Thursday, January 09, 2020

Hazard reduction for big burns ‘not a panacea’

It is utterly un-ambiguous that the bushfires would not have happened without fuel to burn.  The fuel consists of fallen branches and leaves and the easy way is eliminate it is to burn it off in a controlled way, mostly in winter.  Foresters have been doing that for generations. Burn all the fuel and it absolutely IS a panacea for big burns.  There can be no fire without fuel.

So why is the official below saying that it is not a panacea?  It is because he has failed to do his job.  He has failed to eliminate the fuel that is powering the current fires.  The excuse he gives is that the weather is warmer these days so opportunities to do safe burns are fewer.  But that is nonsense.  Australian national average temperatures differ by only fractions of one degree from year to year.  And since the fires are nationwide, national averages are what counts.

So why has he allowed the huge fuel buildup that we are presently suffering from?  The two main reasons are bureaucratic and he gives every sign of being a very timid bureaucrat.  It even influences him when people complain about the smoke from preventive burns.

The first limitation is that the preventive burns are "scheduled".  Bureaucrats love schedules but the weather cannot be scheduled.  So what happens when the weather would make a scheduled burn dangerous?  The burn is of course called off and the fuel remains there ready to burn.

So forestry has to be opportunistic.  Any window of suitable weather has to be grabbed when it arises and used there and then to do a burn.  But can you imagine Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons pushing through that policy?  It is to laugh.  He is just a timid bureaucrat who above all avoids making waves,  hoping that it will all work out somehow.

And the second reason is also bureaucratic.  When landowners want to burn off areas near their properties that have a dangerous fuel buildup, the authorities mostly say No.  You can't have people protecting themselves!

"That would show us up as not doing our Job!  No Siree.  We know what it is needed and we will do it, not anybody else".

And people who burn off without permission are often fined heavily.  So what's the solution to that?  A recognition that the people on the ground know best and a general deference to their wishes.

So the present fires were entirely preventible

Hazard reductions burns are being hampered by longer fire seasons and extreme weather, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says, warning the controversial technique is "not the panacea" some may be looking for to temper bushfires.

The Commissioner on Wednesday defended the RFS' record on hazard reduction burning, saying the agency was not comprised of "environmental bastards", indicating prescribed burns were done with the priorities of people, property and the environment in mind.

Commissioner Fitzsimmons said the agency had met its targets for hazard reduction in the lead-up to this bushfire season, but the "really awful" conditions across the drought-stricken state meant that fires had spread wildly regardless.

"Hazard reduction burning is really challenging and the single biggest impediment to completing hazard reduction burning is the weather," Commissioner Fitzsimmons told ABC Breakfast.

"It's only when the conditions back off a little bit that you actually have some prospect of slowing the fire spread.

"It's important, but not the panacea, and something we should have a very open and frank discussion about."

Commissioner Fitzsimmons said the agency "worked through a sensible regime" to conduct hazard reduction burns, with weather on the day being the largest factor in determining if a burn could happen.

"Resourcing is challenging. Don't forget, as settled Australians, as Europeans, we are now living and working and occupying areas that used to burn freely," Commissioner Fitzsimmons said.

Commissioner Fitzsimmons said the smoke generated by the hazard reduction burns before the bushfire crisis began had made the RFS and other agencies "public enemy number one" at the time.

"There is a very significant health issue with smoke, but you can't have prescribed burning, hazard reduction burning without the by-product being smoke. Whilst we try to forecast, predict and hope it doesn't impact populated areas, you can't have it both ways," he said.

As Commissioner Fitzsimmons spoke to the ABC, Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce was on Sunrise and urged more hazard reduction burns.

"Have you seen a footpath on fire? No, because there is nothing there to burn. Have you seen a massive fire that kills people on grounds [where] there is no fuel load? People get terribly hurt but you can control it," he said.

"Once a fire breaks out onto an area... with minimal fuel load [you] can control it. In a national park, there are always fires but it is the intensity of the fire because of the fuel load catching on fire. I believe, and this is my view, there are too many caveats, green caveats, that impedes people's efforts."

The Prime Minister earlier this week also called for more prescribed burns.

"You've got to deal with hazard management in national parks ... this, of course, will be one of the things that we will consider when premiers come together after they've been dealing with the fires," the Prime Minister said.

On Tuesday, Victoria's Country Fire Authority's chief officer Steve Warrington said there was a "fair amount of emotion" around hazard reduction. "The emotive argument is not supported that fuel reduction burning will fix all our problems," he said.

"Some of the hysteria that this will be the solution to all our problems is really just quite an emotional load of rubbish, to be honest."


