What limited hazard reduction burning? Climate change.

Between making calls not to politicise the bushfire disaster, Barnaby Joyce and others have been busy denouncing the Greens, who allegedly prevented hazard reduction burning. This isn’t actually true: The rate of burning in NSW has more than doubled.

But there is one factor that has clearly limited hazard reduction burning. Because of the increased frequency of hot, windy days, even in winter, the window of time in which burning can be undertaken without the risk of accidentally starting fires has been narrowing. Here’s an example from August 2017, with authorities calling on landholders to limit burning off whenever possible, and noting that a number of hazard reduction burns have already escaped.

83 thoughts on “What limited hazard reduction burning? Climate change.

  1. Svante

    The Q was posed, that we need to halt migration and assess the carrying capacity (human, animal etc) of the country so as to avoid these natural disasters.

    We might be better off labelling all arrivals since 1787 as ‘migrants’ and determine how we have all altered the country.

  2. Svante, it’s not possible to aim at the object of stabilising the population of a country at a level which won’t overburden the country’s natural environment without at least some idea of what that level is; but more importantly, in any case, whatever population level is selected as the target, there’s no clear reason for supposing that the priority in aiming at that target is migration policy, since the population level is not a result of migration policy alone.

  3. Rog, and what of rising per capita GDP in Japan may I ask?

    And when you say “One country that has minimal to zero migration is Japan and it’s wage growth is in negative figures.” then in comparison what do I or the authors of your cited articles not understand when I read they say “tepid wage growth”. Wage growth! Or when I read ““Our assessment remains unchanged that wages are rising gradually”? Or some six comments in the later article to the effect that Japanese wages have in fact risen?

    What do I not understand in your claim “The link between wage growth and migration is at best tenuous” exemplifying Japan when labour migrating to Japan from 3rd world under-developed overpopulated struggling poor countries, such as the Philippines, is exponentially increasing?

    A trade-off for their comparatively low guest worker wages and living and working conditions may be the recent move to grant improved longer term residency to such Japanese worker imports – to give them a bit of job security. The guest worker comparative poor wages surely aren’t improving overall Japanese “tepid wage growth”! If it is not then surely the link between wage growth and migration is not tenuous but yet again shown to be inverse.

  4. J-D, “the population level is not a result of migration policy alone.” That is risible. In our case such policy, overt and hidden and lacking, is the only reason for the current and rapidly increasing population.

    To your first point. Without properly ascertaining the long term sustainable carrying capacity, and in worsening conditions, then it’s flying in the dark attempting to stabilise population at a level that will not overburden. Of course any examination or limits are anathema to this population Ponzi scam – to be avoided at all costs, at cost to all.

  5. Rog, “We might be better off labelling all arrivals since 1787 as ‘migrants’ and determine how we have all altered the country.”

    Yes, but we can’t rewind the clock back there though we may mitigate some things the past has handed on to us. We can’t prevent the past, but we can attempt to prevent certain futures.

    That period mostly covers humans’ modern industrial contribution towards climate destruction that now is doubling every decade or so. For most of it they, not we, all had no idea. The earth was apparently limitless! It may be possible to determine how some things might be restored and then restore that country, but it mostly is forever changed. Better to determine where those and current changes might adversely lead in our future and proactively deal with that.

  6. Without properly ascertaining the long term sustainable carrying capacity, and in worsening conditions, then it’s flying in the dark attempting to stabilise population at a level that will not overburden.

    It might explain quite a lot if Australia’s immigration policies were determined while flying in the dark.

    Of course any examination or limits are anathema to this population Ponzi scam – to be avoided at all costs, at cost to all.

    I’m not stopping anybody from examining the limits of Australia’s carrying capacity. I’m not stoppin you, for example. More importantly, nobody’s stopping the government from doing so. Presumably they don’t want to know what the limits of Australia’s carrying capacity are. Evidently they were happy to determine current immigration policies in the absence of such information. But perhaps that’s part of your complaint, I’m not sure.

