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Australia’s bushfire dystopia – another entry for the neoliberal report card

I decided that I would run the CFA Franc series in three consecutive parts to maintain continuity and allow me to edit the final manuscript which Pluto Press will use to finalise the book by Fanny Pigeaud and Ndongo Samba Sylla. That meant that my usual Wednesday snippets sort of blog post didn’t happen this week. So, given that I have to travel for several hours today, Thursday becomes Wednesday and I just want to write a few comments about the current crisis in Australia (from the perspective of someone who has done considerable research for the United Firefighters Union here over many years) and also announce the details of the first MMTed Masterclass to be held in central London in February. I will be in Adelaide for the sustainability conference and other commitments over the next few days.

Australia’s crisis

It is hard to feel any further shame about my nationality than I already do given the way that we have allowed successive Australian governments to indefinitely imprison innocent refugees on Pacific Islands over many years now.

These people were seeking shelter from oppression and turmoil, much of it sourced, initially, by the fact that our governments decided to play ball with the disgusting and illegal invasions of various nations (Afghanistan, Iraq, etc) by the Americans.

There is a deep cultural insecurity in Australia where we seem to think that anything American is to be celebrated and prioritised over our own identity and capacities.

That ‘cultural cringe’ cuts across all areas of our lives – political, cultural and educational. We need to grow up.

In the 1960s, our Prime Minister was asked to summarise our foreign policy. He replied “All the way with LBJ”!

In 1999, various media outlets started referring to our Prime Minister (then John Howard) as America’s deputy sheriff in reference to our compliance in joining the US military activity, mostly illegal in the region. Howard never denied or disabused the use of the term.

It was deeply embarrassing for an independent nation but we still went along with the Americans.

Here we were, like a lap dog, joining illegal ventures at the dictates of a crazy character like Bill Clinton and then George W Bush.

We should have lauded our independence and our own confidence to resist the US imperialist culture and the cult of the celebrity.

All very shameful.

But, that level of shame has risen in recent years, as it becomes obvious that our government is leading a climate change denial cabal, which is undermining global efforts to fast track reasonable responses to the crisis.

For some years now, I have been undertaking commissioned research projects for the United Firefighters Union on a range of different issues.

I like to think that as a result of that work I have a fairly good understanding of the sector, its challenges, and the risks that our communities face in this context.

If people in the wider population really understood how vulnerable we have become in terms of protection from fire as a result of government austerity then the sense of alarm would be massive.

We calculate response rate and damage quotients and are able to fairly accurately compute when the damage moves from minor to serious property losses to human losses.

Response rates are driven by the investment in infrastructure and skill development, and numbers of firefighters able to be deployed quickly.

I’ve written before about the myopia of neoliberalism (for example):

1. Mental illness and homelessness – fiscal myopia strikes again (January 5, 2016).

2. British floods demonstrate the myopia of fiscal austerity (January 4, 2016).

3. The myopia of fiscal austerity (June 10, 2015).

4. The myopia of neo-liberalism and the IMF is now evident to all (October 8, 2014).

There are countless examples throughout this neoliberal era where governments, seeking to reduce their net spending, in order to run surpluses without regard to whether that ambition is appropriate given the non-government spending and saving decisions, end up having to increase their net spending by multiples of the amounts initially reduced as a result of the impacts of those initial reductions.

My own research for the UFU over many years has indicated a substantial underfunding of fire services.

The federal government, which issues the currency, always sheets home the blame for any issues like this to the state governments, which according to our Constitution, assume most of the spending responsibilities within our nation.

However, it is obvious that the federal government can always increase grants to the states to fund essential national infrastructure.

So, ultimately, the underfunding of essential services such as fire protection comes down to the failure of our federal government.

Both sides of politics in Australia are obsessed with obtaining a fiscal surplus, even though they have no comprehension of what that goal actually means in terms of its impact on the overall economy.

It is a mindless pursuit of ignorant men and women who are blindly devoted to their own image and maintaining power.

It is now clear, that delegations of experts in the fire sector, including former fire chiefs at the state level, sought extra funding from the federal government in early 2019 on the pretext that Australia was facing a disastrous immediate future as a result of a long-term drought, which had left our forests and grasslands dry and vulnerable.

As I understand it, the Prime Minister refused to meet with them.

