Back to bushfires again….

Not literally today, which here in The Gong is particularly wet as we are experiencing the effects of the dreaded east coast low.

But you will recall that for almost six months from spring through summer the theme was bushfires. Here are just two pictures from that time, the first from November 2019, the second from December 2019.

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Harrington NSW

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Dargan, near Lithgow NSW  — part of the Gospers Mountain fire

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I raise all this because the ABC has an amazing online feature and set of documentary reports called Anatomy of a ‘mega-blaze’.

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That tree, deep in wild Wollemi National Park, was where it all began — struck by lightning, one strike out of 19.068 during a single spring storm.

“By the end of the Black Summer, the Gospers Mountain blaze accounted for half of the mega-blaze at 512,142ha, the Kerry Ridge blaze 323,900ha, the Little L Complex 169,834, the Three Mile fire 45,944ha, and the Grose Valley fire 19,920ha….”

Just before Christmas 2019:

With catastrophic conditions again forecast for December 21, Premier Berejiklian declared a second State of Emergency.

Thousands of firefighters were now in the field, as strike teams from interstate and overseas joined the battle.

“The first thing you experience is the ember attack,” Mr Burley said.

“It’s like a snowstorm but embers, and then the colour of the sky turns to orange, then dark.

“It’s like sitting in front of an oven.”

Volunteer firefighter Stacey Kent was with her RFS team on the fire’s southern flank, trying to stop it crossing the Hawkesbury River and making a run into Sydney’s northern suburbs.

“Just walls of flame, and like, as far as you could see, from the treetops to the sky was just orange, no matter where you looked,” she said.

“If it crossed the river, it was going to be catastrophic.”

By then, emergency management officials at all levels of government were planning for the worst.

The ABC can reveal extensive preparations were made to evacuate thousands of residents from Sydney’s Hornsby and Hills districts….

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We became accustomed but not inured to signs like that over spring (that one is from spring!) and summer 2019-2020.  I had several relatives affected by this and other blazes — yes, there were other mega-blazes — including my cousin Ray Christison of Lithgow who wrote at the time:

“Big day for an old bloke. Thanks for everyone’s thoughts and support. I just want to clarify something. I’m not in the RFS and was working yesterday as a museum volunteer. I have considered joining the RFS over the years but know I would be allocated to a communications role.”

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So do visit that latest ABC offering. I conclude with poet and Blue Mountains resident Mark Roberts who in commending the ABC site on Facebook said:

Remember how Andrew Bolt, Craig Kelly and the hordes of other experts claimed there was an army of arsonists moving across the country lighting magazines as a political act to prove Climate Change? The Gosper’s Mountain fire was started by lightning strike 19,068 in a single storm. Later strikes expanded the fire. I expect the apologies are already being written.

Further to Mark’s comment see Media Watch 3 February 2020.

ROWAN DEAN: Unprecedented bushfires? Unprecedented drought? No, this Australian summer has been the summer of unprecedented stupidity. Never before have we had to suffer such idiocy in public debate and political commentary, nationally and internationally, in relation to two of the most common and predictable occurrences in Australia’s climate cycle, drought and bushfires.  

– Outsiders, Sky News, 26 January, 2020

Hello, I’m Paul Barry, welcome to Media Watch.

And welcome to Groundhog Day, where the loudest voices at News Corp are adamant that the summer’s terrifying bushfires have nothing to do with climate change.

Or, if they have, there’s nothing we can do about it.

And, as always, welcome back to News Corp’s team of hand-picked, highly-paid columnists and TV hosts on Sky, who are leading the chorus:

PETA CREDLIN: So, let me deal with the issue head on. Does climate change cause these fires? No.

– Credlin, Sky News, 20 January, 2020

CHRIS KENNY: … So that’s the key. The drought. And if drought can’t be blamed on climate change you can’t blame the fires on climate change, especially when so many are deliberately lit …

– The Kenny Report, Sky News, 11 December, 2019

ALAN JONES: What’s burning in Victoria are eucalypts. What’s burning in South Australia are eucalypts … When are we going to wake up and stop using this as an excuse to justify the climate change hoax?

– Richo & Jones, Sky News, 29 January, 2019

Passionate denial that the bushfires should make us act on climate change runs right across the Murdoch media in this country reaching an audience of millions….

Yes, Alan Jones, that famous expert on bushfires and climate change, has now left radio 2GB and hawks his voice on Sky In The Dark where he displays his credentials on epidemiology and public health — all backed  by the same rigorous study. Not bad for a fellow BA Dip Ed! I envy him the depth and confidence he brings to those calm and rational conclusions on such knotty matters, as follows.

