Posts Tagged ‘bushfires’


Idiots (and they are idiots) who seek to deny climate change reality may care to note, as the BBC have, that the United States experienced a record year of losses from fires, hurricanes and other weather related disasters in 2017, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Total losses amounted to $306bn the agency said, over $90bn more than the previous record set in 2005.

Making the point that refusing to address climate change is not only idiocy, it’s very expensive idiocy, economically, too.

Last year saw 16 separate events with losses exceeding $1bn, including Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

NOAA also confirmed that 2017 was the third warmest year on record for the US. Only 2012 and 2016 were hotter.

Last year witnessed two Category 4 hurricanes make landfall in the States.

Hurricane Harvey produced major flooding as a result of a storm surge and extreme rain. Nearly 800,000 people needed help. Researchers have already shown that climate change increased the likelihood of the observed rainfall by a factor of at least 3.5.

Noaa says the total costs of the Harvey event were $125bn, which is second only to Hurricane Katrina in terms of costs over the 38 years the record has been maintained.

Hurricane Irma was a Category 5 storm for the longest period on record. Rain gauges in Nederland, Texas, recorded 1,539mm, the largest ever recorded for a single event in the mainland US. Hurricanes Irma and Maria cost $50bn and $90bn respectively.

As well as hurricanes, there were devastating fires in western states, particularly in California. While last winter and spring saw heavy rains in the region that alleviated a long-term drought, the resulting boom in vegetation created abundant wildfire fuel. Deadly fires in both the north and south of California meant hundreds of thousands of residents had to be evacuated from their homes.

The report from NOAA says that across the US, the overall cost of these fires was $18bn, tripling the previous wildfire cost record.

“In the general picture the warming [of the] US over the long term is related to the larger scale warming we have seen on the global scale,” said Deke Arndt, chief of NOAA’s monitoring section.

“The US will have a lot more year to year variability so that it bounces up and down depending on prevailing weather regimes. But the long term signal is tied with long term warming.”

The eastern US has been experiencing an extreme cold snap, also one of the side effects of global climate change, leading some, such as US president Donald Trump, to query the impact of global warming.

But the stats don’t lie. Temperatures in most regions of the world were above the 1981-2010 average – especially in the Arctic. On the island of Svalbard, the city of Longyearbyen repeatedly experienced mean monthly temperatures more than 6 degrees C above the long-term mark.

In November last year the World Meteorological Organisation issued a provisional bulletin stating that 2017 was likely the second or third warmest year on record. That prediction will be clarified in the coming days and weeks as various agencies around the world publish their data for the full year.

There are usually some small differences between the datasets held by the different national bodies based mainly on their coverage of the polar regions and and in their estimates of sea-surface temperature.

Meanwhile, Australia swelters yet again, with our first serious fires of the season, and often having to endure temperatures in the 40s. And our politicians continue to fiddle while the country, quite literally, burns.

The cement stilts of the home belonging to the Carey family of Corpus Christi, Texas, are all that remain the home was swept away by the Blanco River early  Sunday morning during a flash flood in Wimberley, Texas, on Monday, May 25, 2015. The Carey and McComb family, from Corpus Christi, Texas, have been missing since.   (Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

The cement stilts of the home belonging to the Carey family of Corpus Christi in Texas are all that remain the home was swept away by the Blanco River early Sunday morning during a flash flood in Wimberley, Texas. The Carey and McComb family, from Corpus Christi, Texas, have been missing since. (Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman via AP)


One of the effects of global warming resulting in climate change is that dry places may become drier – or ironically wetter – without warning, and to a greater degree.

This will have effects on agricultural production, although ironically some areas (a minority compared to the whole) will be improved agricultural production due to either greater warmth or greater rainfall.

But one of the most obvious impacts – and least talked about – is the effect of climate change on population, and specifically, on urbanisation.

