Slow burn

That’s the headline for my latest article in Inside Story. Summary graf

Hundreds more deaths will result from the particulates created by Australia’s current crop of bushfires

At the time of writing, at least fourteen people have been killed by this season’s bushfires. And with most of January and all of February still to come, the number is sure to rise. But these dramatic deaths are far outweighed by the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of deaths that will ultimately result from the toxic smoke blanketing Australian cities.

The most dangerous component of bushfire smoke are tiny particulates, no more than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, known as PM2.5. Over the past twenty years, studies have shown that high levels of PM2.5 have contributed to millions of premature deaths in highly polluted cities like Beijing and Delhi. Sydney, Canberra and other Australian cities have recently joined this list. In 2016 alone, exposure to PM2.5 contributed to an estimated 4.1 million deaths worldwide from heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic lung disease and respiratory infections.

Even before the current cataclysm, air pollution was a major health hazard. While Sydney’s prevailing average of 6 micrograms per cubic metre (6 μg/m3) is within international health standards, it is above the levels observed in most European and American cities. A study led by the Sydney Public Health Observatory’s Richard Broome estimated that particulates and associated forms of pollution already account for between 310 and 540 premature deaths annually.

As far as can be determined, the mortality and health risks of PM2.5 are a linear function of the level of exposure. Being exposed to 6 μg/m3 every day for a year, for example, amounts to 2190 “microgram days.” Broome and his colleagues’ work implies that each microgram day is associated with between 0.14 and 0.25 premature deaths. This figure is consistent with a range of international studies they cite.

The overall mortality effects are also a linear function of the number of people exposed. That’s why a city like Delhi, with thirty million people and an average PM2.5 of 150 μg/m3, suffers tens of thousands of premature deaths every year.

Since the start of the bushfire emergency, particulate levels have been far above the historical average, reaching an extreme of 250 μg/m3 in Oakdale, ninety kilometres from central Sydney, on 10 December. According to recording stations in Sydney, the average for November and December was 27 μg/m3, more than four times the usual level. That implies somewhere between 160 and 300 additional premature deaths.

But the fires began earlier than November, and Sydney is not the only city they have affected. Many millions of Australians have experienced the impact of the fires, and there is no reason to expect the emergency to end any time soon. It’s quite likely that the total number of premature deaths will be more than a thousand, and possibly more than the 1300 deaths expected on our roads (some of these, tragically, caused by the fires).

Climatic oscillations such as the Indian Ocean Dipole, which have contributed to the severity of the current disaster, are expected to abate over time, so it’s probable that we won’t see a similar disaster next year, and perhaps for a few years to come. But the underlying trend of global heating that made this season so catastrophic isn’t going away. Next time the oscillations are unfavourable, further heating will make things even worse.

Our current approach to dealing with climatic disasters, developed during the twentieth century, doesn’t deal adequately with steadily deteriorating climatic conditions. At a minimum, we need a standing national body, with substantial resources, ready to respond to such disasters as they occur. This would almost certainly wipe out the Morrison government’s treasured surplus, which is why the resistance to any kind of action has been so vigorous.

Even worse than budget fetishism has been the cultural commitment of the government to climate denialism and do-nothingism. The right’s commentariat peddles anti-science nonsense on a par with anti-vaxxerism and flat-earth cosmology, eagerly lapped up by the mostly elderly readership of the conservative press. The government can’t endorse this nonsense officially, so it takes refuge in the idea that Australia accounts for only a small proportion of total emissions (on their dubious accounting, 1 per cent).

But even 1 per cent of the current catastrophe is still a disaster. And just as emissions in other countries contribute to disasters here, our 1 per cent plays its part in fires, floods and other climate-related disasters around the world. No matter how you do your accounting, Australian climate denialism is already costing hundreds of lives, with much worse to come.

We might hope that the scenes we have witnessed would shock our political class out of its torpor. So far, there is little sign of that happening. •

87 thoughts on “Slow burn

  1. Hazard reduction is what happens in the cooler months and usually involves burning the lower level of vegetation. Back burning is done in the face of an advancing fire front, it is far more damaging and is a desperate measure.

    In extreme conditions back burning is of little to no use.

    Norway records warmest ever January day at 19C
    Western Norway is experiencing a rare heatwave for early January, at a time when temperatures should normally be below freezing.
    The highest temperature of 19C (66F) – more than 25C above the monthly average – was measured in the village of Sunndalsora.
    This makes it Norway’s warmest January day since records began.
    While many were enjoying the warm weather, there are concerns that it is another example of climate change.
    “It’s a new record for warm weather here… People [have been] out in the streets in their T-shirts today,” Yvonne Wold, mayor of the municipality of Rauma, who had taken a dip in the sea earlier in the day, told the BBC.
    “A lot of people are usually skiing at this time. Not exactly much of that today,” she added.
    ◾Antarctica’s troublesome ‘hairdryer winds’
    ◾Moscow brings in artificial snow for New Year in mild winter
    ◾New maximum UK temperature for December at 18.7C – in Scotland
    While the hot weather was a novelty, Ms Wold said there were concerns about the bigger picture of rising temperatures.
    It also breaks the record for any winter month (December to February) in Scandinavia, he adds.
    Oslo, Norway 10 Day Weather
    BBC Weather: Intense tropical cyclone to smother Europe with heatwave – ’20C warmer’