I have spared you the voice.

The longer politicians fail to mention the vast majority of all coronavirus cases are mild and over 99 per cent of people will recover, the longer “they will deserve the contempt that the public feels towards them” says Sky News host Alan Jones.

Mr Jones said the public are “ropeable and rightly so” over the handling of this virus by our political leaders. He said “Dodgy Dan” won’t answer the questions the public wants answers to.

Neither the Victorian Premier, nor NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, will tell the public “how many of these cases are mild and how many are critical”.

Mr Jones said the best way moving forwards is for Dan Andrews to “resign today,” but instead more fear is being spruiked, this time in the form of the wearing of face masks in the state.

He also added residents in New South Wales are being told to be on “high alert” by Premier Berejiklian. “Well I will tell you who is on high alert … the voter”.

Such ineffable wisdom! Oh bow down, people, before the Mighty Al! Rarely has so little been said so loudly to such maleficent effect!  He really is a master! Of crap….

Had an Alan Jones attack on FB last night…

No, not directly — but there I was watching YouTube music videos, not having the stomach to watch the undoubtedly excellent Four Corners last night — too depressing, I decided — when a “recommended” video attracted my attention: Alan Jones’s latest spray on Sky In The Dark.  Now Alan hasn’t been doing all that well. Probably explains why Sky are trawling YouTube.

Week one of Alan Jones’ new life as a Sky after dark talking head. So how did he go? Well, it wasn’t encouraging — from the strong opening night audience of 109,000 on Monday it was a slide to just 57,000 on Thursday.

Now some might argue that was low because the AFL and NRL games were underway on Fox Footy and Fox League. Paul Murray’s audience (after Jones) also fell sharply — to 66,000 on Thursday night from 94,000 on Monday. Sky will blame the footy for fall, but the channel’s management programmed Jones up against the start of the football, knowing that those codes and Jones share similar demographics — middle aged to elderly white men and the occasional women who are angry. If Jones and Murray had really rusted-on viewers (as we have been led to believe), the falls wouldn’t have been so big….

I’ll come back to Paul Murray later.  Oh and I won’t bother showing Alan’s segment — seek it out yourself if you must. I will however quote my FB spray.

I see (but will not display his idiocy) that Alan Jones, now on Sky In The Dark, has graduated from expertise in climate change to confident pronouncements on the uselessness of masks in limiting the spread of COVID-19. Says he has read medical sources. Wow. I have too. They tend not to support Alan Jones.

My cousin Julie, being an actual doctor (PhD and medical) researching in the public health area, has read even more. Certainly more than Alan Jones. Her latest post here was on how you should treat your mask — obviously endorsing their usefulness when properly used.

Jones is famous for talking a lot. I find his voice rather like chalk scraping on a blackboard — but that of course is subjective.

He has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Queensland, and completed a one-year teaching diploma at Worcester College, Oxford. He did win a Blue there for Tennis. (– Wikipedia) All of which makes him a great climate scientist and shrewd epidemiologist. Obviously knowing more than, to take but one of many possible examples, Raina MacIntyre.

Why on earth anyone would even listen to Jones is beyond me. His thesis, of course: “The freedoms of Australians ‘are being stolen on a false premise’ ” His loyal followers include this guy: “The Nazis made Jews wear yellow stars and also had the military manning checkpoints….”

I despair sometimes. Alan, shut the f*ck up!

Raina MacIntyre has said:

…the bottom line is no intervention gives you 100% protection, you have to use them in combination to reduce the risk, and until the time that we can vaccinate people, you really have to use these interventions in combination. And when you are out and about, you can’t always predict when you can social distance and when you can’t. There could be factors outside of your control where someone comes up right in your face and you weren’t expecting it, so given that unpredictability when you’re out and about, that also makes sense to use both the physical distancing and the masks.

Norman Swan: You and I talked a few weeks ago about the masks reducing the risk by about 60%. Does that bear out in the studies that this Lancet paper brought together?

Raina MacIntyre: Yes, so the masks reduce the risk by 67% in this study….

Raina MacIntyre: The debate and discussion around the use of masks is not driven by evidence, it’s driven by other issues, ideology and beliefs and issues that have not got anything to do with the scientific evidence, that’s all I can say.

Quoting there from Face masks, physical distancing drastically reduce coronavirus risk.

