“A sunburnt country… with a pitiless blue sky”, so the famous poem goes, but where once Australia could rely on “steady, soaking rain”, a trend of hotter and drier weather as the climate warms is making it more vulnerable to severe bushfires.
US government scientists are widely expected to announce Wednesday that 2015 was the planet’s hottest year in modern times.
Climate experts warn that with rising temperatures, as well as decreasing rainfall in the south, parts of Australia are so dry the risk of bushfires is rising.
Since November huge swathes of the country have been scorched by ferocious blazes, leaving a total of nine dead and hundreds of homes destroyed. In South Australia, locals told of an “Armageddon-like” inferno sweeping through some areas, while in Western Australia bushfires raged out of control in a situation residents described as “like hell”.
Already this year there have been scores more bushfires — a recent incident at Yarloop, 110 kilometres (70 miles) south of Perth, left two dead.
Firefighters warn they are facing more intense, erratic blazes.
“From my experience, fires appear to be getting more intense, harder to fight, harder to plan for… and this is having an impact on firefighting strategies,” Darin Sullivan, a 25-year veteran New South Wales state firefighter, told AFP.
Three of the five hottest years on record in Australia have occurred in the last three years, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM).
In 2013, Australia experienced its warmest year on record, 2014 was the third-hottest while last year was the fifth-warmest.
“Studies have shown an increase in the number of days with high levels of fire danger in southern and eastern Australia,” BOM climatologist Blair Trewin told AFP.
“One of the things that is apparent is a lengthening of the fire season, so we’re seeing more high fire danger days in spring and autumn, as well as in the core of summer.”
– ‘Catastrophic fires’ –
Bushfires are common in Australia’s arid summer, which usually begins in December. Former prime minister Tony Abbott, a long-time climate change sceptic, said during the sweltering 2013-14 summer season that the heat was “just part and parcel of life in Australia”.
“Australia is, to use the famous phrase, a land of droughts and flooding rains,” he added, recalling the well-known Dorothea Mackellar poem “My Country”.
But firefighter Sullivan said he and his colleagues were witnessing deteriorating conditions, including an apparent increase in the number of the most severe fires in recent years.
The “catastrophic” category in fire ratings was introduced after Victoria state endured the devastating “Black Saturday” bushfires in 2009 that left 173 dead in Australia’s worst natural disaster.
Another issue exacerbating the impact of bushfires is that more and bigger buildings are being built in disaster-prone areas, with Campbell Fuller of Insurance Council Australia adding that often the properties being constructed were not resilient to extreme weather events.
An increase in the number and intensity of blazes is predicted to have a serious economic impact. Bushfires were estimated to have cost Australia US$247 million in 2014, but this is forecast to soar to US$548 million by 2050, according to Deloitte Access Economics, which cited population growth and infrastructure density as factors.
– ‘Increasing danger’ –
Ken Mansbridge, whose family home was burnt down in the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires that killed more than 70 people in Victoria and adjacent South Australia, continues to live in the same region and has noticed a stark difference in weather patterns.
“There’s definitely a noticeable change in the weather patterns and in the actual vegetation… I’ve never seen the local area look as dry as it does,” the 70-year-old retiree, who has lived in the Macedon Ranges about 70 kilometres northwest of Melbourne for more than four decades, told AFP.
“The trees are all flowering at different times, the vegetables this year were all wind and sun burnt,” he explained.
A November report by the independent Climate Council pointed to longer bushfire seasons across the globe.
“What climate change is doing is loading the dice towards having the sort of conditions that are conducive to fires spreading and being very hot and more uncontrollable,” said lead author Lesley Hughes, a Macquarie University biologist and ecologist.
With the BOM and national science body CSIRO expecting Australia to “warm substantially” this century, having already seen temperatures rise approximately 1.0 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1950, Sullivan said strategies for fighting fires needed to be overhauled and climate change addressed.
“If this type of intensity and increase continues, then our resources are very close to being overrun at times,” he said.
