Monday, January 06, 2020

Firestorms follow move away from preventive burning

“It’s all about fuel, not climate.”

Christine Finlay has been sounding the alarm on bushfires in Australia for more than a decade after tracking the relationship ­between reduced cool burning and the frequency of firestorms. And the Queensland-based fire ­researcher, who charted a century of archival bushfire records for her PhD, has long been screaming danger.

Finlay’s thesis examined problem bushfires between 1881 and 1981. What she found after plotting the historical data on a graph was that there was a marked increase in the size and frequency of fires after 1919. This was when bushfire-reduction operations increasingly moved away from traditional indigenous practices such as low-­intensity cool burning.

Finlay says this ­detailed correlation between the accumulation of catastrophic fuel loads and the frequency of extreme bushfires made it possible to forecast the dramatic increase in firestorms we have seen in the 21st century.

“For years, I energetically sent this predictive model to government agencies, in particular bushfire services, the media, coronial and parliamentary inquiries and so on,” she says. “Horribly ­ignored, it proved horribly accurate.”

Finlay has the support of forester Vic Jurskis, who has written a book on fire stick ecology and how indigenous Australians managed the landscape with fire.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, premiers, chief ministers and opposition leaders in November, Jurskis said this season’s ­bushfire situation was neither ­unprecedented nor unexpected.

“This latest holocaust is a direct consequence of unprecedented accumulation of 3D continuous fuels as a result of green influence on politics,” Jurskis says. “It’s all about fuel, not climate.”

Half a century ago, Athol Hodgson, who later became chief fire officer of Victoria, explained the simple physics: doubling the available fuel usually doubles the rate of spread of the fire and ­increases its intensity fourfold.

Jurskis says control burning over large areas cheaply and effectively reduces the incidence of high-intensity wildfires and minimises damage.

When this year’s fire season ­finally ends, Finlay’s research and Jurskis’s theories no doubt will be offered to a federal government review already proposed by Scott Morrison. All sides will have a big stake in any investigation: fire command, volunteer services, state government agencies and anyone who lives near the bush.

Green groups are ready to battle demands that national parks be opened up to logging to reduce fuel loads. Politically, the Greens insist their environment policies adopted in November 2017 do not prohibit cool burns.

Their policy puts climate change front and centre but says “scientifically based, ecologically appropriate use of fire is an ­important means to protect bio­diversity and manage habitat ­effectively”. The policy calls for “an effective and sustainable strategy for fuel-reduction management that will protect biodiversity and moderate the effects of wildfire for the protection of people and assets, developed in consultation with experts, custodians and land managers”.

Linking bushfires to climate change scientifically is still contentious given the long history of fires in Australia. But for the Greens and climate groups making the link politically is a no-brainer.

It compounds a dilemma for the federal government, which might have hoped that finally it was getting its climate message under control. With the dramatic fires it faces the prospect of a new level of public expectation at a time when the appetite among world leaders for urgency appears to be on the wane.

For Australian Energy Minister Angus Taylor, the Madrid meeting outcome illustrates the disconnect between how climate change is being discussed domestically and what is actually happening on the world stage. Rather than setting tougher targets, political leaders are desperately looking for solutions that can make a difference at manageable cost.

Writing in The Australian this week, Taylor said there are serious limits to pressuring countries into aggressive top-down targets without offering clear pathways to deliver.

“Many countries understandably see that as negative globalism and a gross infringement on their national sovereignty,” he wrote.

“The Paris Agreement is based on bottom-up ‘nationally determined contributions’ and it should stay true to that … The best way to deliver on and strengthen these commitments is through new productive technologies and practices that deliver emission abatement while maintaining or strengthening economic growth.”

Taylor said in most countries it isn’t acceptable to pursue emission-reduction policies that add substantially to the cost of living, destroy jobs, reduce incomes and impede growth. His view is supported by international analysis that says the most daunting headwind facing UN climate talks is ­rising nationalism, populism and economic retrenchment — all at the expense of multilateralism.

AFP says street protests against the rise in cost of living in France, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Egypt and more than two dozen other countries last year have given governments already reluctant to ­invest in a low-carbon future ­another reason to baulk.

