Why criticism over the Australian bushfires might be misplaced

(Eco Business, 13 Jan 2020) Many commentators have responded to Australia’s severe bushfire season by sounding the alarm about global warming. But while climate volatility certainly poses a threat to Australia, the more immediate cause of this year’s massive fires is poor land and forest management.

Owing to the smoke from nearby wildfires, Canberra this month has had the world’s worst air-quality index, with readings 20 times above the official hazardous threshold. The city also recently experienced its hottest day on record (111°F/44°C).

Meanwhile, Delhi had its coldest December day on record. Both are evidence of growing climate volatility, confirming the reality of global warming.

In assigning blame for the blackened skies and burning landscapes of Australia’s southern summer, however, some critics — including the editorial board of the Financial Times — have lazily pointed a finger at climate denialism. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been criticised vehemently not just for his slowness to help fire-ravaged communities, but also for attempting to enjoy a family vacation (since aborted) in Hawaii.

Anger on the part of bushfire victims — including a woman who refused to shake Morrison’s hand — is understandable. But much of the broader criticism is misplaced, and reveals a willful ignorance of Australia’s long history with bushfires.

Those who have rushed to condemn Morrison’s government have downplayed the failings of state governments, some of which are alleged to have prioritised the transition to renewable energy over prudent forest-management practices.

Moreover, the armchair critics have chosen to disregard the long lead times between greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions and climate change, and to overstate what we know about the links between global warming and specific weather events.

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Eco Business, 13 Jan 2020: Why criticism over the Australian bushfires might be misplaced