Monday, January 13, 2020

Australia's Bushfires: One Australian's Perspective

Environmental & Science Education
Earth Science
Earth Systems
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

The founding editor of Qullette, Claire Lehmann is an Australian. She recently wrote an essay for Quillette titled "Lessons from Australia's Bushfires: We Need  More Science, Less Rhetoric." I recommend it. Here are a few notes. I've added a few links and others are found in Lehmann's essay.

The causes are well known: Climate change, arson (How sad.) and drought. The connections between these factors and others are mutually reinforcing.

In a previous post I linked a BBC visual guide about the bushfires in which the influence of the the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) was explained. Moist ocean air doesn't reach Australia which results in severe drought. The IOD also comes "in tandem with unusually strong and sustained winds associated with...the Antarctic Oscillation, which...(pushes) fires in all directions." Additionally, the Southern Pacific El Nino is also implicated. This can have two effects, neither one good: weakening or completely reversing trade winds that bring rain.

These have occurred as the average temperatures have been increasing, something climate scientists have alerted us for decades. "They have also correctly predicted that long-term climate-change trends will increasingly interact disastrously with short-term climate phenomena in a way that catalyzes and exacerbates extreme weather events." 

An effect I hadn't heard of is sudden stratospheric warming which occurs over Antarctica. This event was discovered and named by a Melbourne Bureau of Meteorologist Dr. Eun-Pa Lim. This year there was an "18C (~64F) spike in localized upper atmospheric temperatures. Lin predicted that this would exacerbate the spread of hot, dry winds across eastern Australia. And she was right."

Partisan politics or political tribalism has played a large role "with both sides using the issue to score points instead of implementing sensible and pragmatic policies."  One of these is controlled burning which "might have given firefighters a chance to control this season's bushfires." Lehmann discusses the Australian distaste for controlled burning. The arguments are familiar. 

What is also familiar is "ideological inflexibility," which led to rejection of useful policies even when they were politically feasible. In Australia the struggle is between the Green MPs and the Conservative MPs. The game of blaming has resulted in this year's devastating fires and loss of wildlife. Lehmann discusses the politics in greater detail in her essay.
Australians, Lehman writes "need to talk about solutions that to climate change that go beyond reducing consumption, ...i.e., we're not going to be able to deindustrialize our way out of this problem."  She raises the issue of nuclear energy noting that Australia has "33% of the world's uranium deposits, and yet does not have a single plant generating (zero-emission) nuclear power," and the need for "investing in research that will yield scalable and reliable clean-energy technologies. This can be done in a way that respects legitimate concerns about jobs in legacy energy sectors such as coal, which have provided a livelihood to generations of blue collar and middle-class workers."

No comments:

Post a Comment