Victoria’s bushfires:

Colin Prasad writes: Re. “Forget your ‘fire plan’: go while you can” (yesterday, item 2). The Stay or Go in extreme weather events for poorly prepared persons does not appear to work, as when the reality of defending against a speeding fireball hits; by then it’s too late to go. Hence the panicked litter of cars on the road. Dreadful.

There was much talk back on ABC 774 Melbourne yesterday morning about fire bunkers, and I agree that the only way people can be allowed to stay is if they have a safe haven of last resort. Darwin’s Cyclone Tracey led to improved building codes such that all new buildings have at least one room without windows — typically a bathroom, and other measures. Tornado alley in the US requires basements. It’s a tragedy that so many people died; but I hope the inquiry will lead to stricter measures for fire preparation and inspections in the form of better building codes.

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As I understand it, fire bunkers do not need to be bomb shelters. They just need to stop radiant heat and keep in breathable air in for about 15min until the front passes; so you can then leave and put out spot fires on your house.

Cathy Bannister writes: Flee early or fight. This advice had been formulated after the Ash Wednesday fires in an attempt to curtail late evacuation. But the data on which it is based was skewed. The original instructions were to evacuate. No ifs, no buts. Therefore those who would have stayed would be more likely to be experienced in fire fighting, because everyone else would have left. These people would naturally have a high survival rate.

Moreover, there’s a lot of cultural baggage packed into that standard advice that makes it far more dangerous than at face value. If you’re a weak wimp, you can run, but you will forfeit your house. To be a real Aussie, and prove you’re not scared of a few flames, you’ve got stand and fight. After all, if you do that, you’ve got “a good chance” of surviving. A good chance of survival. Great.

Moreover, how exactly are people supposed to know when it is too late to evacuate, unless the warnings come with a time limit? Perhaps it might have worked in the days before 48 degrees centigrade and 0% humidity.

Stephen Magee writes: On Monday, I went for a drive to a scenic lookout in the Blue Mountains. The road was sealed for only a part of the way. On the unsealed parts of the road, the loose surface meant that I had difficulty controlling the car at anything over about 20kph. For most of the route, the road was too narrow for two cars. The only straight stretch was about 100 metres long. Both sides of the road were mainly bush, with an occasional farm. There were also houses, some of which were evidenced only by a roadside sign (i.e., they were set back in the bush).

If a bushfire had been coming through, the road (and, I imagine, at least some of the houses) might have been a death-trap. I don’t travel too far into the bush in Australia, but this habit of building houses in or close to the bush seems to be fairly common.

Once upon a time, I believed that “someone in charge” knew what was going on, so that my view of the threat of bushfire was misplaced. However, my illusions were dispelled about 10 years ago when an estate agent took me to look at a house in a well-known Blue Mountains town. The house was a late-eighties brick number in a paddock with mountain views and lots of bush close to hand.

“What’s that pointy thing over there?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s the chimney of a house that got burned in the big bushfires,” the estate agent replied, quickly adding, “but they don’t happen any more.”

Marty O’Neill writes: It is clear that the bushfires in Victoria have been devastating and much suffering has occurred. But, once again, I get mad about those people who live in “forest” or “bush” areas that refuse to insure their properties and then put out their hands and expect the rest of Australia to replace their houses from them.

They won’t get a penny from me. I would rather donate money to the many victims of land mines across the world.

Joan Croll writes: Those who build their homes in idyllic bush surroundings may have forgotten that the leaves of gum trees are full of flammable oil. Thank goodness we’ve cleared around our house. I have read that casuarinas are fire resistant. I’m just about to try and burn some eucalyptus oil to prove my point.

Russell Clarke writes: Re. “Time to re-evaluate Victoria’s fire safety individualism” (Monday, item 2). Whilst I have no personal experience of country fires, I recently discussed the most recent Grampians fire with a Halls Gap local. In contrast to Lionel Elmore’s assertion that decisions are always left to individuals, this was apparently not the case at Halls Gap.