It was clear from as early as winter, when the bushfires began, that something unprecedented was ahead. Our bushfire season is typically in February (at the end of summer) not during winter.

The government didn’t respond to those early season bushfires, which then progressively became worse until almost the whole country is ablaze.

Millions of animals have been burned alive. Their habitat destroyed. An unknown but huge number of houses have been destroyed and in some cases towns wiped out.

The whole town has had to seek shelter on the beach and wait to be rescued by Navy vessels as their town burned and ran out of essential items such as food and water.

Here they are waiting:

Millions of hectares of bushland have been destroyed.

It’s estimated that the regrowth might take 100 odd years given how dry our nation has become and how ferocious these fires have been as a result.

The Conservative government keeps saying that Australia always has bushfires. But it’s very hard, for anyone who understands our history, to match the current disaster.

When the bushfires began, the federal government made a huge thing of criticising anyone who dared link the disaster with the climate change debate.

Their agenda has been clearly to deny any climate change and to refuse appropriate policy action.

While I know all the arguments about data trends and the fact that data has only been available for so long, so extrapolating from a limited (hundreds of years) dataset might be fraught, the fact remains that 2019 was a record-breaking year for weather extremes in Australia.

The Bureau of Meteorology reported that (Source):

1. “There has been a clear upward trend in average temperatures over the past century.”

2. “it was the first time an annual anomaly had been two degrees above average.”

3. “It was also Australia’s driest year on record, with only 277.6 millimetres of rain for the country on average, 40 per cent less than the long-term average.”

4. “Dry years are often hot because rain cools things down, but this is the first time a year has been both the hottest and driest on record.”

5. “Major flooding from February to April across western Queensland brought relief to some and devastation to many.”

6. “dust storm after dust storm swept across the country along with a number of storm storms that caused havoc — from wrecking the vineyards of South Australia’s Riverland to pelting down 11-centimetre hail in Queensland’s Wide Bay region.”

7. “The south-east of the country was even sprinkled with snow at one point.”

8. “January was plagued by heatwaves, making it Australia’s hottest month on record.”

9. “Fires burned through Tasmania for weeks, resulting in the state’s worst fire season since 1967.”

10. “There were also major blazes in Victoria and Western Australia early in the year, only for that devastation to be eclipsed by the recent horror fires.”

11. “On December 17 and then 18, Australia surpassed its hottest day on record — the 19th only missed out on the hat-trick by a whisker.”

They link these extreme shifts in our weather to “very-well-defined and clear trends … that we’ve seen over the past seeral decades.

On February 9, 2017, our Prime Minister who was then Treasurer brought a lump of coal into the national parliament as a statement of support for the fossil fuel industry and a indication that he rejected any climate change narratives.

Here he is, in full mindless mode:

And his colleagues on the front bench thought it was hysterical:

The government keeps saying that even if there was climate change occurring, Australia should not act in any significant way because we are too small to influence the overall outcome and therefore would only damage our economy.

The argument, of course, has no moral value.

But, it is also clear that our position, for example, at the recent United Nations climate change conference in Madrid, was a disgrace.

Not only did our government seek to cheat the process through the use of an accounting loophole to meet our climate target, we also combined with the US and Brazil to thwart progress at the meeting.

And then, our forests and towns really started to burn.

So we have a scientifically ignorant government, who refuses to use its fiscal capacity in a responsible way, and the result is massive destruction across our nation.

The government, ultimately for political reasons, will be dragged into the recovery process and will be forced to outlay billions of dollars as a result.

The media is already banging on about how this will jeopardise the fiscal surplus.

The fiscal surplus aim was always irresponsible given we have more than 13.5 per cent of our willing and able labour resources idle.

The media should learn that first and stop holding out the fiscal surplus as being some reasonable policy target that is just been made impossible to achieve because of the massive environmental and civil disaster brought on by the bushfires.

We should understand that the scale of the environmental and civil disaster, is in part, due to the pursuit of the fiscal surplus and the underfunding of environmental programs and fire protection.

In that sense, the federal government has acted in a criminal manner.

There has also been an outpouring of offers of financial assistance from various well-known people, which get headlines in the local media each day.

One almost gets the impression, in a similar vein to what happened after the fire at Notre Dame in Paris, that these ‘celebrities’ into some sort of competition as to who can offer the most.

