These fires are certainly not a function of climate change!

20131028-090459.jpg It was a bold statement by Prime Minister Abbott “These fires are certainly not a function of climate change – they’re just a function of life in Australia”. Especially when the IPCC are not allowed to use the word certainty and can only state the 99-100% is ‘virtually certain’.

I have been overseas for work for the last 2 weeks and the bush fires in Sydney and New South Wales have made it on the national news in the UK, China and Singapore. I have unfortunately missed the local coverage of the continued political debate about climate change, about whether it has caused the recent bush fires and so have been reading up over the weekend.

The Conversation has had some good stories and articles. Especially about the quote from Abbott, they went on to say that “The term “certainly” is not included in their (IPCC) terminology. By suggesting certainty where it doesn’t exist, the PM appears disconnected from the relevant science”.

I would agree with that. If I was a climate change sceptic I still don’t think I could say that the fires ‘are certainly not a function of climate change’. Any good lawyer would tell you never to use the word ‘certainly’ just in case you aren’t right. So if the fires are later proven to be caused by the effects of climate change does that mean that Abbot and his Government will be calpable? Interesting when you think about the current news on pink bats. Or am I taking it too far? Not sure, I can’t be certain.

The Conversation summarises that “We know that bushfires can only occur where and when the following four limiting factors are overcome:
1. There must be at least some ground cover of plant material or fuel.
2. Fuel must be dry enough to burn.
3. There must be an ignition.
4. Weather conditions must be favourable for the fire to propagate across the landscape.”

And that “In conclusion, we can be virtually certain that fire activity in Australia will respond if climate change were to affect one or more of the mentioned switches. We can also be virtually certain that altered fire regimes will have potentially far-reaching implications for life in Australia.”

So I can’t be certain that these fires are not a function of climate change but I also can’t be certain that they aren’t.

But when senior Victorian Fire Fighter says “You do not find many climate change sceptics on the end of [fire] hoses anymore… They are dealing with increasing numbers of fires, increasing rainfall events, increasing storm events”, then you know that something is going on.

The image above is from the Google crisis map – currently covering bush fires in NSW, with hopes to include more crises in the future.

2 Comments on “These fires are certainly not a function of climate change!”

  1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. In politics it seems that arguments have to be completely polarised. The idea of something being “likely” or “virtually certain” doesn’t compute! Maybe it is likened to indecision which could be considered a weakness (always exploited to maximum effect, particularly with this government). The gamble that Abbott could possibly be taking is around his belief that it’s unlikely that anyone will be able to prove him wrong with absolute certainty… or am I being too cynical!

  2. Hi Colin. Thanks for the comment. The question that is always in my head is what is his answer when his daughters ask him what he thinks about climate change behind the closed doors of his house?

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