Doomed Planet

I Cheered When the Bushfire Came

With the eastern seaboard currently ravaged by bushfires, what sort of an idiot would actually cheer when one worked its way down the peninsular where he lived? I did, and there were a lot of others who did the same.

To understand why, we must go back over more than a year when a winter bushfire got going to the west of the town. It did for us what the volunteer firies couldn’t: it got rid of the ground fuel with minimal canopy scorch. No lives or property were lost. Had this ‘good’ bushfire not happened, the peninsular would have been obliterated this summer when a firestorm with winds gusting to 100kph came our way.

No fire fuel meant that it burned and went out. Simple as that. Today, as thousands of Australians confront the bushfire threat, we on the Tilligerry peninsular are safe. With only one year of fuel build-up we have little to worry about.

When bushfire management passed from local control to government bureaucracies, the political influence of the green movement virtually stopped the off-season burnoffs. This traditional practice dated back to the black man and his firestick management of the landscape. The European settlers adopted it, as did farmers and local grassroots volunteer firefighters.

In researching my bushfire book White Overall Days, I found that our local brigade averaged some 15 burnoffs per year in the decade of the 1970s; nine in the ’80s, a mere two or three in the ’90s and similar numbers ever since.

The reason for this dramatic fall-off in burnoffs was the complex web of rules and procedures dumped on the local captains to comply with before they could do anything. They simply gave up. It was all too hard.

The bushfire that saved Lemon Tree Passage from a genuine inferno. (Author’s photo)

It was NSW Premier Bob Carr who proclaimed vast areas of the state of NSW as national parks. The problem was that they were not fire-managed and have now been devastated by uncontrollable firestorms. Lives and property have been lost as they roared out of the forests into adjoining farmland and rural communities.

Several things have emerged from the current crisis. Green zealots are blaming coal mining and climate change for the fires. They refuse to concede that the green-leaning management policies caused the fires in the first place by ensuring catastrophic fuel build-up. On the other hand, the vast number of ordinary, sensible people now realize that cool burning delivers a far better environmental outcome than raging wildfires. From what I hear, even some of the self-serving bureaucrats are starting to talk mitigation rather than reactive suppression.

To continue down the current pathway of reactive firefighting means more of the same. There will always be bushfires. They are  an integral part of the Australian environment. We either manage them by controlled burning or suffer the consequences.

It was early December when I wrote this piece and the height of the bushfire season had not yet engulfed so much of Australia, from Perth to Penrith. With dire weather predictions, what it would be like a month or two down the track did not bear thinking about.

Now we know.

Geoff Walker is the former deputy captain Lemon Tree Passage volunteer fire brigade and author of White Overall Days.  He last wrote of the national fire-management debacle for Quadrant Online in 2014, Why We Burn Again and Again

29 comments
  • pgang

    Some decades ago we were taught that aborigines burned the bush to flush out game. Now we are told it was for land management.
    Amazing how history changes before your eyes.

  • Lawrie Ayres

    Sometimes it takes a disaster to make a point with the dim witted who control us and even then they seek to blame climate change in this case. CC absolves those responsible and provides an unprovable escape route . I agree with pgang because the last thing on the aborigines mind was protection or even maintenance of their environment. Far from the popular belief they were great land managers they were exploiters just like every other civilization. I was amazed that one proposal for land management was to utilize “first nation” people as if they held some mysterious answer to the current problem of unmanaged public lands and the crazy need of some to live among the gum trees.

    I am also reminded of the utilization of crown lands for grazing in times past, a practise stopped because hard hooved animals supposedly caused damage to a fragile environment. Those who stopped grazing must be proud of the smoldering fragile environment they have created.

  • padraic

    In the 1960s I attended a lecture by an Australian anthropologist who told of research (digging down and analysing the ash layers) that showed originally Australia was covered mainly by species of Casuarina trees. When the Aborigines first arrived, they used fire for hunting purposes – as mentioned by pgang – and because the Casuarinas were not as resistant to fire as were the eucalypts, the eucalypts gradually took over. Casuarinas survived mainly along waterways because of the moisture, and that is evident today. That’s not to say that Aborigines did not realise that back-burning could be a preventive measure to minimise the harm from bushfires, but hunting seems to be the main reason for lighting fires.

