Early Monday Message Board

I’ve been running behind for a bunch of reasons, so I’m jumping ahead to Monday. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Banned commenters should read the comments policy before attempting to return as sock puppets.

54 thoughts on “Early Monday Message Board

  1. Sorry to hear you’ve been so busy, John, but I’m not worried if you don’t have time to spend on your blog. I’m confident that whatever you are doing will be of benefit to either Australia or yourself and since I understand that you’re Australian benefiting yourself also counts as benefitting Australia. (And I think we can safely assume that when you benefit yourself it’s not by acts such as holding litte old ladies upside down and shaking them until their grandchildren’s lolly money falls out.) If you don’t have time to blog that’s okay. Our capes all get caught on things sometimes. I will *sniff* miss you a little though.

  2. @phoenix

    It’s amazing that the ALP fans think they “won” Miranda.

    The people of Australia passionately hate their two-party Coles/Woolworths political duopoly.

    The political establishment know this and they also know that as long as they hold ranks there will be no downside to being virtually identical, politically and policy-wise.

  3. The bushfires we have in NSW raise at least two issues.

    It is reasonable to attribute the weather conditions, which are part of an Australia-wide pattern, to climate change. They have occurred earlier than was the case forty-five years ago, causing more loss of houses and happening in October, rather than November. There may be political consequences for the current carbon emission legislation.

    Secondly, the State of Emergency introduced by executive order (I assume), which may in some circumstances be necessary raise a question about safeguards against abuse. Trust in public authority and government is related to skeptical foundation of those who oppose the findings in relation to Climate Change – perhaps under the influence of the Koch brothers.

  4. Greg Hunt is disgusted by those who link unseasonally early bushfires with climate change. Some of us are not disgusted so much as intrigued when Hunt will implement his own novel climate plan. The new senators arrive in July but we have yet to get through summer. Unknown is whether this will generate enough climate concern with the public to carry though to mid year. Tony Burke calls for some proof that Hunt’s ideas can work. My hunch is they will never get off the ground which makes the screaming hurry for carbon tax repeal seem odd.

    If so Hunt is all bluff, both on ‘disgust’ and ‘direct action’. Given his repeated comments I don’t see how Abbott can compromise. Carbon tax, the gift that keeps on giving.

  5. @Hermit Another way to look at it is that Greg Hunt is disgusted by attempts to make politicians accountable to climate change. IPCC is quite clear

    Climate change is expected to increase the number of days with very high and extreme fire weather

    a political response is required.

  6. @Hermit

    Greg Hunt’s response is absurd and unsupportable. Any significant event which directly affects citizen’s lives and properties and which clearly requires a public policy response is ipso facto, at the level of politics, a political event. It is not possible to “politicise” what is already political.

    If a spate of fatal auto accidents occurred involving teen alcohol drinking, the immediate and justifiable call for better policy in the appropriate areas would not be called “politicising” the debate. It would be called appropriately raising the issues.

    It seems the issue of some people suffering in some circumstances (Australian citizens in bush fires for example) becomes a sacrosanct issue where discussion of certain possible aspects and influences on the event becomes a social taboo. This attempt at tabooing discussion is irrational and highly political in its own way. There may well be many survivors who think a discussion about the influence of climate change should be front and centre.

    When analysis is made taboo, one wonders what vested interests are being protected. Clearly, the vested interests involve those who want to pollute without cost to themselves but with costs to others. Vested interests are also involved which want to develop real estate without proper regard to planning, fire-proofing and flood-proofing new developments so far as would be possible with all modern technologies and proper public and planning policy.

  7. With regards to the bush fires, the ABC news service quotes Jim Crowther:

    The ferocious start to the bushfire season has surprised even this veteran firefighter.

    “I’ve lived here in the Blue Mountains all my life. I’ve seen every major bushfire since 1963 as I joined the bushfire brigade as a young guy. I’m now 64.

    “So I’ve seen every large bushfire and this has potentially got to be the worst I’ve ever seen. This is looking very, very bad.”

    Then there is the description of these fires and the conditions as unparalleled, by no less than the NSW Rural Fire Service:

    The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) has called the bushfire threat an “unparalleled” emergency, and warned a potential mega-fire will stretch across hundreds of kilometres.

