climate change adaptation was hosted here in Australia, on the Gold Coast in 2010.
This conference was run by the former National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCARF), which lost its federal funding in June 2018. It was a visionary initiative to attempt to help the most vulnerable nation in the developed world prepare for climate change. Despite this immensely important task, the initiative is now vastly scaled-down and operating through Griffith University by a handful of dedicated researchers.
How anyone thought that axing funding to the only dedicated national climate change adaptation program in the country was a good idea is completely beyond me.
This summer has been a brutal reminder that no matter how much we want to avoid addressing the problem of climate change, it simply can no longer be ignored. As this summer has shown, it is now part of every Australian’s lived experience.
Now is the time for our political leaders to make a choice about which side of history they want to be on. There is much work to be done, and we are fast running out of time.
As a climate scientist I find prime minster Scott Morrison’s request for people to be “patient” as infuriating as it is condescending. With respect prime minster, the science of climate change has been ignored in this country for decades. We are now seeing the very worst of our scientific predictions come to pass.
Everyone’s patience has worn thin. The Australian people are justifiably angry and are now demanding true leadership in the face of this climate emergency.
We have already squandered over a decade debating climate policy in Australia. All the while, the clear reality of a rapidly destabilising planet accelerates all around us.
There genuinely is no more time to waste. We must act as though our home is on fire – because it is.

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(AU) Could A Lawsuit Tip The Scales On Climate Policy?

