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The truth behind Miranda Devine's attack on the Greens

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Miranda Devine wrote an accusation against the Greens in the Daily Telegraph, blaming them for the intensity of our bushfires (Image by Dan Jensen)

News Corp columnist Miranda Devine has added to the spread of misinformation by falsely blaming the Greens for our bushfire crisis, writes Nick Goldie.

WHAT ARE THE PROSPECTS for a happy new year, as the debate becomes more virulent, the screams of rage more shrill and the deep-seated fear of an uncertain future even more pervasive?

In November 2019, columnist Miranda Devine, through the Sydney Daily Telegraph, gave it as her opinion that ‘greenies are to blame for the power and intensity of NSW’s latest bout of tragic bushfires’.

Many volunteer firefighters, frustrated by the perceived bureaucratisation of the NSW Rural Fire Service, have become members of the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association (VFFA). Sadly, the VFFA has become increasingly the voice of reaction rather than a positive force for reform, when there are genuinely significant issues which need to be addressed, such as volunteer conditions, worsening fire behaviour, even political ineptitude. Instead of dealing with important matters, the VFFA wastes its time and column space in its quarterly magazine, reproducing articles written by malignant lightweights like Miranda Devine.

Ms Devine asserts:

‘…when the inevitable happens they [Greenies] blame climate change. Their aim is to scare people into buying their climate “emergency” hyperbole so that the Government is under pressure to enact suicidal policies which drive electricity prices through the roof.’

And so on and on.

This stuff is so ludicrously out of touch with reality that it scarcely seems worth answering, but it is nevertheless published in a major newspaper and reproduced by the VFFA. Presumably, somebody believes it.

Ms Devine asserts ‘the fact is that the Greens are Marxist ideologues who whip up irrational fear of climate change’ to achieve their ends. I don’t recall the last time that the Greens were in power at a State or Federal level, or anywhere else, so it is hard to imagine how they achieve their subversion. Nor do I recall any occasion on which a Green administration prevented hazard reduction burning or cut off funding to firefighting authorities. ‘For them,’ says Ms Devine, ‘cataclysmic bushfires are good for business’.

Their business is climate change and it is “green ideology” which blocks the removal of fuel loads in national parks and prevents landholders from clearing fire hazards around their homes.

There’s just enough truth in some of this rhetoric for Ms Devine to construct some sort of a case, but one that barely stands up to scrutiny. Few people dispute the need for hazard reduction (HR) burning, not to be confused with defensive back-burning. However, the notion that the Greens have prevented HR burning is largely fantasy.

The underlying fact is that fire seasons in both the northern and southern hemispheres have become longer, hotter and dryer, with the window of opportunity to carry out HR programs becoming progressively narrower. (See, for example, ‘Megafire’, Michael Kodas, 2017. The U.S. fire season has expanded by 78 days per year.)

At the same time, as scientific observation and measurement has shown, vegetation has dried out, winds have become stronger and droughts more prevalent. Pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb) events have become more frequent.

An issue which is important in the United States and in Australia is WUI — the Wildland-Urban Interface. More people are living and building in more “wilderness” areas and more people are carrying out more potentially hazardous WUI activities, such as camping, trail bike riding, shooting and building.

Certain politicians have recently asserted that in this time of bushfire crisis, we should have better manners than to mention climate change. In fact, NSW Nationals Deputy Premier John Barilaro went so far as to declare that anyone who mentioned climate change was a bloody disgrace. Other people, on the contrary, believe that it is a bloody disgrace for Australia to have elected representatives in the year 2020 who deny the global science of human-influenced climate change. What happened to their education?

Ms Devine complains that the Green agenda of ‘destroying the coal industry or forcing us into electric cars’ will not prevent bushfires. This completely misses the point. Of course, individual bushfires, however intense, can’t be directly linked to climate, though they may be directly linked to weather. It is patterns of weather events which make up climate and are caused by climate — these include drought, prevailing winds, cyclone seasons and even floods.

There are those who argue that bushfire prevention is simply a matter of land management. Remove fuel and you remove cataclysmic bushfires; perhaps we should revert to the “cool burns” of pre-European times. These propositions are in themselves true, but they are not the whole truth. Part of land management must involve climate management, which is something that humans have done, probably for the last 10,000 years, the Holocene era. But in the past two centuries, our management of climate has escaped our control and global warming is the result.

As a nation and globally, we need to adopt new strategies of land, climate and ocean management. Ms Devine’s fanciful Green horror stories don’t deserve our attention.

Nick Goldie is a science journalist who lives in rural New South Wales. He is presently finishing a book on Extreme Fire, with mathematician Associate Professor Jason Sharples, UNSW/ADFA (both Nick and Jason are long-term volunteer firefighters), and Rick McRae, A.C.T. Emergency Services.

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