The devastating Victorian bushfires should have been a harsh wake up call for Kevin Rudd. While Rudd comforted survivors and promised millions to rebuild the region, he has avoided the obvious—inaction on climate change will mean more bushfires.
While it can’t be said that February’s fires were caused by global warming, it is well established that global warming increases the incidence and severity of the conditions that led to the fires.
The CSIRO’s “Climate change in Australia: technical report 2007” indicated that there will be up to a 230 per cent increase in extreme fire days around Bendigo as global warming worsens and that “catastrophic events” will occur every year in Mildura. Canberra faces a 221 per cent growth in extreme fire days by 2050.
We will not have to wait until 2050 to see more horrors like those in Victoria. The evidence isn’t new—reports after the Canberra fires in 2003 carried the same warning.
Climate modeller Professor Andy Pitman from Macquarie University told Four Corners in 2007 that over the next 40 years, the risk of bushfires are already set to increase whether greenhouse gas emissions are reduced or not.
By 2100 the forecast for us is far more bleak.
“If we allow the emissions to go to a high end,” he said and, “…we continue to burn fossil fuels in much the way that we have been doing, we’re looking at at least 100 per cent increase in bushfire risk, and regionally—substantially more than that.”
Fires are more likely to break out on high, very high or extreme fire danger days.
The chances of a fire starting, its rate of spread, intensity, and difficulty of suppression are rated on a Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI) according to temperature, humidity, wind speed, and drought.
The FFDI scale is set so that the disastrous 1939 Black Friday fires have an FFDI of 100. In Victoria on February 7, the FFDI reached unprecedented levels, ranging from 120 to 190, much higher than on Black Friday or Ash Wednesday.
The February 7 bushfires came on a 46 degree plus day—only two weeks after Victoria sweltered through three 45 degree plus days.
Victoria has already been in drought for a number of years.
Ditch Rudd’s 5 per cent target
While Victoria was ablaze, parts of Queensland and New South Wales faced devastating floods—exactly the pattern predicted by climate change models.
Yet the Rudd government persists with a global warming “strategy” that commits to only a 5 per cent emissions reduction target by 2020—a target that is widely acknowledged by scientists as useless.
Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) is a carbon trading scheme that lets the big polluters off the hook by allowing them to pay to pollute or by handing out free permits to heavy polluting industries like aluminium smelting or coal fired power generation.
Rudd’s sympathy for those hit by the bushfires will amount to nought unless he is willing to act decisively on climate change.
We have had a glimpse in Victoria (and Queensland) of the real effect of global warming.
This tragedy cannot be for nothing—the widespread anger and sense of injustice that has been evident in fundraising efforts must now be turned to making some real change for the future.
There will need to be immediate measures to reduce risks and save lives in future—including in land management, fuel reduction, permanent rural fire services, building codes and warning systems.
But the number of devastating fires will only be reduced if the government sets a serious emissions reduction target. There will be more fires and more people will die unless Rudd gets serious.
By Ernest Price