Lethal Heating - 6 January, 2020 - 04:00
Canberra Times - Mark Kenny*

"Is the climate changing? Why weren't we told?" chided broadcaster Phillip Adams as a long-feared drought-heatwave-bushfire trifecta neared its deadly apotheosis.
It might sound fanciful - and costly - but some lawyers say a class action against those responsible for climate change could in fact be successful. Picture: ShutterstockEight words that nailed the smouldering betrayal which is now as pungent in the public nostril as the acrid smoke blighting south-eastern Australia.
The New Year's Eve jibe came as the last twigs of the Coalition's she'll-be-right assurances were themselves cremated - a vengeful coda to a decade of climate negligence. Of putting short-term electoral advantage before the national interest.
Only months ago a coal-brandishing Liberal Prime Minister had been re-elected.
Making consistency his sole virtue, Scott Morrison would later think little of taking off on a luxurious overseas holiday as the crisis he regarded as nothing unusual rolled forward.
And just to emphasise his party's zen-like state, the NSW Minister for Emergency Services would, astoundingly, follow suit, venturing to Europe during the very event for which he had been sworn in - a major state emergency.
This brazenness also characterises the embattled federal Emissions Reduction Minister, Angus Taylor, who confidently claims that Australia produces just 1.3 per cent of global carbon emissions and is thus doing everything required of it.
He also urges the world to keep burning as much Australian coal as we can dig out, while shamelessly pleading our case to use accounting carry-overs (from our laughably low Kyoto obligations) to meet the mediocre Paris target we were set.
If it weren't so serious these failings would qualify as high farce.
Of course our government had been told about global warming. Clearly. Repeatedly. Authoritatively.
Steadily accumulating data pointed unmistakably to catastrophic implications.
While some parts of the globe would become wetter, others would become much hotter, drier, functionally uninhabitable.
Sea levels would rise, exacerbating storm surges. Low-lying Pacific nations would disappear.
Our government has been told about global warming - clearly, repeatedly and authoritatively. Picture: ShutterstockAtmospheric volatility would bring more furious storms, and with them floods, cyclones, chaos.
Species loss would accelerate.
In short, the preconditions for a state of more-or-less galloping crisis.
All of these threats have coalesced in recent weeks and months.
Soaring temperatures and extraordinary turbulence across tinder-dry ground have created hellish conditions.
Yet while Australia burns - 2019 being the hottest and driest year on record - in the nearby capital of Indonesia, unholy rains have seen at least 30 dead.
Jakarta's heaviest falls in 24 years (perhaps ever) have brought widespread drownings and fatal landslides.
Again, such events had been predicted.
But to what effect?
The absence of visionary leadership has been evident globally, but nowhere more self-destructively than in Australia, a sophisticated polity with perhaps the greatest interest in securing concerted action.
Yet far from doing that, Australia has actually led the resistance.
And its most successful political party, shielded by influential media barrackers, has instead preferred to undermine the scientific consensus, to inhibit action at home, and, most damningly, to lend legitimacy to tardiness abroad.
Viewed historically, this is hardly Australian. Viewed strategically, it is self-serving to the point of being unpatriotic.
Even as a small nation, Australia has boldly contributed to global initiatives in the past.
Examples include unhesitating engagement in two world wars, championing the creation of the United Nations and showing moral leadership against apartheid South Africa. Or there's the establishment of the International Criminal Court, the progression of free trade rules, and the creation of the G20 and APEC.
"The absence of visionary leadership has been evident globally, but nowhere more self-destructively than in Australia."Yet on the existential question of climate change? Fecklessness.
Abatement has been politicised as the panicked ravings of a "climate cult", the science informing it pilloried, and the only legislated mechanism for reducing domestic carbon output triumphantly repealed.
Remarkably, the Coalition went to the 2019 election with no energy policy and no serious carbon-reduction plan - nor even any desire for one. And it prevailed.
Think about that.
Little wonder younger voters doubt democracy.
It is not just that politicians fail to deliver, or that some lie - it is that there is no electoral consequence for negligence and moral turpitude.
But what if there were consequences? Liability even.
It's a long bow, but imagine a class action against government itself, against individual politicians, ministers, their political parties, and perhaps even their media apologists?
That the damage is real is beyond debate - we all know the figures. But the liability?
That case could be brought by farmers, regional businesses, burnt-out homeowners, families of deceased residents and firefighters, their insurers, conservationists - all of them seeking to show that an officially sanctioned rejection of expert advice amounted to a negligence born of self-interest and a reckless indifference on the part of governments, political leaders, individual MPs and their various organs.
Sound fanciful? Perhaps, but statutes such as the NSW Rural Fires Act, 1997 set out a very clear responsibility for ministers and officials requiring them inter alia to make provision: "(a) for the prevention, mitigation and suppression of bush and other fires in local government areas, and (c) for the protection of persons from injury or death, and property from damage, arising from fires, and (c1) for the protection of infrastructure and environmental, economic, cultural, agricultural and community assets from damage arising from fires..."
There could be other legal bases for an application also.
There's no doubt such an action would be novel and highly adventurous. It would face significant technical hurdles, and would be potentially costly.
Unlike the US, Australian litigants are generally required to pay the other's costs in the event of failure.
Even the threshold challenge would be problematic: proving a causal link between global warming and the firestorm(s).
Only after that could the claimants go on to assert that, through its particular negligence, the Coalition had increased the danger, thus breaching its duty of care.
Legally, this is a heavy burden, even if the moral and political case seems open and shut.
What is clear, however, is that the expert advice was repeatedly shelved and that the whole issue of climate change and its associated dangers was cynically politicised to the material disadvantage of citizens - current and future generations - and the national estate.
If justiciable, and that is a big "if", the words and actions of senior Coalition figures undermining the science as "crap" and claiming any risks were manageable are legion.
Just weeks ago, the Deputy Prime Minister, for example, described those linking climate to bushfires as "woke inner-city greenies".
Add to this, the repeal of the carbon price, refusal to seek global action, failure to take reasonable steps on available knowledge to avoid loss of life, loss of property, and destruction of native flora and fauna.
Would an Australian court entertain such an application? According to several lawyers contacted, it is not impossible.
Tony Abbott's replacement in the North Shore seat of Warringah, Zali Steggall, took to Twitter on New Year's Day.
"Very hard to celebrate a decade where governments had all the facts on the risks ahead and failed to act. #ClimateEmergency #ClimateActNow"
They did know. But claimed they knew better. They were wrong. Legally or otherwise, that is a fact.

