On responses to NSW Fires

Stop NSW Fire Cuts
As brave firies fight the worst bushfires to hit NSW in 45 years, you might be shocked to learn that the O’Farrell government has cut $70 million from the budget resulting in multiple fire station closures — putting lives at risk, just at the moment we most need protection.

“Budget cuts … over the last 10 months have meant professionally crewed fire stations in the Sutherland Shire have been closed 64 times,” says Fire Brigade Employees Union secretary Jim Casey.

Permanently staffed stations had never been closed before the O’Farrell government’s election and subsequent $70 million cuts.

“We are being hamstrung by political budget cuts making it harder for us to do that important work and potentially putting lives at risk,” Mr Casey said.

When the bushfire emergency hit, Fire and Rescue NSW were left short and scrambled to recall staff to the closed stations, delaying those stations by at least an hour.

This disgraceful risk to life and property is set to be repeated until the O’Farrell Government see sense and stop their rolling closure of fire stations across NSW.

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Fire and climate change: don’t expect a smooth ride
By Roger Jones, Victoria University, via The Conversation

With fires still burning across New South Wales, it’s time to have a look at the role climate change might have played. Are the conditions we’re seeing natural variation, or part of a long term trend?

In fact, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Has bushfire risk increased due to climate change? Read here http://www.climatecodered.org

Is the Abbott government fiddling while NSW burns?
” …it is precisely during extreme weather events that journalists have the best opportunity to communicate the reality of climate change… As the events increase in number and scale, they will advance so far into the daily lives of Australians that social and psychological issues will emerge — that will touch us so personally and deeply — as to require narrative symbolisation. For even the most tabloid journalism to ignore these issues when people are desperately searching for an explanation will not be possible.”

By David Holmes, Monash University, via The Conversation

For the Abbott government, it has emerged that talking about climate change during a “natural” disaster is taboo. Of course, how “natural” the NSW fires actually are is the issue here, as we witness over 100 separate fires across NSW. These fires are the likes of which have never been seen in the month of October anywhere in Australia, let alone this close to population centres.

Yesterday Greens MP Adam Bandt posted the following on Twitter that drew several reactions from LNP politicians:
Tony Abbott’s plan means more bushfires for Australia and more pics like this of Sydney.
Environment minister Greg Hunt condemned Bandt linking the NSW fires to Abbott’s perceived inaction on climate change, saying:
There has been a terrible tragedy in NSW and no-one anywhere should seek to politicise any human tragedy, let alone a bushfire of this scale.

But is this really politicising the fires, as if to gain some narrow political advantage for the Greens? Or is it in fact a gesture to point out how serious global warming actually is, and that without effective global action – especially from high carbon footprint nations like Australia – we are likely to expect more of such kinds of fire behaviour at very strange times of the year?

Notably, Bandt has not attributed just this one period of fires to global warming, and, as climate scientists will tell us, to ask of such a direct link is to ask the wrong question. But we can suggest that the dice is loaded toward such events occurring more frequently and in more intense forms.

Nevertheless, Bandt has been subjected to a barrage of censuring voices: on Twitter, on talkback radio, from LNP politicians and from unsigned opinion pieces on news.com.au.

Some of the Twitter scorn directed at Adam Bandt
Liberal MP Wyatt Roy has appeared on a Fairfax Media video clip with a personal story of how traumatising it is to lose a house. He retold events of a kitchen fire leading to the loss of his family home when he was younger.

Following Bandt’s tweet, prime minister Tony Abbott himself had sought to normalise the NSW fires.
Australia is a country which is prone to natural disaster but every time it strikes, it hurts and we grieve for all of those who are now hurting because of what’s happened in NSW.
Abbott is here tapping into an entrenched narrative that has been used for covering extreme weather events long before “global warming” and “climate change” entered our vocabulary, which might be called the “fury of nature” narrative. The other dominant narrative at play during these events is about how “Australians” can overcome adversity in times of crisis.

These narratives are extremely powerful, and research at Monash University suggests they are the two most important ones relevant to the Black Saturday fires of 2009 and the Brisbane floods of 2011.

However, the study at Monash also reveals that it is precisely during extreme weather events that journalists have the best opportunity to communicate the reality of climate change. From a climate science standpoint, looking at the link is the wrong question, but from a media culture perspective it is exactly the right question at the right time.

The science alone, carbon policies, climate conferences – none of these topics arouse audience attention in any form of mainstream media more than extreme weather events do. This is why climate change deniers on Twitter and in parliament alike might want to jump on climate change at these times, much quicker than you can actually put out a fire.

The stakes could not be higher, and extraordinary vigilance will be needed by the deniers if the discussion is to be suppressed at these times. We generally do not jump on discussion of road safety when there has been a fatality: in fact, it raises our contemplation of what it means and makes urgent the steps for prevention. But with the inexorable march of global warming and as the NSW fires demonstrate, we are fast approaching a kind of media-climate equinox.

As the events increase in number and scale, they will advance so far into the daily lives of Australians that social and psychological issues will emerge — that will touch us so personally and deeply — as to require narrative symbolisation. For even the most tabloid journalism to ignore these issues when people are desperately searching for an explanation will not be possible. The “fury of nature” line is just not going to cut it.

There are signs of such an equinox arriving, and the media narratives are beginning to turn. News Corp, the largest newspaper group in Australia, has – in recent years – been avoiding any link between climate change and extreme weather. But an extraordinary editorial opinion piece in last Monday’s Daily Telegraph in Sydney led with the words:
There is almost no doubt that climate change is occurring and very little that human activity is a contributor.
Such a stance on climate change is a complete reversal of its past editorial position, and was put out on a day when fire was raging all over its front page.