  • DENNIS BOOTHBY

    The aborigines ‘managed’ the country and ‘controlled’ their environment to the best of their ability, using the only technology that they possessed – fire. The GREENS with their sado-masochistic, anti-human, anti-technology mindset are stopping the current inhabitants of Australia from properly managing the country and controlling our environment to the best of our current abilities via their political and bureaucratic efforts, with the blessing of most of the media. Their hypocrisy is breath-taking because most GREENS and media people live in the inner suburbs of BIG cities – the most ‘controlled’ environments available to humans.

  • lhackett01

    Accumulated fuel loads exacerbate bush fires and should be reduced as needed and as possible. Rules and regulations do limit fuel reduction burns. However, many relate to health (eg. smoke) and likely fire intensity (fuel reduction burns are meant to be cool burns). An important limitation is weather. The Australian climate is such that in many years there are insufficient periods available for these burns. One answer is to change some of the rules to allow these burns to be conducted without so much red tape. Another is to mobilise more people than seem to be available now to take advantage of the limited time slots for burning. That is, encourage and train more volunteer fire fighters. Finally, ensure that planning laws recognise fire risk. This applies to infrastructure and people. People who wish to live in the bush should be allowed to do so only on condition that they take responsibility for their own protection by incorporating appropriate fire fighting appliances within their homes; large water tanks, pumps, sprinklers and fire proof refuges.

  • Winston Smith

    There are actually three alternatives:
    Winter burning,
    Opening up the parks to logging and grazing,
    Removing the eucalyptus tinder boxes and putting back the trees that were here before the Aboriginals burned them out.

  • PT

    Lhackett01, I reject the claim that there aren’t enough days for back burning! This is another “it’s all Morrison’s fault because climate change” excuses. In W.A. we have warmer winters than Victoria, but still (even with the CC boogie man) maintained fuel reduction burns much greater than Andrews claims he can do in the alleged “Education State”!

  • Ian MacDougall

    Winston Smith:
    “Winter burning,” In general, tick.
    “Opening up the parks to logging and grazing, ” The parks historically are made up from all the bits and pieces left over after the great squatting rushes of the 1840s and the closer settlement movements thereafter. They generally have the wrong soils and/or are too hilly for farming and grazing. eg the Warrumbungle Park; Kosciuszko Park. In the latter, grazing was stopped because it caused inevitable river and stream bank erosion threatening the dams of the Snowy Scheme.
    Your scheme would leave no country in any state other than farmed, logged and grazed. And these fires have burned through already farmed country. Also, Greens get around 10% of the vote nationwide and ‘green bureaucrats’ are subject to ministerial control and direction.
    “Removing the eucalyptus tinder boxes and putting back the trees that were here before.” That’s OK, provided you don’t mind losing all the structural timber that casuarinas cannot provide.

  • Doubting Thomas

    With 10% of the vote, the Greens have an enormously disproportionate influence on policies of the Federal Government and at least some of the states. In the ACT, the Greens hold the balance of power and have effectively formed the only coalition that the ALP has ever entered. At local government level their influence is equally disproportionate, and far more active.
    In the ACT, the rate-paying population have been burdened by a multi-billion dollar light rail system that only the Greens have championed. It currently runs north from the city centre to the newest northern population centre. The far larger western and southern conurbations, where the ALP and Greens have fewer representatives, are thus far without any such service, although an extension to the inner west is mooted. There is no conceivable rational need for such an enormously expensive white elephant. It’s simply a virtue-signalling exercise by irresponsible fanatics.
    To suggest that 10% of the vote is negligible is naive in the extreme.