*Mark Kenny is Senior Fellow at ANU's Australian Studies Institute

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NYT Q&A: How Climate Change, Other Factors Stoke Australia Fires

Lethal Heating - 5 January, 2020 - 04:00
New York Times - Seth Borenstein, Associated Press

In this Monday, Dec. 30, 2019, aerial photo, wildfires rage under plumes of smoke in Bairnsdale, Australia. Thousands of tourists fled Australia's wildfire-ravaged eastern coast Thursday ahead of worsening conditions as the military started to evacuate people trapped on the shore further south. (Glen Morey via AP)Australia’s unprecedented wildfires are supercharged thanks to climate change, the type of trees catching fire and weather, experts say.
And these fires are so extreme that they are triggering their own thunderstorms.
Here are a few questions and answers about the science behind the Australian wildfires that so far have burned about 5 million hectares (12.35 million acres), killing at least 17 people and destroying more than 1,400 homes.
“They are basically just in a horrific convergence of events,” said Stanford University environmental studies director Chris Field, who chaired an international scientific report on climate change and extreme events. He said this is one of the worst, if not the worst, climate change extreme events he’s seen.
“There is something just intrinsically terrifying about these big wildfires. They go on for so long, the sense of hopelessness that they instill,” Field said. “The wildfires are kind of the iconic representation of climate change impacts.”

Q: Is climate change really a factor?
A: Scientists, both those who study fire and those who study climate, say there’s no doubt man-made global warming has been a big part, but not the only part, of the fires.
Last year in Australia was the hottest and driest on record, with the average annual temperature 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above the 1960 to 1990 average, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology. Temperatures in Australia last month hit 121.8 F (49.9 C).
“What would have been a bad fire season was made worse by the background drying/warming trend,’’ Andrew Watkins, head of long-range forecasts at Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, said in an email.
Mike Flannigan, a fire scientist at the University of Alberta in Canada, said Australia’s fires are “an example of climate change.”
A 2019 Australian government brief report on wildfires and climate change said, “Human-caused climate change has resulted in more dangerous weather conditions for bushfires in recent decades for many regions of Australia.”
In this satellite image released by Copernicus Sentinel imagery, 2020 twitter page dated Dec. 31, 2019, shows wildfires burning across Australia. (Copernicus Sentinel Imagery via AP)Q: How does climate change make these fires worse?
A: The drier the fuel — trees and plants — the easier it is for fires to start and the hotter and nastier they get, Flannigan said.
“It means more fuel is available to burn, which means higher intensity fires, which makes it more difficult — or impossible — to put out,” Flannigan said.
The heat makes the fuel drier, so they combine for something called fire weather. And that determines “fuel moisture,” which is crucial for fire spread. The lower the moisture, the more likely Australian fires start and spread from lightning and human-caused ignition, a 2016 study found.
There’s been a 10% long-term drying trend in Australia’s southeast and 15% long-term drying trend in the country’s southwest, Watkins said. When added to a degree of warming and a generally southward shift of weather systems, that means a generally drier landscape.
Australia’s drought since late 2017 “has been at least the equal of our worst drought in 1902,” Australia’s Watkins said. “It has probably been driven by ocean temperature patterns in the Indian Ocean and the long term drying trend.”

Q: Has Australia's fire season changed?
A: Yes. It’s about two to four months longer, starting earlier especially in the south and east, Watkins said.
“The fires over the last three months are unprecedented in their timing and severity, started earlier in spring and covered a wider area across many parts of Australia,” said David Karoly, leader of climate change hub at Australia's National Environmental science Program. “The normal peak fire season is later in summer and we are yet to have that.”
In this image released Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020, from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in Gippsland, Australia, smoke rises from wildfires burning in East Gippsland, Victoria. Thousands of tourists are fleeing Australia's wildfire-ravaged eastern coast ahead of worsening conditions as the military started to evacuate people trapped on the shore further south. Cooler weather has aided firefighting and allowed people to replenish supplies. (DELWP Gippsland via AP)Q: Is weather, not just long-term climate, a factor?
A: Yes. In September, Antarctica’s sudden stratospheric warming — sort of the southern equivalent of the polar vortex — changed weather conditions so that Australia’s normal weather systems are farther north than usual, Watkins said.
That means since mid-October there were persistent strong westerly winds bringing hot dry air from the interior to the coast, making the fire weather even riskier for the coasts.
“With such a dry environment, many fires were started by dry lightning events (storms that brought lightning but limited rainfall),” Watkins said.

Q: Are people starting these fires? is it arson?
A: It’s too early to tell the precise cause of ignition because the fires are so recent and officials are spending time fighting them, Flannigan said.
While people are a big factor in causing fires in Australia, it’s usually accidental, from cars and trucks and power lines, Flannigan said. Usually discarded cigarettes don’t trigger big fires, but when conditions are so dry, they can, he said.