    In our case such policy, overt and hidden and lacking, is the only reason for the current and rapidly increasing population.

    Statistically is true everywhere, at all times, and not just in contemporary Australia, that changes in population over time result from four factors (not just one), the birth rate, the death rate, the immigration rate, and the emigration rate. Changes in any one of these four (no matter where they stand now), upwards or downwards, will have an effect on population levels. Also, none of them is determined solely by government policy but all of them are affected by government policy, not just one of them.

    I suppose what you mean is that Australia’s birth rate, currently, is below replacement rate, which is true. But it’s also still true that a change in Australia’s birth rate would affect Australia’s population levels, whether that’s up or down; and it’s also true that government policies have effects on the birth rate, and also on the death rate and on the emigration rate.

  7. “Also, none of them is determined solely by government policy but all of them are affected by government policy, not just one of them.”

    The crucial difference is that government policy can directly determine the immigration rate in line with the intentions of the government. Government policies affect the other three variables less directly, and frequently in ways that are unintended or even contrary to what is intended.

    The most famous example of the latter was observed in the 1990s, when the biggest declines in fertility rates were observed in countries that adopted policies to make it difficult for women to combine work and childbearing, in the belief that this would encourage traditional family-centred behaviour and so increase birthrates. The actual effect of the policies was to cause women to choose to continue in jobs and careers, and defer or renounce childbearing.

  8. Another crucial factor (which is only partly covered by death rates) is life expectancy. Government policies across a whole swathe of issues affect life expectancy, and insofar as the intention of such policies is to improve the health and wellbeing of the population and particular sectors thereof, they are intended to increase life expectancy. Increased life expectancy means (all else being equal) a longer period of demographic momentum, and thus a longer period between when fertility rates fall below replacement level and when the rate of “natural increase” falls to zero.

  9. However, on the broader issue that seems to have started this discussion of population, it is undeniable that the measures that can do most to reduce GHG emissions, and to achieve these reductions quickly, are all in the realm of technological choices and economic policy, unless one wishes to consider the population reduction measures that were adopted in Cambodia from 1975 to 1978.

  10. J-D… “Also, none of them is determined solely by government policy but all of them are affected by government policy, not just one of them.”

    Migration numbers into this country are determined solely by government. The buck stops there. If that’s not so then please say who sets the limit, issues the visas, and administers the intakes.

    As outlined previously (ref ABS, PC..) Australian sky-high population growth rates now and ongoing are solely due to migration intake numbers. Even if migration intake were stopped population growth will continue for twenty-plus more years after due to current sky-high intake numbers.

    … ” it’s also true that government policies have effects on the birth rate”

    The natural replacement trend is down, has been so for yonks despite longevity increasing, and some occasional government pleadings and cash inducements to reproduce.

    … “Evidently they were happy to determine current immigration policies in the absence of such information. But perhaps that’s part of your complaint, I’m not sure.”

    The carrying capacity relevant to immigration ‘policy’ is simply how quickly and how many rich beneficiaries can be carried to levels of greater personal wealth. For the rest sky-high immigration set in Treasury is about the only thing in the economic tool box that gives an appearance of working. It has solely forestalled recession for years by that Ponzi magic trick, but not without inflicting much other economic damage and much to come.

  11. On the question of the unintended effects of policies intended to affected the birth rate, here are some interesting facts and figures.

    The Howard Government introduced its Baby Bonus, payable as a lump sum, in 2004. After 2008 it was only payable in instalments rather than as a lump sum.

    From 2004 to 2008 the number of nuptial births in Australia increased from 169,312 to 193,376: a 14% increase.

    From 2004 to 2008 the number of ex-nuptial births in Australia increased from 80,733 to 104 030: a 29% increase.

    While the secular trend in Australia has long been one of increase in the relative incidence of ex-nuptial birth, this disparity in the rates of growth/decline or nuptial and ex-nuptial births has not been witnessed recently in other similar time periods.

