PETER SAINSBURY. Emission reduction or fuel reduction

Jan 27, 2020

The last month has clearly demonstrated to all thinking Australians that Scotty-from-Marketing may well know how to run a brilliant election campaign that against all predictions saved the Coalition from an absolute drubbing (while basically maintaining the political status quo), but that he has no vision for Australia beyond keeping the masses as docile as possible .

He  knows little about policy development, crisis management, or demonstrating empathy or even basic respect for others. Mungo McCallum nailed all this in a delightful contribution to P&I earlier this week.

I’m not sure whether  highlighting fuel reduction  is a diversionary tactic. I think that gives more credit to the strategic thinking capacity of the PM than he warrants. I think it far more likely that he is simply ignorant about climate change in general and as far as this particular issue is concerned the relationship between firstly hazard reduction and bush fires and secondly climate change and bush fires.

Regarding hazard reduction, multiple experts on bush fires (e.g. scientists who have researched the issue, fire fighters, people experienced in the management of bushland, etc.) have written extensively in recent weeks about the appropriate uses and also the limitations of hazard reduction. And while there is always room for learning and improved practices when it comes to managing nature and ensuring that both ecosystems and humans can thrive, it seems very obvious that, despite the rantings of shock jocks and anonymous trolls, a failure of hazard reduction has not been a major contributor to the recent catastrophic fires.

The major causes have been drying of vegetation and the soil by a prolonged drought and extremely high temperatures, both associated with changing weather patterns caused by global warming, one cause of which is, shock horror, long term changes to land use (e.g. deforestation, land clearing and intensive agriculture) both in Australia and globally. More land clearing, which the PM seems to fancy as a solution to bush fires, is simply doing more of the same that has created the problem in the first place. It also has been noted by those who know something about the topic that more hazard reduction burning is not necessarily better at all: inappropriately applied, ‘hazard reduction’ can increase the chance of a bush fire spreading.

Regarding the relationship between climate change and bush fires, ScoMo’s understanding of the causal chain seems to be that leftie-greenie-induced inadequate hazard reduction burning creates the conditions in which mad or bad pyromaniacs or attention seekers start bushfires which get out of control and cause global warming. While changed land use is a significant cause of global warming, by far the principal cause is, as the scientific evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates and as most people now recognise, the burning of fossil fuels.

Why does the PM not accept this? There are a limited number of explanations for the PM’s position: 1) he is ignorant of the science – I’m sure there’s lots of science I am ignorant about but I am not PM, I am not responsible for the security of the nation and I do not have ready access to the very best experts who would be only too willing to update me on the science, in language even the PM and I could understand. If this is the explanation, Morrison is not only ignorant, he is also incompetent; 2) he accepts the science on causation but rejects for whatever reason, although his religious beliefs may well play a role, the need to take urgent appropriate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Again ignorance and incompetence, possibly augmented by blind faith, go hand in hand here; 3) he accepts the climate change science and the need to take meaningful action but is scared he might be dismissed from yet another job if he tries to do anything useful. Self-interest, cowardice and incompetence (again) spring to mind as possibly relevant factors here; 4) whatever his level of knowledge of the relevant science, he is completely beholden to powerful vested interests in, most directly of relevance here, the fossil fuel industry and the media, and more generally global capital, made manifest through personal contacts and monopolistic multinational corporations.

Bearing in mind the easy access of corporate interests to Morrison and his ministers, the generosity of political donations from the fossil fuel industry to the Coalition (and their reluctance to do anything to stop this), and the abundance of staff in the PM’s and his ministers’ offices who have worked in the fossil fuel industry, this seems likely at least in part as an explanation of the PM’s position.

The PM’s false choice between emissions reduction and fuel reduction and his preference for fuel reduction is akin to placing a bucket with a hole in it under a leak in the ceiling to protect the carpet. Sure, you can plug the hole with a piece of chewing gum (although the PM would probably need to stop walking while he impregnated it with saliva) but if you don’t find and correct the cause of the leak the bucket will soon fill with water and overflow onto the carpet.

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