Residents were forced to evacuate because the threat was so great. Unfortunately, this forced evacuation was not undertaken more widely last weekend as Elmore advocates.

Ted Richards writes: The satellite monitoring of fires (temperature, direction and speed), local over-ride of radio broadcasts and basic underground emergency shelters in back-yards and/or community shelters. Why haven’t we put these measures in place?

Peter Wotton writes: Re. “Rundle: What has Black Saturday taught us?” (Yesterday, item 3). Guy Rundle stated that “For a start, the back burning required to reduce forest fuel is best done under the same conditions — dry and hot — that maximise fire danger in the first place”. Is this correct?

In our area of the North Shore of Sydney, all the fuel reduction fires are usually done in cooler months of the year and when there is a higher level of humidity when the intensity of the fire is more moderate and more easily controlled. If it were to be done under Rundle’s hot and dry conditions, then it would be a most irresponsible thing to do.

In any case “back burns” are used to attempt to control a fire which is already burning — in my understanding these are undertaken for a very different reason than to reduce the amount of fuel.

Joan Staples writes: Re. “Victoria’s bushfires: Don’t mention the c word” (Monday, item 1). I can’t believe you got flack for Clive Hamilton’s article! I devoured it avidly. It was what I had been looking for. I had mourned all day Saturday in Melbourne over what we have done to cause such weather, then there was silence from the media on climate change.

I mourn the deaths, the injuries and the trauma people are suffering. But I also want more than just listing the loss. For me the experience is bound up in also mourning the effects of climate change. It is the very failure to link the bland scientific statistics of climate change to the reality of real events that is part of the problem.

Thanks to Clive and Crikey. Keep up the good work.

Harvey Tarvydas writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Your editorial yesterday attempting to get head around the shear severity of the Victorian tragedy in terms of it was an act of God or Climate Change so what can we do about our belief in these and suffer the intended learn for which God or Climate Change bothered with this wroth.

The gruesome tragic loss of life and the awesome quantum of property loss were caused by fire. This is not new as the length of time multiple government and other authorities have existed to protect the community from harm including severe and tragic harm from fire.

The Royal Commission is meant to explore this tragedy to see if all those authorities did that or not which may explain in a more practical sense the severity of loss of life. After that we can seriously look at our beliefs in God and climate change and whether man can do anything to ameliorate their will and what that might be. More praying, reducing consumption etc.

Maybe it will discovered that more local fire awareness, detailed fire science determinants and behaviour could have let us have that fire if God or climate change willed it without any loss of life. Because climate change is still coming and God is everywhere at once another fire may come tomorrow and so we need to be safe and clever about fire first.

Marion Scyrmgour:

Ari Corcoran writes: Re. “Scrymgour resigns after NT ministry reshuffle” (yesterday, item 17). The news that Marion Scyrmgour is steeping down from the ministry, and the deputy leadership, due to ill health is a tragedy. I only knew her slightly, back in the days when she was working at the Katherine West Health Board. It was one of those 50,000 km a year jobs, battling Territory and Commonwealth bureaucrats on the one hand, and overcoming the casual indifference of racism on what is still a frontier.

Her entry to politics was welcome, but also a worry. Undoubtedly politics is a hard life, but for black politicians in the Territory it has an extra edge of dealing with both sides of the chasm. There are responsibilities to extended family networks as well as to the whole electorates they sign up for.

Stan Tipiloura died in office. Wes Lanhupuy left politics gravely ill, and survived less than a year. Maurice Rioli, once a champion footballer, quit politics ill and unfit, a shadow of his former self. Jack Ah Kit retired well before his time, his health — never much chop for such a big bloke — finally running him out of the political game. And now Ms Scrymgour has had to step back from the fray.