    From 2004 to 2008 the number of children born to 16 year olds increased from 886 to 1101: a 24.3% increase. For 30 year old women the figures were 17,789 to 19,334: an 8.7% increase.

    The Howard Government’s Baby Bonus policy clearly had an effect. Whether it was the effect that John Howard intended or desired is another matter.

  12. Svante

    “ we can’t rewind the clock back”

    Physically no, obviously. But we can rethink our thinking, from one of triumphant white colonialism to that of equality.

    We need to show that we understand that hazard reduction is not just confined to burning parks. Traditionally, fire was used infrequently and the grasslands and rivers were abundant. It is our society and it’s practices that have burnt this country.

    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2012.11.030

  13. Arguing about whether it’s true that the immigration rate is directly and entirely determined by government policy would distract from the main point, so I’m going to defer doing that.

    Even if it were true that the immigration rate is directly and entirely determined by government policy, it would still also be true that government policy affects birth rates, death rates, and emigration rates, and that all of these affect population levels. Relevant policies also have other effects apart from the demographic ones, so none of them can be evaluated solely on the basis of their demographic impact, but the same is true of immigration policies.

    The above being true, it doesn’t matter so much whether the immigration rate is directly and entirely determined by government policy, so I won’t explain in this comment my reasons for thinking it isn’t, but since I’ve been challenged on that point it is my intention to do my interlocutors the courtesy of returning to it in a later comment.

    The natural replacement trend is down, has been so for yonks despite longevity increasing, and some occasional government pleadings and cash inducements to reproduce

    Just as it’s true that government policies directed at demography also have other effects, it’s equally true that government policies in many areas have demographic effects, even if those demographic effects were unintended or even unwanted. Government policies can, for example, be one of the reasons that people emigrate, regardless of whether the government actively desired to encourage emigration. Birth rates are higher in some places and lower in others; they are rising in some places and falling in others; it’s not government policies alone that determine this, but they have an effect. I’m not sure exactly which government policies have contributed to Australia’s birth rate declining, or exactly how, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. If the government wanted to increase Australia’s birth rate badly enough, it would be possible to figure out policies that would be more likely to have that effect than the tepid efforts they’ve made in that direction; equally, if the government wanted badly enough to reduce it even further, it would be possible to figure out policy changes that would be likely to have that effect. As previously noted, policies in either direction would have other effects, and they might be undesirable effects which would be a reason not to adopt those policies; but that’s true of immigration policies as well.

    For the rest sky-high immigration set in Treasury is about the only thing in the economic tool box that gives an appearance of working. It has solely forestalled recession for years by that Ponzi magic trick, but not without inflicting much other economic damage and much to come.

    It’s not clear what evidence you’re relying on to support the conclusion that immigration has caused much economic damage.

  14. Given the climate problems that face us, action is required on all fronts for both the short term and long term problems of AGW. These actions come under the headings of;

    (1) Prevention;
    (2) Adaptation; and
    (3) Amelioration.

    Part of prevention is reducing CO2 emissions per person. Part of prevention is limiting the number of persons. A population stabilization policy leading to zero population growth for Australia is a necessary part of mid term to long term action. Those who argue we should set an example on the CO2 emissions front, despite being a relatively small nation, are correct. In the same manner, we should set a ZPG example despite being a relatively small nation.

    Adaptation will mean, among other things, building on higher ground away from flood zones and building underground and/or building much more fire resistant housing.

    We also need to do more hazard reduction which is not just about hazard reduction burning. We can reduce hazards by keeping housing and bush more clearly separated with open buffer zones between them.

    Australia needs a large and professional rural fire service in each state. The Commonwealth should subsidize the states dollar for dollar on these costs. A permanent national air fleet of water helicopters and water “bombers” is also required and the Commonwealth should fully fund this. Infantry and engineer units in the military should be trained in basic rural firefighting and be mobilized at every fire emergency.

    But of course, Morrison and his government want to pretend nothing new and significant is happening. Until the Australian population wakes up and sends the BAU (Burn as Usual) parties to the political wilderness for ever, then nothing will change. The burnings will continue until the people wise up.

