Australian Bushfires, 2019/20

Bushfires are a highly emotive thing. The loss is huge, and on many counts. Homes, memories, livelihoods, land, wildlife and people. The human and economic cost is immense.

The bushfires in Australia over the 2019/20 summer period have created their own storm. Not just in terms of the physical ability of the fire to create its own weather patterns, but in terms of the national and global media frenzy over the fires. The hyperbole has been overwhelming, in fact, it’s caused an unprecedented use of the word ‘unprecedented’. This is partly based on the fact that the fire warning system reached ‘Catastrophic’ for the first time ever in major urban areas.

The claim is:

Here is proof! Australia is burning like it never has before! This is clear evidence of global warming! How can anyone deny the facts?

The claim, unfortunately, doesn’t align with the facts. The fires, the tragedy, the loss of loved ones – they have all been subjugated by the political force that is climate alarmism to score points, while ignoring the facts. And for the record, it is true that the ‘Catastrophic’ level was used for the first time in some major urban areas, but this is largely because the category was only created in the last decade.

Australia is fortunate to have an online archive, “Trove”. This national archive contains a myriad of publications, newspaper articles, published papers and presentations of Commissions of Inquiry.

In 2004, the National Commission of Inquiry was completed by Mr Stuart Ellis, Professor Peter Kanowski and Professor Rob Whelan. The Commission drew on Indigenous, local and scientific knowledge in learning to live with bushfires, and noted that ‘Communities understand that the risk, and the responsibility for bushfire mitigation and management, is shared by individuals, landholders, communities, fire and land management agencies, researchers, and governments.’ The report included data from historical fires in Australia, tracking recorded fires and deaths from fire. These data are included as follows, and have been updated for subsequent years by Mr Keith Woollard.

The data show that the most severe fires by area occurred in 1974, and by deaths in 2009. It is therefore illogical for anyone, irrespective of their agenda as being an ‘alarmist’ or a ‘denier’ to suggest that there is a relationship between the incidence of fires and climate change.

A more detailed response to the question has been provided by Dr Roy Spencer (University of Alabama, Hunstville), who provided a detailed analysis of the facts concerning the 2019/20 Australian fire season, noting:

  • Global wildfire activity has decreased in recent decades
  • Australia is prone to bushfires every year during the dry season. Ample fuel and dry weather exists for devastating fires each year, even without excessive heat or drought
  • Australian average temperatures in 2019 were well above what global warming theory can explain, illustrating the importance of natural year-to-year variability in weather pattern
  • Australia precipitation was at a record low in 2019, but climate models predict no long-term trend in Australia precipitation, while the observed trend has been upward, not downward. 

I am (unfortunately) sure that confirmation bias will be the primary factor in people’s choice of deciding whether or not climate change has caused this years’ catastrophic fires in Australia. But taking confirmation bias aside, I would beg the alarmist community to look at the science, rather than the hyperbole.

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