We are also exhorted daily by the media to donate to various charities to help the recovery process.

The problem is a vexed one.

On the one hand, the financial assistance will probably provide some relief, although the lack of accountability in some cases raises doubts as to the effectiveness of the funds.

On the other hand, it lets the government off the hook.

One of the hallmarks of the neoliberal era has been the rise of charities to fill the spending gaps left by the withdrawal of the state as they pursue fiscal rectitude.

The government offers a smoke screen that isn’t it wonderful that the citizens of all demonstrating their generosity at times of crisis, while at the same time undermining the capacity of the communities to deal with crisis through their pursuit of mindless fiscal austerity.

So the act of private donations really takes the pressure off the government to use its fiscal capacity appropriately, and, often just shuffles funds from those in need to others in need, under the guise of community generosity.

It’s not an easy thing to discuss or to solve.

And in the cities, it has come to this.

Yesterday, the smoke pollution in Newcastle was so bad that I had to put on a P2 Mask (we purchased a whole box) to go for my early morning 10k run around the ocean front.

I have never had to do that.

Life in this environmental dystopia.

MMTed Masterclass – London, February 22, 2019

As part of the MMTed initiative, I am holding an MMT Masterclass in London on Saturday, February 22, 2019.

The class will run from 14:00 to 17:00.

The syllabus will be covering basic MMT concepts and the material will be accessible to all. However, it will be an academic-oriented presentation meaning that I want to advance educational goals as a priority.

The Masterclass will be held at:

2Northdown
2 Northdown Street, King’s Cross
London, N1 9BG

https://www.2northdown.com/about

This is a small venue in the heart of heart of King’s Cross, London.

There is space for 65 people to attend.

The venue has a licensed bar for refreshments. No catering will be provided by MMTed.

Here is a map to guide you to the venue:

There will be a small charge – £5 – for attendance, which will help cover the costs of the venue hire.

Tickets can be purchased via the eventbrite site in the coming week.

Alternatively, if you wish to secure a spot in advance, you can write to me and I will send you details of how to pay and guarantee a seat.

Sustainability Conference, Adelaide, South Australia, January 10-12, 2020

I will be speaking at the Sustainability Conference on Friday and Saturday but have other commitments during those days as well.

On Friday afternoon, I will be engaged in discussion: “Why MMT Is Good for All Workers”, which is a public event hosted by Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union.

I was invited by the AUWU to discuss how Modern Monetary Theory can help the Australian working class movement advance its interests.

The event will take place at the South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) offices at 47 King William Rd, Unley, South Australia.

It will be held on Friday, 10 January 2020 from 16:30-18:30.

I urge all those concerned with this topic to attend.

February 2020 – European and UK Speaking and Lecture Tour

Here is my current schedule for February in Europe and the UK.

The ‘tba’ listings mean either I haven’t agreed yet to current proposals to speak or that the day is free of events so far.

If anyone wants to organise and event or set up a meeting, then please contact me and we will see what is possible.

  • Monday, February 03, 2020 – Speaking on ‘What is the meaning of political economy today?’ at Think Corner, Helsinki – 17:00 to 19:00
  • Tuesday, February 04, 2020 – Teaching, University of Helsinki – 16.15-17.45, Porthania P674 – all lectures are public.
  • Wednesday, February 05, 2020 – Teaching, University of Helsinki – 10.15-11.45, Language Centre in Fabianinkatu room 207
  • Thursday, February 06, 2020 – Teaching, University of Helsinki – 10.15-11.45, Main building, Hall 16
  • Friday, February 07, 2020 – tba
  • Saturday, February 08, 2020 – tba
  • Sunday, February 09, 2020 – tba
  • Monday, February 10, 2020 – tba
  • Tuesday, February 11, 2020 – Teaching, University of Helsinki – 16.15-17.45, Porthania room 723
  • Wednesday, February 12, 2020 – Teaching, University of Helsinki – 10.15-11.45, Language Centre in Fabianinkatu room 207
  • Thursday, February 13, 2020 – Teaching, University of Helsinki – 10.15-11.45, Main building, Hall 16
  • Friday, February 14, 2020 – Presentation, Dublin.
  • Saturday, February 15, 2020 – Presentation, Dublin.
  • Sunday, February 16, 2020 – tba
  • Monday, February 17, 2020 – tba
  • Tuesday, February 18, 2020 – Paris, Reception, French Senate, Palace of Luxembourg – 18:00
  • Wednesday, February 19, 2020 – Paris, events and interviews – details to follow
  • Thursday, February 20, 2020 – Paris, Presentation to French Senate Commission, Palace of Luxembourg – 8:30-10:30
  • Thursday, February 20, 2020 – London, GIMMS presentation, MMT education – afternoon – details to follow
  • Friday, February 21, 2020 – Manchester, GIMMS presentation, The Harwood Room in the Barnes Wallis Building, University of Manchester, details to follow).
  • Saturday, February 22, 2020 – MMTed Masterclass, London, details above.
  • Sunday, February 23, 2020 – Amsterdam – tba

