27 October 2013

Connecting the dots can turn the table on denialist prime minister

by David Spratt, first published at The Guardian and RenewEconomy

It's hard to imagine that one tweet from Australian Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt could change the terms of the climate change policy debate in Australia. But it has.

View PDF of how the story evolved
On 17 October, as fierce, out-of-season bush fires erupted around Sydney and destroyed 200 houses after the hottest year on record in Australia, Bandt tweeted that Australia would experience more terrible climate impacts if newly-elected conservative prime minister Tony Abbott got his way and abandoned the carbon pricing and renewable energy legislation enacted by the Labor government in 2010.

The previous day, Bandt had written in The Guardian that: "Faced with the biggest ever threat to Australia's way of life (bush fires), Tony Abbott is failing in the first duty of a prime minister which is to protect the Australian people." This struck a chord with many people and launched a long overdue, but until now suppressed, public discussion about the relationship between a hotter and more extreme climate and worsening disasters.

24 October 2013

Climate change and fire risk: what scientists say

Prime minister Tony Abbott says that "fire is a part of the Australian experience" and not linked to climate change. Here's what the peer-reviewed scientific research says.

Bushfire weather in SE Australia: Recent trends and projected climate change impacts

Lucas, C., K. Hennessy, G Mills and J. Bathols (2007), "Bushfire weather in SE Australia: Recent trends and projected climate change impacts", Bushfire CRC, Australian Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, Melbourne.

The number of ‘very high’ fire danger days generally increases 2-13% by 2020 for the low scenarios and 10-30% for the high scenarios (Table E1). By 2050, the range is much broader, generally 5-23% for the low scenarios and 20-100% for the high scenarios. The number of ‘extreme’ fire danger days generally increases 5-25% by 2020 for the low scenarios and 15-65% for the high scenarios (Table E1). By 2050, the increases are generally 10-50% for the low scenarios and 100-300% for the high scenarios.

22 October 2013

Fire and climate change: don't expect a smooth ride

By Roger Jones, Victoria University, via The Conversation

With fires still burning across New South Wales, it’s time to have a look at the role climate change might have played. Are the conditions we’re seeing natural variation, or part of a long term trend?

In fact, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Has bushfire risk increased due to climate change?

In research I did with colleagues earlier this year we looked at the Fire Danger Index calculated by the Bureau of Meteorology, and compared how it changed compared to temperature over time in Victoria.

19 October 2013

Is the Abbott government fiddling while NSW burns?

" …it is precisely during extreme weather events that journalists have the best opportunity to communicate the reality of climate change… As the events increase in number and scale, they will advance so far into the daily lives of Australians that social and psychological issues will emerge — that will touch us so personally and deeply — as to require narrative symbolisation. For even the most tabloid journalism to ignore these issues when people are desperately searching for an explanation will not be possible."

By David Holmes, Monash University, via The Conversation

Watch Adam Bandt on ABC News24
For the Abbott government, it has emerged that talking about climate change during a “natural” disaster is taboo. Of course, how “natural” the NSW fires actually are is the issue here, as we witness over 100 separate fires across NSW. These fires are the likes of which have never been seen in the month of October anywhere in Australia, let alone this close to population centres.

Yesterday Greens MP Adam Bandt posted the following on Twitter that drew several reactions from LNP politicians:
Tony Abbott’s plan means more bushfires for Australia and more pics like this of Sydney.

17 October 2013

Confused about the new IPCC's carbon budget?
So am I.

by David Spratt

When the IPCC's new report on the physical basis of climate change was released in late September, media attention focused on a conclusion from the Summary for Policymakers that the world had emitted just over half of the allowable emissions if global warming is to be kept to 2 degrees Celsius (2°C) of warming.

Unfortunately, because many people think if you have a budget you should spend every last dollar, the "carbon budget" message could be interpreted as saying there is plenty of budget left to spend. The respected climate researcher Ken Caldeira told Climate Progress that the carbon budget concept is dangerous for two reasons:
There are no such things as an “allowable carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.” There are only “damaging CO2 emissions” or “dangerous CO2 emissions.” Every CO2 emission causes additional damage and creates additional risk. Causing additional damage and creating additional risk with our CO2 emissions should not be allowed.
If you look at how our politicians operate, if you tell them you have a budget of XYZ, they will spend XYZ. Politicians will reason: “If we’re not over budget, what’s to stop us to spending? Let the guys down the road deal with it when the budget has been exceeded.” The CO2 emissions budget framing is a recipe for delaying concrete action now.