At its most simple, people worldwide need somewhere to live. And despite the desultory attempts of local and State governments to put them off – desultory according to the dominant belief system and political will in any given area – people still want to build homes on floodplains, near rivers, in wooded areas prone to bushfire, on beaches, and so on.

NY TimesOver the weekend just gone, sadly large areas of Texas focused on Austin felt the brunt of those decisions, and on the failure to contain temperature rise.

This NY Times article (left) does an excellent job of both explaining the science, the politics, and the effect of the problem on ordinary citizens. We strongly recommend you read it. Just click the screen grab or click below.

In Texas the race to develop outpaces flood risk studies and warming impacts.

And this article, which we also suggest you read, gives a further scientific response to the contribution to climate change to the events of the last few days.

We have no wish to ride this article on the backs of those enduring a distressing situation – none at all – but comment needs to be made, if for no other reason that the world is at a tipping point where further warming will simply increase the effects now being seen, but we still have time to take effective action to turn the tide back, if you’ll forgive the pun.

We have dear friends in Texas, and we bitterly regret the growing number of deaths of those caught up in the flooding in that state, and those who have been injured or lost property. Our prayers and sympathies go out to those affected and if there’s a reconstruction or victim support fun we can be advised of, we will gladly donate to it.

We have recent endured the same in Australia and the community effect is awful. Like Texas, with whom parts of Australia share similar climactic profiles, we have always endured droughts, fires and floods.

But what is absolutely certain is that looking over the last decade or two such events are getting worse, and lasting longer.

Texan Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz

Texan Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz

In order to ensure that remedial action is taken, we now need some clear, unambiguous thinking. It must be said that “deep south” Conservatives have led the way in pooh-poohing the reality of climate change, or its effect.

For example, the absolute intellectual dishonesty of one Presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, on this issue, is skewered brilliantly in this analysis of his recent inflammatory, pseudo-science comments.

Former GOP hopeful for President and Governor of Texas Rick Perry  repeatedly questioned the science behind climate change — “I think we’re seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists that are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.”

Rick Perry

Rick Perry

Perry, along with energy companies, industry front groups, and other conservative politicians, sued the EPA in an attempt to block the agency from regulating climate pollution. Their argument was that climate science is a hoax.

Under Perry, Texas led the nation in carbon emissions and is home to five of the ten worst mercury emitting power plants in the country.

The governor called the EPA a “den of activists,” and in response to the Clean Power Plan, the governor said it was “the most direct assault yet on the energy providers that employ thousands of Americans.” He criticised the Obama administration’s delay of the Keystone XL pipeline and speaking at a trade association funded by BP, Perry called the 2010 BP oil catastrophe an “act of God” and his solution to the nation’s economic ills: “more oil drilling.”

Against this nonsense, a detailed examination of the impact of likely climate change on Texas can be found here, from the University in Austin, the city in which great swathes are now under water. It’s cold comfort to those who were hit by “a tsunami” of water according to the current Governor that some in the political establishment in Texas are cheerleaders in refusing to tackle climate change despite evidence like this being freely available.

In the past, we have been criticised for dismissing climate change deniers, refusing to listen to their ridiculous anti-intellectual and anti-science rantings, and refusing to countenance debating with them. We acknowledge this, but we refuse to apologise or change our view, for these reasons alone:

  • For the record, we acknowledge there is debate over the scale of man’s contribution to climate change. But to pretend it is none whatsoever is clearly ostrich-head-in-sand-like stubbornness, mindlessly disputing the opinions of tens of thousands of well-credentialled scientists across a vast range of disciplines, not just climatology.
  • We acknowledge that argument exists about the likely pace of climate change and the effects thereof. However: that there will be SOME change is undisputed, and even very small changes at the lower end of predictions are already having a profound effect on global weather, and the human population.
  • Many of the effects of global warming – such as ocean acidification – are just as serious as weather change, and constantly ignored by the climate change deniers. These changes could see the world’s entire food chain threatened and the extinction of thousands of ocean species, both vegetable and animal.