Call for financial assistance for MMTed

If I am to get the – MMTed Project (aka MMT University) – up and going to provide formal courses to students in all nations to advance their understanding of Modern Monetary Theory then I need financial assistance.

I need significantly more funds to get the operations off the ground.

Please help if you can.

We cannot make the MMTed project viable without funding support.

Please write to me with offers of support and I will send you relevant details.

Music

I have always liked the guitar playing of – Jeff Beck – which is different to saying I like everything he has done. The latter is definitely untrue.

But when he offers lyrical work as in this case, he is pretty much at the top of the pile of players.

This version of his band, was in my view, one of the better lineups.

The concert was recorded at Ronnie Scott’s nightclub in central London in 2007. I saw this version of the band around that time while he was touring Australia at the famous – Palais Theatre – in Melbourne.

Not all the material he played was memorable but no-one gets that sort of found from a stratocaster.

The bass player is Australian Tal Wilkenfeld, drums from Vinnie Colaiuta, and Jason Rebello on keyboards.

Imogen Heap provides her almost ‘breathless’ guest vocals to make a pretty good combo altogether.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2020 BIll Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

This Post Has 30 Comments
  1. Bill, I agree 100% with your observations about successive Federal Australian Government’s criminal negligence. As a guitarist for over 50 years (and owner of a 1963 L-Series Stratocaster), I also agree with your assessment of Jeff Beck. Amazing musician. :-)

  2. Wilkenfeld is really something together with Beck, isn’t she?
    Their live version of “when we ended has lovers” on YouTube had a brilliant bass solo of hers in it.

    I hope you’ll have fresh air soon again. Like in my country the left parties in Australia must have blown it, when a moron like Scomo can become PM.

  3. Completely true when you state that currency issuing Governments avoid using their fiscal capacity leaving the rebuild after these devastating events to currency users generosity.

    Under the assumption a government is like a household any spending the government does do to help after a natural disaster is at the expense of other public spending or increased taxes (causing unemployment). Yet you never see governments cancelling fossil fuel subsidies after events like this.

    A Job Guarantee would be a boon to many of the areas affected by the fires.

  4. Painful reading about the fires and the mindless response of our politicians. I don’t know where we go from here because the lunatics have taken over the asylum and the oppositions seem just as intellectually pathetic. As far as your MMT Masterclass in London is concerned I would really hope that the leading contenders for the Labour Leadership could be persuaded to attend. If they are not interested or claim to ‘know it all’ then I think we can kiss goodbye to any constructive opposition here for another parliament.

  5. Part of my argument or why a Gov. that issues its currency is not like a household.

    One part of the Gov.== a household or comp. is the claim that “someday” the national debt will have to be paid off by increasing tax receipts to run a surplus and pay it off. You hear this from time to time as an attack on deficit spending and the bond sales it causes.

    This is a scary thought. But, it is meaningless. Why? I have 2 reasons.

    1] England became GB and then became the UK. Then it lost most of its Empire. As I said above, in 1694 England started its national debt. Since then it has almost never paid it down at all, and every decade saw the debt grow in actual Pounds compared to the start of the decade. Every decade. So, for 32 decades the national debt has grown every decade. Just when is this mythical “someday” going to arrive?