And I might add what my cousin Julie had to say in her FB post yesterday:

Social distancing is still most important (equivalent of road design and rules for car safety); Hygiene (hand-washing & cough etiquette) is the next most important (equivalent of a well built car driven properly) adding masks is like adding an airbag- it’s a last line of defence if things go wrong, it doesn’t make it safe to drive backwards down a freeway. It doesn’t make you invincible.

ALWAYS wash/sanitise your hands immediately after touching/adjusting/replacing your mask.

And please, please, please don’t snitch them from hospitals, doctors surgeries etc remember if our health staff are sick, dead or in quarantine they can’t save you or your loved ones.

PS yes, we did ‘change our minds’ on masks. Not because the facts changed but because it turns out Aussies are not good at following the rules when nobody’s looking and supply chains are better than at the start of 2020 as well as we now know more about the sneak factor of COVID.

Julie really is a highly qualified scientist in the relevant public health area.  I have meanwhile done my research and found, unsurprisingly, that NONE of the pundits on Sky In The Dark has any scientific qualification of any kind — and some, like Andrew Bolt, didn’t even make it through a BA. On the other hand are people like Julie and Professor Raina MacIntyre. Whose word weighs most, do you think? This is not argumentum ad hominem — it is simply asking “Would you buy a used car from that person?” Common sense caution. Oh, check out Raina MacIntyre’s CV. And read Victorians, and anyone else at risk, should now be wearing face masks. Here’s how to make one (updated 19 July). Watch:

Sadly though many echo this anonymous comment I found on The Blot Report (do check that site out!)

All these doctors, nurses, virologists, immunologists and epidemiologists keep saying Covid-19 is dangerous, but all these people who barely passed science in high school keep saying it’s not. It’s so hard to know who to believe any more.

Anonymous

Well, not really! People who know what they are talking about as against ideological warriors who REALLY don’t? Not a hard choice at all.

That brings me back to Paul Murray, who actually can be quite personable even if he seems most of the time to be a propaganda vehicle for the hard right of the Liberal Party. But he stepped out of the Sky line the other day — and aside from the fact that I pretty much agree with what he says, I recommend going on YouTube to sample the howls of hate that he brought on his head! And to be fair: that testing is a really good idea is a bipartisan position — hardly radical anarchist leftie! — supported by just about every leader from ScoMo and Albo down.

One example: “If it so contagious why such a ridiculous test Why are they breaking people’s Blood Brain Barrier They are infecting and killing people intenionally Why should we believe the media or the government You are all bought.” AAARRRGGGHHH!!!!!

Thank God for paywalls — saving you from reading Piers Akerman

Yesterday I bought the Sunday Telegraph. There were two featured opinion pieces about climate change/bushfires, one by Peta Credlin, the other by that old climate change recalcitrant Piers Akerman — I say old, but hard to believe he is actually seven years younger than I am — not that this is all that relevant. What is relevant is that he is no more a climate scientist, or any kind of scientist, than I am — or Peta Credlin, or Greta Thunberg if it comes to that. As you might expect the two opinion pieces were in beautiful harmony. I should add that there were some substantive news pieces in the same paper on the effects of the bushfires.

Akerman begins — I cut the article out — by slamming David Haslingden, calling him a “global warmist”, for daring to suggest in The Australian of all places that “The human race is burning far too many fossil fuels and has for a very long time. As a result of this and other human activities we have increased average global temperature by 0.8C from pre-industrial levels. The extreme weather events we are seeing all over the world are the direct result.”

Well, isn’t that perfectly reasonable? I hear you cry. Not to our Mr Akerman. After informing us that Haslingden, though chairman of the Australian Geographic Society, is not a scientist — a factor he, Piers, Peta and I all share — he goes on to crow: “Well, what’s simple for Mr Haslingden and his noisy cohorts is not so straightforward to scientists who actually study the stuff.” Piers, of course, is never noisy, but he is a master cherry-picker, especially perhaps of scientific articles he hasn’t really read and very likely would not understand. Nor does he grasp what “certainty” means in scientific circles. See for your own edification and as background How reliable are climate models?

The three zingers Piers hangs his case on are a report from the Tyndall Centre, the case of the signs in Glacier National Park, Montana, and a highly technical paper called “Propagation of Error and the Reliability of Global Air Temperature Projections.” That last one is a tad beyond me, I’m afraid, and also beyond Piers, I suspect. He extracts one sentence from it: “The unavoidable conclusion is that anthropogenic air temperature signal cannot have been, nor presently can be, evidenced in climate observables.”

