Climate change and bush fires

10 Feb

The devastating impact of the bush fires in Victoria cannot be understated. According to the latest figures, the number of casualties have reached 173 though it is likely to increase. More than 750 homes have been destroyed, 330,000 hectares of land have been burnt out and 5000 have been made homeless.

As the investigation to nab the arsonists are carried out (and rightfully so), an opinion piece by Freya Mathews from La Trobe University sheds light on the impact of climate change, which has laid down the conditions for this disaster.

He reminded readers that it was not so long ago that scientists have predicted fires ‘of such ferocity they would engulf the towns in their path’. The explanation: ‘higher temperatures, giving us hotter days, combined with lower rainfall, giving us a drier landscape’.

He also related the impact of this higher temperature on wildlife, in particular, the animals and fauna who are suffering from heat stress and death.

On Crikey, Clive Hamilton, author of ‘Scorcher: The dirty politics of climate change’ espoused similar opinions on the cause of the bush fires.

He cited a 2007 Climate Institute report, which predicted ‘a two to four-fold increase in the number of extreme fire danger days by 2050… Northern Victoria [is predicted to be], the site of the most deadly fires… as one of the areas most prone to catastrophic fires’.

He also argued that the major political parties would not want to acknowledge that link because they ‘will immediately be asked to explain why they are not doing more about it, why Australia will go to Copenhagen with a five per cent target when the scientists say it must be at least 25 per cent’.

Others who endorsed this view (that climate change is likely to cause more intense bush fires) include Greens leader, Bob Brown, Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the government scientific body, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre.

In an AFP report, Greenpeace campaigner leader John Hepburn warned, “As climate change continues to gather pace, Australia is at risk of more frequent drought, higher temperatures, more frequent and intense bushfires, as well as increased severity of cyclones and flooding”.


One Response to “Climate change and bush fires”

  1. Damien February 14, 2009 at 9:17 am #

    Yeah, the Firefighters’ Union has issued an open letter to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd asking him to address climate change in the wake of the bushfires. Greenpeace have posted it on their blog:

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