  15. Paul Norton says:

    “However, on the broader issue that seems to have started this discussion of population, it is undeniable that the measures that can do most to reduce GHG emissions, and to achieve these reductions quickly, are all in the realm of technological choices and economic policy, unless one wishes to consider the population reduction measures that were adopted in Cambodia from 1975 to 1978.”

    No, the starting point quite sensibly was to pause and first determine the human carrying capacity of the country. Sensible informed discussion of population and migration numbers might then follow…

    Techno fixes follow failures and often themselves result in further failures. Bringing in Cambodian history here is a false dichotomy.

    Ben Kiernan estimates that 1.671 million to 1.871 million Cambodians died as a result of Khmer Rouge policy, or between 21% and 24% of Cambodia’s 1975 population.

    Your “population reduction measures that were adopted in Cambodia” directly reduced population by 21% to 24% in, let’s say, 4 years. Note that figures projected for the Ponzi population increase underway in Australia are similar over, say, only 10 years.

    If you believe an Australian population reduction in Khmer Rouge duration and percentage terms “can do most to reduce GHG emissions” at least equivalent to best “technological choices and economic policy” then you’ll see the problem of continued rapid Australian population growth solely due to migration even were best technological choices and economic policy concurrently in place. They are at odds. You’ll see the bigger actual Australia problem presented by high migration driving record high population growth in the absence of reasonable let alone best technological choices and economic policy. You’ll acknowledge that techno and policy failures can take quite some years to be recognised and yet more time to possibly be fixed. And you’ll recognise the urgent need to pause and take stock.

  16. Migration just moves people around the planet. So, no direct impact on global emissions. And migrants to Australia will have no effect on many of the things that contribute to our very high emissions per person (eg coal & LNG).

  17. rog,
    “We need to show that we understand that hazard reduction is not just confined to burning parks. Traditionally, fire was used infrequently and the grasslands and rivers were abundant. It is our society and it’s practices that have burnt this country.
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2012.11.030

    The authors of the linked paper looked at eastern inland explorers’ journals from 1844 to 1919, from a time beginning 56 years after European arrival and after how many waves of introduced infectious disease had significantly affected indigenous society and practice? What those explorers recorded could be quite different to what might have been recorded prior to European settlement. They also looked down from the sky. They didn’t get down and dig and sift.

  18. John Quiggin says “And migrants to Australia will have no effect on many of the things that contribute to our very high emissions per person (eg coal & LNG).”

    On past settings emissions have risen as has population. On current settings emissions are set to rise as is population. Without high migration feeding high population growth it’s obvious there’d be a lot less use of cement, and so on and on. Your claim may take some explaining to be accepted as realistic, John.

  19. Oops. Correction. My mind got stuck on “our very high emissions” thinking the country’s total emissions to the point of disregarding the qualifier “per person”. Please disregard, yet what of the migration/population effects on Australian total emissions contributing to climate destruction and the ability to deal with it?

  20. Paul, from page 75 of that 2018-19 Qld bushfire review link:

    “The early onset of the fire season is increasingly
    being identified as a possible ‘new normal’ in
    planning for bushfire.

    Climate change forecasts are suggesting that
    spring isn’t going to change for the southern
    part of Australia but autumn is generally going
    to be drier and hotter…The bushfire season
    is going to get longer, firefighters are going
    to get more tired, resources are going to get
    more stretched.”

  21. No, the starting point quite sensibly was to pause and first determine the human carrying capacity of the country. Sensible informed discussion of population and migration numbers might then follow…

    I have just discovered that in 1994 a parliamentary committee conducted an inquiry into Australia’s carrying capacity and that its report is downloadable online (you can search for the title, which is Australia’s Population ‘Carrying Capacity’). Did you know that? Have you read it? I didn’t and hadn’t, but I thought it might interest you.