Front page of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Monday, October 14.
In what is billed as a “World Exclusive”, the front page story opened with:
DEATHS from Sydney’s extreme heat are expected to triple by the end of the century as the city cops the brunt of global warming, a leaked climate change draft report warns.
The threat of bushfires will increase, another 800,000 people will fall ill each year from contaminated food and water and more than 270,000 homes will be at risk of collapsing into the ocean from rising sea levels. The unreleased draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s second report also warns that $226 billion worth of coastal assets are at risk with just a 1.1m rise in sea levels.
But, curiously, there was no adverse reaction on Twitter or from federal MPs to this unauthorised “leaked” story, or the fact that the tragedy of the mass destruction that had just happened in Port Stephens was being so directly linked to climate change.

The fact that there was no reaction suggests that what has hit a nerve with Bandt’s 70 character tweet was that it was critical of the Abbott government’s policies on climate change, rather than the link between climate change and the out-of-season nature of the fires. If this is the case, we might need to think again about who is politicising what in the midst of this ongoing inferno.
David Holmes does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.

What Firefighters say. You do not find many climate change sceptics on the end of [fire] hoses anymore… They are dealing with increasing numbers of fires, increasing rainfall events, increasing storm events. – A senior Victorian fire officer, interviewed in 2012 for a recent National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility report.

Bandt: Abbott plays politics fire


Environmentalists Fooled by Big Coal
Uncertainty over the future of Australia’s carbon tax and emission’s trading scheme could go on for a year or more.

But academic and author Guy Pearse says with or without a price on carbon, Australia’s contribution to the world’s climate problem is set to dramatically increase over coming decades.

This is because of our growing coal exports. Australia, like other countries, takes no responsibility for the greenhouse pollution from its thermal coal once it’s exported and burnt in foreign power stations.

Guy Pearse says pollution from these emissions is projected to dwarf Australia’s home grown pollution.

‘At the moment those coal export emissions are about one and a half times our domestic emissions. In ten years they could be five times as great.’

Is [Australia] a country that suggests that we can continue to expand our coal production on the punt that clean coal will somehow deliver and somehow solve that emissions problem?
‘So while there’s this fierce debate raging over a carbon price, it’s really a sideshow’.

With both sides of politics supporting growth in coal exports, Pearse says this means that overall Australia is dramatically adding to the global climate problem, rather than reducing it.

The new book Big Coal: Australia’s Dirtiest Habit, which Pearse co-authored, also argues Australia’s environment movement has been fooled by the coal sector and predictions that the age of coal is on the wane.

Global banks like HSBC and Goldman Sachs, groups like the Climate Institute in Australia and the Sierra Club in America have all recently pointed to a crippling fall-off in the future growth of demand for coal.

But Pearse remains highly skeptical.

‘Well it’s understandable that green groups might look to highlight statements from large financial institutions suggesting that coal is on the wane,’ he says.

‘Unfortunately when you look more closely at those institutions, what you find is that they’re very heavily invested themselves in the coal industry now, and its expansion. For example, Goldman Sachs, which has recently got a lot of coverage for saying that the window for investing in thermal coal is closing, is a very heavy investor in thermal coal and even as recently as last year buying up thermal coal assets in Colombia.’

‘They’re (also) still involved in mountain-top coalmining in the US and in exporting new thermal coal from the northwest coast. So some of these institutions also have an interest at the moment in talking down the industry while the prices are low, to prevent new entrants, and to kind of prop up the industry.’

‘I think their actions speak a bit more loudly than their words.’

Read more

David McKnight Big coal how climate action sabotaged fossil fuel industry

Heed the warnings on the new climate reality
Australian has a choice to heed the warnings of the new climate reality and start cutting our carbon pollution, says Dr Paul Sinclair in this guest blog.


On the Greens and bushfires
Why we need to politicise the bushfires
The refusal to make the link between the fires and climate change will condemn more people to the inferno by Tim Hollo

As I write, several of my close friends are among thousands of people across NSW facing the real and immediate terror of bushfires threatening their homes.

But there is a no less real and even more terrifying fire threatening the home of every single one of us. Looming over the next ridge and coming our way at high speed is the catastrophic destabilisation of the global climate which has nurtured human civilisation. Like a bushfire lit by despicable arsonists, this is a fire of our own making. And, while it is less easy for us to see, it is a far more terrifying fire because we don’t have the option of leaving our home and saving ourselves. Our home is our whole world. We have no alternative but to stay and fight for our lives.

Scientists are increasingly desperately calling for swift and decisive action to avoid ever more severe fires, storms, floods and droughts, to avoid having to relocate whole cities as the oceans rise, to avoid triggering feedback loops that would create an unrecognisable and hostile planet.

In the face of this threat, linking these climate-changed fires to political scorched earth policies that will contribute to even worse fires is vital. Refusing to make the link, and attacking those who make it, is in a very real way condemning far more people to the inferno. And yet it is the latter approach that is tragically typical of our current head-in-the-sand political debate.

What does it mean to accuse someone of “politicising” bushfires, as Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt was, when he on Thursday he tweeted his Guardian piece headlined, By repealing the carbon tax, Tony Abbott is failing to protect his people? Read more

Climate change raising fire risk

Climate and cuts deadly mix

GLW Fighting Back Against Abbott’s Fossil Foolery


A week is a long time in Australian climate change politics


Scientists link climate change to massive bushfires

More against Tony Abbott


We have to reduce carbon emissions by 25% by 2020, not 5%



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