Flat White

Hysteria heats up with wrong answer to an old problem

12 November 2019

2:32 PM

12 November 2019

2:32 PM

First Extinction Rebellion blocks traffic claiming that the world will end unless Australia shuts down all industry immediately, then the Greens and the media claim a link between climate change and the bushfires now sweeping through New South Wales and Queensland.

Neither claim has any real basis in science but while only the usual media suspects and the Greens took Extinction Rebellion seriously, the climate change-bushfire claim seems to have fooled a wider range of players, including the previously neutral Australian Financial Review.

Although any natural disaster which involves deaths is to be deplored, it is difficult to see how the current bushfires are unusual or different from the many that have gone before. Certainly, by number of deaths, tragic though individual fatalities may be, the present conflagration is mercifully low. In the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria 173 people lost their lives. In the 1939 bushfires, generally acknowledged as the worst bushfires in Australia since settlement and arguably among the worst in the world, 73 people died. Then there were the almost equally deadly 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires.

The Australian Climate Council claims there is a link between undoubtedly mild increases in temperatures over the past 30 years, since the modern era of climate doom saying began, and bushfires. But then the council claims links between almost anything that happens and climate change. In a 2006 report, the Melbourne-based Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre pointed to a complex relationship between much of Australia’s flora and fire.

Human activity does have a marked and substantial influence on the spread of fires and number of deaths caused but in ways other than climate change. Climate change would be a secondary factor at best. For example, the 2009 bushfires were so deadly in part because they went through what might be described as the semi-urban fringes of Melbourne – those who want a bush life with perhaps a hobby farm but not too far from the big smoke – which did not exist in previous decades. Then there is the issue of failing to use controlled fires to get rid of fuel, regulations concerning the maintenance of fire breaks, individual householders cutting back on the bush around their houses, building codes adapted for bushfire areas, emergency procedures and guidelines for warning and evacuating residences.

Despite the importance of those and other factors in the spread of fires and number of fatalities, they are seldom mentioned in the debate. Instead, the Greens scream about government failure to do enough to reduce emissions without explaining how that might actually help, while Extinction Rebellion brings the broader green movement into disrepute with blockades that annoy commuters to enforce demands that are unachievable while making claims about the end of life on earth that are clearly irrational.

Admittedly an IPCC report released at about the same time as the climate summit held in New York in September, which featured teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg reprimanding world leaders for lack of action, forecasts all sort of dire climate problems. Cities will be flooded, permafrost will melt, the icecaps will shrink, storms will become worse, temperatures will increase sharply, species will die off, fishing will be drastically affected, coral reefs will wither and so on and on.

But all that adds up to a tougher world, not one that is about to collapse. In any case, the forecasts are for 30 and even 80 years time, when the current crop of activists will be unable to remember what they forecast all that time ago.

Another problem is that the report is a continuation of a mantra UN bodies have been repeating for the past 30 years, without much seeming to happen. In 1989 a Noel Brown, director of the New York office of the United Nations Environment Program, gave a widely reported interview in which he claimed that the world had just ten years to fix the problem of emissions. Otherwise, there would be dire consequence such as the low-lying Maldives vanishing beneath and waves and the world warming between one and seven degrees, all within 30 years. Those were just the conservative estimates, Brown declared.

Thirty years on the Maldives are still thriving as a tourist destination with no noticeable change in its beaches.

Green claims that the supposed problem of increases in bushfires will be addressed by reducing emissions is equally irrational, even within its own logic. As previously pointed out by the Spectator (No Pain in Paris, September 29) the Paris agreement on limiting emissions is little more than a joke. The US is now formally withdrawing from the agreement, while major emitters China, India and Russia arranged their pledges so that they can boost emissions almost as much as they like. Brazil, another emissions powerhouse, remains in the agreement for now but has indicated that it simply does not care about the treaty at all.

In fact, it is hard to find a significant country that has made a commitment under the Paris treaty which actually means something and has tried to meet it. Any attempt by Australia to reduce its own emissions simply isn’t going to matter.

In contrast, it is easy to find examples of human mismanagement of cities and foreshore environments that have affects far greater than anything the Greens can dream up. One case in point is the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, the massive man-made environmental problems of which have prompted Indonesian President Joko Widodo to seriously propose moving the capital to another of the country’s many islands.

Among other problems, unwise depletion of groundwater in the aquifers under the city means that some suburbs are estimated to be sinking by an alarming 18 centimetres a year. About 40 per cent of the city of ten million people is now thought to be under sea level.

Doomsayers can still point to countries with destroyed economies and starving people such as Venezuela, Syria and Zimbabwe, but those problems have been caused by governments, not climate. If Extinction Rebellion really wants to make a difference they should try blocking traffic Jakarta, but it’s so bad there no-one would notice.

Mark Lawson was a senior writer for the Australian Financial Review. More of his work can be found at clearvandersname.

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