Australia tops Qatar as world's biggest LNG exporter

Australia has overtaken Qatar to become the world's top exporter of liquefied natural gas, shipping 77.5 million tonnes in 2019 with an export value of $49 billion as the fuel becomes increasingly important in the global energy mix.

The figures, released on Monday by energy consultancy EnergyQuest, show Australia's liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments for the 2019 calendar year increased 11.4 per cent on the previous year's exports, primarily due to the growth in the Ichthys project operated by Japan's INPEX in the Timor sea.

The surge follows a succession of massive LNG projects to begin production in Australia in the past decade including by ASX-listed Woodside Petroleum and Santos and other global operators such as Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron.

"We have previously achieved the global title in some individual months," EnergyQuest chief executive Graeme Bethune said.

"But 2019 is the first time Australia has topped global LNG export performance on a sustained annual basis."

While Qatar's final production figures for 2019 are yet to be released, the country's output is forecast to be 2.5 million tonnes lower at 75 million tonnes, according to EnergyQuest's analysis.

Dr Bethune said Australia's production capacity was 88 million tonnes while Qatar's was 77 million tonnes. "There is still room to grow," he said.

Western Australia was the nation's dominant LNG export region, accounting for 57 per cent of shipments, with the Woodside-managed North West Shelf project the largest single contributor.

Woodside on Monday said its LNG exports from WA were helping the world transition to a lower-emissions future.

"Woodside is playing a significant role in the world's energy transformation, through managing our own emissions and reducing global emissions by supplying cleaner energy to a world that needs it," a spokeswoman said.

LNG is expected to play an increasingly important role in the future global energy mix by supplying the stability needed when conditions for renewable energy are unfavourable, such as when it is not sunny or windy. Electricity from gas has on average half the greenhouse emissions of electricity from coal.

In Australia, the ongoing national bushfire crisis has sparked fresh calls to accelerate the phase-out of coal-fired power generation, which still accounts for about 60 per cent of Australia's electricity.

The nation's boom in LNG exports, however, has been described as concerning by environmental groups due to the significant amount of emissions released during extraction and production – adding 4.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in Australia during the year to March 2019. Gas producers and the Morrison government argue LNG exports are aiding the effort to arrest global warming as they displace the use of coal-fired power generation overseas.

On Monday, Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan said the growth of Australia's LNG sector was boosting the local economy and generate much-needed jobs in regional areas of northern Australia.

"Australia's LNG story is very encouraging and positive for the country," Mr Canavan said. "The contribution of the LNG sector to local economies in places like Darwin, Gladstone, the Darling Downs and western Queensland, Karratha and Broome is essential."

The Morrison government would continue working to expand the national gas industry in 2020 for domestic users and exports, Mr Canavan said.

The industry group for Australia's gas producers said the milestone of Australia becoming the world's top LNG exporter came after the industry collectively invested more than $350 billion nationally in the past decade, generating 80,000 direct and indirect jobs.

"Australia's LNG projects will deliver decades of economic growth, jobs and exports," said Andrew McConville of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association.

"LNG exports also have regional and global environmental benefits, contributing to cleaner skies for our trading partners."

Following a three-fold jump in domestic gas prices, up to $10-12 a gigajoule, since exports began, the federal government has been considering forcing gas producers to reserve some supply for the domestic market in an effort to cut bills for households and manufacturers. Dr Bethune said prices on the east coast had fallen to $5 a gigajoule in January 2020.


Eye on China: Dave Sharma’s call for cyber warfare

Liberal MP and former ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma says Australia must be prepared to wage “political warfare” to protect the nation’s sovereignty, and ­develop offensive intelligence capabilities to destabilise foreign adversaries.

Amid warnings of surging foreign interference in Australian ­institutions, Mr Sharma says Australia should draw inspiration from the “intelligence-driven disruption operations” of Israel’s shadowy intelligence service, Mossad.

Writing in The Australian on Monday, Mr Sharma says Australia faces a “sustained political warfare threat” through electoral interference, propaganda and the acquisition of key assets, and needs new tools to expose and ­exploit the vulnerabilities of its ­adversaries.

“In particular, we need to consider developing not just defensive capabilities, but also offensive capabilities, so that we give our ­intelligence and other agencies not just the tools to defend, but also the means to respond,” he says.

“The usual practitioners of ­political warfare, authoritarian ­regimes, are themselves highly vulnerable to political warfare. We should develop the capabilities to take the fight to them in this ­domain, even if only to create ­effective deterrence.”

The member for Wentworth in Sydney’s east argues such tactics, also known as hybrid warfare and grey-zone tactics, “are becoming the new norm of statecraft”, and are “challenging the way we must think about the future of state contest”.

The call follows a warning by former ASIO chief Duncan Lewis that “unprecedented” foreign interference — which analysts attribute almost entirely to China — poses an “existential threat” to Australian society.