    2] This is my new point. So, what is being claimed here is that all deficit spending is just the Gov. giving the recipient a loan. You can sell this loan on to someone else. However, someday the Gov. will demand that the loan be paid back. Let me restate that, “someday the people will demand that the Gov. must demand that the loan be paid back.” You see, when the Gov. is running a surplus it is taking money from all the people and not spending it. Why in the world would the people demand that the Gov. do this? This being run a surplus to pay off the loans that have been accumulated over 325 years. The bond holders are perfectly happy to hold the bonds. If they are not then, over time the Gov. will be unable to sell more bonds. When this happens the least damaging thing** that can be done is for the Gov. to create magic currency to pay off the bonds as they come due. Defaulting would be a total disaster. Creating magic money *may* cause inflation, but never hyperinflation. Never in all history. All the cases of hyperinflation in history happened after 1900 and most during the years of the gold standard. All the cases happened because of a shortage of food.***

    Let me say my point again. Why on the world would the people of a nation force or even allow the Gov. to take away their assets {currency} with taxes in order to pay off bonds who’s holders don’t want them paid off? **Why?**

    .** . It is the least damaging because raising taxes to pay off the bonds as they come due takes money from the people, this reduces their after tax income, this reduces their spending, this reduces the GDP, and reduces tax revenues. Reducing tax revenues reduces the amount available to pay the bond holders. Creating magic currency has not damaged the economy of Eng/GB/theUk for 325 years.
    .***. Bill, or anyone, is this claim true?

  6. I read once that n the 1300s, 1400s, & 1500s farmers thought they knew how many bushels of seeds they needed to plant per acre. The amount was more than necessary. In some years the harvest was bad and the people had to eat some of the seeds for next year. So they planted less.
    . . When this happened the people attributed the actual increase in the harvest to God. Actually, too many seeds lead to too many small plants, that stunts all the plants, leading to smaller seeds on each plant and so fewer bushels per acre.
    . . This is quite like the Gov. refusing to deficit spend to meet the people’s desire to save currency and so stunting GDP and income growth. Then, being astounded when an emergency (war?) forces deficit spending and everyone prospers.
    . . Does this make sense to anyone?

  7. Bill:- “There are countless examples throughout this neoliberal era where governments, seeking to reduce their net spending, in order to run surpluses without regard to whether that ambition is appropriate given the non-government spending and saving decisions, end up having to increase their net spending by multiples of the amounts initially reduced as a result of the impacts of those initial reductions”.
    and:-
    “It is a mindless pursuit of ignorant men and women who are blindly devoted to their own image and maintaining power, Both sides of politics in Australia are obsessed with obtaining a fiscal surplus, even though they have no comprehension of what that goal actually means in terms of its impact on the overall economy”.

    Masterful!

    What more is there to be said?

    (And the same could equally validly have been said of both sides of our politics in Europe at any time over the past forty years – admittedly without such immediate searing consequences as now in Oz but with widespread deplorable, avoidable, human consequences just the same).

  8. The deeply un-funny antics, in regard to the real threat posed by global warming, of the chief clown the Prime Minister of Australia egged-on by his sycophants on the front bench – and especially his evident self-satisfaction with his own “cleverness” – are enough to induce nausea.

    If this isn’t rank populism I don’t know what is.

    It brings democratic politics – which ought to be among our society”s most jealously-guarded and esteemed vocations (and which for a while during the nineteenth century it actually did become, when the titanic parliamentary battles between Gladstone and Disraeli reported word-for-word in all the newspapers commanded the entire nation’s admiration) – into utter debasement.

    (Much like Trump’s endless stream of mindless tweets compared to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or Roosevelt’s Message to Congress on Curbing Monopolies).

    “How are the mighty fallen”.

  9. robertH, I agree with you about those two ‘speeches’. I also love the snippet from FDR’s 1936 address, Let me warn you. It is a tour de force. Thank you for the reminders of these two great men.

  10. Needless and tragic loss of life and habitat for humans and wildlife both!

    We get ever larger fires in Canada during summers as well, and in Southern Ontario we are experiencing temperatures of more than 10C above seasonal norms for extended periods, which places us at risk for severe ice storms with the potential to cover everything in centimeters of ice until spring, making it impossible for wildlife to find food and bringing down power lines, which places millons at risk of freezing in the dark until spring.

    “Criminal” is the only way to describe the negligence that brought us to this point.

    It really doesn’t look like the world can just vote it’s way out of neoliberalism and it’s consequences though.

    Analysis of various documents shows that governments plan to deal mainly with the various reactions to such events rather take any serious action to mitigate against the causes of the global climate crisis, although, they certainly have known for some time that the problem was coming.