Yes, politicians do die in office; they do retire or leave early. One can’t help wondering if the burdens of office are proportionately much greater than that for their non-Indigenous colleagues.

The American economy:

Julian Gillespie writes: Re. “Dyer’s business wrap: Glee turns to gall on Wall St” (5 February, item 27). Glenn Dyer speculated “if the White House gets its bank and bailout packages out into the open and through the US Congress quickly enough, then the market will go for a big run as investors chase the rebound.”

The question is, how long will it run? Two things occurred to me. First, it must be remembered when TARP first didn’t get passed by the US Congress, the markets rallied — when TARP was finally passed, the markets tanked. So the passing of Obama’s stimulus package could very well do the same — tank the markets.

Secondly, while there has been a lot of hype surrounding the US Treasury’s new bank plan and how it should free up credit for Main St, and while there may be initial rejoicing at Treasury finally getting something, anything out the door, everyone is ignoring that the plan will require that the banks reveal more of their books/balance sheets in order for it to be implemented.

And no matter which valuation formula you barrack for with respect to the crappy assets they have been holding onto that got us into this mess, their balance sheets will look more than toxic, they’ll just simply look very bad.

Everyone will start to realise that the use of the term “toxic” over the past many months was just an exotic euphemism distracting everyone from what will rightly be seen as just triple junk grade investments. So once this late wake-up call for reality to finally settle-in occurs, it will produce negative shock and awe within investing punters holding US bank stocks once they get to actually “see” the guts of the banks’ balance sheets, when Treasury implements whatever they decide to go with.

At the end of the day, and post the Treasury plan announcement, the implementation will reveal how bad US bankers are in the form of the junk grade investment decisions they made and have been hiding on their books, which will rightly see punters offloading bank stocks at the sight of all the blood and guts.

And as we now know, when the banks fall out of favour everyone else takes a slide with them.

Corporate collapse:

Shirley Colless writes: Re. “Where’s the outrage over corporate collapse?” (Yesterday, item 25). Adam Schwab has answered his own question, citing the reason why there has been so little public outrage over the spate of corporate collapses — the virtual anonymity of the perpetrators. In the last round of corporate collapses the perpetrators were way out there in the open, conspicuous social animals, big spenders, flamboyant, easily identified and therefore easy to mark down for public vilification.

Michael Wolff, in The Man Who Owns the News, his exposure of the secret world of Rupert Murdoch, one of the few remaining visible targets, has identified the current strategy of hiding individuality behind a “diffuse decision-making consensus”. All corporate decisions have become the product of a convoluted consensus of a tangled web of corporate consultants, even though the decisions might have been demanded by an individual corporate heavy.

If a member of the poor sucker public can’t identify the dead cat, then there is no bounce.

Wilson Tuckey:

Martyn Smith writes: Re. “Wilson Tuckey … you idiot” (yesterday, item 10). Bernard Keane described Wilson Tuckey nicely: ” Tuckey habitually makes a fool of himself … he’s indulged as a sort of mad uncle who refuses to take his medication and yells garbled rants.” They say that it takes one to know one, and the description could equally apply to Keane himself.

To give Keane his due, he can write. Has anyone ever seen Tuckey write anything, can he hold a pencil?

Anyway, the registration of the Tax-hating gun-lovers Liberal Democratic Party will provide a spiritual home for Wilson if he leaves his present “Liberal Party”. It would be a marriage made in heaven.


Tony Barrell writes: Re. “GetUp’s bogus survey good enough for Grattan” (yesterday, item 9). Andrew Crook doesn’t do his case against the quality of the sample in GetUp’s survey of Labor defection any good by referring to “latte sippers”. I think we’ve weaned Bernard Keane off the slovenly habit, so how come a stickler for accurate labelling chooses it as a signifier, as in his phrase “the kind of inner-urban latte sippers that constitute GetUp’s core membership”.

With the mouldy old implication that anyone pretentious enough to drink anything but International Roast is cannot be trusted.

