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Australian bushfire debates still blazing hot

15 Jan 2020 | Science Notes

We mentioned last week that, despite efforts to link CO2 emissions and Australian bushfires, evidence on the ground indicated that fuel buildup and arson were playing the key roles in this year's terrible Australian fire situation. And the numbers show that while New South Wales is setting records, this year’s fire activity is below average in Queensland. But the link to global warming keeps being asserted by people with an alarmist axe to grind, or a carbon tax to peddle. Former NASA climate scientist Dr. Roy Spencer has put together an excellent essay that reviews the evidence for and against a climate connection to Oz bushfires. This year is indeed very hot and very dry. But the recent trend is for Australia to be getting wetter rather than dryer, and this year's heat is likely due to natural variations. And bushfires will remain a risk that can best be controlled by traditional landscape management, not by climate policy.

Spencer also points out (as we have) that global wildfire activity is declining, not increasing. So if we're going to attribute increased Australian fire activity to climate change, don't we also get to attribute decreased global wildfire activity to it as well? Or is the idea just that everything bad is the result of climate change, including rain you don’t want or lack of rain you do, and everything good is just weather?

If so, it would save a lot of tedious mucking about with actual evidence. But Spencer is the old-fashioned kind so he reviews it before concluding that

My personal opinion, based upon the available evidence, is that any long-term increase in wildfire activity in any specific location like Australia (or California) is dominated by the increase in human-caused ignition events, whether they be accidental or purposeful. A related reason is the increasing pressure by the public to reduce prescribed burns, clearing of dead vegetation, and cutting of fire breaks, which the public believes to have short term benefits to beauty and wildlife preservation, but results in long term consequences that are just the opposite and much worse....[To] automatically blame the Australian bushfires on human-caused climate change is mostly alarmist nonsense, with virtually no basis in fact.

His essay is worth reading in full.

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