    BBC WEATHER has forecast temperatures above average for the start of 2020 as conditions across Europe remain warm with some rain and windy patches.
    UPDATED: 16:16, Thu, Jan 2, 2020
    BBC Weather’s Matt Taylor warned of stormy conditions for Scandinavia with heavy snow to come in the Norwegian mountains. But “dry, sunny weather dominates” across the Balkans as Greece and Turkey remain cold. It comes as a “powerful upper-level ridge” will bring a heatwave to Europe in an intense extra-tropical surface cyclone, according to Severe Weather EU’s Marko Korosec.
    […]The temperature picture reveals some outstanding and extreme anomalies across parts of Scandinavia and the Baltic region, locally reaching more than 20C warmer 850 mbar level temperature than normal!
    “A broad area will experience an exceptional temperature anomaly of 16 to more than 20C warmer 850 mbar (approx. 1500 m ASL) temperature than normal for early January, while also the near-surface temperatures will be 10C to 16C warmer than usually.
    “Around +10C is again likely from Denmark to Estonia in the afternoon. This anomaly is EXTREME!”
    Extraordinary purple ‘mother of pearl’ clouds illuminate the Arctic
    Their beauty belies a cause for concern.
    Up above the world so high, colorful clouds lit up the sky. They shone in Sweden, Norway, Finland and elsewhere in the Arctic over the past few days. But their technicolor beauty, in some cases, betrays a hidden danger lurking in their chemical composition.
    Nacreous, also known as “mother of pearl,” and other kinds of “polar stratospheric” clouds are somewhat rare. Witnessing displays this extraordinary can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Readers shared their incredible photos with editor Tony Phillips, who noted that the display is ongoing.
    Some polar stratospheric clouds destroy ozone
    Pure nacreous clouds, a type of polar stratospheric cloud, are composed of ice crystals. But at temperatures of around minus-110 degrees, at which these clouds form, ice crystals aren’t always so easy to come by. The limited mixing between the stratosphere and troposphere means very little water vapor makes it aloft.
    Interaction between chlorine nitrate, hydrochloric acid and some polar stratospheric clouds can result in the production of, through various processes, chlorine atoms. That eventually opens the door for a catalytic cycle that results in the destruction of ozone to form regular breathable oxygen. And, in the end, it leaves the chlorine dimer ready to go again and repeat the process, destroying even more ozone.
    The release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) manufactured by humans can jump-start this process through the production of the aggressive chlorine atoms. Because of the Montreal Protocol, CFCs have mostly been phased out.
    It is not clear whether the clouds photographed in recent days are the type of polar stratospheric clouds that destroy ozone.
    Most of us living outside the Arctic will never enjoy the splendor of polar stratospheric clouds unless we travel. They are virtually impossible to predict and still a scientific marvel as we probe to learn more about their intricacies.

  3. Per “The Economic Times”, India.
    Times Now | 30 Dec 2019, 05:57 PM IST
    Delhi is likely to record coldest day today in last 119 years
    Day temperature in Delhi is likely to fall to its lowest level in 119 years on Monday, making it the coldest day since 1901, weather agency India Meteorological Department has tweeted. Delhi is witnessing unusually low temperatures this winter. Last week, the minimum temperature was recorded to be 2.4 degree Celsius. The weather office has said this year would be the harshest winter in decades. “Delhi is likely to record its most coldest day today in last 119 year for December Month as day temperature till 1430 Indian Standard Time today has been unusually following a coldest trend, with Safdarjung’s temperature being 9.4 degree and Palam’s was 9 degree Celsius.

  4. joke break?
    muslim bloke overheard at work saying

    “it looks like they’re not abusing us so much and started on the environmentalists”

    workmate replies

    “no, they haven’t started abusing environmentalists, they’ve gone back to abusing environmentalists”

    scotty from marketing is prime minister.

    oh sorry, number two is no joke.

  5. JQ – OP – “The overall mortality effects are also a linear function of the number of people exposed. That’s why a city like Delhi, with thirty million people and an average PM2.5 of 150 μg/m3, suffers tens of thousands of premature deaths every year.”

    Per “The Economic Times”, India.
    ET Bureau|Jan 02, 2020, 05.44 PM IST
    Delhi winter power demand at record 5343mw
    January 1 was the coldest January day so far at 2.4 degrees in the last six years. Delhi broke the previous high of 5298 mw recorded on December 30, 2019. This is an increase of over 19% from the peak hour power demand of 4472 mw, recorded on January 1, 2019.
    (2018)… A new study has revealed that that air pollution in Delhi is responsible for approximately 10,000 to 30,000 annual deaths in the city. This means the capital city loses 80 lives every day to pollution from PM2.5.
    The study also mentions that the deaths are mostly from heart attacks and strokes, rather than from respiratory disorders.