    The inquiry talked to a lot of people, including experts, but I haven’t read the whole report and so can’t have an independent opinion on whether its conclusions and recommendations are justified. For what it’s worth, though, it does say this:

    8.5 The Committee rejects the view that Australia is close to its maximum population already and that an increase would lead to intolerable pressure on resources and lead to a sharp decline in health, increase in crime, pollution, etc. There is no numerical population level beyond which the social fabric and environmental quality might be expected to go into precipitate decline.

    The first sentence of that paragraph can only be read as relating to the population level in 1994, and even if it was true in 1994 that’s not a reason to suppose it’s still true in 2019; but if the second sentence was justified in 1994, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be equally justified now.

    If you do read the report and find reason to question it I’d be interested in your findings.

  22. Thanks J-D, I have heard of such reports and strong criticism of same. I expect the Big Australia lobby of its day to be be evident influencers of this report. l’ll have a look at it later, but for now that last sentence is just plain gobsmackingly ridiculous in any time period!

    “There is no numerical population level beyond which the social fabric and environmental quality might be expected to go into precipitate decline.” Wow! Just wow! Were any Committee members caught out in, or caught for, the old Story Bridge shares for sale scam?

  23. Svante, as I mentioned before, I haven’t read the whole report of the parliamentary committee, so I don’t know what the basis was on which they reached their conclusions, and so I have no basis myself for any independent assessment on the merits.

    However, if you have any evidence to support your conclusion that there is a specific numerical population level beyond which the social fabric and environmental quality can be expected to go into precipitate decline (not just decline, mind you, but precipitate decline), then you’ve given no indication what that evidence is and I have no idea what it might be.

  24. “There is no numerical population level beyond which the social fabric and environmental quality might be expected to go into precipitate decline.”

    That is just a gob-smackingly stupid statement. No limit at all? Imagine if we proposed 500 million people for Australia. I expect that the great majority of people and the great majority of scientists would expect that our social fabric and environmental quality would go into precipitate decline at that level or well before we reached it.

    Indeed, we have precipitate environmental decline right now with 25 million people. If the ecological collapse of the M-D basin, the loss of half the Barrier Reef, the mass loss of mangroves in the Gulf of Carpenteria, mass severe bush-fires this (early in the) season, and a species extinction rate in the top 5 by country in the context of a global sixth mass extinction are not evidence of precipitate environmental decline right now then I don’t know what would be.

    To deny the facts is absurd. To quibble, equivocate and make spurious debating points at non-substantive levels of argument is a sign of the most facile and fact-disinterested approach possible. To argue in such a manner amounts to misdirection from the real issues. It’s a gish-gallop of raising pointless quibbles.

  25. There has always been bush fires that is true. But we ought not put up with them just the same. Destroying the hydrocarbon industry is neither a sufficient, nor a necessary way to fix the problems of flooding, droughts and bush-fires.

    We have the most amazing contingent of innovative regenerative agriculturalists in this country. If leftist environmentally concerned economists and academics got together with these guys, learned what they were about, and found that intersecting set that they could all agree on, this could create a very influential consensus. Incredibly powerful front to serious change.

    The way to keep the continent naturally air-conditioned is to see to it that water that falls quickly finds itself under the earth where it cannot evaporate. Then when it does evaporate it does so via plant transpiration. This is the best global cooling system there is. We want it so that when a hot wind comes from the North West it doesn’t show up here bone dry and hitting fuel that is itself as dry as kindling. When I was a kid if we saw a red sunset in the West we just assumed it was bushfires in Australia. So yeah there is not much new about it.

    Well actually there is a few things that are kind of new. That it happened in the spring. And that the fuel bounce-back is going to be much stronger since the CO2 is higher. But the solutions still remain the same. And have zero to do with beating up on hydro-carbons …. beyond increasing royalties to take the banker overhead out of it.

