Straw Men, Climate Change & Australian Bushfires

Straw Men, Climate Change & Australian Bushfires January 6, 2020

The Australian bushfires are an absolute travesty. Scott Morrison, their PM, is an eejit of the highest order. The Murdoch press in Oz should be a national embarrassment in their coverage. NZ’s Jacinda Ardern and many other tiny neighbouring island nations are being awesome. As ever, and on Facebook, right-wingnuts come out and argue to deny climate change’s influence on the events. The problem is, they misrepresent the case.

Point in hand, someone making the arsonist claim to me:

Apocotronics fail #2

56 individuals are currently under arrest / detained under suspicion of arson on 66 sites It is too soon to know how many are afflicted by the ‘greater cause’ of saving the planet from ‘climate change’ or the equally sinister ‘arson jihad’ said to be circulating as an idea among OZ’s Islamist and XR Alarmist ‘communities’.

Quote: There are, on average, 62,000 fires in Australia every year. Only a very small number strike far from populated areas and satellite studies tell us that lightning is responsible for only 13 per cent. Not so the current fires threatening to engulf Queensland and NSW. There were no lightning strikes on most of the days when the fires first started in September. Although there have been since, these fires – joining up to create a new form of mega-fire – are almost all man-made.

I am not denying arson. No expert is. But his is a giant straw man.

Before I have any other climate change Australia fires arguments, let me dispel such a straw man. Experts are not saying that climate change (CC) is causing more lightning strikes and so there are more fires, they are saying no matter how they get started (often arsonists), CC is making matters WAY WAY WAY worse – droughts and dry winds and general lack of water mean hugely dry kindling, winds whipping up fires that spread and jump and that are almost impossible to contain.

The impacts of CC become apparent AFTER the fires are sparked or lit, or in their spreading and jumping.

There are many causal factors at play here, massively exacerbated by CC. As the Washington Post points out in interviewing Stanford University’s Chris Field states:

Q: Is climate change really a factor?

A: Scientists, both those who study fire and those who study climate, say there’s no doubt man-made global warming has been a big part, but not the only part, of the fires.

Last year in Australia was the hottest and driest on record, with the average annual temperature 2.7 degrees (1.5 degrees Celsius) above the 1960 to 1990, average, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology. Temperatures in Australia last month hit 121.8 degrees (49.9 degrees Celsius).

“What would have been a bad fire season was made worse by the background drying/warming trend,’’ Andrew Watkins, head of long-range forecasts at Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, said in an email.

Mike Flannigan, a fire scientist at the University of Alberta in Canada, said Australia’s fires are “an example of climate change.”

A 2019 Australian government brief report on wildfires and climate change said, “Human-caused climate change has resulted in more dangerous weather conditions for bushfires in recent decades for many regions of Australia.”

Q: How does climate change make these fires worse?

A: The drier the fuel — trees and plants — the easier it is for fires to start and the hotter and nastier they get, Flannigan said.

“It means more fuel is available to burn, which means higher intensity fires, which makes it more difficult — or impossible — to put out,” Flannigan said.

The heat makes the fuel drier, so they combine for something called fire weather. And that determines “fuel moisture,” which is crucial for fire spread. The lower the moisture, the more likely Australian fires start and spread from lightning and human-caused ignition, a 2016 study found.

There’s been a 10% long-term drying trend in Australia’s southeast and 15% long-term drying trend in the country’s southwest, Watkins said. When added to a degree of warming and a generally southward shift of weather systems, that means a generally drier landscape.

Australia’s drought since late 2017 “has been at least the equal of our worst drought in 1902,” Australia’s Watkins said. “It has probably been driven by ocean temperature patterns in the Indian Ocean and the long term drying trend.”

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