    (2018)… On average, people in India have their life expectancy cut short by 5.3 years thanks to air pollution, according to a Washington Post report (paywall) published last month. Those in two districts east of Delhi—Hapur and Bulandshahr—have their life expectancy reduced by 12 years, which is the greatest reduction in life expectancy due to air pollution anywhere in the world.

    Air Pollution Turned India’s Capital Into a ‘Climate Emergency.’ It’s Part of a Global Trend Killing 7 Million Prematurely Each Year … By one estimate, breathing Delhi’s air for one day has the health impacts of smoking at least 25 cigarettes.
    …Air quality index of Delhi is generally Moderate (101–200) level between January to September, and then it drastically deteriorates to Very Poor (301–400), Severe (401–500) or Hazardous (500+) levels during October to December due to various factors including stubble burning, road dust, vehicle pollution and cold weather. In November 2017, in an event known as the Great smog of Delhi, the air pollution spiked far beyond acceptable levels. Levels of PM2.5 and PM 10 particulate matter hit 999 micrograms per cubic meter, while the safe limits for those pollutants are 60 and 100 respectively.

    Delhi’s pollution problem is also caused by the factor of animal agriculture, as smog and other harmful particles are produced by farmers burning their crop in other states. About 80 percent of agriculturally used land is used for animal agriculture, so animal agriculture can also be attributed as a factor in Delhi’s air pollution problem.

    Initiatives such as a 1,600 km long and 5 km wide The Great Green Wall of Aravalli green ecological corridor along Aravalli range from Gujarat to Delhi which will also connect to Shivalik hill range is being considered with planting of 1.35 billion (135 crore) new native trees over 10 years to combat the pollution.

  6. “…1,600 km long and 5 km wide The Great Green Wall of Aravalli … planting of 1.35 billion (135 crore) new native trees over 10 years to combat the pollution.”

    It’s not all roses by any stretch, but what does Smoko’s 1.n% Australia do by comparison? … 1.n% of what India has done in 2 years? Yeah, you reckon?

    Per “The Economic Times”, India.
    TNN|Updated: Dec 31, 2019, 09.32 AM IST

    In 2 years, India added a Delhi and Goa in green cover

    The report also analysed the green cover in terms of ‘carbon stock’, noting its increase in 2019 compared to 2017 – a positive trend which may help India achieve its 2015 Paris Agreement goal of creating additional carbon sink through increasing forest and tree cover by 2030.

    “The increase of over 13,000 sq km of green cover since 2015 clearly shows that the country is well on track to meet its Paris Agreement target,” said Javadekar.

    In the present assessment, total carbon stock in forest is estimated as 7,124.6 million tonnes. There is an increase of 42.6 million tonnes in the carbon stock of the country as compared to the last assessment of 2017. It shows annual increase of 21.3 million tonnes, which is 78.1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. As part of its Paris Agreement commitment, India had in 2015 pledged creating an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover.

    Referring to increase in forest cover, environment secretary C K Mishra said, “The report indicates that the positive changes in government’s policies, relaxing restrictions on felling of trees from private lands and easing of transit rules, have generated the right atmosphere for planting more trees on private lands, leading to improved livelihoods and income opportunities. This strategy will also result in additional benefits in terms of enhanced carbon stock and ecosystem services.”

    The biennial report, brought out by the Forest Survey of India (FSI), covers even those areas in J&K which come under “illegal” occupation of Pakistan and China. The FSI compiled the latest report by interpreting satellite imageries (October 2017 to February 2018 period) which were subsequently supported by ground truthing.
    Among its other key messages, the report noted that 21.4% of the forest cover of the country is “highly to extremely” fire prone. It also flagged increase of mangrove cover in India by 54 sq km (1.1%) over the previous assessment. The top three states, showing increase in mangrove cover include Gujarat (37 sq km), Maharashtra (16 sq km) and Odisha (8 sq km). The current assessment shows a decrease of 741 sq km of forest cover within the RFA in the tribal districts. …

  7. Hey, little bird up above in a desert loving tree at 4:51 pm – “Can trees scoop up particulate matter? And how do the Indians…”

    Express News Service | Ahmedabad | Updated: December 24, 2019 6:09:40 am

    Want govt to build 1,600 km green wall along Aravalli, says activist

    The Green Wall of India, proposed by environmental activist Vijaypal Baghel at the September Conference of Parties (COP14) by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in New Delhi, was taken up for consideration by the Central government.

    …Baghel said, “At a preliminary level, the government has shown a positive response by making the wall until Panipat, which comes up to 1,400 km, but we want this to cover the Aravalli range as well as the Shivalik range to completely contain desertification. Moreover, multiple ministries are needed to be involved to achieve this.

    The green corridor will act as a barrier against dust coming in from deserts in western part of the continent. We estimate that 135 crore trees will be part of this green wall which will be 5 km wide and may take up to 10 years to be created. The Great Green Wall of the Sahara was commenced in Africa involving multiple countries and though only partial work could be completed, the model’s results have shown success.”