“These cases highlight how sensitive populations are to change in the price of basic commodities like food, energy and transport,” Stephane Hallegatte, of the World Bank, noted.

The formal withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement from November and the reluctance of the world’s major emitters, China and India, to bolster action completes a bleak picture.

According to climate scientist Judith Curry, the political divide remains between developed and developing countries, but particularly between the West and China/India, and has not changed since Copenhagen and Paris.

Curry argues we have not only oversimplified the problem of climate change but we have also oversimplified its “solution”. “Even if you accept the climate model projections and that warming is dangerous, there is disagreement among experts regarding whether a rapid acceleration away from fossil fuels is the appropriate policy response,” Curry says.

“In any event, rapidly reducing emissions from fossil fuels to ameliorate the adverse impacts of ­extreme weather events in the near term increasingly looks like magical thinking.”

Australia routinely is held up by lobby groups as an obstacle to progress at international climate talks. But Taylor wrote this week that debate in Madrid was not about Australia’s performance.

Unlike many other countries, Australia says it is on target to meet its obligations under both the Kyoto second round and 2030 Paris Agreement.

The most recent estimates ­released by the federal Environment Department last month are that Australia will overachieve on both its 2020 and 2030 targets.

The federal opposition, Greens and climate groups criticise the Morrison government for lacking ambition and counting the excess savings from the Kyoto round in the Paris targets.

But Taylor says there is less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ­because of the work Australian households, farmers and busi­nesses have done under Kyoto, and this should be recognised by the world in assessing and setting future obligations.

“Where we take a different ­approach to other countries is we only ever ratchet our ambition up as we know we can deliver,” Taylor says.

The Energy Minister is unmoved by protest groups like ­Extinction Rebellion, which he says ultimately may become self-destructive.

Curry’s advice is to consider the positives. During the past century, there has been a 99 per cent decline in the death toll from ­natural disasters, during the same period that the global population quadrupled.

While global economic losses from weather and climate disasters have been increasing, this is caused by increasing population and property in vulnerable locations. Global losses because of weather events as a proportion of global GDP have declined about 30 per cent since 1990. The proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty declined from 36 per cent in 1990 to 10 per cent in 2015.


New rental reforms due to come into effect in NSW early next year will change how landlords and tenants navigate lease terms, while also allowing tenants more freedom to make repairs

These changes are much milder than some have advocated and the liberty to break a lease in return for graduated penalities is rather a good idea.  Other changes are not far from existing practices.  Landlords who keep their properties in good repair should have little to fear

Tenants will have greater freedom to break their leases early under sweeping rental regulation changes set to come into effect in March.

The reforms announced by the NSW Office of Fair Trading will give tenants greater control of their homes while putting stricter limits on landlords.

Real Estate Institute of NSW president Leanne Pilkington said the reforms to the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2018 and Residential Tenancies Regulation 2019 were “significant”.

Under the changes, landlords will only be able to increase rent once a year during a periodic agreement when the fixed term of a lease has passed.

Tenants will also have the right to break their lease if it is signed after March 23, 2020. Victims of domestic violence will be permitted to break their leases without penalty.

Tenants will be required to pay a break fee of four weeks rent if less than a quarter of the fixed term of their lease has expired.

The break fee reduces to three weeks rent if the tenant is more than a quarter through their lease but still less than halfway into the term.

Two weeks rent will be charged if the break is made between half and three quarters of the fixed term, while a week’s rent will be required if more than 75 per cent of the term has expired.

The new reforms will also put limits on how landlords and property managers market their properties to new tenants. Landlords will have to obtain tenants’ prior written consent to publish photographs or video recordings of premises, including property interiors that may show tenants’ possessions.

Tenants may make minor alterations, fixtures, additions and renovations with the landlord’s consent, but the landlord cannot unreasonably withhold consent if the alteration, fixture or addition is one from a prescribed list.

Other reforms will change how repairs will be carried out. For example, replacing of hardwired smoke alarms will have to be carried out by an authorised electrician.

