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Feb 12, 2009

The Australian’s fuel reduction obsession

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

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.

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4 thoughts on “The Australian’s fuel reduction obsession

  1. Tom McLoughlin

    This is the same modus operandi as the allies of the logging industry in Jan 1994 led by Colin Dorber then of the NSW Forest Products Association attacking a submission by The Wilderness Society authored by my colleague Rod Knight. That’s a fact of political history. It was picked up by all the commercial tv channels. I was left to carry the can. It was also proven WRONG over the weeks and months of inquiries and politics to follow. My guess it will again. Devine also.

    Here is a eye witness comment from 10 Feb 2009

    “David Packham may be right that fuel levels contributed to ferocity of the fires on Saturday, but he is wrong in claiming it was the main factor. I know Kinglake West well. Kinglake West is (or was) a mix of small farms and open bushland, most of which had recently been burned off. We will have to wait for the Royal Commission to report but I can tell you now that fuel load was not an issue with the destruction of Kinglake West. What killed people was the speed of the firestorm. We’ve had terrible fires before, but nothing like this. Fires in the past were deadly because people were ill-prepared or there was no infrastructure to fight them. This time people were prepared but were overwhelmed by the speed and size of this fire. This really was something new.

    I have to say that David’s article (published in The Australian) attacking the fire service and blaming the fire on ‘academics’ is sickening, but what truly shocked me were the comments posted to his article. They are ghastly. There is no acknowledgment that climate change was a factor and an almost frantic, desperate desire to blame the Greenies. “

  2. Allan

    As a non-specialist in the dynamics of bushfires, what I wonder when I read the debate on fuel reduction burning is what the empirical evidence says. Neither side of the debate seems to provide any! For example, is there a forest management regime elsewhere in the world that conforms with the prescriptions of David Packham, and if so how successful has it been in reducing the frequency extent or severity of fires?

  3. Dave Liberts

    Rundle, you’re not paying attention. Facts have no place in this particular debate.

  4. cheyne

    And again today in the SMH….

    How sad to see so many comments in agreement, though what else are they to do while sipping their lattes.