Friday, October 25, 2013

Bushfires and climate change

Australia is having some nasty forest fires at the moment  -- as it does most years.  In their usual form, Warmists want to claim that the fires are due to "climate change".  Since most Australians are aware that we have ALWAYS had such fires, however, they struggle to make their case and the Prime Minister has been completely dismissive of their nonsense. 

The article below is therefore both very cautious and very vague.  There seems to be some claim that bushfire incidence has increased in recent years but there are no numbered graphs or other statistics to prove it. We have to wait almost to the end of the article to get some numbers and discover that we have been talking about relatively recent times.  We read that fire-danger has increased substatially from 1973 to 2010 and also that the fire danger "is about a third higher since 1996-97"

It's no wonder that the author put that figure at the bottom of the article because it completely rips up his case.  From 1997 on there has BEEN no global warming.  So if there has been any temperature increase in Australia in that period, it is local, not global

Tony Abbott has not been afraid to use blunt language when asked about a link between climate change and this week's bushfires.

"Complete hogwash," is what the Prime Minister said in response to a question about the connection by News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt.

This came two days after an interview on Fairfax Radio, where he said United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres was "talking through her hat" for implying a link between climate change and the bushfires blazing across large regions of NSW.

"Climate change is real, as I've often said, and we should take strong action against it. But these fires are certainly not a function of climate change, they're a function of life in Australia," declared the Prime Minister.

But is that the advice Mr Abbott is getting from the experts at his disposal?

Environment Minister Greg Hunt has been briefed this week by the Bureau of Meteorology, and that wouldn't be its advice.

As the bureau told a Senate inquiry into extreme weather events earlier this year: "The Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI), which essentially 'sums' daily fire weather danger across the year, has increased significantly across many Australian locations since the 1970s.

"The number of locations with significant increases is greatest in the southeast, while the largest trends occurred inland rather than near the coast. The largest increases in seasonal FFDI have occurred during spring and autumn. This indicates a lengthened fire season."

Yet, despite this, why Mr Hunt found the need to consult Wikipedia is not so clear.

Mr Hunt did, though, point to a hotly debated link in the climate-bushfire chain. "Senior people at the Bureau of Meteorology” take a precautionary line, Mr Hunt said. “They always emphasise never trying to link any particular event to climate change."

Actually, Mr Hunt is slightly off the mark. To say that such a link can “never” be made is only true if you add the words “right now”.

In fact, climate scientists around the country and beyond will already have pointed their super-computers towards identifying a signal from the changing climate system.

Australia's famously variable climate makes it difficult to prove any major event is caused by climate change, only that the odds of it happening without a warming background would be less. It would be at least as hard to rule it out as "hogwash".

Temperature is one of the key factors influencing fire danger ratings - along with wind, humidity, and dryness of the fuel load.

The science is less certain about wind and humidity trends, but hotter temperatures are among Australia's clearest climate signals. It's not a huge leap to figure that hotter temperature would tend to dry out fuel loads more than cooler ones.

And you don't need to be a climate scientist to observe a clear warming trend - assuming, of course, you accept the integrity of the Bureau and the CSIRO.

Australia has warmed up by roughly 0.7 degrees nationally since 1960, the two organisations say.

But we're a big country and have seasons, so it's worth looking at spring maximums, since that's the current problem in NSW and also the season when the rate of warming happens to be fastest:

So Australia is getting hotter, especially NSW in spring.

Bushfire experts such as Hamish Clarke, Christopher Lucas and Peter Smith, have examined the data from weather stations across the country where the data is considered of sufficient quality and duration.

(Mr Smith was the head of climate science before leaving the NSW government in March, noting this week how the O'Farrell government has slashed in-house research into the issue; Dr Lucas remains a researcher with CSIRO and the bureau; and Mr Clarke continues to work for the NSW government, and is understood to have been busy defending his home in this week's blazes.)

Between 1973 and 2010, they found the Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI) – the measure used by fire authorities to determine whether the day will have a “low/moderate” to “catastrophic” fire danger – increased significantly at 16 of the 38 stations during the period. Not one registered a decrease.

The FFDI is complex, not least because it combines meteorological data and dryness of fuel. (For Sydney this year, July-October will smash records for average maximums, with each month the hottest or second hottest on record, while much of the eastern part of the state has been very dry since mid-June after a couple of wet years.)

That complexity is one reason why it's unwise to jump to a precise attribution of the NSW fires to global warming - but also why it's absurd to rule it out completely.

Sarah Perkins, an expert in heatwaves at the ARC Centre for Excellence in Climate System Science at the UNSW, can understand why some blanch at discussing climate change amid the past week's destructive fires, with hundreds of homes lost and thousands of lives disrupted.

But it's an issue that's unlikely to go away.  “The eastern half of Australia is seeing an increase in the number of heatwave days,” Dr Perkins said, with heatwaves defined as three consecutive days when temperatures are in the top 10 per cent of warmth for that particular day.

“Those heatwaves outside summer are actually increasing faster than summertime events,” said Dr Perkins. “That is quite worrying for bushfire events and bushfire risk because it can induce this earlier drying of the fuel load.”

And, as fire authorities and many of their volunteers appear to accept, the science is pointing to 2013 being less extraordinary in the future.  “It's more likely that these conditions will continue more often in spring, in the future,” Dr Perkins said.