  26. From Wikipedia,
    Kangatarianism
    Kangatarianism is a recent practice of following a diet which excludes meat except kangaroo on environmental and ethical grounds. Several Australian newspapers wrote about the neologism “kangatarianism” in February 2010, describing eating a vegetarian diet with the addition of kangaroo meat as a choice with environmental benefits because indigenous wild kangaroos require no extra land or water for farming and produce little methane (a greenhouse gas), unlike cattle or other farm animals.[32][33] Advocates of kangatarianism also choose it because Australian kangaroos live natural lives, eat organic food, and are killed “humanely”.[34][35] For similar reasons, Australians have discussed eating only the meat of Australian feral camels (“cameltarianism”).[36]

    Cool
    But maybe this is nothing new for any of you.

  27. Ikonoclast writes:

    “Indeed, we have precipitate environmental decline right now with 25 million people. If the ecological collapse of the M-D basin, the loss of half the Barrier Reef, the mass loss of mangroves in the Gulf of Carpenteria, mass severe bush-fires this (early in the) season, and a species extinction rate in the top 5 by country in the context of a global sixth mass extinction are not evidence of precipitate environmental decline right now then I don’t know what would be.”

    The point is that the main drivers of all of these problems are an unsustainable mode of development in Australia post-1788, unsustainable modes of production and consumption, poor technological choices, poor planning, and constipated public policy due to the depredations of vested interests. Simple human numbers are and have been much less important in bringing about these problems than the factors that I have listed. Further, while I support population stabilisation as a goal for Australia and the world, changes to our economic structures and practices, and our technological choices, offer far more scope for remedying these problems far more quickly than anything we can do about population.

  28. True enough Paul. But we don’t have the functional policy settings in place to support migration right now. So boosters of migration ought to be money and banking reformers. You cannot just approach the problem from the point of view of near-libertarian happy-talk. You cannot approach it from the idea of having and idealised and nuanced perfectly balanced Misean economy that exists only in the minds of advocates.

    The idea is to reform policy settings, in line with what you have been saying but particularly in finance. Reform policy settings so that we have relentless labour shortages. Then and only then open the gates beyond a trickle.

  29. Paul Norton,

    It is possible and indeed advisable to pursue both goals, (1) sustainable changes to our economic structures, practices and technological choices and (2) population stabilization, at the same time. We (Australia) could stabilize population growth in one year by reducing voluntary immigration to the setting required for zpg.

    The relevant formula is I = P × A × T which equates human impact on the environment (I) to the product of three factors: population (P), affluence (A) and technology (T). For Australia if we halt the increase in P we reduce the growth in I. Given that the demands for growth in A and T are proving so hard to halt, we need to halt the growth of P to give us more time to solve the problems associated with A and T.

    We need a three pronged attack tackling all of P, A and T. The situation is dire and we do not have the luxury of limiting any of our options up front by saying “ZPG is too hard, too politically sensitive, etc. etc.” Technically and administratively ZPG would be very simple for Australia. Politically and economically it is more difficult but no more difficult than dealing with A and T at the political and economic levels.

    The Right and the New Australian lobbies support high immigration. The Right support it because it supports the rapid increase of elite wealth in this country (the housing boom and property values for example). The New Australian’s lobby support it mainly for family reunions and the increase sometimes (let it be said) of their own ethnic vote and influence. The Left support high immigration for family reunions, to help those who immigrate from poor countries and also to avoid any imputations of racism or nativism. All of these motivations range from fully laudable to fully understandable from an enlightened self interest perspective. Yet the net effect, which is high immigration, is going to be deleterious to the cause of the long term sustainability of Australia (as a continent and as a nation).

    A ZPG policy can be non-racist. Immigrants can be selected on an entirely non-racist basis to replace emigrants. A ZPG policy can never be non-nativist. To be purely non-nativist, one would have to have a complete open borders policy. Anybody advocating anything less than that is already part nativist whether they acknowledge it or not. I would argue that a degree of nativism is unavoidable in real politic terms in the real and imperfect world unless one is completely prepared to “give away the entire farm” and then starve along with everyone else, for that would be the final result for a country with a small carrying capacity like Australia.

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