That threat was dramatically ­illustrated by a cyber attack on the federal parliament in January, which the Australian Signals ­Directorate labelled a “national cyber crisis”. China was the prime suspect in that hack, as well as ­another on the Australian National University late last year.

The political warfare “tool kit” of authoritarian states includes misinformation, the exploitation of local politicians, interference in electoral processes, the discrediting of a nation's institutions, and the exploitation of faultlines in ­societies, Mr Sharma writes. But he says Australia must respond “consistent with our values”, targeting adversaries’ absence of ­accountability, mistreatment of minorities, and a desire to tightly control information.

He notes the Panama Papers leak, which exposed corruption among Russian elites, was one of the most destabilising events of Vladimir Putin’s leadership, while revelations about the wealth of family members of Chinese leaders had been similarly destabilising.

“Shining a spotlight on bad ­behaviour and exposing corruption, human rights abuses, deception, and crude acts of statecraft is a powerful tool which can inflict serious damage on the stability and legitimacy of authoritarian ­regimes, hitting them where it hurts,” he says.

Security experts backed the push, saying a new approach was needed to meet the rising foreign interference challenge.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings said: “We need to be ­realistic that there is this hybrid warfare threat that is now being used, largely by China as far as our own interests are concerned, and we have got to be prepared to understand that and to counter it in ways that would be regarded as potentially quite tough.”

Mr Jennings said explaining the nature of the threat to the Australian public in clear terms — which successive governments had failed to do — was a vital first step.

He also called for a dramatic upgrade of the nation’s diplomatic network, and a boost to cyber capabilities.

Lowy Institute non-resident fellow Euan Graham urged new “offensive and defensive resilience” measures in the face of a “concerted and economically ­empowered challenge from the Chinese Communist Party”.

“A more refined national security and defence tool kit is needed, and a less reactive, more independent mindset,” Mr Graham said.

Mr Sharma’s call for a strategic rethink comes as US Cyber Command prepares to target senior Russian leaders ahead of the 2020 US presidential election by weaponising their personal and financial data, in a warning to the Putin regime not to repeat its meddling in America’s 2016 poll.

Britain is also integrating ­hybrid tactics, including cyber and information warfare, into its everyday operations under a newly ­restructured Strategic Command.

In Australia, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Chief of ­Defence Angus Campbell this year both acknowledged the need for a greater focus on hybrid warfare, with Senator Reynolds declaring: “It is vital that we be able to bring all of our sources of national power to bear on this problem, not just those of Defence.”

Both stopped short of setting out a strategy for Australia to ramp up such capabilities, but efforts are under way within agencies to ­incorporate political warfare tools.

The ASD has acknowledged it engages in offensive cyber operations to “disrupt, degrade and deny offshore adversaries who pose ­serious threats to Australia’s ­national interests”.

While Israel’s Mossad famously uses targeted assassinations to achieve its objectives, such as disrupting Iran’s nuclear program, Mr Sharma told The Australian he was not suggesting Australia undertake state-sanctioned killings.

But he said there was much to learn from the Jewish state’s pre-emptive intelligence operations, which had “formed a pillar of ­Israeli statecraft since its foundation as a modern nation”.


This year belongs to the Quiet Australians

The illiberal left grows ever louder, but ordinary people are having none of it.


Australia’s spotless record of transitioning power without recourse to violence remains intact, unless you count the ugly incident with a corkscrew.

In the week before Scott Morrison’s historic election victory in May, a Sydney resident in an apparent state of rage about climate change or some such, inexplicably inflicted mild wounds on a supporter of former prime minister Tony Abbott.

That this minor entry in a police officer’s notebook should hit the front page is proof of what a civilised democracy Australia generally is.

Yet here, as in Britain, there is a flourishing school of thought that democracy is failing. It is a belief that justifies resorting to extra-democratic means to settle arguments and raises the temperature of social-media debate.

Happy country or hopeless country? Where one stands on this question depends on whether one is a quiet or a noisy Australian, terms coined by the prime minister, Scott Morrison, to describe the contemporary cultural faultline in this well-blessed nation.

That Morrison’s terminology requires no elaboration to an international audience demonstrates how ubiquitous the divide has become in societies where open debate is allowed after two decades of 21st-century life.

In fairness, the divide has existed since history began to be recorded. The Zapotec priesthood, for example, exhibited all the characteristics of a noisy, needy and conceited elite as far back as the 4th century BC, when they extracted corn from Mesoamerican peasants in return for weather forecasts.

Yet never has the presumption of superior knowledge been so democratised as it is today in our highly educated time, nor its bearers so organised as they fight to have their way.

Watching the federal election count on a lovely Sydney autumn evening in May was possibly the most pleasant accompaniment to a cold beer I can remember in my three decades as a citizen of this country.

