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Australia burns while politicians fiddle

End of November, Qld is burning up in high heat and winds

— Expert reactions.

The Australian Science Media Centre gathered some expert reactions to what has been called ‘once in a century’ (we’ll see) flooding in and around Sydney and catastrophic fires in Queensland burning in 40 degree heat. Here are two reactions to the Queensland fires in this context of extreme weather happening on a warming planet.

Professor Hilary Bambrick, Head of School, Public Health and Social Work at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) …

“TODAY’S BUSHFIRE CONDITIONS in the Deepwater area north of Bundaberg are unprecedented, with fire authorities warning residents that the danger from these fires today is unlike anything they have experienced before. No matter how good their fire plan is, authorities are urging people to leave to ensure their safety.

Climate change is driving increasingly dangerous fire weather by intensifying the hot, dry and windy conditions that Queensland is experiencing this week. These neverbefore experienced conditions are occurring at a time when the planet has warmed only 1 degree Celsius on average, and such extreme events are set to get much worse as warming continues.

Over the coming years, we will see extreme fire weather like that of today become increasingly frequent, and increasingly dangerous, and these events will occur in new areas that have never previously experienced such risk.

As more frequent and even concurrent extreme events occur, fire-fighting resources will become very thin on the ground and firefighters at considerable risk of fatigue. The increasingly extreme conditions firefighters are working in puts their lives in danger.

With climate change, fire prevention also becomes much more difficult as the ‘safe’ seasons for controlled burns, for example, become much shorter.

Australia needs to accept that climate change is behind the intensity of these unprecedented events. We need to not only adapt fire management strategies to meet the ‘new climate normal’ but also urgently and meaningfully reduce our greenhouse gas pollution in order to limit future climate change.”

Dr Richard Thornton is CEO of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC …

“NATURAL HAZARDS ARE causing more damage and destruction across Australia, and internationally, than ever before. Fire, flood, storm and earthquakes have always shaped Australia, and remain an inevitable part of our country.

Climate change is causing more severe weather, but demographic changes are having an equal impact and deserve just as much of our attention.

Our research shows that many Australians struggle to understand that we live in a country where natural perils exist and that the actions required to increase our safety are sometimes inconvenient and threaten the very things we value.

Everyone in a fire or flood zone has a role and a responsibility, not just the emergency services. If you are in an area that is likely to be affected, you have to make specific decisions and take specific actions.

When we survey communities, it is clear that this notion of shared responsibility doesn’t sit well with some people and even our emergency services struggle with it. What exactly is shared and how much of it? And if the risk is shared, who bears ultimate responsibility?

We need to change and think of new ways
of dealing with bushfires,
floods, cyclones and heatwaves.

The old ways of sharing resources around Australia may not always be sustainable over a long hazards season, so we need to discover better ways to manage all our resources. This is especially relevant with the current bushfires in Queensland and flash flooding in New South Wales.

Next week there could be other natural hazards in other states. Despite advances in technology, people are at the centre of the response, and a great many of these are volunteers from the community. Our evidence shows that those human resources are being stretched with hazard seasons getting longer.”

IMAGE: Queensland Fire and Emergency Services — QFES via Facebook

Summer scorcher on the cards

AUSTRALIA LOOKS SET to experience another angry summer, with the Bureau of Meteorology’s latest outlook indicating the next three months are likely to be hotter than normal.

“Unfortunately, what’s considered ‘normal’ is being turned upside down as a result of climate change,” said the Climate Council’s acting CEO, Dr Martin Rice.

“Climate change is cranking up the intensity of extreme weather events and Australia is particularly vulnerable. We know climate change is making the current drought worse,” he said.

“Many Australians are asking about the link between the catastrophic bushfires currently burning in Queensland and climate change. We know climate change is increasing the incidence of extreme heat and making heatwaves longer and more frequent, leading to a higher bushfire risk in Queensland,” said Dr Rice.

“This creates many challenges for us. We are going to need more resources to fight and manage fires,” said Dr Rice.

Today’s outlook from the Bureau of Meteorology finds the chance of an El Niño forming is 70 percent, roughly triple the normal risk. An El Niño typically brings drier and warmer conditions to eastern Australia.

“Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution levels have been consistently rising for three years, while the Federal Government had failed to roll out any credible climate policy. This needs to change in order to reduce our risk of exposure to extreme weather events” said Dr Rice.

“We still have a window of opportunity to act, but it’s rapidly closing.”

— The Climate Council, Media Release

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