  • Ian MacDougall

    DT: The ‘balance of power’ argument depends on the ALP and the COALition not co-operating. As I said, if the COALition pollies and the ALP decided to vote together on any given issue, they would grind the Greens to powder. That they refuse to do so shows where their priorities lie. The charade must go on, even at the expense of the forests, towns and peoples’ lives; and also of all the lost animals, both wild and domestic.
    “On Saturday the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said after visiting fire grounds: “The most constant issue that has been raised with me has been the issue of managing fuel loads in national parks.”
    “He claimed that people ‘who say they are seeking those actions on climate change could also be the same people who don’t share the same urgency of dealing with hazard reduction. [ie Greens. -IM]
    “Prof David Bowman, the director of the fire centre research hub at the University of Tasmania, said: “It’s ridiculous. To frame this as an issue of hazard reduction in national parks is just lazy political rhetoric.””
    That is the “lazy political rhetoric” of Morrison blaming the Greens.
    Ministers state and federal can order hazard reduction burns if their party is willing to spend the money. But if it can be portrayed as all about hazard reduction, and alleged Green opposition to same, then it helps remove the factor of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and the COALition’s vehement opposition to the very notion of it.
    But wait! There’s more! It also sets up the Greens as a most convenient scapegoat.

    https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jan/05/explainer-how-effective-is-bushfire-hazard-reduction-on-australias-fires

  • lhackett01

    PT, you may reject my statement that weather does often reduce the number of days available for cool burns. However, you would be wrong. I was a volunteer fire fighter in a rural brigade for six years and weather did often reduce the number of days available in any year. These limitations included wind, rain, and temperature.

  • Ian MacDougall

    And right on cue:
    “The prime minister says he will work on ‘practical’ measures rather than bolstering emission reduction targets.”
    Perish the very thought that the likes of his beloved lump of coal could have had any role in all these fires.
    .
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/14/scott-morrison-to-focus-on-resilience-and-adaption-to-address-climate-change

  • PT

    Lhackett01, I reject the claim made by Andrews that this is stopping them from doing fuel reduction burns (hint hint, climate change is stopping backburning too). If they can do them in SW WA, then they can certainly do them in Victoria.
    .
    I take your point about the red tape though.

  • PT

    Ian Mac, land management is a State and Local issue. Except in the Territories (where its devolved to the Territory Governments anyway), the Feds do not have legal authority over such matters. Surely you’re aware of this!

  • Ian MacDougall

    PT:
    The Feds do not need ‘legal authority’ to have a role in local bushfires and their management: as Morrison is presently showing. He is still Chief Spokesman for Denialist Australia (perhaps better thought of as the Troglodyte Wing of the Liberal Party) now that Tony ‘the future is coal and climate change is crap’ Abbott is off the political scene.

    Rather than suggest no connection with climate change, they have shifted to arguing there is no connection between any particular climate change policy and bushfires.
    Scott Morrison argued last week on ABC’s 7.30: “You cannot link any individual single emissions reduction policy of a country – whether it’s Australia or anyone else – to any specific fire event. I mean, that’s just absurd.”
    Nothing Scott Morrison has said suggests any change in policy that will actually involve emissions reductions
    Yes, it is absurd, because no one is actually arguing that. But the prime minister is very good at defeating arguments no one is making.

    – Greg Jericho in the Groan.

    So he is using his position to intervene as best he can. But circumstances clearly demand a completely new tack.
    .
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/commentisfree/2020/jan/14/the-government-has-been-forced-to-talk-about-climate-change-so-its-taking-a-subtle-and-sinister-approach

  • Doubting Thomas

    Ian, I see your Guardian quotes and raise you this article from JoNova’s http://joannenova.com.au/2020/01/the-hotter-drier-climate-change-myth-the-rain-in-australia-is-the-same/

    Now, there is one compelling message in that article that is well-supported by authoritative data. Whatever might be causing any “climate change” in Australia, it isn’t CO2.

    If it’s not CO2, what is the problem?