NSW, of course, is hardly alone.  Roger Jones, a researcher at Victoria University and former CSIRO scientist, says levels of fire dangers "have done the same thing as extreme temperatures".

For Victoria, that means the FFDI is about a third higher since 1996-97 than before. "That's generally not recognised," Dr Jones said, who is also a co-ordinating lead author for the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Dr Jones' work for the IPCC focused on decision making, aimed at resolving perhaps the most challenging link of them all - how to connect policymakers with the overwhelming findings of climate science.


NSW  cuts climate change watchers

Deep cuts to staff and funding by the NSW government have largely dismantled the state's ability to investigate and prepare for the effects of climate change such as more frequent extreme fire weather, a former senior scientist with the government said.

Peter Smith, who led the state's climate change science group until March, said his team of 10 had been slashed to just three whose work remained climate-focused. A similar cut had been made to a separate team of 10 working on climate adaptation, he said.

When you really see governments are going to take climate change seriously is when you see them spending money on adaptation

"There's been more than a 50 per cent cut in the numbers of staff whose primary focus was climate change," Dr Smith said in his first media comments since leaving the role. "The [Office of Environment and Heritage] was being downgraded anyway from a super department under the previous government to being an office attached to the premier's [department]. The reduction in the climate change [section] was even more significant than the general reduction."

Dr Smith, who now works as an adviser on United Nations projects, was a contributor to peer-reviewed research reports that found Australia was already facing an increase in bushfire dangers. The shift was particularly clear in spring, with national mean temperatures rising 0.9 degrees since 1960.

Areas such as the Blue Mountains and the central coast - two regions hit by fires in the past few days - could expect to have a 20 per cent to 84 per cent increase in days with potential large fire ignition risk by 2050. Across south-eastern Australia, the number of days a year at the "uppermost" forest fire danger index levels would triple by then, according to two of the papers Dr Smith worked on.

"We know the [climate] science is unequivocal," Environment Minister Robyn Parker told a Nature Conservation Council meeting on Saturday. "It is for governments to respond. What we are doing is investing in climate change science, and so minimising the impacts of climate change on communities."

Ms Parker cited plans to introduce a regional climate model with the University of NSW next year, and is allocating an extra $3 million in research grants to universities.

"The NSW government is investing $20 million on research and programs that will assist communities to be better prepared to respond and adapt to a changing climate, such as climate projection modeling," Ms Parker said.

"The government is committed to delivering communities robust scientific evidence on which to base decisions and make the information and research widely available."

Dr Smith welcomed the projects, which he said had been initiated by the previous Labor governments. The reduction of in-house government research, though, meant the knowledge gained from the work would be harder to share with other state agencies and policymakers. As it was, getting in-house generated research approved typically took longer than the original study, and even then the O'Farrell government did little to publicise the work.

"It was very acute, very frustrating, very problematical trying to get information onto the website for climate change," Dr Smith said.

Instead, governments - federal and state - were likely to talk up other issues, such as energy efficiency. While important, such policies were easy to promote since they saved money as well as cut greenhouse gas emissions.

"When you really see governments are going to take climate change seriously is when you see them spending money on adaptation," Dr Smith said.


"Australians" at the Haj

 Mina is a town near Mecca, where pilgrims sleep in tents and stone three pillars, representing the satan, with seven pebbles, on the last day of Hajj. The Saudi government has built thousand of air-conditioned tents to accommodate pilgrims, during this ritual.

A known female community leader said that when the local group entered Tent Section 40, an area designated for American, European and Australian Muslims, a pilgrim in the group was asked about his sect, by a member of another group.

"When he said he was Shi'a, they called him Kafir (infidel) and attacked him," said the woman, who did not want her name to be revealed, for safety concerns, until she leaves Saudi Arabia next week.

The attackers, who are Australians of Lebanese descent, then hit three other men in the group and dragged one into a tent, while choking and kicking him.

"They took him into a woman's tent and had him in a chokehold. They were choking him out. When our guys got to him, he was blue," she said.

The attackers threatened the pilgrims to leave the tent area, while bringing up historic sectarian references.

"We will kill you Shi'a men and rape your women," they shouted, according to the source.

The source said security officers at the tent area were aware of the attack, but stood by and did not do anything to stop it.

The pilgrims left the tent area from the emergency exits and waited about an hour for their buses to arrive and drive them back to the hotel, which was 15 minutes away.

"We were terrified. When you have someone threatening your life and threatening to rape your women and having the audacity to make such remarks and walk into your tent, you take those threats seriously," said the female community leader.

Police came to the scene, after the group had gotten out to the main road, cooperated with the pilgrims' guide and promised to get them justice. However, police officers deleted video recordings of the attack from the pilgrims' phones.


Qld govt opens more land for coal

Too bad Greenies

THE Queensland government is calling for tenders to explore coal in more than 1200 square kilometres of land in the Bowen Basin in central Queensland.

Natural Resources and Mines Minister Andrew Cripps says this is the first ever non-cash tender for coal exploration.

"The Newman government understands that a vibrant exploration sector is critical to uncovering the mineral deposits and mines of the future, and non-cash tender processes offer the opportunity for junior explorers to make their mark," he said in a statement.
Interested parties have until March 5 next year.

This comes as the government announced it's clearing a backlog of exploration permits.

Mr Cripps says a backlog of about 1400 exploration permit applications had been cleared by his department in the past week.


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