    “While crop burning contributes only eight per cent to pollution, diwali crackers contribute five per cent. The government has also put a ban on crackers. But what bout the remaining 87 per cent? Industrial pollution makes up 51 per cent of pollution and vehicular traffic makes up 27 per cent… why aren’t these being talked about?” Baghel added.

  8. I got got back to a smokey Melbourne at 6 PM. I left Albury (visibility about 400 meters) and joined the refugee convoy back to Melbourne on the Hume highway, lots of trailers, familys ,a few broken down vehicles ,caravans , boats etc. SUVs galore, few trucks tho. As busy as its ever been on that road. The smoke cleared a bit on the way back so I didnt expect to see so much smoke in Melbourne. My respiratory system is protesting ,I havent necessarily been all that kind to it over the years either.
    Morrison is really copping it in the MSM ,I am surprised. It seems that when even the best possible interpretation of events is no good at all he really can lose a bit of bark .He is looking like the mask has fallen off and a bumbling idiot has been revealed. He has been leading from behind since way before the crisis began, only acting after the fact and only after being forced to. Chanel 7 TV news tonight did not look good for him. Vision of people being rescued from Mallacoota (mum and dads neighbors from Albury are there) shows how much good federal tax dollars can do ,and the sailors are so thrilled to be able to assist. That vision is going around the world along with those of our bumbling arrogant nasty PM. A mess for the PR department .
    I do feel like pointing out to the refugees that crying out for government help is hypocritical after voting for only weakly civic minded political parties, but that would come across a bit nasty right now .It’s like complaining about traffic after voting in corporate stooges. A do nothing approach to climate change federally wont see the markets come and rescue people. Not even extravagant tax cuts for your mates helps with that. 99 % of Aussies would be proud to pay tax for armed forces help and 100 % of personnel would be proud to help. All the armed forces branches can help alot . If a hypothetically sane Morrison had met with the group of fire chiefs that wanted too all those months ago he would have had all that at the ready .It might even have provided him with an excuse to raise taxes on those able to pay and still have the holy surplus in 6 months time. He should be forced to resign.
    Backburning is complicated but can be useful around houses etc. clearing buffer zones helps but alot of bushfire embers can land kilometers ahead of the front. A dairy farmer friend had embers hitting the side of his house going so fast they were tracking parallel to the ground on Black Saturday 12 or so yrs ago. Big pieces too ,his house must be 500 meters from the bush. Some say the gum bark that hangs loose down trunks is very good at flying , on thermal updrafts as well. It was a very windy day. Apparently Bairnsdale might have some embers fall on it tomorrow. It might be around 20000 people at the moment counting refugees i think. 45 degrees for Albury tomorrow I think. 15000 mostly tourists left Bright yesterday. Many of them passed through Albury. The dairy farmer (from Mudgegonga – where Tim Fishers heart settled) claims oak trees make good buffer zone vegetation as a huge one near his neighbours house survived almost perfectly whilst the house went altogether. But then 2 blocks the other way a kids cubby house did do the same near a house that was raised and 2 people died.
    P.S. you need a P2 mask (suitable for asbestos removal) to filter that smoke ,not just a normal dust mask. Tomorrow could be a very bad day for Western and NW Vic .

  9. “Some say the gum bark that hangs loose down trunks is very good at flying , on thermal updrafts as well.”

    In FNQ back when sugar cane blocks were burnt before harvest the large dry old leaves would do this rather too well at times – called them “floaters”, watched them like hawks, and marvelled sometimes at how much cane could be flattened and how much flame could rapidly be extinguished by an experienced large desperate man reacting quickly to avert disaster by diving in using nothing other than his thrashing, rolling body to smother it.

    A controlled cane fire runaway nipped in the bud is one thing, but I’ve seen those roaring bushfire tree bark floaters too close for comfort too, and that is quite another thing. Glad you made it ok, sunshine.

  10. What an insulting statement, John:
    “ The right’s commentariat peddles anti-science nonsense on a par with anti-vaxxerism and flat-earth cosmology, eagerly lapped up by the mostly elderly readership of the conservative press. ”
    I am a retired pragmatic engineer, and a climate sceptic, so presumably fit your “commentariat”. And I’m not alone. Nor part of any industry lobby group.
    You could and should do better.

  11. Nick, your exclamation mark is one of the most warranted uses of an exclamation mark I have ever seen.

    “RH of 1% at 3pm was recorded at Glen Innes AWS on 2/10/19 ! ”

    I Know a couple thinking of building on a bush block near Glen Inness. I feel they may be rethinking.

    We must not let “new normal” be the term. “Historically Abnormal” seems appropriate.

  12. Really?! Really.

    Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich Commercial on Climate Change

    “In 2008, Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich sat on a couch together and proclaimed, “Our country must take action to address climate change.” Three years later, Gingrich would write off the bipartisan television spot as “probably the dumbest single thing I’ve done in recent years.” What happened?”

    Graph 2. –  disaster cost trend increasing

    Graph 4. – The divergent republicans don’t want government they want markets.