  • Ian MacDougall

    DT:
    ‘Jo Nova” says from that link:
    “Every man and his monkey (including M.P’s) are saying that Climate Change causes a hotter drier world which leads to fires, and the BOM, CSIRO and millions of scientists apparently agree. So if Australians are misinformed, who’s fault is it? — Not looking at you Andy Pitman, David Karoly, Tim Flannery, ABC Science Unit, Gergis, Sherwood, Trewin, Steffan [sic] and all the rest.
    “Blame the ocean currents for our bush fires
    “The biggest cause of bush-fires in Australia is the drought. A lack of rain allows the nation to get scorching hot days and dries out the fuel. Yet our long term records show that obscene megatons of CO2 from China has no detectable effect on our long term rainfall. [My emphasis – IM] Not in the fire zones, and not across the whole country either. The main driver of droughts and fires therefore is the El Nino oscillation, the IOD, and the SOI. Tax the ocean! Stop the currents! Hold back the tide and pray to Karl Marx!”
    Prone to get a bit carried away, is our good old Jo.
    She has certainly has certainty; where I do not. I maintain the the atmosphere-hydrosphere-lithosphere-cryosphere-biosphere assemblage is the most complex and chaotic system we know about; in the entire Universe. Where Jo says that a 40% increase in the atmospheric CO2 load can not possibly have the slightest effect on the world’s or Australia’s climate, I favour erring on the side of caution, and assuming that it does. And I would be surprised if there were no effect, given its heat trapping qualities.
    Our fossil carbon resources are being wasted by being fed into furnaces as power station fuel and for iron ore reduction, when renewable alternatives are available. Unfortunately, the Federal Government is beholden to the Coal Lobby, which wants the coal and oil reserves converted to $$$$ in their private bank accounts ASAP. How future generations will for example seal their roads without a stock of road tar or irrigate their crops without polythene pipe is never specified by such vested interests and their denialist shills. But they think only in the short term.
    CO2 molecules trap radiant heat and behave like gazillions of heat beads in the atmosphere. They pass that trapped energy to other molecules they come into contact with, thus melting ice, heating the atmosphere, and the waters of the hydrosphere they eventually dissolve into. That heats the oceans, which heat shows up as sea-level rise of 3.3 ± 0.4 mm/yr (CSIRO)
    .
    An analogous process takes place in a microwave oven, but involves water molecules as the radiation-trappers and different frequencies of electromagnetic radiation from the situation with CO2 in the atmosphere.
    Is there a tipping point up ahead? Is runaway global warming possible? Well, we are on track to find out, and most likely the hard way. But Donald Trump is hedging his bets with his bid to buy Greenland from the Danes. (Watch that space.)
    Unfortunately, we are running an uncontrollled experiment on the Earth, with Venus as the only available control planet. And with an atmosphere ~98% CO2 and a surface temperature at around the melting point of lead, it does not inspire confidence: except in denialists like ‘Jo Nova’.

  • lhackett01

    My paper on the subject of climate change might be of interest. You can read or download it at https://www.scribd.com/document/383385011/. Note that I agree climate change is happening. However, until and unless climate activists who claim man-made CO2 emissions are the cause can scientifically dismiss or otherwise explain away the evidence and argument I present, then we will continue to tilt at windmills. Look closely in my paper at the graph from the BOM of Tropical Cyclones. The data timescale is short but contradicts the popular myth. Consider the graphical history of sea level changes. Context is important. I include one set of data from joannenova.com.au.

  • Ian MacDougall

    lhackett01: Would you, after all the effort you put into writing your paper, describe yourself as an ‘activist’? Or is that species exclusively defined somehow by its precautionary stance re CO2?
    “However, until and unless climate activists who claim man-made CO2 emissions are the cause can scientifically dismiss or otherwise explain away the evidence and argument I present, then we will continue to tilt at windmills.”
    Which is a roundabout way of saying those CO2 emissions must be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
    I submit to the Court, Your Honour, the case of Venus: hottest planet in the Solar System, with a surface temperature higher than that of Mercury; closest planet to the Sun. It has an atmosphere ~98% CO2 which traps solar radiation in quantities sufficient to make it a total planetary hellhole.
    NB: I am aware of various denialist arguments pitched in the cause of explaining all of that away. They do not bear examination.
    Details as to why supplied on request.