Q: Are these fires triggering thunderstorms?
A: Yes. It’s an explosive storm called pyrocumulonimbus and it can inject particles as high as 10 miles into the air.
During a fire, heat and moisture from the plants are released, even when the fuel is relatively dry. Warm air is less dense than cold air so it rises, releasing the moisture and forming a cloud that lifts and ends up a thunderstorm started by fire. It happens from time to time in Australia and other parts of the world, including Canada, Flannigan said.
“These can be deadly, dangerous, erratic and unpredictable,” he said.

Q: Are the Australian trees prone to burning?
A: Eucalyptus trees are especially flammable, “like gasoline on a tree,” Flannigan said. Chemicals in them make them catch fire easier, spread to the tops of trees and get more intense. Eucalyptus trees were a big factor in 2017 fires in Portugal that killed 66 people, he said.

Q: How can you fight these huge Australia fires?
A: You don’t. They’re just going to burn in many places until they hit the beach, Flannigan said.
“This level of intensity, direct attack is useless,” Flannigan said. “You just have to get out of the way... It really is spitting on a campfire. It’s not doing any good.”

Q: What's the long-term fire future look like for Australia?
A: “The extreme fire season in Australia in 2019 was predicted,” said Australian National University climate scientist Nerilie Abram. “The question that we need to ask is how much worse are we willing to let this get? This is what global warming of just over 1 degree C looks like. Do we really want to see the impacts of 3 degrees or more are like, because that is the trajectory we are on.”

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NYT: See Where Australia’s Deadly Wildfires Are Burning

Lethal Heating - 5 January, 2020 - 04:00
New York TimesNadja Popovich | Denise Lu | Blacki Migliozzi

Days into the New Year, deadly wildfires, fueled by wind and scorching summer heat, continued to rage across Australia’s southeast.
Source: NASA Fire Information for Resource Management System. Data as of January 3.Thousands of tourists and residents have been forced to evacuate from areas along the southeast coast so far, and tens of thousands more are fleeing to safer ground ahead of the weekend, with forecasters predicting a new round of dangerous fire conditions.
High winds and temperatures reaching close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 38 Celsius, are expected starting Friday.
Australia’s 2019 fire season started early and has been exceptionally brutal, experts say, even for a country used to regular burning.
Wildfires have scorched millions of acres of land across the country since October, destroying more than a thousand homes and killing at least 19 people, including three volunteer firefighters.
The most-affected state, New South Wales, which includes Sydney, Australia’s largest city, is having its worst fire season in 20 years.
Source: Cumulative sum based on NASA Terra and Aqua satellite data.This chart was created using data from two NASA satellites, Terra and Aqua, which can detect the infrared radiation emitted by fires.
The last time New South Wales saw a similarly large area burn was in 1974, but those fires were in more remote areas, Ross Bradstock, director of the Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires at the University of Wollongong, told The Guardian.
A spokeswoman for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service called the scale of the fires “unprecedented” so early in the season.

Source: Maxar Technologies, via Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite. Note: Map colors are a visualization based on sensor data.Why Is This Year’s Fire Season So Brutal?
A combination of record-breaking heat, drought and high wind conditions have dramatically amplified the recent fire season in Australia.
This week, government records confirmed that 2019 was the country’s hottest and driest year on record:

Source: Australian Government Bureau of MeteorologyThe last month of 2019 saw particularly low rainfall, and the country recorded its hottest day yet.
The combination of extremely dry and extremely hot conditions adds up to more powerful fires, said Crystal A. Kolden, a wildfire researcher at the University of Idaho.
“When the vegetation is just dry, it will burn,” she said. “But when you add this extreme heat, it magnifies the effect allowing it to burn that much more intensely.”

Source: Australian Government Bureau of MeteorologyThe Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to assess major research on global warming and related climate impacts, found that the number of days with high-risk fire weather are expected to increase across southern Australia as the world warms.
This year’s early and intense fire season is “a harbinger of what is to come,” Dr. Kolden said, and a “strong indicator” that some of the effects of climate change are already here.

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(AU) The Pain And Terror Of These Bushfires Cannot Be Held In A Single Human Heart

Lethal Heating - 5 January, 2020 - 04:00
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