  13. The media are catching up…
    “Doctors warn people may die as public health impact from Australian fire pollution bites

    “Doctors say there will be unpredictable and lasting consequences, especially for children, the elderly and asthmatics” Gardian

    And an extremist – Doh!
    “Tony Abbott, former Australian PM, tells Israeli radio the world is ‘in the grip of a climate cult’

    “Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation foreign editor says listeners were angry at the airing of ‘extremist views’”

  14. Mike Dinn thinks it ‘insulting’ to point out that the climate denial trumpeting of the right wing commentariat ‘peddles anti-science nonsense’. He, a ‘pragmatic engineer’, is therefore ‘commentariat’ and is a ‘climate sceptic’.
    So where’s the pro-science argument from this Dinn? I hear from his hurt feelings: but nothing from the facts, and no scientific point.
    This is identity politics at its most poisonous. ‘Don’t attack my position, because doing so attacks me as a person.’ Sorry – that contributes to the market place of ideas the same way mortar bombs used to contribute to the market place of Sarajevo.

  15. Mike Dinn is almost certainly the same serial pest who has been sock puppeteering on J.Q.’s blog for many weeks. His fingerprints are all over just about every post on this site that is about climate change being a fraud, being able to cure cancer better than the medical profession and in general knowing more about climate science, water management and forest/tree management than every scientist on earth.

    It’s so hard to be humble when you are a multi-disciplinary genius like Mike Dinn.

  16. I’m doing my best to block GB, and I think Mike Dinn is a real person.

    Since you’re insulted, Mike, I’ll ask you on what basis you regard yourself as intellectually superior to an anti-vaxxer or flat-earther? As with those groups, you are presenting a view opposed to a vast body of scientific research. As you are a retired engineer, I assume your scientific education stopped at an undergraduate level some decades ago, and included nothing that would give you any more expertise on climate change than a hippy complaining that vaccination is unnatural, or a commonsense flat-earther who just says “looks flat to me”. Is your scepticism based on a careful reading of the scientific literature (citations please), or derived from Internet sites with the same credibility as this one?

  17. dear JQ,
    “hippy” ain’t necessarily against vaccination.
    the most anti-vax individual i know is a margaret thatcher voting non-gardener.

    small quibble

  18. Well, akarog, Iko, mrkenfabian, and Poselequestion… I watched Smoko say it again today with that trademark adman smirk to camera in the post NSC Cabinet presser, said it was National Parks services caused the bushfires… and implied (dog whistle) “greenies” are to blame.

    akarog says:
    January 2, 2020 at 7:12 pm
    Some of the armchair chatterers have blamed greenies for stopping back burning. This theory is no longer valid, there are fires reigniting in areas just burnt.

    Ikonoclast says: (Good one, Iko. Thanks.)
    January 3, 2020 at 7:55 am
    This report asks: “Is Fuel Reduction Burning the Answer?”

    “Major Issues
    While fuel reduction burning is the principal means to reduce the risks of bushfire, under extreme conditions bushfires can burn across land with very low fuel loads, which would have been halted under milder conditions.

    Fuel reduction burning should not be applied uniformly, in terms of frequency or extent, across Australia because of the diversity of forests, topography and climates in southern Australia as well as the different priorities that different land managers have in developing specific burning regimes.

    In order for fuel reduction burning programs to be effective they need to be designed to be applied to specific vegetation types and implemented by properly trained and resourced staff. Proper assessment of these burns need to be carried out to show whether the results meet the objectives of the program. Burning regimes are planned in advance with the knowledge that some fuel reduction burns may not proceed due to poor weather. Therefore the difficulties in carrying out fuel reduction burning because of the need to burn in optimal conditions should not be used as an excuse not to burn. There is normally an opportunity for a fuel reduction burning program to be carried out if the land manager has allocated adequate planning and resources to the program.

    …The present drought conditions foreshadow a serious bushfire season for southeastern Australia. After last summer’s severe bush fires in New South Wales there were calls for more frequent and extensive use of fuel reduction burning of forests and other areas to enable firefighting agencies to protect life and property. The frequency and intensity of these fires to achieve this aim will have impacts on biodiversity, air and water quality and aesthetic values of the natural environment and there is always a balance of positive and negative impacts of any active burning regime.

    This paper will briefly examine the use of prescribed burning regimes (fuel reduction or hazard reduction) in the forests of southern Australia to protect people and their property from bushfires and at the same time to maintain natural ecosystems. It will look at the trade-offs that may be necessary and comment on the potential reduction in bushfire risk arising from fuel reduction burning.

    Fire Regime Development
    …While the farmer and grazier used fire to clear bush, burn off old grass or reduce the fire hazard on the farm, the development we now refer to as hazard or fuel reduction burning evolved in the twentieth century with the practices of forest managers who were trying to protect native forests from wildfires that damaged the quality of their forests as sources of timber.

    …Fire regimes vary in different parts of Australia due to climate and vegetation type. The fire intensities depend upon weather and fuel load. The rate of spread of a fire is affected by a variety of issues including wind speed, moisture content of the fuel, fuel particle size, vegetation height, fuel bulk density, percentage of dead fuels, and topography.(13) The amount of fuel determines the amount of heat that may be released in a fire but the rate at which that heat is released is determined by properties of the fuel, weather, wind direction and topography.(14)

    Complexities of Fuel and Fire
    …As mentioned above the amount of the available fuel determines the amount of heat that potentially can be released in a fire. Therefore fuel loading in a forest is the only component of the mix that can be modified by land managers. This is the rationale behind the use of fuel reduction regime in forests to protect life and property.

