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Australian Bushfires Coming Near You

Photograph Source: jjron – GFDL 1.2

While bushfires have been ravaging Australia in the weeks before Christmas, Australia’s religiously conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison, known as ScoMo, escaped the mayhem by taking a holiday in Hawaii. ScoMo is known to be a global warming denier. As a former second class marketing manager, he simply converted product advertisement into political advertisement and won the election. ScoMo once carried a lump of coal into Australia’s federal parliament wanting to make Australians believe that global warming is total crap, as his party friend Tony Abbott once said.

As a devoted Christian, ScoMo is also advertising to pray for rain. Surprisingly, that did not work all that well. In fact, this has not worked since people invented praying for rain about 5,000 years ago. By the time the rich and powerful take off to Hawaii, etc. they have left their fellow Australians behind to suffer the consequences of the Liberal Party’s non-existing global warming policy. Fires are ravaging Australia. The Gospers Mountain fire near Sydney alone destroyed an area seven times the size of Singapore.

Cynics might say that ScoMo hastily returned not because of the bush fire, destroyed houses, people dying in the flames, two dead fire fighters, Sydney’s smoke, destroyed sheds and killed wildlife. He returned because a Facebook storm was building against him while he was holidaying in Hawaii. Others say, the problem is not that ScoMo took a holiday. The problem is that he came back.

What ScoMo left behind – before hastily returning – merely indicates the beginning of what is in store for many people. Among the many warnings on climate change, WallaceWells’s The Uninhabitable Earth gives one of the clearest indications of what is to come. Suffering from days of smoke – euphemistically mislabelled haze by Australia’s press – is a relative minor issue compared to the much more serious things that will happen in the very near future.

Unfortunately, Australia is way behind other nations in understanding global warming. A recent speech by new head of the European Union, the conservative von der Leyen, gives a good understanding of what we are facing. Meanwhile, Australia’s ScoMo keeps on praying. But don’t be fooled. Behind ScoMo’s religious display lurks a rather sophisticated PR strategy. Spin doctors call such as strategy The Three Ds. This strategy worked well in the case of tobacco and asbestos. Now it is set to work on global warming. The Three Ds are deny, diminish and delay. Like in the case of tobacco and asbestos, the first step is to deny there is a problem. The second step is to diminish the problem by making it as small a problem as possible. Smoking is not really that terrible, for example. Inhaling asbestos does not cause cancer in everyone, etc. The final D is delay. Once the inevitable becomes clear and PR is losing the battle, the issue is delayed for as long as possible.

European conservatives have already reached stage three – delay. Trapped in it is easier to imagine an end of the world than an end of capitalism, they still believe they can delay global warming by simply spending money. Meanwhile, Australian conservatives have locked themselves at stage one – deny. As bushfires rage, Australia’s ScoMo carries on broadcasting his “natural disaster” propaganda even though what is happening is no longer natural. Australians experience heat-wave after heat-wave, the hottest day on record is beaten the next day by another hottest day on record, ferocious bush fires on a magnitude unseen before, Sydney covered in smoke for weeks, ten people are dead including two fire fighters and most of this before the official start of summer (22nd December, 3:19pm). All this is not natural.

Australian conservatives pray, carry coal into parliament and issue token statements for those who suffer from their non-existing global warming policy. Meanwhile, Australians living in the bush suffer the most direct consequences while people in Sydney suffer from smoke. Faithful ScoMo voters in Sydney’s western suburbs bordering on bush land and those faithful voters in regional Australia suffer the most. Meanwhile, Australia’s esteemed prime minister keeps praying. Australia is a vast continent with just 25 million people. But it is not alone.

Fires Burning

In fact, bush- forest- and land-fires are nothing out of the ordinary in many regions of the world. They occur regularly at certain times throughout the year. They can even have a positive effect on an affected area. For example, the heat generated by fire releases seeds from which new trees grow. Whenever forest fires occur too frequently, too violently, in the wrong place or at an unusual time, this is seen as a sign that the situation has been broken down by human intervention. The list is long: mega-fires appeared in Brazil, Indonesia, the Arctic, California and Australia.

In the year that is ending, fires such as now in Australia, made headlines around the world. Other fires with a major impact on the environment, climate and air quality have been little noticed – for example in Colombia, Venezuela, Syria and Mexico. Several atmospheric monitoring services have stated that 2019 has been a very busy year for fire monitoring. There were fires in regions of the world that did not normally have fires at the time.

The atmosphere has been polluted by the fires this year with an estimated 6.73 billion tons of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide equivalent) released. By way of comparison, energy-related CO2 emissions amount to around 34 billion tonnes worldwide each year. 2019 is therefore not a record year. 2003 and 2015 reached around eight billion tonnes compared to the 6.73 billion tons for 2019. Still, global fires have had a devastating impact.

Syria: war and fires

In the spring and at the beginning of summer there were wildfires which affected a lot of farmland. Fires raged near the military front lines in the civil war torn country. Other regions were also affected. Wheat and barley fields in the fertile province of Hassekeh suffered. In that region, it was already above average hot and dry at the end of May, which led to the formation and rapid spread of the fires and made extinguishing work difficult. The food supply of the population has been affected.