    As far as I am concerned, if it is considered a new extreme, then it is justified discussing it in relation to the impacts of AGW both now and in the future. We don’t hold back on discussing terrorism just after a bomb has killed and maimed innocent people; why hold back on discussing the ramifications of AGW when new extreme events happen? Especially if that is key to reducing the potential future impacts of AGW upon society and also the environment we live in. Noone wants more frequent and more severe bush fires, so surely now is the time to discuss the issues surrounding that.

  8. @wmmbb

    The fires seem to be a product of exceptionally wet years creating a high fuel load, coupled with inadequate hazard reduction burning and warm weather. I think claims that this has something to do with climate change are a political dead end, as well as being inaccurate. However there will no doubt be some form of inquiry once the smoke has cleared and I’m reasonably sure all possible explanations will get an airing.

    Note that there was a SMH claim a while ago that Sydney was having it’s hottest October day on record. Only it didn’t eventuate. As a resident of Sydney I will say the October weather has been funny. We have had very hot days followed by very cool days on and off for a while. So to some extent I do blame the weather. But not the climate.

  9. @Megan
    So Barry Collier’s not going to be representing Miranda in the Legislative Assembly? Somebody else is? Who’s that, then?

    That is what the election was for, just in case it’s escaped your attention, to decide who was going to represent Miranda in the Legislative Assembly.

  10. @TerjeP

    The increased level of temperatures for an extended period across Australia is not in question? For example, Andrew Tjaardstra writing in Insurance Insight concludes:

    It was an unusually early start to the fire season. Australia has recently experienced its hottest 12 months on record with the weather unusually warm in September and October.

    The BOM provides more details. The fact that we received a robo-call here last year was a wake-up call but did not lead to any fire activity, and would have been more dangerous had their being active fires.

    Climate Change is directly related to weather. Prevailing conditions do not cause fires, but make them more likely. Outcomes also result from factors such as increased population and attitudes that can lead to negligence.

    The fact that governments have responded by shooting the messengers, with the NSW Goverment reducing the relatively small numbers of expert advisers. Denial and lack of accountability has become public policy.

  11. @TerjeP
    It is never going to be possible to say of any single weather event that it was caused by a change in the climate. It is only going to be possible to say that it is an event of a type that will become more frequent as the climate changes.

    That’s what climate means.

  12. Too early to tell but maybe future years will be a ‘toasted sandwich’ whereby the heat arrives in spring and lingers until autumn. Sydney hit a record high of 45.8C in mid January and now it’s only mid October. There was a heat resurgence in March if I recall. If this is the new normal it gives less time for fuel reduction burns, skiing, chilling requirements for fruit trees, winter clothing sales and so on. I believe there will also be major stress heat problems for the elderly and poor. It only has to get marginally more difficult for the economic problems to escalate out of proportion.

  13. @TerjeP You need to give evidence that RFS hazard reduction has been insufficient. RFS are routinely blamed for fire despite extensive hazard reduction.

    In the Victorian Royal Commission evidence was given that the fires jumped 10 or 15 kilometres thereby defying containment. I have seen a fire jump the Hawkesbury and continue SE to burn out houses on the North Shore.

    So perhaps you can advise as to to the level of sufficiency.

  14. @Hermit The wine industry already has plenty of evidence, earlier bud burst and reduced maturation is playing havoc with vineyards. Already plenty have either changed varieties and/or relocated – Tasmania being an obvious choice. Recently a Tas Shiraz won the Jimmy Watson Trophy, Tas is (or was) known as a cool climate region.

  15. @rog
    Tas peters out about Lat 45S. Eventually we’ll new a new island the size of France in the Southern Ocean centred about Lat 50S. Stephen Hawking says we should all move to Mars but maybe the new island is more practical. All is not lost if the Thredbo chairlift can be used to carry bunches of tropical fruit from the growing areas on the hillside.

    It appears that non-poor non-renter people use PV to power home aircons then tough it out after sunset, often still above 35C. A UNSW paper suggests that may not be possible in the conceivable future ie our brains will be fritzed without aircon

  16. TerjeP :
    A great chart at Catallaxy looking at US federal government finances.
    Debt By The Numbers

    Suppressing my instincts, I checked out the graph. It is the equivalent of a trash talk show playing scary music to paint someone as a villain. The “article” certainly did not offer any new insights due largely to the total lack of an analysis or a conclusion. It is literally comparing two numbers, one is bigger than the other, therefore BE VERY AFRAID. I desperately wish that people did not venture to write terrible “articles” on subjects on which they patently know less than nothing.