  • Doubting Thomas

    You keep using the term “denialists”, Ian. Blatant ad hominem. You keep doing it. An acceptable term is “sceptics”.

    Now, when we argue that CO2 does not affect our climate, as measured by temperature and rainfall over decades, even centuries, you shift your ground. Yesterday, you argued that our emissions were the problem but, clearly, they are not the problem. So today we’re accused of wasting our coal, a finite resource. Which is it, Ian? Paul Ehrlich has been proven to be wrong when he claimed the world has been running out of critical resources, and you will also fail the same tests. It’s evident that you are not interested in facts, just politics.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Further to my last, it will be interesting to see how the Philippines volcanic eruption affects world climate. Harking back to the leftist hysteria that Saddam Hussein generated when he set the oilfields alight, when the prophesy was that we were doomed to freeze in the dark as the smoke would block the sun, we should soon be inundated by doom-laden hysteria again. It’s what they do.

  • Ian MacDougall

    DT:
    ‘You keep using the term “denialists”, Ian. Blatant ad hominem. You keep doing it. An acceptable term is “sceptics”.’
    Well, ‘skeptic’ may be acceptable to you, but it is not to me. It does not differentiate enough. All rationalists (and I consider myself to be one) are skeptics, as are all scientists. (I consider myself to be one of those, too; though I am not a research scientist.)
    The people who call themselves AGW ‘skeptics’ do so on the basis of denying the mainstream science on the subject. In my book, the fact that the AGW hypothesis is endorsed by 198 scientific organisations worldwide, including the CSIRO, the Royal Society and the AAAS makes it the mainstream. End of story.
    As for the Taal volcano near Manila, I went there way back in 1958. Absolutely fabulous view from a little restaurant perched on the rim of the crater and overlooking a crater lake teeming with fish and with a village beside it. The lady who ran the restaurant told me that there was an old fisherman down in the village who had been born there, and had lived his whole life there, and had never been out of the crater; not even to Manila. He was happy where he was.
    I remember when Mt St Helens went off a few years back now, it sent reflective dust all round the world, and we had the best year for skiing ever in the Australian Alps. So I will wait and see. People make all kinds of prophesies. But CO2 molecules are significantly different from volcanic dust.
    “It’s what they do” does not cover everybody on the ‘Left’, which is a very broad church, and includes people like the late Christopher Hitchens and Noam Chomsky all the way across to some pretty extreme types happy in the company of fascists.

    NB: It is possible to waste coal and at the same time have an emissions problem. Or had that not occurred to you?

  • Doubting Thomas

    Here’s some more of that famous mainstream science for you, Ian Mac. Your Gold Standard.
    https://nofrakkingconsensus.com/2020/01/15/ipcc-experts-8-discredited-papers/

  • Ian MacDougall

    DT:
    The Donna Laframboise tack: ‘Don’t look here. Look over there..!”
    If climatology was the gigantic worldwide conspiracy its detractors (some of them no doubt sincerely) believe that it is, a single whistle-blower could bring the whole edifice crashing down, and dine out on it for the rest of their days, festooned with medals and awards.
    Scientists are an uncharitable lot. They rip one another’s work apart without the slightest courtesy to their unfortunate victims. That is why scientific papers are normally written in such cautious language.
    There is a great old Chinese proverb, DT. “Let the waters recede and the stones will emerge.”
    For my own part, I suspect coral reefs to be pretty resilient. I also suspect that the observed widespread die-back of coral reefs has a cause, and CO2 could well be it..
    Donna Laframboise appears to me to be on the side of the private interests who have secured rights of ownership to much of the world’s fossil carbon, and want to convert it into $$$$ in their own bank accounts asap. Possibly, one way or another, they supply patronage to her. Given the records of some of them, I would be surprised if they did not at least give that a go.
    Let the waters recede and any stones will emerge.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Your perversity is profound, Ian. Donna LaFramboise is simply the messenger, one you would be well advised to read.
    Are you suggesting that the failure of so many experiments to be replicated should not cast serious doubt on the validity of the papers, peer-reviewed no doubt, ought not to be reported? The failure of the experiments might well have been due to the shoddy science that Peter Ridd complained about, a complaint that had him outrageously and unlawfully dismissed from JCU. Don’t you believe that a journalist like LaFramboise has not only a right, but also a professional duty, to expose such fraudulent scientific behaviour?
    Once again, you accuse her and, implicitly, those of us who agree with her, of having vested financial interests. You never learn, do you?