I strongly suspect Piers read about this article on that notorious blog Watt’s Up With That. Be that as it may,  you, I and Piers can all read the original here. UPDATE: Clearly Piers really is relying not on the original paper but on this guest post on — you guessed it!– What’s Up With That.

As I said, it’s a bit much for me, but there is a giveaway at the end: “This article is dedicated to the memory of Prof. Robert ‘Bob’ Carter; a fine scientist and a wonderful guy. The author thanks a climate physicist who prefers anonymity, for freely providing the A-Train annual average TCF data sets as well as the CMIP3 and CMIP5 climate model annual average TCF simulations. The author also thanks Prof. Christopher Essex, University of Western Ontario, for helpful conversations.” You will find a rather different view of Robert Carter here. There you will find a series of misleading claims made by said Bob Carter.

You might also compare New evidence on the reliability of climate modeling.

Now those glaciers — in a way an amusing story.

Montana Glacier National Park Mountains Cracker Lake

Last week, Glacier National Park announced that it will be changing signs warning that its signature glaciers would disappear by 2020. The park says the signs, put in more than a decade ago, were based on the best available predictions at the time.

Montana Public Radio’s Aaron Bolton spoke about what changed with Caitlyn Florentine, a research physical scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center….

Caitlyn Florentine  In 2003 a study was published that considered how the landscape would change both in terms of glacier evolution as well as vegetation change. And that 2003 study showed that one of the glaciers in Glacier National Park would entirely disappear by 2030. And then as time went on, more observations unique to Glacier National Park were collected. So more measurements were made. You know, more scientists started to scrutinize. And as I mentioned, make more observations….

Bolton How should the average person be thinking about predictions on climate change, like when glaciers melt? I mean, is it fair to have this expectation that it’s going to be correct most of the time, when in fact, it’s a prediction based on the best available science and data that you guys can get a hold of?

Florentine Yeah, absolutely. When a prediction is based on the best available science, then I think it is. I mean, well, even then, it’s a personal call, right, where you put your faith. But, you know, I think also the level of scrutiny and faith is going to vary, whether you’re somebody walking through a visitor center in a national park versus whether you’re the mayor of Miami making decisions about how the city is run and how city planning happens; or if you’re a congressperson deciding how money will be allocated based on some other, you know, consideration of where water mass is located.

But I can tell you with a straight face and with confidence that there is, the people that I interact with professionally are earnestly dedicated to using science to connect — both expose and connect — all of us to, you know, as capital ‘t’ truth as we can get. And it’s an imperfect process. But the whole process of peer review is that things are honestly poked and prodded and analyzed many different ways, and still seems to be true. That’s the information to be trusted in….

Now guess where Piers read about that? Yes, Watt’s Up With That 7 June 2019! A picture is beginning to emerge of the quality of Piers Akerman’s scientific research! But do check out National Geographic.

And on Piers’s favourite blog. this is probably worth following up.

I am not a climate scientist, but a professional and active scientist who teaches and carries out research at a university in the UK. The views I express here are my own and not those of my employer.

This blog used to be known as WottsUpWithThatBlog, which was chosen to indicate that a goal was to address climate science claims made on Anthony Watts’s Watts Up With That (WUWT) site. I say “address” because the goal wasn’t to simply refute what was said on WUWT. It was also to acknowledge contributions there that added positively to the discussions around climate science – didn’t happen often, sadly.

I did, however, eventually realise that there wasn’t much merit in continuing to mainly address claims made on WUWT, so decided to change the name of the blog and to change the focus somewhat.  Hat Tip to BBD for the idea.  ..and then there’s physics is an appropriate response (in my opinion, at least) to those who try to convince you that there are problems with climate science because of – for example – the climategate emails, or because some scientists are advocating for action.

Finally, the Tyndall Centre. You can download a pdf for yourself of their briefing note on wildfires. It is sensible stuff. Did Piers really read it?

Summary. Human-induced climate change promotes the conditions on which wildfires depend, enhancing their likelihood and challenging suppression efforts. Human-induced warming has already led to a global increase in the frequency and severity of fire weather, increasing the risks of wildfire. This signal has emerged from natural variability in many regions, including the western US and Canada, southern Europe, Scandinavia and Amazonia. Human-induced warming is also increasing fire risks in other regions, including Siberia and Australia. Nonetheless, wildfire activity is determined by a range of other factors includ- ing land management and ignition sources, and on the global-scale most datasets indicate a reduction in burned area in recent years, chiefly due to clearing of natural land for agriculture.