  17. @J-D

    Governments lose elections. Oppositions don’t “win” them.

    Climate change (Sydney bushfires), Fed LNP expense rorting, O’Farrell’s gutting of services to the area (especially rail and fire fighters) were the reasons for the 27% thumping, not some miraculous reawakening of true belief in traditional Labor values and expectation that the ALP would actually deliver.

    Of course the ALP guy is going to sit in parliament. Whether he “represents” the people of Miranda is another thing altogether. And given that he belongs to the ALP/LNP duopoly I suspect that he won’t.

  18. Whilst the focus of attention for climate change and fires tends to be on the hot weather during fire season I think the significance and implications of warmer winter conditions on the window of opportunity for safe, cool weather hazard reduction fires has been largely overlooked. My own experience tells me that cool overnight conditions that put dew and moisture onto vegetation are unspoken aids to safe burning off, slowing fires in bush and even extinguishing low, slow moving fires in grass. If the period when cool overnight conditions can get below dew point – and start adding moisture to vegetation – is reduced in range and duration, then the window for safe cool weather burning is reduced.

    I also think that already many property owners are in dire need fire service assistance to conduct the burning off that is needed and do it safely. When in doubt, without that assistance, and given the penalties that apply, the default decision will be to not burn. The window of opportunity can be very short; around here, between dry enough that it will burn to being too flammable to risk lighting up was a few weeks. Roadsides are a particular problem IMO; they tend to be owned by Councils but are left as the adjoining property owner’s problem; yet burning off alongside roadways is labour and equipment intensive, from necessary permissions to traffic controllers at each end.

    Increased labour and equipment costs arising from climate change are already on us.

  19. @Megan
    Without necessarily painting myself as a supporter of duopoly, I’d encourage you to look towards Hotelling’s law rather than conspiracy between the majors as an explanation of why there’s so little difference between them.

  20. @Megan
    The function of the by-election was not to decide whether there has been a miraculous reawakening of true belief in traditional Labor values and expectation that the ALP would actually ‘deliver’ (whatever it is you mean by that). It did not decide that.

    Its function was not even to decide who represents the people of Miranda. It did not decide that.

    Its function was to decide who will represent Miranda in the Legislative Assembly. It did decide that. It decided that Barry Collier will represent Miranda in the Legislative Assembly. Thus, if the by-election had any winner, it was Barry Collier. I don’t see who else you could possibly imagine was the winner.

    If I had to guess, I would guess that what you really meant is that you think it’s of no importance who won the by-election. If that is what you meant, it would have been a lot clearer just to say so.

  21. @JamesH

    I didn’t mention conspiracy, but isn’t the point with Hotelling’s Law that they both know what they are doing (without needing an actual conspiracy)?

    If it applied, both parties would be identically “centre”. They’re actually identically “right”, so I wonder if the law has a flaw when applied to politics or whether it is distorted by the operative failure of our democracy when controlled by additional forces (especially establishment media propaganda masquerading as journalism)?

  22. If fuel reduction burns become mandatory with new regulations I think there will be a minefield of legal and economic issues. These include back burns that go wrong or prove deadly, asthma attacks, stress on prized animals, overriding landholder objections, whether attending firefighters get paid and increases to council rates and insurance premiums. Curiously similar to smart meters whereby you pay more but suffer inconvenience. Add to that the shrinking window for such burns, say May to September in southern Australia. If the policy meant burning a million or more hectares a year Hunt’s soil carbon theories might also go up in smoke, pun intended.

  23. @J-D

    That’s all very proper J-D. A more interesting question would be “in what ways, if at all, were public interests harmed or served by the by-election in Miranda?”

    For mine, the kindest thing I could say is that it’s hard to say that any significant advance to the public interest resulted from the by-election. Yes it was held without apparent criminal conduct affecting it — I suppose that’s a good thing — but as far as I can tell, it generated no serious discussion of any important issue to NSW or even Miranda. And if Mr Collier has a notion of an issue that might be of importance to develop for the people of NSW or Miranda, his chances of it going anywhere anytime soon are roughly zero. Coaltion apologists pointed to BO’Fs 2PP of 60-40 or some such and said “who cares?

