With the embers still burning, The Australian’s obsessive, one-sided attempt to paint the fires as basically down to evil greenies continues apace.

On Monday the paper misconstrued a Clive Hamilton quote to make it look as if he “loved” bushfires because they proved global warming. On Tuesday, David Packham’s contentious and much-challenged argument over the contribution of forest fuel levels slated “latte conservationists” for the fires. Wednesday, the paper equated those blaming climate change for the fires with Danny Nalliah’s ravings about abortion and today there’s an article which reads like an inter-office memo from a Roger Underwood(!), whose obsessive concern is to protect the forestry industry from any claims against its activities, and to once again deny that even thinking about climate change might be of use.

Here’s some facts:

  1. The pros and cons of burning off are heavily debated among bushfire specialists.
  2. Forest fuel levels have no effect on fire speed, which was the main killer in these fires.
  3. Dryness is a contributor to fire speeds.
  4. Forestry activities may promote dryness by thinning forest canopies.
  5. Climate change may be a factor, and if it is, a different set of strategies will need to be employed than if it isn’t, so it’s worth debating.
  6. Fires of the “Black Saturday” intensity burn through burnt-off bush because they move at crown and canopy level
  7. The burn off levels advocated by green groups, are of the same order as those advocated by those bushfire experts who believe that higher burn-off levels increase risk of fire without giving consequent benefit.
  8. Burn-off levels do not play a role in urban green votes, and they never have.

There may well be an argument for greater burn-off levels, but to make it some unique culprit for these fires is absurd. Even old bruisers like Andrew Bolt and Greg Sheridan have backed off from easy answers — not Chris Mitchell. The same obsessiveness that drives his wars on Manning Clark or “deconstruction” is being deployed about something that actually matters.

If Mitchell was really interested in contributing to minimising deaths in the future, he’d have a genuine and full debate in his pages. Instead he pursues his futile culture wars across the ashen hills.

Peter Fray

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