Climate change:

Matt Hardin writes: Now we are getting somewhere, Tamas Calderwood (yesterday, comments) appears to be admitting that the earth is warming. “I have no idea why the world has recently warmed, just as I have no idea why it warmed in the medieval warm period, the Holocene optimum and countless other warm periods.” Now we need to examine the mechanisms.

The burden of proof for climate change deniers/sceptics (choose a word I am not trying to label people here just ideas) is “flipped” because we can show carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, we can demonstrate that its concentration is increasing in the atmosphere and hence, all other things being equal, we expect the Earth to retain more heat and we expect that increase in heat to lead to changes in climate, ice caps, vegetation etc. The links in the chain of logic are sound.

To argue that the earth is warming but not due to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, then saying “I don’t know why but I refuse to do anything about a probable cause” strikes me as irresponsible. In any event, leaving aside issues of carbon dioxide as a pollutant, the radon and mercury emissions from coal fired power stations, the expense and political instability engendered by oil and the finite nature of natural gas would seem to me sound arguments for moving to renewable fuels and doing it while fossil energy is still cheap enough for us to use in this way.

Stephen Luntz writes: There is no point attempting to argue with Mr Calderwood, but just in case any Crikey reader takes his claims at face value, it is worth noting that he’s wrong again when he claims “the world is at the same temperature right now as in 1983. Explain that Clive.”

In fact the global temperature in January was a warm anomaly of .307 degrees, which is 0.31 degrees above the baseline temperature for January. No month in 1983 was this warm, or even particularly close. Certainly January 1983 was not. February 2009 is likely to be even hotter.

Calderwood’s claims rely on ignoring the data post June 2008. I wonder how long he intends to keep this up.

Ken Lambert writes: Mark Byrne (Monday, comments)  is debating devilish detail, and so am I. Just when we get to a critical point – the veracity of the 1.6W/sq.m heat-up power; Crikey drops the discussion and reverts to the warmist’s favourite whipping boy Tamas Calderwood. Pissweak Crikey. You are looking like just another media organ looking for a catchy headline. And lo and behold, Dr Andrew Glikson; my favourite academic warmist has a piece playing on the horrible tragedy of the Victorian bushfires. Pissweak Crikey.

I am becoming convinced that Crikey wouldn’t know a jewel from a Joule, a wot from a Watt, or its arsehole from a hole in the ground.

Perhaps as a parting gesture, I could offer the enclosed Earth temperature record for the last 12,000 years. This is a compilation of several authorities’ records on the issue with the black wavy line the five year Gaussian moving average of them all. Note the laboured point that I have been making for many rants; namely, there have been at least five peaks in temperature in the last 8000 years of the Holocene up to 2 degrees C warmer than now (NGS Data).

This raw data shows very sharp rises and falls of the components, and an average baseline temperature still higher than now. The NGS data supports this graph. I have found no climate model which has accurately modelled the last 8000 years to reflect these temperature peaks and troughs.

In other words, when climate models accurately duplicate the historical non-AGW noise in the climate record, then we might put credence in their ability to separate out the AGW components in the recent record.

A non-expert look at the last 8000 years (the black line) could only conclude that the temperature rise over the last 500 years is nothing new.

Pedantry, Gerard-style:

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Media briefs: Spectator mangles history… Matthew Newton’s PR rehab…” (Monday, item 25). Guy Rundle ridicules Spectator Australia for not having the “basic nous” to know it was Zhou En-Lai, not Mao, who said of the French Revolution that “it was too early to tell.”

In an attempt to be Crikey‘s super-pedant, I’d like to say that probably no one said it. This quotation is a mere attribution, apparently by the slippery Henry Kissinger, and rather than a casual repudiation of Marxist theory it’s more likely that any actual conversation was lost in translation.

That being said, I am no watcher of the Spectator, nor am I attempting to provoke Gerard Henderson.

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