    To the best of my knowledge, nobody has reflected on this at all and within a week or two I doubt we will see the topic of the by-election appearing in any major press organ.

    IMO, this is a damning indictment of our system of governance, and if so, then the public interest has been harmed by the by-election. Complacency and passivity has been reinforced. Governance was the loser.

  24. Terje @8 – now redraw the graph as adjusted for inflation, and then we’ll talk.

    Terje on the fires – Well, let’s lay down our lines in the ash, for future checking. What would bring Terje to the opinion that climate change was contributing? Fires in October apparently don’t point in that direction. Would massive bushfires in September do it? In July?

    Fire reduction burning is a distraction, either way; if you want to be safe you have to reburn the same ground at five-week intervals, and you have to burn about 25% of the whole, which means that you have to burn something equivalent to the total relevant area every couple of months; which if it was adopted as a goal would mean a massive redirection of Australian industry towards the goal of survival.

    The fires caused by fallen powerlines must surely change the economics of solar energy for country areas.

  25. @ChrisB

    I heard somoene from amongst those fighting the fires claim that previous backburning activity in the Blue Mountains was hampering the ability of fire fighters to undertake controlled the burning they do to ringfence fires.

    This is an interesting twist in the broader argument surrounding the efficacy of backburning in fire mitigation.

    Now I am no kind of expert on fire abatement and mitigation and am certainly ready to be corrected on this, but as I understand it, there’s not a lot of solid science specifying the circumstances in which programmed ‘fuel reduction’ measures makes a net contribution to safety of property and persons from fires.

    I imagine (but don’t know) that the efficacy of fuel reduction efforts would vary depending on the kind of vegetation being cleared, its growth cycles, the topography/terrain, the prevalence of various wind patterns and so forth. I’ve heard it said that not burning can result in a more persistently damp forest floor — which restrains fires. Certainly, anything that results in large depositions on the floor ought, one would think, to restrain the growth of new vegetation, since decomposition tends to ‘steal’ nutrients from the topsoil.

    As I said though, if there is someone who can point me to some sound science on the merits or otherwise of fuel reduction in fire mitigation, I’d be keen to read it.

  26. I see Joe Hockey just bumped up our credit card limit from $300 billion to $500 billion, “just to be on the safe side”.

    I literally laughed out loud. The ALP will scream and jump up and down (and will, rightly, be ignored). The Murdoch press and ABC will applaud his firm grip on the helm and hint that Labor left him with no room for a rainy day etc.. and LNP fans will suddenly forget that one of their most firmly held beliefs is that our debt is out of control and must be slashed immediately.

    Maybe next he will boost centrelink payments to single mothers, just for sport.

  27. @Megan
    Aha, so our debt limit was too low. Finally, all that “debt emergency” stuff they were going on about makes sense. Huzzah!

  28. A couple more problems with fuel reductions burns.

    The wine industry gets upset with burns around harvest time because it can taint the grapes. This probably also applies to other agricultural products.

    There is, allegedly, about 30 days per year suitable for burns. It’s either too hot, cold, wet or windy. So to burn an ‘adequate’ area, you would need a large army of personnel and a fleet of expensive trucks just sitting there for several months of the year waiting for the weather to be just right. I’m sure the advocates of low taxes & small government wouldn’t have a problem with this.

  29. @JamesH #23
    and median voter theorem. There are underlying forces – not apparent to the protagonists – beyond their “free will”.

  30. On the fires, the emergence of solidarity (defined here as mutuality, optimism, selflessness and bravery) is a generally acknowledged and unifying inspirational value rarely seen elsewhere in our privatised and scripted bourgeois society -“don’t talk about the war Adam Bandt: wait till next month (when Katy Perry’s in town and we’ve lost interest)”.

    The fireys and others are exemplars to the populace of what some of the people on this blog are all about – maybe we can call it “soul” – in a world where solidarity in its union and Labor variants lacks these aspects. That others acknowledge them as ordinary yet noble people is a sign that future possibilities for real change are not extinguished.