    The main concern appears to be the dwindling of the global food supply which is underway as evidenced by dwindling grain reserves according to some analysts. Those closest to the equator will have to migrate toward more moderate climates (where ever that might be?).

  11. The Earth has ‘put away’ millions of tons of coal, oil, and gas into underground stores. These are energy banks composed of mainly plant material. In my lifetime we have liberated billions of tons of these energy stores. Now we have burnt the oil and coal in a short space of time (nearly all of it in my lifetime.) So the Earth has made all these deposits of raw energy safe. Until we decided we needed them. And there is the rub. We have upset the delicate balance of nature, instead we have created a super-heated planet, because we have resurrected the oil/coal carbon banks.
    Without the coal and oil which reduced the energy (which existed in the natural underground stores) we will have to see how we can survive. I read that there is a great problem with the artificial chemicals which are used on board the wind turbines. They too have the ability to cause major disruption to climate. Hopefully this will be overcome.

  12. One individual I would recommend, is “potholer54”. This is the nom de plume on YouTube.
    He has posted an extensive catalog of videos debunking claims, primarily by those claiming to be skeptics. He will also take individuals (politicians & celebrities) to task if they are misusing data in order to alarm others. He does not accept financial contributions, but recommends charitable contributions to a foundation he lists.
    Best wishes to All, from Alberta, Canada.

  13. I agree entirely with the comments about our federal governments. I have never felt the loathing (well almost never) for our (Australian) government that I feel now.

    However, apart from the very few committed MMTers, our economists have also let us down. Nearly all the professional economists, including academics, commentators, corporate economists, work within an erroneous understanding of an economic framework. They are the people who should be most outspoken about the failures of the politicians whereas they make it harder for the politicians to act sensibly.

  14. Caution needs to be exercised when using the term “climate change denier” – passions are currently running high and I have been seeing professional people who neither deny the reality of climate change nor deny that action must be taken to mitigate it post haste smeared with that label (not suggesting anyone here has done this). These people are often scientists or experienced professionals in fields directly related to this situation who have expressed the view that while mitigating climate change is vital, we need to do much more in order to prevent the unique environment and naturally volatile vegetation types that dominate Southeastern Australia from erupting in massive, destructive firestorms time and again.

    The problem is this: the dominant narrative in the MSM is that this latest round of deadly bushfires is 100% the result of climate change and that there are no other factors worthy of consideration. Ergo, if we simply stop putting greenhouse gases into the air, this alone will ensure that Southeastern Australia will beginning immediately, never again accumulate massive loads of fuel across huge expanses of land and will never again experience the kinds of weather conditions that turn that fuel into apocalyptic firestorms – the facts appear to be a bit more complex than that.

    If someone was to say that “leave the environment completely alone and all will be well for all time” appears to be a demonstrably false mantra, based on a popular belief in western cultures that human beings (and by extension, everything we do) are inherently “unnatural”, that our species is some kind of aberration (that maybe fell to earth on a meteor and malignantly spread from there) – it would usually elicit an immediate, visceral reaction, so conditioned are we to believe that it is true.

    I will do no more than provide some snippets and links – I fully understand that this site belongs to Bill and that he may edit out links to sites he does not wish to promote. In this case, in the interests of allowing people to determine for themselves the factual, I hope he leaves them in or at least provides a way for people seeking further knowledge to get to these articles. There are many but here are just a few…..and I note that some of these people appear to have been somewhat selectively quoted in the MSM to appear to be on board with the 100% nothing but climate change narrative, until you do some digging……….

    David Bowman
    Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science, University of Tasmania:

    “The current bushfire crisis provides compelling evidence of the dangers posed by extremely dry landscapes and hot, windy conditions.

    While there’s no evidence “greenies” precipitated the current crisis by blocking hazard reduction, it is clear that we need to explore new ways to manage fuel loads to reduce the severity of bushfires.

