Who is to blame for the bush fire mess?

Who is to blame for the bush fire mess?

Bushfires across Australia’s east coast are topping headlines.

Many are blaming CO2 for driving changes in climate that have resulted in the size and intensity of the fires, using it as a platform to demand more ‘climate action’.

And while CO2 may play an indirect link via the impact on drought patterns, we are concerned to see an unscientific narrative unfolding, that seeks to place the primary blame for the fires on a supposed lack of ‘climate action’ rather than the actual cause, a lack of action on the recommendations from past bush fire inquiries.

‘Climate change’ is instead being used as a convenient excuse by those who were in a position to implement past bush fire inquiry recommendations but didn’t.

But don’t take it from us.

Bush fire expert Roger Underwood, a former district an regional forester in Western Australia with over 60 years experience in bushfire science, planning and operations, penned a scathing synopsis of what’s happened, why and who’s to blame.

Underwood states:

I reject the ‘blame it on climate change” position because it has two killer flaws: firstly, it ignores fuels, which are the main contributor to uncontrollable fires during a drought; secondly, it provides no practical solutions to the immediate problem. Both of these factors render the climate change argument utterly unsustainable, indeed ridiculous.

Contrast this expert opinion with comments from politicians such as Adam Bandt, deputy leader of the ‘Greens’, who equated lack of climate action with arson in an unscientific attempt to paint a direct link between CO2 and the current inferno.

The actual cause is, of course, the build-up of fuel loads, due to incompetence. Underwood explains.

Yet despite the science, the evidence presented by bushmen, the dramatic history of this continent’s relationship with fire, and the findings of numerous inquiries, successive governments in Qld, NSW and Victoria over the last 25 years have consistently failed to prepare potential firegrounds in the expectation of the inevitable. Not only this, they seem to have actually go out of their way to make things worse: the cut-backs to fuel reduction burning, the closure of access roads and trails in national parks, the decimation of professional forestry and fire management expertise, the turning of the blind eye to the creation of residential subdivisions in capable of being defended, the funding of “research” in the universities that is aimed at making the job of the firefighter more difficult, and the erection of a complex bureaucratic edifices that hinder sensible bushfire preparedness and make fuel-reduction burning almost impossible.

Underwood goes on to explain who is to blame, noting that the responsibility for land management lies with the state premiers, ministers and bureaucrats. Local councils, with their control over land clearing and building permits, are also accountable.

And the Federal government?

Repeatedly over the years, successive Commonwealth governments have been told that their bushfire funding model is  pointing 180 degrees in the wrong direction. In funding fire suppression and recovery, rather than helping the states to invest in prevention and damage mitigation, they are rewarding  failure.

What about the Greens? Clearly ‘green’ policies, implemented by state and local governments, is to blame. The Greens haven’t held government. Well, Underwood explains succinctly how the Greens, despite not being in government, have influenced green policy over the past two decades.

Instead, those who shirked their responsibility to protect their communities kowtowed and pandered. They played political games — Greens preferences in inner-city electorates can make or break governments, don’t you know —  so they swallowed the utter bilge of academic theorists, people who have never in their lives had to fight a fire, let alone take responsibility for the design and implementation of an entire fire-management system.  In genuflecting before the intelligentsia (the word is used advisedly), our governments knowingly sacrificed the community and the bush. 

The solution?

According to Underwood we need a system which encourages effective bushfire management systems, with an emphasis on preparedness and damage mitigation.

What does that look like?

Past inquires have made a range of recommendations including hazard reduction burns of 5% of public forest each year.

This hasn’t been implemented. And the burns that do occur are often less than planned due to protests and opposition from rank and file Greens, ostensibly to preserve habitat.

Reduce the fuel load and you reduce the intensity, making the fire easier to fight.

But, how did we get to such a position, where the science of bush fires is denied and recommendations from so many inquiries are ignored?

One reason may be the way we account for CO2. Under internationally agreed accounting methodology, natural bushfires aren’t counted against a country’s emissions, but intentional hazard reduction burns are.

This creates a bookkeeping incentive to lock up the bush and let it burn ‘naturally’.

How do we know CO2 isn’t to blame for the fires?

To understand this we first need to understand the fundamentals of bushfires.

Bushfires (actually, any fire) need three things:

  1. Oxygen
  2. Fuel
  3. Ignition source

Crucial to the discussion at hand, the size and intensity of a bushfire is determined by the amount of fuel, otherwise known as ‘fuel load’.

The fuel load is a product of the density of the foliage and the amount of dead plant matter left to build up on the ground. These two factors are largely determined by government policy. Specifically, forest management. Managing fuel loads is an integral part of managing fire risk. Prescribed burning is the best way to mitigate the frequency and intensity of bushfires.

Fuel load, not CO2, is the real cause of the size and intensity of the current fires.

Indigenous leaders, who have been warning about a bushfire crisis for years, are calling for a radical change to how land is managed as Australia faces some of its worst bushfire conditions on record.

Is more ‘climate action’ the answer to avoiding such bush fires in the future?

Let’s assume for a moment that driving our CO2 footprint to zero is a substitute for managing the fuel load.

What action could Australia take to reduce CO2 to a level that would prevent such firestorms in the future?

Consider the following.

Australia accounts for around 1.5% of CO2 emissions globally.

CO2 concentration is increasing by around 2.5ppm per year. We are responsible for 1.5% of that.

Under the Paris Climate Agreement, China and India have made commitments that will result in a huge increase in their CO2 emissions.

The above chart, based on data provided by Climate Action Tracker, shows the change in CO2 emissions by India, China and Australia if all three countries meet their Paris Agreement commitments.

If Australia ceased all CO2 emissions immediately, it would not reduce the concentration in the atmosphere, it would only slow the increase by an imperceptible 0.038ppm per year.

As such, even a 100% reduction in CO2 emissions here in Australia would not help reduce the global level unless all countries adopted emissions policies that resulted in a global reduction.

And if we can’t reduce the global level, then the conditions that caused the fires are here to stay and such ‘climate action’ would simply be extremely costly and patently ineffective.

So, if the current weather is here to stay, and even our best efforts can’t impact the overall CO2 level in the atmosphere, then the argument for more ‘climate action’ as it relates to bush fires is fundamentally flawed.

The only effective course of action is to invest in fire hazard reduction and suppression capabilities. The things the inquiries have already told our politicians to do, but they haven’t.

Rather than deny the bush fire science in an attempt to shift the blame, politicians at all levels of government and across all parties need to listen to fire experts and support practical action in the form of proven strategies to manage our land and mitigate bushfire intensity. This starts with reducing fuel loads.