    However not all the plant material in a forest is potential fuel for a fire under normal circumstances. Also the amount of fuel consumed in a fire increases with increasing intensity, assuming the fuel is dry. While medium to high intensity fires will burn young trees, thick twigs and branches, bark and deep litter, low intensity fires will only burn dead fuels below six millimetres in diameter.(21)

    However the size of the fuel component consumed depends on the moisture levels. In extremely dry conditions even low intensity burns can consume all the fuel on the forest floor and damage forest trees. This is the reason that fuel reduction burns need to be carried out under conditions when the lower layers of the litter bed are moist so the low intensity fire only burns the smaller diameter fuels on the forest floor.(22)

    Prescribed Burning Regimes
    …Fuel reduction burning is carried out by a variety of land managers on both public and private land. The requirements and aims of each of these burning regimes will be different depending on what priorities the land manager has. This has led to significant differences in the frequency and quantity of fuel reduction burning that is carried out. As a result there are calls from different sections of the community that a particular land management agency is carrying out too much or too little burning. The debate surrounding the fuel reduction burning issue sometimes results in simplistic solutions being put forward to deal with a complex problem.

    The following statement by the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) indicates the fundamental issues of concern in developing and implementing a fuel reduction program:

    Our objectives in relation to fire management are first and foremost the protection of life, property and community assets. We also have objectives in relation to the maintenance and enhancement of biodiversity and the protection of cultural heritage which influence our approach to fire management.(30)

    Effectiveness of Fuel Reduction Burns
    …There are two points to note in relation to the effectiveness of fuel reduction burning. Does the burning actually reduce the fuel in the forest to the desired levels and will the reduction in fuel levels achieve the aim of being able to control bushfires. Fuel reduction burns will not necessarily halt the spread of bushfires.

    Opportunity to Carry Out Fuel Reduction Burning
    …There are a number of factors which decide the timing of fuel reduction burning, the weather being the most significant one. Fuel loads need to be dry enough to effectively carry out hazard reduction burning without the conditions being so severe that the burn risks getting out of control.

    Environmental Effects
    …Avoiding the implementation of any sort of a fuel reduction burning regime so that ‘natural’ ecosystems can be maintained (except where such regimes are inadvisable, e.g. rainforest) is not really an option except possibly in remote areas. The fact that many significant conservation reserves are relatively close to settled areas necessitates action by conservation authorities to minimise potential fire risk to life and property.(39) However, fire regimes, especially in conservation regimes, need not be uniform across habitats and it has been suggested that:

    Across temperate Australia, creating a uniform habitat can be avoided by mosaic burning with a range of fire regimes, with protection of long unburnt areas and ensuring provision of such areas. The scale and pattern of burning needs to be adjusted to the area of vegetation within each habitat type, the extent of isolation and the habitat requirements of target species or communities. Such management has been recommended across a range of Australian environments, often with an emphasis on threatened species.(40)

    The problem with such a scheme is that it needs to be properly funded and the nature conservation agencies have not to date allocated sufficient funds to carry out such a fire regime.

    Escapes of Burns
    …Any fuel reduction burning operation runs the risk of escaping control and causing a bushfire. This is why fuel moisture, weather conditions, control lines and ignition points must be carefully considered.

    Are Government Bodies Carrying Out Enough Fuel Reduction Burns?

    …The New South Wales NPWS manages seven per cent of the State and four per cent of the fires start in national parks. In the past five years less than 10 per cent of fires that started in the national parks escaped the park while 20 per cent of the fires in national parks start in private property or other lands.(59) The Director-

    General of NPWS stated that NPWS is committed to hazard reduction but does not tick off quotas for burning and it is not feasible to burn all parkland adjacent to private property because of the danger involved.

    …It is quite likely that State Forests gives a higher priority to the burning program than does NPWS because it specifically burns to meet its management objective to protect its timber assets.(64) It should be noted that fuel reduction burning is but one method of hazard reduction employed by State Forests and the area grazed for hazard reduction is six times the area burned on an annual basis.(65)


    …Is it possible that lack of resources, or resource allocation priorities, limit the scope of fuel reduction burns by land managers such as nature conservation agencies rather than the weather? Other land management agencies, such as forestry authorities, with a financial interest in protecting their wood resources assets, manage to carry out a significantly larger burning program.””

    mrkenfabian says:
    January 3, 2020 at 8:50 am
    …Morrison still manages to add fuel to that “greenies are to blame” meme without specifically naming and blaming ‘greenies’ – but the implied (dog whistle) blaming is there, complementing the Right’s leading commentators.

