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Bush fires, Australia and climate change

By Charles Essery - posted Thursday, 2 January 2020

Over the past two weeks, I have received an amazing increase in communications from family and friends in the UK. I know it's Christmas, but the volume of communications is excessively high. I am not complaining, it's very nice when you have lived in Sydney on the opposite side of the world for over 30 years. However, their contact has been driven by the dramatic news footage on UK media. I have analysed the footage and it's particularly notable for terms such as "mega fires", "catastrophic" and "never seen before". No wonder the increase in contacts has occurred. The fires are extensive (up to 1 million hectares), hundreds of houses lost, sadly lives have lost, and hundreds of thousands of native animals burnt to death).

This week, Greta, the 16-year-old High Priest of climate change has weighed into the Twittersphere with her usual ignorance and blamed all this on the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. His government's climate change policies are deemed "bad" and are therefore the cause of these mega fires…. "how dare he!".

Well that's not quite the correct story here. Fires in Australia are part of life. Even Cook commented on the number of fires as he sailed up the east coast in the late 18th century. Aborigines have used fire to flush out animals while hunting and to clear land to improve access. Biologists have identified the need for fire in forest ecosystems to encourage regrowth and rejuvenation. Until recently, modern Australians have managed fire near urban areas by regular "backburning" (also known as prescribed burning). This annual precaution has been used to safely burn off the undergrowth vegetation that builds up under the tree canopy during winter. Backburning reduces the fuel load and ensures that when the inevitable fire season arrives, the fires run cool, without enough fuel to destroy the environment and animal habitats.


Fires need fuel and oxygen. Across Australia, the massive reduction of backburning in recent years has resulted in an almost explosive volume of undergrowth and debris. Combined with the dry conditions of the current drought (again part of the Australian climate), this abundance of dry fuel in our native forests (which are extensive on the East and South coasts) is a veritable time bomb waiting for a lightning strike or criminal arsonist to strike… yes believe it or not most of our fires are deliberately started.

So why have Australian authorities taken this "new approach" of reducing backburning? Quite simply in response to climate change and Green activists. Climate change has reached cult status and with the lemming-like adoration of characters like Greta et al, backburning is judged only to increase CO2 and therefore to be outcast. In addition, the Greens disapprove of backburning as they want the native forests to remain free of human intervention. The Green movement has moved on from activism, and now dominates most of the environment and policy arms of governments - local, state and federal in Australia) and hence can now influence the "war against backburning" and make it very difficult for the rural fire services to carry out their routine annual backburns. Indeed, the ranks of the full-time fire authorities are now infiltrated by "environmentally sympathetic" senior bureaucrats who influence government policy towards pro climate change philosophies and agendas. Unfortunately, these affluent Green influencers live in the safe comfort of the cities, and don't have to deal with the consequences of their elitist policies.

The consequences of this progression is now manifesting itself through these current fires. The ferocity of the fires is not primarily driven by climate change, nor is it due to the drought. It's due to the abundance of fuel that has built up over many years caused by misdirection, climate change hysteria and mismanagement by government authorities through their curtailment of backburning. Examination of the location of the current suite of fires in Australia show that they stem from national parks where little or no backburning has occurred.

This desire to stop human interference in national parks has created the current explosive high fuel load on the forest floor. I have only seen three significant bushfire seasons in my 30 years living in Sydney and this one is different because of one main feature… namely the volume and density of smoke. This density is related to the nature of the fuel. Open forest fires burn quickly and are referred to as cool. They produce less smoke and don't destroy the landscape which can rejuvenate within months. When abundant undergrowth occurs (due to reduced or no backburning), the fires are much hotter, more destructive, less amenable to control and produce much denser, toxic smoke.

So, when someone like Greta and her followers scream "how dare you", throw her screams back at her and ask her (and her minders/puppeteers) to stop interfering with issues they don't understand. Climate change is a wonderful foil being used by green activists, politicians whose policies on planning have failed our floodplains with development, insurance companies who want to reduce their liability exposure and manufacturers of renewable technologies and worthless "carbon credits". The Greens' insistence that we leave our native forest alone has caused Australia's current fire hazards. Australia has and will always need to live with fire, but it's time we stopped allowing Green and climate change agendas to put property and life at risk. After this fire season has passed, let's hope that the "adults" take control and return to sound, well known management practices, in particular regular annual backburning.

Climate change is, and always will be, part of human existence. While climate change cultists demand we do it their way, let's step back and realise the variability of the planet's climate and learn to adapt (just as previous civilisations have done over the last 10 millennia). One must hope that after the inevitable inquiries, our governments regain their spines and hold all of the Greens climate agenda/policies to account.

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About the Author

Charles Essery is an independent water consultant, who has been an Australia resident since 1990.

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