By Chris Kenny, The Australian.
Editor’s Note: Chris Kenny lays out the facts about Australia’s history of drought and bushfires, calling out those perpetuating hysteria about supposedly man-made “climate change”.
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Stoic. We used to be stoic and sensible. And proudly so.
In Britain this was encapsulated by the wartime poster “Keep calm and carry on”. Here in Australia, we have exhibited a phlegmatic hardiness down the generations, dealing with all that a sunburnt country of droughts and flooding rains could throw at us.
On Christmas Day 1974, households around the nation were shocked by news coming through from Darwin and rang to offer their homes to house families evacuated in the wake of Cyclone Tracy. If it happened today, many people would go and protest against the climate instead.
Rational arguments, hard facts and intelligent debate have been cast aside in favour of woke whingeing. In this information age, ill-informed emotionalism dominates public debate (although thankfully the great mainstream remain level-headed and smart, as they showed in this year’s so-called climate election).
We live in an age when Greta Thunberg can be named person of the year for doing nothing more than allowing herself to be the face of protest, bringing teenage hyperventilation to what should be a rational and scientific policy debate. She is to the climate debate what the Bay City Rollers were to music.
But she is far from alone. When Sydney was smothered in bushfire smoke this week, The Sydney Morning Herald published Mark Mordue. “There is no other way to see it,” he wrote, “our dead future is here.” In The Guardian Australia, Charlotte Wood wrote about her trauma from Sydney’s inner-west suburb of Marrickville. “We’re used to turning our attention briefly, intensely, to ‘those poor people’ affected by climate change, then returning to normal life,” Wood wrote, without telling us who or what she was referring to. “Now those poor people include us.”
The New York Times fed the hyperbole, quoting novelist Anna Funder looking at bushfires on a flight into Sydney. “It was as if the country were being devoured by a chemical reaction,” she said.
“Dear prime minister,” Katharine Murphy wrote in The Guardian Australia, “the country is not parched but desiccated, and it is burning like a tinderbox, and people are frightened.” Remember when journalism was about facts?
A host of people, from the prominent to the anonymous, took to social media to tell us that “Australia is burning”. NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean blamed the fires on climate change — without evidence.
Rather than explain what his department had done or failed to do to reduce fuel loads in national parks and forests — the one part of the bushfire equation humans can control — he promised more action on carbon emissions reductions policies that, of course, can and will never do anything to reduce or alleviate the bushfire threat. Yet, in this post-rational age, he was applauded by many.
People rallied in the streets, not to offer their services with other fire volunteers for hard yakka on the frontline with backpacks and rakes or making sandwiches to help; no, they rallied for more government action on carbon emissions reductions. We have reached an absurdity when people blame governments for deliberately lit fires and the smoke they produce. Grown adults blame governments for weather.
Therese Rein, wife of former prime minister Kevin Rudd, took to social media to sheet home blame for destructive fires at the feet of Scott Morrison. Needless to say, she has never publicly blamed her husband for the 170 deaths on Black Saturday, when Rudd was prime minister just over a decade ago.
The divide in approaches was illustrated by the actions of two other former prime ministers. While Tony Abbott has spent weeks on distant fire fronts volunteering with his local Rural Fire Service brigade, Malcolm Turnbull jetted back to Sydney, posted a picture of the smoke and said we needed to take more climate action.
The silliness is constantly reinforced in the media. ABC presenters ask daily inane gotcha questions. Hamish Macdonald demanded drought tsar Shane Stone declare whether anthropogenic global warming was a thing, and Michael Rowland demanded to know whether federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher would join Kean in blaming climate change for bushfires.
The point about this game-playing is that nothing turns on the answers, except to desired creation of political embarrassment or the chance to shame someone for defying the zeitgeist. Whatever we do to combat drought and bushfire is what we have always done — build dams, supply feed, reduce fuel, protect houses and so on — because these are threats that are endemic to our land.
The expert analysis shows that if there is a long-term influence from climate change on either of these blights, it will be to make each of them slightly more common in a land where they are common already. Whatever Australia does on carbon emissions can have no impact on any of this, at least for decades to come as global emissions continue to rise. And if, at some unlikely time in the future, international resolve sees substantial cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions, Australia will still be a land menaced by drought and fire. There is no drought-free and bushfire-free Nirvana awaiting us, no matter how much nonsense we hear from Kean, Turnbull and Thunberg. It is only the practical that matters. Yet it is usually the gotcha moments, emotional cries and virtue-signalling that dominate the public debate. We are our own worst enemies.
Look at the ridiculous coverage and response given to the Climate Change Performance Index released in Madrid this week. It is the work of European climate activist think tanks — comparable to The Australia Institute in our country — yet their findings are reported as though they are dispassionate assessments.
The overall ratings had the US ranked last and Australia third from last, despite both these developed nations having reduced emissions and, in our case, being committed to further reductions. China — a country that is increasing its emissions annually by more than Australia’s total emissions — was ranked almost 30 places above Australia. India, too, was ranked high on the list. Australia was marked down for approving the Adani coalmine, but India was given a leave pass for burning the coal. The index pays more regard to climate politics and posturing than to emissions facts and outcomes.
Yet this week ABC opinionista Barrie Cassidy tweeted about the index by saying: “I don’t think we’ve ever had a government so out of touch with a national concern and an opposition so incapable of putting pressure on them.” I guess Cassidy has already forced himself to forget the “climate election” of seven months ago.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese also used the index to criticise the government’s performance, and his frontbencher Mark Dreyfus said our nation was now an “international embarrassment”. But the ALP’s climate spokesman, Mark Butler, would not be outdone: “Australia is burning. We can feel the impacts of climate change. Scott Morrison’s climate policy is ranked dead last, below Donald Trump. This is a crisis and the government won’t act.”
Against all this panic and politicking, we need to consider the facts. In NSW this has been a bad bushfire season, one of the worst the state has seen, certainly since 1974. With NSW’s drier winters and wetter summers, the season is usually earlier and less intense than the most bushfire-prone states of Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.
With widespread fires this year the smoke haze has been bad too. But, again, not unprecedented.
In 1936 the smoke haze was so bad in Sydney, a ship from Hong Kong, the Neptuna, struggled to find the heads and sounded its foghorn, but the harbourmaster couldn’t find the ship or see across the harbour. In 1951 all Sydney airports, from Mascot, through Bankstown to Richmond, were shut for hours because the smoke was too thick for planes to land.
Apart from rampant arson, the reason NSW’s fire season is bad is the drought. On this point, it is important to note the clear assessments of University of NSW’s Andrew Pitman, who heads the Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes.
“This may not be what you expect to hear but as far as the climate scientists know, there is no link between climate change and drought,” he said. “Now, that may not be what you read in the newspapers and sometimes hear commented but there is no reason a priori why climate change should make the landscape more arid.
“And if you look at the Bureau of Meteorology data over the whole of the last 100 years there’s no trend in data, there’s no drying trend, there’s been a drying trend in the last 20 years but there’s been no drying trend in the last 100 years and that’s an expression of how variable the Australian rainfall climate is.”
When Pitman was embarrassed by the use of his quote in the climate debate, he issued a statement saying he should have used the word “direct” — so there is no “direct link” between the drought and climate change.
There you have it. Most of the rest is just noise.
Commentator, author and former political adviser, Chris Kenny also hosts The Kenny Report Monday-Thursday 12-2pm, Kenny on Sunday at 8pm, and Kenny on Media on Mondays at 8pm on Sky News. He takes an unashamedly rationalist approach to national affairs.