    It is worth considering how local, self organised, place-based, community groups could be supported to conduct various types of strategic hazard reduction, including targeted grazing and prescribed or fuel reduction burning.” https://theconversation.com/theres-no-evidence-greenies-block-bushfire-hazard-reduction-but-heres-a-controlled-burn-idea-worth-trying-129350

    Former Victorian Fire Chief Ewan Waller (interviewed around 9 months before the current crisis began to break out): “Former fire chief calls for more planned burns as fuel loads reach Black Saturday levels.” https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-07/black-saturday-fire-fuel-threat-planned-burns-needed/10787050

    Excerpted from a letter sent by Greg Mullins, former Commissioner, NSW Fire and Rescue, to Minister David Littleproud (Greg Mullins also appears to have been selectively quoted in the MSM): “Fuel reduction burning is being constrained by a shortage of resources in some states and territories and by a warming and drying weather cycle, which acting in concert reduce the number of days on which fuel reduction burning can be undertaken.”

    And very importantly, from the same letter (there is no bold/highlight function here): ” Of all the factors which contribute to the intensity of a fire (temperature, wind speed, topography, fuel moisture and fuel load), only fuel load can be subject to modification by human effort. Fire is an essential ecological factor, which has an important and ongoing role in maintaining biodiversity and ecological processes in Australian forests and woodlands.”

    In a nutshell, while climate change is an issue that we must urgently move to mitigate, the ONLY thing that we can influence in the here and now is how much fuel is available to be burned. No fuel = no fire.

    I see great potential for the Job Guarantee to be put to good use here.

  15. tonyw wrote:-
    “They are the people who should be most outspoken about the failures of the politicians whereas they make it harder for the politicians to act sensibly”.

    Very true, and a timely reminder.

    The politicians (most of them) are the clowns and ‘the usual suspects’ among the economists are their straight men – and also set the scene.

  16. @ Dave Kelly. http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=44048&cpage=1#comment-65983

    We have solar to harness properly and significant quantities of water (H20) that can electrolysed to provide any quantity of hydrogen. Hydrogen Fuel Cells are a reality. Honda and Toyota have production motor vehicles for sale that have HFCs powering electric motors. HPCs don’t burn hydrogen. When it combines with air – or O2 – it reacts and the energy provides the electric to drive the motor. The only emission is water.

    The technology exists, but the infrastructure doesn’t and progress is being impeded by the oil companies and governments. Think of the job creation in that new industry alone – production and distribution of hydrogen plus conversions and new vehicles in the auto industry.

    HFCs can be used to replace the internal combustion engine in farm vehicles and industry. A perfect project for MMT.

  17. I have a unique idea for how MMT can help long term with the fire problem in Australia.

    1] Institute a Job Guarantee program run by the states and funded by the national Gov.
    . . . Also, have the Aust. Gov. make grants to the states for some programs to hire public workers at over JGP rates long term.
    2] Use the above to thin the forests and brush lands. To create wide fire breaks. To clear brush around structures and towns. Etc.
    3] Import and use Elephants and their mahoots from nations like Thailand to thin the forest, etc.
    . . a] Elephants will not create a lot of greenhouse gasses, unless they fart a lot of methane.
    . . b] Last I heard Thailand had a lot of surplus elephants & mahoots with logging experience who need jobs.

  18. @Steve American

    Hi Steve – not sure if you’re partly serious or are completely “taking the piss”as we say Downunder (and in the UK).

    First, allow me to clarify my position. Right-wing nut job climate change denier is the LAST THING that I am. My own personal political outlook is and has always been, closely aligned with Bill’s. Nothing I have said refutes climate change – man-made climate change is real, is happening now and must be urgently addressed. The science here is irrefutable.

    However, the situation is a little more complex than the awful situation in Southeastern Australia being 100% the result of climate change, which is the dominant narrative in the MSM at present. The environment and vegetation communities in this part of the world are quite unique. Southeastern Australia – particularly Southeast New South Wales and Victoria – are naturally some of the most flammable places on Earth. Forest and open woodland are dominated by species of Eucalyptus – the well-known Australian Gum Tree (there are many species). These plants have evolved in concert with fire – this is a scientific fact. They are evergreen species that shed a continuous rain of leaves and twigs throughout the year and large amounts of bark in spring. The tissue of these plants is extremely rich in highly combustible resins and oils – not only does this make even the green leaves combustible under the right conditions, it acts as a preservative, delaying the decomposition of fallen litter even under damp conditions (and Australia has always been prone to severe droughts and heatwaves).