    Poselequestion says:
    January 3, 2020 at 10:26 am
    …These fires are not the Dorathea McKellar norm, they are unprecedented in every way and are created by unprecedented climatic conditions.
    Furthermore it is a waste of time and effort, in many ways pathetic, to get Morrison and his whole cohort to acknowledge this

  19. As a non-retired engineer can I say I’m sceptical of climate too. There’s no need to go averaging out the weather to come up with some fallacious notion of “general temperature over the year” when clearly different parts of the world are are different temperatures, and those temperatures constantly change. Average temperature is an even sillier idea than “mean sea level”.

    (also, the word is “skeptik” or “sceptic”, I object to the use of American half-modernised spelling. If you’re going to revise English spelling do it properly or don’t do it at all)

  20. Controlled unheating for oceans? Air conditioned air for bats and possums? This points to one solution – cease greenhouse gas emissions or we will end up paying a vast sum and still end up with less nature to show for it.

    “In the first, starting in 2015, ocean temperatures peaked at nearly 3 deg C above normal in the waters between Tasmania and New Zealand. A blob of heat that reached 2 deg C was more than seven times the size of Tasmania, an island the size of Ireland.

    “The region’s past heatwaves normally lasted as long as two months. The 2015-2016 heatwave persisted for eight months. Mr Alistair Hobday, who studied the event, compared it to the deadly 2003 European heatwave that led to the deaths of thousands of people.

    “Except in this case, it’s the animals that are suffering,” said Mr Hobday, a senior research scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, a government agency.

    “South of the equator, Australia’s summer stretches from December to February – and soaring temperatures turned the mainland deadly this year. An estimated 23,000 giant fruit bats – about a third of that species’s population in Australia – dropped dead from heat stress in Queensland and New South Wales in April.

    “The bats, called flying foxes, cannot survive temperatures above 42 deg C. Another 10,000 black flying foxes, a different species, also died. Bodies plopped into meadows, backyard gardens and swimming pools.

    “A month later, more than 100 ringtail possums fell dead in Victoria when temperatures topped 35 deg C for four consecutive days.

    “The warming waters off Tasmania are not just killing the giant kelp, but transforming life for marine animals.”

    Wierd that I was reminded of this by singapore media. The fires are shadowing everything else. And showing in stark relief – newscorpse;

    “The Australian: Murdoch-owned newspaper accused of downplaying bushfires in favour of picnic races

    “Herald Sun relegates bushfires to page 4 while Courier Mail brings good news via ‘Onion Oracle’”.

  21. I was thinking that Morrison, being a man of well publicised religious convictions, would have reflected deeply and soulfully on his errors and sought to make amends.

    Silly me, his latest ad is an obviously greedy grab at restoring his image, driven solely by self interest – the national interest has not been served.

  22. I thought Scomo with his beliefs might come to the view, “This is God telling me I am not his chosen leader. I better resign. This is God punishing me for my hubris and failing in my stewardship. I should resign.”

    No chance of that though. There are few beliefs so irrefutable as “I special. I am chosen.” It dovetails in so well with pride and self-interest. Failings, by the way, which one would think a genuine and humble Christian would be on the lookout for in themselves. No such luck with Scomo. It doesn’t seem to work that way with him.

  23. This article in the New York Times sums it up.

    “Australia is Committing Climate Suicide”

    Has some harsh and very deserved criticism for our politicians and the coal lobby.

  24. I think Smoko is more likely to be seeing it as signs of impending hell on earth presaging the time when the (self)righteous are uplifted to the kingdom of heaven. Leaving us sinners to burn.

    Perhaps suggest to him that the latter has already happened, and clearly he’s not in heaven so…

  25. So what is the difference in the job of Mike Pezzullo and Peter Dutton?
    Would most Australians understand this difference?

  26. “Where is Dutton our new Supreme L?”

    Why do you ask? Busy reading your emails of course

  27. Meanwhile in the Murdoch Parallel Universe, Miranda Devine et al are blaming the fires on the sinister Greens, who apparently infest every nook and cranny of our society and pull the strings.

    Sadly, half the population is influenced by folk like Miranda.

  28. One interesting thing is that the likely deaths from pollution go almost entirely unmentioned in the media. Perhaps because it might seem to diminish the importance of the direct casualties, but mostly, I think, because the media is afraid that it’ll sound hysterical, or ‘green’.

  29. Smoko and the elves have been going for some time how the Public Service has been restructured so that it “doesn’t provide advice to politicians but is there to enact their wishes”. Of course there is nothing new in this, the IPA etc have been preaching the nihilistic line since birth. Party hacks have been levered into senior administrative positions so this dogma will be initiated, literally without question. Narrow ideological constraints have been put in place to placate gentle folk like the Monkey Pod Group and more broader organisations like the MCA and the BCA. Smirko faithfully followed this line when he rejected the advice from Greg Mullins and his cohort of retired fire chiefs months ago. How dare they speak up!
    The benefits of this wonderfull new reorganisation are being played out now. Once the not so small problem of the absence of these masterminds was over come their pathetic ineptness was laid bare as they wallowed in ignorance and arrogance. So what did they resort to, firstly lies, secondly even more lies, thirdly lies formatted by evasion, fourth by propaganda videos that were previously scripted in 1984 and then just blaming other groups, via even more pathetic lies, like 5 year old children.
    Despite all this they are unrepentant, auto-wedged by their seamless ideological cocoon, hollow dangerous men who will lash out and do they only thing they know, destroy. First up will be those festering hell holes of evil that are only frequented by the untermensch, National Parks.