    There are political battlelines being drawn here, so let’s have it out: is there a more compelling battleground to fight dumbo Abbott than the avoidance of death and destruction?

    As to the battleground, despite the disappointment most of us feel about “our ABC”, it is just about the only mainstream forum where technical experts and dissonant voices get a guernsey occasionally – tonight and last night The Drum TV show has given a platform to experts to expound on this issue.

  31. There is a lot of support for back burning but it has its limitations. One of these is the fact that the vegetation favoured by this approach is that which benefits from burning. So in the long term the vegetation becomes more susceptible to fire and increases the opportunities for fires to spread. While there are plenty who will argue that it was an approach adopted by Aboriginal people in the past this ignores the huge differences created in the environment by settlers from other places and the infrastructure which exists now compared to in the past. It also ignores that there are many endangered species likely to be wiped out in burning bush.

  32. I cannot resist (and quite off topic considering my place was back burned this year without my consent), but with his instruction to his department to relabel irregular arrivals seeking asylum as illegal I think the Minister for Border Protection and Concentration Camps (sorry, the Prime Minister has insisted on reducing waste and portfolio names, except in the case of politician’s entitlements, so from here on the Minister for Border Protection) has truly earned the sobriquet ‘fair and compassionate one’.

  33. Another issue with back burning is where it occurs in dam catchments. The more fire events, the more erosion and contamination by ash, potentially threatening the main Sydney water supply.

    And another unmentioned issue is that burning makes the bush dangerous to move through, as trees and limbs fall for days and weeks afterwards. Even ‘cold’ burns with cool weather, dew and no wind can do this.

    Massive, repeated and aggressive fuel reduction burning as advocated by an alleged ‘fire expert’ on 7:30 last night (and contradicted by another, academic, ‘fire expert’) would change the character of the forest and eliminate much of the wildlife. It’s hard to imagine the public putting up with it.

    As others have commented, the attempt to de-legitimise discussion about climate change policy in this context is patently cynical. I notice that the MSM consensus has fractured on this issue. Again, the public will be wanting answers, particularly if heritage communities like Blackheath and Katoomba are damaged or even seriously threatened.

  34. @Fran Barlow Not burning can result in a hotter more destructive fire. Frequent burning can result in the loss of wildlife and seed bank.

    Irrespective of the frequency fire races up hill and meanders downhill. Only really bad days it can leap from tree top to tree top in a gaseous ball and is esentially uncontrollable.

    A lot of property lost recently (eg Blue Mts) was on a west facing ridge with the fire roaring up to that ridge. That was the case in Victoria (Kingslake) ACT (Mt Stromlo) SA (Mt Lofty) but not Tas (Dunally) Vic (Marysville)

    Fires like Ash Wednesday started in November and peaked in February. Ultimately it was the climate that was the prevailing factor.

  35. @Fran Barlow

    I’ll have to join the main topic, and as alluded to above, while not being an expert I have some experience. Back burning is a well-documented antidote to uncontrolled fires in the case of non-catastrophic events. But in the case of catastrophic bushfires, of which the likelihood is increasing, the evidence appears to be that it has diminishing effectiveness the worse the event becomes unless the back-burn is conducted under similar conditions to those that precipitated the event (if that is not an unfortunate choice of term).

    Hot burning many parts of the bush (for example, the alpine region with its snow gum and mountain ash species) on a regular basis would effectively eliminate entire species from the environment. The book I intend to read on the subject is Gill, A. M., Williams, R. J. and Bradstock, R. A. Flammable Australia: Fire Regimes, Biodiversity and Ecosystems in a Changing World, 2012, CSIRO Publishing but at $70 for the Kindle version is slightly outside my ebook budget for this month. The preview on Google Scholar should give a reasonable précis.

    Unfortunately in Victoria the rednecks, with their alpine cattle runs to reduce fuel loads (excuse me while I have a mild barff) are as likely to contribute to the problem as reduce it, aka direct action. There are no simple solutions, but since I choose to live on a ridge top surrounded by state forest in a sub-alpine region, this is an issue I take very seriously, while defending to the best of my ability the right to determine where and how I live.