Given the foregoing, we should be taking PRECAUTIONARY climate change action.

Even if it turns out that our fears are over-complicated or overblown, to ignore the current signs is moronic, dangerous, and surely equivalent to dereliction of dutyfrom our legislators.

Politics has overtaken commonsense prophylactic government action, and that should be totally unacceptable to all.

An understanding that we need to be CAREFUL while we sort out the science still further is one that should be shared by all politicians, of all parties, on a non-partisan basis. To reduce the matter to a political football (presumably based on a belief that it will enhance election prospects) is stupidity of a near-criminal nature.

Is this really the best future mankind can hope for?

Is this really the best future mankind can hope for?

Because you know what, Dear Reader?

If we take action to combat climate change, and it turns out we were worrying completely unnecessarily, all we will have done is created a cleaner, less polluted planet.

And old, dangerous and polluting industries will have been replaced by others. And who would mourn that?

Where’s the loss?

Let us hope those now struggling with floods and storms in Texas remember who refused to do anything about the problem before it came to this – and who they want in charge of their lives in future.

climate change effects

Last year was Australia’s third-hottest on record, the country’s well-respected Bureau of Meteorology says.

The BOM’s annual climate statement, released on Tuesday, said 2014 was the third-warmest year since reliable climate records began in Australia in 1910, with mean temperatures (taking into account both maximum and minimum temperatures) 0.91C above the long-term average.

A rise of two degrees will not be catastrophic, but polar bears will become extinct.

A rise of two degrees will not be catastrophic, but polar bears will become extinct. We’re halfway there now.

This is already halfway to the two-degree limit in global warming that Governments are supposedly seeking to achieve this century. Whilst change up to two degrees is expected to cause some problems, especially as regards species extinction, agriculturalists, public health, and fire danger, any warming above that level is expected to bring catastrophic climate change. And we’re already damn near 50% there.

BOM Climate Information Services assistant director Neil Plummer said 2014 was a year that included six significant warm spells or heat-waves with a notable reduction in colder weather.

The warmest year on record occurred the previous year, 2013, when the mean temperature was 1.2C above the long-term average.

“Particularly warm conditions occurred in spring 2014, which was Australia’s warmest spring on record,” Mr Plummer said. “El Nino-like effects were felt in drier and warmer conditions in much of eastern Australia during 2014.”

The World Meteorological Organisation is collating data but believes the world experienced its hottest or among its hottest years in 2014, Mr Plummer said.

The Climate Council’s Professor Will Steffen says climate change is a major factor in the near-record warmth recorded in 2014. He said 2013 and 2005 were the hottest and second-hottest years on record, and most notably 29 of the past 35 years were warmer than average.

“It is worrying that these sort of records are now being broken so regularly,” he said. “The impact of climate change on these trends is very clear. Climate change is making Australia hotter and more prone to bushfires.” (See our story on South Australia, yesterday.)

Meanwhile, Australia’s Government has scrapped the carbon trading scheme which was put in place to provide a market mechanism for reducing carbon dioxide emissions – a curious decision for a party committed to free market economics.

An astonishing and exhaustive list of anti-environment moves made by the Abbott Government appeared on back in September last year. If you were ever in any doubt that our Federal Government are a bunch climate troglodytes, check it out. It is a carefully compiled and damning document.

Whether it is cutting the money allocated to solar energy conversions to homes, (from one billion dollars to $2 million), repealing the “carbon tax”, abolishing climate change bodies, appointing climate change deniers to key Government positions both here and overseas, denying the link between climate change and bushfires, refusing to commit any climate finance for poor countries, (after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines and the Filipino delegation to a climate change conference called for urgent action), cutting research funding, slashing jobs in the Environment department, or hugely increasing assistance to fossil fuel industries, it is a sad, sad story.


Looks like the bulk of people in Africa will need to move to Canada. Hope they're ready.