The Arctic: Fires at the Wrong Time

From June to August, fires raged in the northern Arctic Circle that had never been seen before – in Yakutia, Siberia, and Alaska, among others. The fire season in the boreal coniferous forest there lasts from May to September, but the number of fires of this size and duration was highly unusual. Around one-hundred fires were detected, partly caused by the extremely hot and dry conditions in the regions. The fires released around 182 million tonnes of greenhouse gases.

Indonesia: Slash and Burn Fires

Indonesia is the country where the forest fires began in August and lasted for months – similar to the year 2015. This was the year which recorded its heaviest fire season in nearly two decades. The fires were caused by slash-and-burn in peat-lands, mostly for palm oil plantations, as well as by an above average drought. The flames killed thousands of hectares of important ecosystems, extreme smoke threatened the health of the local population. It was also felt in neighbouring countries such as Malaysia. Rainfall in southern Kalimantan in October extinguished the fires there. Still, fires continued to burn in southern Sumatra. CO2 emissions from August to November are estimated at 708 million tonnes.

The Amazon: Bolsonaro’s Fires

Large areas of the region burned from August, especially in the west of the rainforest area – in the states of Rondénia and Mato Grosso on the Brazilian side and in Santa Cruz in Bolivia. Satellite images showed plumes of smoke spreading over millions of square kilometres. Even Sao Paulo was badly affected as north westerly winds pushed the smoke all the way to the Atlantic coast. The main causes were slash-and-burn in order to gain agricultural land for soya cultivation and livestock farming. For the Brazilian parts of the Amazon, the estimated emissions reached a record for the month of August. Fires of this size in the Amazon threaten to affect the global CO2 cycle due to changes in vegetation. In the early 2000s, however, there were more forest fires in the Amazon than in 2019.

The African Continent

In Angola and the Congo, thousands of fires have also occurred on the African continent this summer. NASA satellite images showed this especially in the southern part such as Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Traditionally, these fires belong to the natural cycle. They ignite in the dry season, but soon the vegetation grows again, and the savannah is green again after a short time. However, the rural population is also using slash-and-burn to prepare the fields for the next planting season. These fires are not comparable to the huge blazes in the Amazon. The Congo still is the green lung of Africa. Nonetheless, there were large fires after slash-and-burn blazes got out of control. Protected jungle was also lost in this way. The situation is similar in Mozambique and Madagascar where almost 300 000 and 120 000 hectares of forest are lost each year.

The USA and California

The US state of California experienced severe wildfires in October and November, which also raged in the hinterland of the metropolises of Los Angeles and San Francisco. In the wine-growing region of Sonoma, the flames destroyed an area of about 30,000 hectares, larger than the urban area of the German city of Munich. Nearly 200,000 people had to leave their homes. Fires occur regularly in California at this time of year, due to the seasonally strong winds that dry up the vegetation – the Santa Ana winds in the south of the state, the Diablos in the north. In 2019, the winds were particularly strong, in addition to unusually high temperatures. The region has already warmed by three degrees over the past 100 years, and it has rained far too little here for years. Climate scientists expect climate change to expand California’s wildfire season from fall to winter. They fear that the fires could last longer because of the even drier vegetation.

Bush Fires and Global Warming

Literally, the burning question of global warming is overshadowing Christmas and the turn of the year from 2019 to 2020. The world is no longer celebrating the modest victories many governments have achieved. Even the few imaginary goals discussed at the climate summit in Madrid remain insufficient. With the help of the Japan, USA, Australia and Saudi Arabia, effective decisions on climate protection were killed off. Neither last year’s heat deaths nor the current devastating forest fires have led to greater commitment to climate change among the delegations of Japan, the USA, Brazil and Australia.

In other words, three countries – USA, Brazil and Australia – whose forest fires on the ground are having catastrophic consequences in recent days have not caused concern for global warming. In Japan, despite its super-GAU of Fukushima, the government operates against the will of large sections of the population. The Japanese government is stubbornly relying on nuclear power. It continues to hunt whales and it does so despite global appeals. Instead, it makes only empty promises on wildlife and climate protection.

Meanwhile, the brave Australian fire brigade is proving increasingly helpless. The strategically well-designed setting up of a counter-fire to prevent even larger fires by controlling flame-food got out of control and became a major fire itself. It is high time that we not only combat the symptoms of climate change but take very serious precautions. ScoMo has a defence budget of $25 billion per year to protect Australia from an enemy that does not exist.

Overall, there is $1.8 trillion dollars of military spending worldwide as a precaution for what is euphemistically labelled peacekeeping. Even worse, it is more likely that some countries, with their hefty defence budgets, are more concerned with securing economic and world political supremacy. Defence is a nice cover for a revival of quasi-imperialist ambitions. As if there could be peace when hunger, lack of fertile soils, biodiversity, and water drive global refugee flows and weather extremes become the norm. Perhaps cranked up military budgets are an indication for the coming of resource wars turbo-charged by the impact of global warming.

Even before the climate summit in Madrid, several voices were warning not to expect too much. Experienced negotiators knew what to expect in Madrid – very little. A failed summit would now be a good reason for the world to move forward on very serious climate protection. With right-wing populists in power in important global warming countries like India, Brazil, the Philippines, the USA and now Great Britain, ever more than before it will depend on the people to save our planet.

 

Thomas Klikauer is the author of Managerialism (Palgrave, 2013).

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