  36. I for one am highly sceptical about back burning in severe fire conditions. When fires are already underway in hot, blustery, wind-changeable conditions, it is diffcult to see how back-burning could be safe and controllable. Since, in these conditions, fires can spot kilometers ahead of the fire front, back burning can hardly be a way of containing fires. One has to ask, how often do back-burns get out of control? When this happens, what is the functional difference between a sanctioned back-burner and an arsonist?

    Aside from possibly containing some fires (dubious), the only real possible point of back-burning could be to create a charred belt around some homes to halt a later intense fire burning right to and destroying those homes. You would need antithetical conditions (wind blowing away from homes) or at least calm conditions locally before backburning and probably a forecast that the wind was going to come from the fire front tomorrow and bring the fire tomorrow, before back-burning. Do all these volunteer firebrigades really know what they are doing when they backburn in various situations?

    Of course, we need to understand the difference between backburning and fuel reduction burning (burn-offs). The plain fact is that bushfires are highly complex and chaotic events. The fire regime, vegetation landscape and climate have all changed since white man arrived on this continent. I certainly hope that backburning is highly controlled and only ordered by senior professionals in the field at the scene. If backburning is at discretion at lower levels then this would be disturbing news to me.

    The real point is that suburbs and towns in some localities need to be built in flood-proof and fire-proof positions, layouts etc. and with fire-proof construction methods. Choosing “to live on a ridge top surrounded by state forest in a sub-alpine region”, in maybe a timber pole home, is not all very well if you expect wider society to subsidise your high risk lifestyle with cheap insurance and emergency fire-fighting every other year. If you choose live in that situation build a fire-proof house with a bunker for good measure. Don’t place others in the position of having to risk their lives to save you.

    My farming relatives (of my parent’s generation) knew how and where to live (build houses) that were flood safe and fire safe in the main. They did not build on flood plains and they did build cheek by jowl with state forests or on timbered ridges. I am not saying they were perfect in their stewardship of the land (who was or is?) but they did avoid some of the really stupid mistakes that modern townies and blockies make.

  37. Correction. “they did NOT build cheek by jowl with state forests or on timbered ridges.”

  38. “Rednecks” are real that’s for sure but one wants to avoid characterising all country people as rednecks.

    “Whitenecks” are real too. They come from the city, have read a few books about things, maybe got a degree, think they know everything, but have never experienced much of the real empirical phenomena of the land.

  39. @Ikonoclast , a timber pole house amongst the trees would not be taking the matter very seriously. The ridge that forms the backbone of Winmalee, north east of Springwood, is a classic ridge top in sub-alpine area, in this case bordered by National Park.

    Building to cyclone code in FNQ was proved to work when cyclone Yasi came through in 2011. Building to the new fire code that followed the 2009 Victorian fires has not been seriously tested, but one would assume it will be just as efficacious. But it is expensive, so insurance needs to be nearly double that of a normal suburban house of comparable size and style.

    And Winmalee, having had wild fires go through several times over the years now, should only allow fire coded buildings to be erected (as should the rest of the Blue Mountains). I’m all for residents of these areas being given a hand-up in the face of very trying circumstances, but as with most cases of moral hazard, I would be wary of government (either state or federal) rescuing citizens (in this case home-owners) from taking responsibility for their choices.

  40. Some good old fashioned commonsense from the PM to put these scientists in their place. He says the UN climate chief is talking through her hat. I bet that brought out the dictionary of colloquialisms at the UN headquarters. Fair enough firestorms three months early could be a random event but what about seal level rise? Commonsense says it’s just one of those things there’s no actual reason for.

  41. I’ve just discovered that it’s not the country S0malia that triggers moderation as the string S0ma. sub “o” for zero in each.

    Curiouser and curiouser …

  42. Truthiness challenge part 2. Joe Hockey said the average family pays $550 a year in carbon tax. If that average family was heavily using coal fired electricity then that’s about 23 tonnes of CO2. Problem is I believe they get nearer $600 compensation via the tax and welfare system. I’m also puzzled how it feeds the 2013/2014 inflation figures since the main price shock was in July 2012. Since the honeymoon isn’t over yet perhaps it’s too early to quibble.

  43. CSIRO

    Human-induced climate change is a driver of grape ripening, given that previous studies have linked Australian temperature, and possibly rainfall to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations.


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