Looks like the bulk of people in Africa will need to move to Canada. Hope they’re ready.


Of course, as this chart (representing a ‘best case’ scenario) on possible changes to agricultural productivity shows, the effects of climate change will fall hardest on the world’s poorest countries, where drought and starvation are already endemic. That will also be of little or not interest to the Abbott Government, which has just cut, in real terms, overseas aid, to address what is largely a mythical crisis in Government spending – the same Government, remember, that has ordered nearly 60 new fighter bombers with a maximum range of 200 miles. Massive projected changes to the main agricultural areas of Australia are very worrying. With the sole exception of south-eastern Australia, (where production will likely remain unchanged, although some cropping changes may be called for), the collapse in agricultural production is up to 25%. Given that the Liberal-National Party Coalition depends on rural seats for it’s existence, this will inevitably come back to bite them. When farmers realise that “green” policies are good for their business, look out.

Let us hope it really is #onetermtony before the country gets much hotter and our world changes beyond recognition.

Bushfire season has hit again, a combination of dry conditions, steady winds and plentiful fuel lying on the ground providing the perfect environment for devastating conflagrations. Worst hit have once again been the wooded, charming Adelaide Hills, scene of the deadly Ash Wednesday fires that are seared in the minds of all Aussies.

This remarkable photo shows the fire, currently running along a 238 km front, as dusk falls, the flames lighting up the early evening sky.

Terrible. Awe-inspiring. And all too real.

Terrible. Awe-inspiring. And all too real.

Fire is, of course, a natural part of our Eucalypt environment, but that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier to bear, especially for the couple of dozen homeowners (so far) who have lost everything. The day of most danger will be tomorrow, Wednesday, when a cool change will bring strong winds to fan the flames before any quenching rains will help to put it out. The temperature in the south of the state is currently around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all residents in the Hills, and with the brave men and women from all over the country who are fighting the fires.

One of the weirdest thing about being a northern hemisphere fellow in a southern hemisphere world is obviously the fact that it’s blazing hot at Christmas-time in the antipodes.

Readers who were on board this time last year will remember the article Home Thoughts From Abroad when Melbourne was visited by the thunderstorm to end all thunderstorms on Christmas Day 2011. I am pleased to report Christmas Day 2012 was much less dramatic.

Summer in the heat has its own traditions. Using the barbecue not the oven, for one. (Indeed, wandering the streets at this time of the year at any mealtime will leave most people salivating by the time they get home, as the air is perpetually heavy with the sweet smell of grilling steaks and snags – otherwise known as sausages or links, depending on where you’re from.) Oyster Bloody Mary shooters are a regular in the Wellthisiswhatithink household – they’re a hell of a good way to start the meal preparation time. Most people down here now choose seafood not turkey on Christmas Day itself – especially lobster, (hang the price), and, of course, the ubiquitous prawns. (Which down here are gigantic, not the shrimps you get around northern Europe.) Heading to the beach or the cricket on Boxing Day is another favourite.

(We actually prefer to call Boxing Day “St Stephen’s Day” in our home, for obvious reasons.)

And not least in the traditions of the Christmas-New Year is the annual “Blimey, it’s Christmas already, we really need to get the pool ready for use!”

It was particularly the case for us this year, because during the off season we had the pool re-painted, after years of it looking like a patchwork quilt of the previous three paint jobs, all of which had worn off the base concrete to some degree or other.

The ineffably beautiful Jacaranda tree, inspiration for our "new" pool.

The ineffably beautiful Jacaranda tree, inspiration for our “new” pool.

So the pool is now unique. No, I don’t mean it’s nice, or new looking, or all that. On a whim, we chose a colour that the pool painter said the paint company told him had never been ordered before! It’s called “Jacaranda”, after the flowers of that lovely tropical tree which abounds throughout Australia at this time of year, or if you feel a little more prosaic, “Purple” would describe it just as well.

We now have the only purple pool in Melbourne. Unless you know different.

