Clear and present danger

Neil Barrett, Castlemaine

Is climate change increasing the risk of bushfires? David Cunningham (‘Twisted science’, Opinions, September 11) doesn’t think so. He even accuses Trevor Scott of using’ junk science’.
My interest piqued, I went straight to the CSIRO website to read that:
Future climate change impacts will be experienced mostly through extreme events… Heatwaves, floods, fires and southern Australian droughts are expected to become more intense and more frequent. Frosts, snow and tropical cyclones are expected to occur less often.
Elsewhere on the CSIRO site I read that:
Australia [is] an area likely to become hotter and drier under climate change, and an increase in fire-weather risk is likely at most sites [in the south east]… including the average number of days when the FFDI (forest fire danger index) is very high or extreme.
This CSIRO article goes on to say that the number of FFDI days could increase by 15 per cent to 70 per cent by 2050, well within the lifetime of our children and grandchildren.
Sure, other factors such as fuel load also play a significant part. But the danger presented by climate change should surely be treated with much more respect than David Cunningham treats it with.
David also argues that Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth ‘proved to be far from the truth’. According to a British judge, it did contain nine errors. These were mainly exaggerations and minor mistakes in what was essentially a political/scientific documentary which was highly praised by climate scientists around the world.
More tellingly, the judge also concluded that the film was ‘broadly accurate’ in its presentation of climate change and was ‘substantially founded upon scientific research and fact …’. Surely it’s this conclusion that is most significant and that makes the film still today a very useful tool for encouraging people to be concerned about the issue.

3 thoughts on “Clear and present danger

  • September 30, 2018 at 11:26 am

    Dear Neil,

    You wrote, “David Cunningham doesn’t think so.”

    I am not alone. There have been three writers to Opinions lately who have given you reasons why climate change is not the culprit behind recent bushfires, nor is it a significant contributor to increased risk. Also you’ve been pointed twice to official statistical data which shows that the frequency and severity of bushfires has decreased in both Australia and the USA.

    You wrote, “He even accuses Trevor Scott of using ‘junk science’.”
    I said that junk science was what Trevor was offering as evidence against the publicly available hard data which he’d been pointed to.

    Judging by the rest of your letter, I assume you’re unaware of the junk science behind Hansen and Gore?
    It’s not inconceivable because it seems there are quite a few people around here who have strong opinions on things they haven’t studied much.

    The 300 word limit on letters to Opinions prevents me from even touching on the tips of the main issues, and it is vast, but it’s worth studying if you have the time. I don’t have time to go into it now either, and I’m going to be overseas for awhile so I can’t discuss it with you in person, but if you’re really interested in testing your assumptions I could do it over email.

    Your words, “CSIRO etc…”
    You seem to be unaware of the distinction between actual evidence on the one hand, and mere speculation on the other hand.

    Empirical evidence would be a sound basis from which to attempt speculation, but speculation is no evidence at all.

    Some of the assumptions on which the CSIRO’s predictions about future frequencies of FFDI days are based, are in themselves unsound and highly arguable.

    Some of their statements are easily misinterpreted, for example their statement, “The frequency and severity of fire weather has increased over recent decades.”
    Does that mean there have been more fires recently?
    No it doesn’t, and no there hasn’t.

    It’s talking about weather, not fire.
    The CSIRO’s definition of “fire weather” includes some things that are hugely significant factors in increasing fire risk, such as wind, and other factors which are only indirectly significant such as ambient temperature.
    So what does the CSIRO actually mean when it makes that statement?
    Has wind increased? Temperature? Rainfall? Other weather factors? Some of the preceding? Or all?
    The group of phenomena under the umbrella term weather includes significant risk factors and insignificant risk factors so the umbrella term weather is not useful in describing fire risk.
    Better to use the more specific terms, wind, rain, etc like they do in the USA.

    Anyway, anything using the words, “could be”, “is likely to”, “is expected” etc is a big red light indicating it’s not evidence ok?

    You mentioned, “respect”.
    It seems to me that I treat it with at least as much respect as you do, and probably more, because I take the trouble to learn more about it and test my assumptions, and try to test the veracity of what I read. (which I note you tried to do when you went to the CSIRO website and I commend you for making the effort)

    Regarding Al Gore’s first movie, I don’t know where you’re getting your info from but it seems deceptively apologetic and actually untrue.

    The judge ruled that the “apocalyptic vision” presented in the film was politically partisan and thus not an impartial scientific analysis of climate change.
    It is, he ruled, a “political film”.
    The synopsis which was used to promote the film in 2006 warned, “we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced.”
    Hmmm… didn’t happen.
    From the Telegraph:
    “The judge declined to ban the Academy Award-winning film from British schools, but ruled that it can only be shown with guidance notes to prevent political indoctrination.”
    The judge was ruling on whether the film should be allowed in schools. He is not equipped to make fine judgements about the scientific basis of the claims made.
    He found nine errors, elsewhere 35 errors were published.
    A spokeswoman for Gore bragged, “only nine errors but there were thousands of scientific facts in the movie”.
    Another lie! Thousands? Even if it was only 2 thousand in the 95 minute movie, that’s one fact every 3 seconds for the whole duration. A claim as preposterous as the claims made in the movie.

  • September 30, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    Many parts of Victoria and the south eastern states have recorded record low rainfall for September.

    This is easily checked on the BOM website.

    The Al Gore film was made in 2006, half a generation ago.

    • October 1, 2018 at 8:59 pm

      3 statements which are each separately correct. What is your point?


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