Non-payment of water usage or utility charges may now result in tenancy termination (in addition to non-payment of rent).


Leftist hysteria about the fires is just more of their usual  exaggeration

Gerard Henderson

It is understandable why some Australians are reluctant to use the term “Happy New Year” at a time when many have lost their homes to fire and some have perished in the flames. However, there is no reason to project the present tragedy on to a critique of the nation and its leaders.

I grew up in Melbourne where I heard constant tales of the 1939 Black Friday bushfires that afflicted parts of Victoria, South Australia and NSW. In the 1950s, there was still evidence of the fires that had burnt the forests two decades earlier. But southeast Australia recovered then as it almost certainly will recover again.

In Victoria, there were further huge fires in 1983 and 2009. But until now, there was no suggestion that the state’s future would be one of continuing apocalypse. Yet this is the message of the self-declared progressive media as it seeks to blame others for natural tragedies.

Writing in The Guardian on Wednesday, David Marr argued that the present bushfires are like none that have gone before — not even what some regard as modern Australia’s worst bushfire in 1851. In full hyperbolic mode, Marr wrote about the fires in the ­Victorian beachside town of Mallacoota: “Already, these scenes are part of the national imagination. Among Australians of a certain age, they stir memories of a Hollywood potboiler about the end of the world filmed 60 years ago in Melbourne. On The Beach starred Ava Gardener, Gregory Peck and Fred Astaire. The ­remake stars us.”

That’s clever writing but superficial in the extreme.

The 1959 film was based on Neville Shute’s 1957 novel of the same name. It was set in Melbourne as a group of (temporary) survivors await certain death as a consequence of a nuclear war. In short, it was a story about the end of civilisation. It seems that The Guardian’s high-profile columnist has joined the end-of-the-world-is-nigh club.

To Marr, this time we are doomed not by atomic weapons but by climate change. He claims that the Prime Minister is in ­denial about the issue.

But Marr maintains that if Scott Morrison “could face the truth, he might speak not only to his country but the world”. ­According to Marr, “if Australia were to take effective action against climate change, this catastrophe would give us the right to demand better of the rogue states in climate, China and the US”.

Now Australia is a middle-ranking nation with significant ­influence in the world. But it’s ­unrealistic to expect that Morrison can tell the leadership in the US, China or, indeed, India what they should do with their nations’ carbon dioxide emissions that would result in a policy change.

It’s much the same on the home front. On Wednesday, ABC Radio AM presenter Sabra Lane put the following proposition to Water Resources Minister David Littleproud about the bushfires: “Plenty of experts say that they have seen nothing like this before; do you ­acknowledge that the federal ­government now has to do more about climate change?” When Littleproud responded that ­Australia was on track to meet its Paris Agreement commitments, Lane ­asserted that “there are a lot of people saying that more needs to be done”.

Sure, a lot of people are saying this — even though the Coalition won what was said to be the climate change election in May. In any event, as Lane should know, there is nothing that an Australian government can do about climate change since Australia is responsible for just over 1 per cent of total global emissions.

On ABC Sydney on Thursday, presenter Josh Szeps did what he acknowledged was a six-­minute-long “rant” about the fires. Szeps is one of a number of former or present comedians employed by the ABC.

But there was nothing funny about his rant to air that depicted Sydney as “at a tipping point” ­because of smoke and described the NSW south coast around ­Bateman’s Bay as akin to a scene from The Walking Dead or The Hunger Games.

Szeps’s suggestion? Well, he wants various Australian governments to buy “every rusty old Hercules plane that is sitting on a military airport in every poor country of the world” and “retrofit them … into water bombers”. I am not aware that any metropolitan or rural fire brigade has made such a request to any government in Australia.

While conceding that “it’s not Scott Morrison’s fault there are fires”, Szeps declared that there is “a sense of loss of leadership, a loss of faith, a loss of vision, a loss of being up to the seriousness of the challenge”.

That’s the view from a presenter’s chair in Sydney. Another view is that, considering the enormity of the fires on New Year’s Eve — on a day that was significantly hotter than predicted by weather authorities — state and local governments, with the ­assistance of the commonwealth government, did well in mini­mising fatalities and other casualties and in reducing property destruction.