So, sure as the most common comment you hear at this time of the year is “My God when is it ever going to rain?” Dad gets despatched to the pool to get the accumulated detritus off the floor of the pool so it can be enjoyed in the warmer months. Our pool is surrounded by very beautiful trees that shed constantly (not a smart idea to plant them in the first place, but we inherited the problem) so a decent blow and it can look like there’s a small field growing on the floor of the pool overnight.

The funny thing is, we have one of those automatic pool cleaners. The ones that quietly vibrate their way around your pool, vacuuming up the crap and cleaning the water at the same time. But ours is seriously old. It was given to us as a gift years ago, and has been quietly putt-putting around on and off ever since, gradually getting less and less efficient. But we can’t bring ourselves to chuck it out. It’s almost like a pet. We call it the Putt-Putt and nurse it back to life every summer with loving care, which this year involved actually taking it to the pool shop in desperation, whereupon Mr Putt-Putt Vet (known to the rest of the community as the man who runs the pool shop) diagnosed a near fatal hole in a critical part of the structure, which he repaired for free with something akin to cement. Thus far, Putt-Putt is well, and I am eternally grateful to his saviour. If you want to know a pool man who actually does something – anything – for free, call me.

But Putt-Putt has a problem. It’s on the end of a hose which doesn’t reach easily to the shallow end of the pool. In addition, the pool was dug many moons ago, when they didn’t make structures that are peacefully sloped to the deep end that isnt so deep anyway.

In our pool, the slope down to the deep end is like the north face of the Eiger and the deep end is so deep that you could drown a brigade of cavalry in it and no one would notice. Putt-Putt simply can’t make it up the hill.

Walking the Putt-Putt ... a time honoured Wellthisiswhatithink Christmas tradition.

Walking the Putt-Putt … a time honoured Wellthisiswhatithink Christmas tradition.

So every year, we undergo a ritual called “Dad’s walking the Putt-Putt”.

This involves me using the device exactly as it isn’t meant to be used, in other words, carefully shepherding it around the shallow end of the pool as if it was, indeed, a gentle old dog needing a bit of help finding his water bowl. Automatic it ain’t.

It’s all worth it in the end. There is nothing much as wonderful as reading the newspaper by a sparkling pool and plonking into it when one gets overheated. Friends come round and share quality time – once they get past worrying that we’ll think they only want to see us because we’ve got a pool – we are quite happy to acknowledge that they want to see us AND we’ve got a pool ready and waiting on a 100 degree day – bonus.

One Christmas tradition in Australia is not so welcome. The fires have started up in Tasmania over the last couple of days and it is feared lives have been lost along with plenty of homes. And today there are over 100 fires burning in New South Wales with over 20 of them out of control. In Victoria, we lost 173 hundred people (with another 414 injured) in February 2009 in an event called Black Saturday. The event is still seared into the minds of the entire community. For twelve terrifying hours the fire separated me from my family, still on holiday in an area with a fire roaring towards it, as I had chosen to return from our family holiday early. My daughter’s best friend was with her and my wife. At one point, her parents phoned my wife and asked for the numberplate of her car. No one needed to ask why. If they got caught in the firefront, they wanted to know how to identify that their daughter had died.

It is hard to explain the horror of the inevitability, the inexorability, the sheer uncontestability of a large grass or bush fire in Australia. Of course, we are not the only country that suffers these frightening events, but as the driest continent in the world we suffer them more often, and more severely.They are a natural part of the bush renewing itself. Essentially, humans were never meant to live here, and we do so at our peril, clinging to the land nervously, knowing full well we are not in charge.

As the world warms, the fires will come earlier, and harder, than ever before, just as they have this year. Indeed, the weather in NSW today was reported earlier as the worst fire danger day ever recorded.

As I walk the Putt-Putt around the shallow end, you can’t see it, but I am praying. You can read below about Australia’s “Dome of Heat”.