Blogging the 2010s — 11 — January 2018

Christos Tsiolkas speaks my mind…

In conversations with friends I have in recent months expressed some disquiet about the series of accusations of sexual harassment, bullying,  and/or sexual assault that have so dominated the media, social and traditional. Part of me keeps harking back to those terrifying scenes in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. You know the ones.

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Today we have the news that Rugby League legend Graham Langlands has died. I did not know him, but a friend here in Wollongong, where Langlands came from, was a lifelong friend. We have been talking over the accusations made against Langlands, as you might expect. It troubles me that so often accusation seems to become fact, even when it is untested. In the case of Langlands it never will be now. Today’s piece by Andrew Webster is, based on what I know from Langlands’s childhood friend, accurate enough.

…many of [Langlands’s friends]  are convinced the St George icon died in his sleep over the weekend at the age of 76 unaware of the serious sexual assault allegations levelled at him in November last year.

Langlands was charged with six counts of indecent treatment of a child under 16 on the Gold Coast, which was related to one alleged event in 1982 between the March 25 and June 30…

Now, the allegations just hang in the air; a sad full stop on his muddled life after football.

Now to Christos Tsiolkas last Saturday. It is a long essay, very much worth reading. An extract:

We don’t suspect that there are reds under the bed any more but maybe we believe that there is a ped, a paedophile, under every third or fourth one. Or if not a paedophile, possibly a white supremacist. In the 21st century these have become our monsters. Of course, our rage and hatred of the child sexual abuser, of the rapist, of the violent racist, all makes sense. I have experienced a glee at watching Harvey Weinstein come undone. I did not know of his sexual crimes but I had hated him for years, because of how he had destroyed careers and reputations in the film industry for decades, and how he had purchased films to never release them so that his own productions would saturate the market and that the labour of love of some poor filmmaker went unseen.

The revealing of the long history of abuse in the Catholic Church has been one of the momentous political moments of the past 25 years. The exposing of sexual harassment across media, business and politics is long overdue…

But I can’t forget the lessons I learnt reading about Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover. I subscribe to a few left-wing news sites that come out of the US and straight after the riots in Charlottesville over the removal of a Confederate statue I read with increasing unease the comments pages, where people gleefully boasted of having found the names of racists who marched in support of retaining the statues, revealed them to employers as white racists, got them sacked from their jobs….

I am nervous of writing this. Of course I am. I don’t want to be seen as excusing harassment or sexual and racist violence. But I think it is fundamental to a functioning and democratic civil society that perpetrators of sexual and racial violence are indicted in the law courts, not on social media. And I don’t think an opinion equates to an action. That is what McCarthy and Hoover believed. I think in that conflation something truly monstrous is born.

I don’t understand those whose righteousness and conviction makes them believe they have the right to play God with people’s lives and reputations. The criminal needs to be held to account and to be punished and also, crucially, to be given the opportunity for rehabilitation. But those so pure that they believe they have the right to toss the first stone, those so certain that they see any doubt as vacillation or compromise, those so furious that they abhor dialogue as co-option and condemn mercy as weakness, I don’t trust them at all. They believe they have the right to play God. I just see them as another form of monster.

Christos Tsiolkas has perfectly captured my own gnawing unease.

A welcome innovation from the ABC

Suits me especially: ABC Radio has released its broadcasts to the digital bands so that they can be heard on digital TV. For me that means a much better reception of Radio National, the old 2BL Sydney, Classic FM and more at the touch of a button that turns my TV into a radio receiver. So with my remote I can switch from TV to radio when, for example, a string of commercials on a free-to-air TV channel are really annoying me. I tested that out last night on the semi-final of Australia’s Got Talent (Channel 7), moving between that and Radio National. Worked a treat.

During the day yesterday I heard a fascinating podcast on RN: Episode 1 of “Snowball”, a tale of a Kiwi family who were victims of an amazing scam centred on a mystery woman from the USA, or Armenia, via London and Paris. Very well told through interviews with family members and others, the show was a reminder of how good oral story-telling still can be. I’ll be looking out for later episodes.

In 2006, Kiwi expat Greg Wards was living it up on his big OE in London. One night he went to a house party and met an American woman.

And this meeting changed his life, and his family’s lives, forever.

Greg’s brother Ollie is a producer for the ABC’s Triple J radio station, but he’s created a brand-new podcast series called Snowball, telling the sordid, mysterious, salacious story.

Meanwhile, how about the Ashes! No, I didn’t sit up and watch it all. One test at The Oval to go, but Australia has won the series now.

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