Having spent the day testing the mood at booths in Sydney’s far western suburbs, it was apparent there was only one way the vote could go. The pundits, however, remained convinced that Labor’s pledge to tax retirement savings and introduce job-destroying renewable-energy targets would be a hit with the middle class, right up until 8.25pm when the ABC’s election expert, in an apparent state of anaphylactic shock, called the result for Morrison.

It was an evening of schadenfreude that left one crying out for seconds.

There is nothing like a good, clean popular vote to reset the civic debate, as Boris Johnson’s victory was to do later in the year in Britain.

The results of the postmortem the Labor Party held into its defeat suggests it is not unaware of its problem, but it is clueless how to fix it in a world where the act of virtue-signalling threatens workers’ livelihoods and comfort.

Had the right to vote been stripped from citizens aged over 35, the Labor Party would have romped home, as Corbyn would have in Britain.

Exit polling indicates Labor was the preferred party of the educated professional classes, but not for the workers, the people in whose name it is supposed to exist.

Morrison’s victory, apparently against the odds, gives him command of a party more united than at any time since 2007. He is odds-on to become Australia’s first prime minister since John Howard to survive for a full term without being ousted by his colleagues.

Morrison has used his authority to declare war on the Blob, as Michael Gove famously called the expanding and apparently indestructible bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy-busting is his stated mission. His planned restructuring of government departments and his instructions to his ministers are aimed at reminding the mandarin class who is really in charge.

As Australia’s world-beating run of uninterrupted economic growth enters its 29th year, its citizens are enjoying the fruits of both prosperity and complacency.

Since the growth is largely sustained through the export of resources and the import of migrants, the underlying structural problems are little appreciated and, as a result, politically challenging to address.

The focus on reform remains fixed on the banking sector, a whipping boy upon which Quiet Australians can vent their frustrations on corporate bureaucracy in general.

Concern about sharp practices by banking executives is understandable in a nation where private wealth is spread more liberally and more widely than almost any other.

The list of economic challenges is long, however – energy prices, productivity and corporation taxation are among them, three policy areas in which Donald Trump’s US is leading the way.

Morrison’s victory failed, not unexpectedly, to settle the burning totemic issue of his times, climate change, or as some would have us call it, the climate emergency.

Energy policy was one of the biggest factors in the election and it was won by Morrison who framed it as an economic debate rather than a moral argument.

On this, as in every other policy issue, the Quiet Australians occupy the middle ground. They take care to recycle their household waste, pick up litter in the street and believe in taking reasonable precautions against future risk, providing there is not too great a cost.

The noisy minority, however, have become increasingly noisy, gluing themselves to the tarmac, serenading the prime minister by playing the bagpipes outside his Sydney residence, encouraging schoolchildren to strike and generally carrying on in a manner unbecoming to themselves and unhelpful to sensible discussion.

Their enthusiasm has been fanned by a drought in western districts of New South Wales and Queensland that is spreading to Victoria.

They justify their alarm with reference to bushfires and the smoke which has hung over Sydney for much of the late spring and early summer.

Bushfires are a natural feature of the Australian landscape that long predates the arrival of humankind. Plants and animals have evolved in tune with their cycle, regenerating through the burnt earth.

The bushfire threat once united civic-minded Australians. Volunteer firefighting brigades serve as what Edmund Burke called the little platoons, an enlisted army fighting a common foe.

This year, bushfires have come to divide Australians. That climate change might increase the likelihood and severity of bushfires has the ring of truthiness to it and warrants investigation.

Yet at this stage it is little more than a hunch without a firm empirical foundation. It may remain so, given the challenge of finding a reliable historical measure.

Bushfire season used to bring Australia together, inspiring private donations for its victims. Today it has become a burning stake by which to identify witches.

The inane question ‘do you accept that bushfires are proof of climate change?’ has become the stock-standard gotcha question for politicians and even fire chiefs appearing on the ABC.

Morrison has become the prime suspect, hauled before this tainted jury as the man we must blame for the smouldering undergrowth and destroyed homes.

Morrison’s ‘inaction’ on climate change may be the stated charge, but like President Trump’s impeachment, we suspect his real crime is his refusal to tip his hat to his accusers’ wokish nonsense.

Canada’s leader Justin Trudeau, we note in passing, is not yet being held responsible for the melting of the Arctic permafrost. Australia’s ‘inaction’ on climate has led to a 12 per cent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions since 2005. Canada’s efforts have reined in emissions by only two per cent.

The centre-right may be good at winning elections these days, but it doesn’t mean it wins the argument.


 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

1 comment:

Paul said...

I'm sensing some narrative management happeining at the upper end of the fire response community. The Climate chestnut not quite cutting it this time?