  • Ian MacDougall

    “Once again, you accuse her and, implicitly, those of us who agree with her, of having vested financial interests. You never learn, do you?”
    I suggest you read my last comment again.

  • PT

    Ian Mac, you do realise that the atmosphere of Venus is not simply 97% CO2, is nearly 100 times more massive than hours? So there’s well over 200,000 times as much CO2 in the Venusian atmosphere as there is in Earth! Even with a logarithmic relationship that’s a much greater effect than we’ll get here.
    .
    Now look at Mars. It’s atmosphere is over 95% CO2, yet its so cold dry ice can form on its surface. Why the difference. Well it’s further from the Sun, and the atmosphere is thin. This means way less CO2 than Venus even though 95% sounds close to 97%!

  • Ian MacDougall

    PT:
    “Ian Mac, you do realise that the atmosphere of Venus is not simply 97% CO2, is nearly 100 times more massive than hours? So there’s well over 200,000 times as much CO2 in the Venusian atmosphere as there is in Earth! Even with a logarithmic relationship that’s a much greater effect than we’ll get here.” (Subtext: Coal magnates can keep on feeding coal into their furnaces; it won’t make no difference.)
    .
    Assuming your figures are correct, of course it is. Though I am not sure what you think that signifies. Please enlighten me: what has logarithmic relationship got to do with it? CO2 is a heat-trapping gas, released into the atmosphere along with other GHGs. Increase in the atmospheric concentration of these warms the atmosphere, and the heat passes into condensed atmospheric water and shows up in the hydrosphere, ultimately as sea-level rise. It also leads on to loss of Arctic, Antarctic and alpine ice, releasing methane trapped in soils of the Arctic tundra (particularly) amplifying the effect further; with likely unforeseen and unforseeable consequences..
    The fluid oceans of the Earth vary markedly in depth, yet their temperatures below about 300m are remarkably uniform (and cold: ~ 4C) with little vertical circulation. The abyssal zones are pitch black.
    When I last looked, solar radiation makes it all the way to the surface of Venus, at least in part. And every CO2 molecule in that atmosphere is a trapper of radiant energy. Hence at its surface, it is hotter than the surface of Mercury; closest planet to the Sun.
    The Earth I am sure will never become exactly like Venus. But then again,it does not have to do so in order to make life as we know it pretty nigh impossible.
    I suggest you read Mark Lynas’ book ‘Six Degrees’: best source I know on the subject.

  • PT

    Ian Mac, you’re the one who continues to invoke Venus. I’m pointing out to you that Venus has not only a lot more CO2 in its atmosphere than Earth does as a proportion of the gases, but a much thicker atmosphere as well. Mars, likewise, has a higher CO2 concentration than Earth, but it’s frigid. A thick atmosphere makes a big difference. In fact there is actually more CO2 in the Martian atmosphere than earth’s in total. But the total greenhouse warming there is only 5 degrees as opposed to 37 degrees here. Now why do you suppose that is???? The reason is that most greenhouse warming on earth is due to other gases, principally water vapour. And this is where “skepticism” comes in. The models assume that a slight warming due to CO2 will cause more evaporation, and this water vapour will stay dispersed in the atmosphere (and increase the greenhouse effect) rather than form clouds (cooling the world). The last 20 years has shown that the models exaggerate the level of warming significantly. Yet they keep insisting that it’s “settled”. Think about it.

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