“This is our workplace. When we go to work to fight fires, our workplace is now more dangerous because of climate change as well.”
Original media here via AFP
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NSW Firefighters lead the way on climate change position
“That the FBEU recognises the threat of climate change to the planet, and the importance of immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that the current government policy in this area not only fails to address the problem adequately, but also shifts the cost for transitioning to cleaner technology onto working class people and further, that climate change is transforming firefighting operations and as such is an industrial issue. Accordingly, the Union:a) commits to an ongoing process of education and discussion around the question of climate change through all of the Union’s fora;b) endorses the “Climate Justice Coalition” – an umbrella group of Unions, NGO’s and faith based social change groups;c) commits to supporting future campaigns around the issue.”
Site post – Cheeseburgers and Guns.
Climate change and pricing carbon
– By Darin Sullivan
I’m a simple man….. I’ve looked at both sides of this argument, for a long time, and this is the way I see it.
I don’t believe the skeptics. I don’t believe those that use politics to take the easy, hysterical, popular road.
I believe climate change threatens the future of my country and the world I live in. I believe the science that proves that mankind is in the process ruining this planet. This threatens my children, and my children’s children. I believe climate change threatens the working lives and living conditions of everyone on this planet. After looking at both sides of the argument, this is my view.
It’s easy not to believe in man’s effects on this planet. To believe we are having a serious negative impact is scary. To do nothing is much easier. To actually make change is difficult.
Like anything that is hard, and requires change, we can only take responsibility for ourselves. Even if by doing the right thing makes no difference until others around the world make the necessary changes, doing nothing is not an option.
I respect people in this world that step up and have a go, and do what they think is right, even if it is unpopular, even if it is difficult. I respect people in the political world who will stand up and do what we elect them to do, not to do what is popular even if it is wrong.
The ALP could not have been any more open about the fact they want, and indeed intended to have, a carbon trading scheme. I believe we need a carbon trading scheme. The current scheme in Australia (2012) is a step towards that. The fact that the ALP have to deal with the minor parties in a hung parliament is a reality, and the fact that they need to make concessions to do that is also a necessity. Is that going back on a promise – I don’t care. I want them to do the right thing, and I am hoping this is the road to get there.
Will paying more for electricity, and paying more for the energy I use hurt me financially? Yes it will. Does that make it wrong? No. It will change my behaviors, and I can tell you, I probably need that. I think everyone around me falls into that category. Australians are the biggest polluters per capita in the developed world. What gives us that right? It’s reprehensible and begs the question as to why we shouldn’t be changing our ways. If I need to pay my way to do the right thing, I’m happy with that.
We are a rich country by comparison to our neighbors. I think we need to start acting like mature members of the community, instead of whining like sooks everytime our Govt makes decisions which threaten our TV and computer use.
When petrol goes up, we all cry foul because we really need our car to drive on the freeway, right next to that other person in the car on the same freeway, going to the same place, who also has one person in the car.
And those that are doing it genuinely tough, who will be really affected by price hikes, they should be compensated, fair enough – full support. These are the people that need looking after, and dialogue rightfully exists around those questions.
But please let’s not react to the those people who spend their lives bleating about how poor they are, all the while paying $100/w for smokes and $150/w on grog, who all have ipods, new cars and new golf clubs. The same people that jump on shock jock radio and spew venom along with the pied pipers that fuel these freak shows, joining the chorus of those calling for civil uprisings, screaming at those commie socialists daring to threaten their right to cheeseburgers and guns. Give me a break.
I’m all for fighting to improve the wages and conditions of not only firefighters, but for all Australians. But sometimes we need to stop complaining about taking responsibility as citizens of this planet, and accept that we may have to pay for the actions of our existence, and indeed our technological advances, over the last few hundred years, and that this may actually further our interests and the interests of our families.
The science is in. It is obvious we must act. That’s how I see it.
My Union, the FBEU, discussing climate change and ‘mega fires’ on FBEUtube (YouTube):