  30. Chris, we already have an established media approach thanks to the “every road is a toll road” campaigns. Direct road deaths count, pollution estimates are rarely mentioned and (almost) never taken seriously. Until the EU emissions scandals there’d never been consequences, and there have still never been serious consequences.

    We also see this with excess deaths during heatwaves – there’s no question that the heat caused those exact deaths, just little media coverage.

    As with tobacco and asbestos, establishing a clear causal link between a specific source of particulate pollution and a single death is difficult, and linking that to whoever is responsible is impossible. I can almost imagine an arsonist being charged with manslaughter for air pollution deaths, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet. Charging politicians, let alone voters, for bringing this about… I can’t image that happening ever.

  31. But there is question. The link between particulate pollution and death (and illness, and other economic harm) is not just unreported, it is actively denied. The deniers fear levelling the costs of power production by making polluting methods pay for their direct pollution costs. So the deniers persuade many people those costs don’t exist (or are ‘too small to matter’).
    The policy debate comes after getting the facts across to people. And I think doing that is hard because the facts are not only unreported, but denied.

  32. Excellent set of references in From Dust to Diesel … and on “exposome” [ wiki ref below ] justification to “draw attention to the need for better and more complete environmental exposure data for causal research, in order to balance the investment in genetics.”

    “We investigate the history of the human exposome [ I had to look up. Ref below] for relationships between novel environmental toxins and genetic changes during human evolution in six phases. 


    Global exposures to air pollution and cigarette smoke are novel in human evolutionary history and are associated with at least 12 million premature deaths per year. We investigate the history of the human exposome for relationships between novel environmental toxins and genetic changes during human evolution in six phases. 

    Phase I: With increased walking on savannas, early human ancestors inhaled crustal dust, fecal aerosols, and spores; carrion scavenging introduced new infectious pathogens. 

    Phase II: Domestic fire exposed early Homo to novel toxins from smoke and cooking. 

    Phases III and IV: Neolithic to preindustrial Homo sapiens incurred infectious pathogens from domestic animals and dense communities with limited sanitation. 

    Phase V: Industrialization introduced novel toxins from fossil fuels, industrial chemicals, and tobacco at thesame time infectious pathogens were diminishing. Thereby, pathogen-driven causes of mortality were replacedby chronic diseases driven by sterile inflammogens, exogenous and endogenous. 

    Phase VI: Considers future health during global warming with increased air pollution and infections. We hypothesize that adaptation to some ancient toxins persists in genetic variations associated with inflammation and longevity.

    [ Phase 7??? Known in a generation or two – worse luck we now have a large bushfire smoke data set to provide answers ]

    “Smoke toxins include the large group of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons produced by partial (incomplete) combustion of biomass. PAHs are generally rare in the environment except during sporadic brush or forest fires. The PAHs include benzo(a)pyrene and other proven human carcinogens. Some PAHs are considered neurotoxic from epidemiological and clinical associations of impaired brain development (Peterson et al. 2015; Finch 2018) from rodent models exposed during gestation to benzo(a)pyrene (McCallister et al. 2008, 2016; Sheng et al. 2010; Geier et al. 2018; Slotkin et al. 2019). After inhalation or ingestion, PAHs are detoxified by the aryl hydrocarbon receptor protein (AHR), a xenobiotic sensor. In turn, the PAH-activated (ligand-bound) AHR moves to the cell nucleus to alter transcription of catabolic pathway genes including the cytochromes CYP1A1 and CYP1B1. The multifunctional AHR protein is also a xenobiotic barrier against PAH in gut (Liu et al. 2018); prenatally, placental AHR and CYP1A1 proteins are elevated by maternal smoking (Huuskonen et al. 2008). Some AHR products are are fully detoxified, while others are carcinogenic. Adaptive responses to PAHs and other xenobiotics include gene variants that detoxify pesticides, shown in fish populations exposed to dioxins and other halogenated aryl hydrocarbons (Aarts et al. 2016; Hubbard et al. 2016; Hahn et al. 2017). Comparisons of AHR gene evolution in
    hominids raise further questions.”…

    Benjamin C. Trumble

    School of Human Evolution & Social Change and Center for Evolution and Medicine, Arizona State University

    The Quarterly Review of Biology, December 2019, Vol. 94, No. 4
    Copyright © 2019 by The University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. 

    “… In his 2005 article, Wild stated, “At its most complete, the exposome encompasses life-course environmental exposures (includinglifestyle factors), from the prenatal period onwards.” The concept was first proposed to draw attention to the need for better and more complete environmental exposure data for causal research, in order to balance the investment in genetics. According to Wild, even incomplete versions of the exposome could be useful to epidemiology. In 2012, Wild outlined methods, including personal sensors,biomarkers, and ‘omics’ technologies, to better define the exposome.[8] He described three overlapping domains within the exposome: “…

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