Every Hercules in the world converted to a water bomber could not have extinguished the ferocity of the Australian bushfires on the last day of 2019 — or in 1851, or 1939, or 1983, or 2009. Firefighting can control fires to a greater or lesser extent but it cannot prevent them. It is a fact of life that many Australians live close to some of the most deadly potential fires zones in the world. The current smoke over large parts of NSW, Victoria and the ACT is unpleasant to all and dangerous to some. But it has ­happened before and it will happen again.

On Tuesday evening, The Saturday Paper’s Paul Bongiorno put out the following tweet: “As I choke to death in Canberra in thick acrid smoke the government would already be an ash heap without the rabid support of the Murdoch media.”

The good news is that Bon­giorno is still alive and Australians are not so stupid to vote the way someone (allegedly) tells them. The bad news is there can be apocalyptic thinking without a real apocalypse of the end of the world kind.


Anger lingers at dam water being sent out to sea instead of being used by farmers:  For "environmental" reasons

Nine years ago grape grower Steven Barbon joined hundreds of farmers from the NSW Riverina at a meeting in Griffith., where authorities unveiled the plan to seize their water.

Mr Barbon watched on approvingly on October 14, 2010, as angry farmers burned copies of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which launched the federal government's buyback of irrigation water entitlements to enable more environmental flows down the rivers.

The Australian was in Griffith that day, and back then Mr Barbon said the plan would cripple the nation's food bowl, wreak economic hardship on communities, and fail to save the rivers. "Everyone has worked hard for what we have got in this town, and we're going to lose it because a few green lobbyists believe the frogs need more water," he said at the time.

The Australian revisited Mr Barbon at his 40ha vineyard near Griffith, as part of a week-long investigation into how farmers and growers are coping with the Murray-Darling Basin reforms implemented almost a decade ago.

Mr. Barbon said all his predictions had come true. "It's a fricking disaster," he said of the Basin Plan. "It was designed to ensure sustainability for the environment, farmers and the rural community, and it hasn't happened ... why did all those fish die?"

Water for irrigation has become scarce due to the drought, the Basin Plan, and huge commercial plantings of thirsty trees such as almonds that can't survive without water. The price of irrigation water on the spot market has skyrocketed, with farmers saying it is accentuated by a speculative squeeze orchestrated by non-farming professional investors.

"Out of this plan, who has benefited?" Mr Barbon asked. "It seems to have been designed to feed the fat cats, the speculators up in Sydney."

The high water prices on the spot market — about $700 per megalitre in Mr Barbon's region compared to about $100 in normal times — has produced some perverse effects on agriculture.

Mr Barbon holds what are known as permanent, high-security water entitlements that came with the property purchased by his parents Maria and Renato, who migrated from northern Italy in the 1950s and saved up money over the years cutting cane in Queensland and picking fruit in Griffith.

In the current market the tradeable entitlements are worth their weight in gold, and Mr Barbon could sell his for about $2m. Or, he could lease his water allocations on the spot market each year, perhaps reserving just enough to keep his vines alive but not producing grapes. That would give him an annual income of about $100,000-$150,000 a year, without having to
employ backpackers to pick a single grape or prune a vine.

"I'd probably be in front," Mr Barbon said. "You don't have the risk of growing the crop. I could get hail." But to abandon the vineyard his family toiled to build would break Mr Barbon's heart and, at this stage, he won't. "It'sjust not in my blood to do it," he said.

If he abandoned farming and sold or leased his water, Mr Barbon said, it would also squeeze more life out of the local economy in a region he loves. Other farmers in similar circumstances, particularly older ones, have been swayed by the argument that it's easier to be a water trader than a farmer, and more profitable.

Mr Barbon knows another grape grower in his 60s who recently decided to cash in his water and let his vines die. Just up the road from Mr Barbon's place, a property has vines withering away; the worth of their grapes less than the water needed to grow them.

From the "Weekend Australian" of 28 December, 2019

 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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