    So our forests and woodlands have a tendency to accumulate great quantities of fire fuel over time and climate change or not, sooner or later an accumulation of fuel will always naturally end up meeting a prolonged, severe hot and dry spell – all it takes is a single spark (dry lightning storms are not rare) and the result is the kind of thing that you have been seeing on television. This time around was particularly bad and may well have been exacerbated by climate change – although we do need to also consider the confluence of two existing phenomena that affect Australia’s weather, the Indian Ocean Dipole and and Southern Ocean Annular Mode. These two were particularly – I believe but don’t quote me – strong in the past 18 months, ensuring extreme drought and heat across large areas of the continent. The more well-known and somewhat better understood El Nino effect does not appear to have been a significant factor this time around. With huge accumulations of fuel over millions of hectares being made tinder-dry, the conditions were right for the devastating firestorms that have been making the news around the world.

    Note that vast areas of Central Australia regularly experience extreme heat (50 celsius or higher), extreme dry ground and very low humidity and sometimes, strong winds – the perfect combination to drive a firestorm. Yet this part of the country does not experience fires of this magnitude, where a firefront can stretch huge distances with flames sometimes leaping a couple of hundred feet into the air. This is because a critical element is in short supply – FUEL. The centre of Australia is a desert. And regardless of other factors, the potential size of a fire is limited by the fuel supply.

    In fact, fuel supply is the only factor that humans can exercise any amount of control over.

    Which brings us to the traditional owners of Australia. The Aboriginal people had a culture in which “cool burning” played a defining role. It still does in parts of Northern Australia where traditional communities are given some leeway to manage their own lands. When Europeans first arrived, large tracts of this continent were already the product of human hand (there are a relatively small number of wet rainforest-type communities that would not have been burned). In the volatile southeast, their activities helped to mitigate against massive firestorms – the longer we ignore this, the more of these tragic and devastating events we will continue to suffer, even after the worlds last carbon-spewing smokestack has been extinguished. I find it hypocritical that our policy makers and dignitaries now – and most right fully so of course! – acknowledge at every event, the traditional owners of this country………while we continue to completely ignore the way they traditionally managed it. Victoria’s former emergency management commissioner Craig Lapsley is a supporter……https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-09/indigenous-cultural-fire-burning-method-has-benefits-experts-say/11853096

    As a former local herbarium volunteer who spent once much time in local national parks, including liasing with Parks and Wildlife rangers (hint: they conducted cool burning in our national parks back then and it was considered good management from a scientific point of view!) I could say more but I am out of time.

    The point is that especially in naturally highly fire prone places like Southeastern Australia , the “get humans out and leave it completely alone” approach does not work.

  19. I am sorry about that last comment- occasionally I have juvenile bursts of humor and given the little I know about elephants and the ecology of Australia it might be a great idea. And the fires in Australia are no laughing matter. Sorry.

  20. Has anyone found a way to fund / donate / contribute to the Bernie/AOC/Warren campaign efforts for non us citizens? (Law requires to provide a usa passport # )

    It would be interesting to see if and how a presidential change in the USA could trickle down/percolate to other “aligned /submissive” states such as Australia?

    Air knows no borders.

  21. @ Leftwinghillbillyprospector

    How refreshing – and informative – to read a measured, un-hysterical, account of the problem. Thank you for that. Yet again we learn that the wisdom of ages has been on tap all along to help solve today’s problems – and been completely spurned. Modern man is like a know-all adolescent (sorry Donald!) – you can’t teach him anything..

    (Mind you, it’s all too easy for me to use the word “hysterical” from the safe distance of 13000 odd miles! I can’t begin to imagine how I myself might react if I were in the midst of it).

  22. @Jerry Brown.

    Hi Jerry, no problems – I can well understand that for most of the worlds population, the idea of an entire region of the world where fires consciously lit by humans have played a dominant ecological role for tens of thousands of years seems truly bizarre. Yet it is so in this corner of the world.

    I have no formal qualifications in botany or biology, these have just been a lifelong laypersons interest for me. When you look into it, you can see how many indigenous Australian plant communities have long been evolving in concert with fire – indeed, there are some species that are unable to release/germinate seed or flower unless they have been exposed to fire. At the herbarium nursery that grew the plants supplied for municipal plantings, some seed pods we would actually put in an oven for a brief period on lower heat – it was the only way they would release their seed! Mechanically breaking them open often met with a 0% germination rate with some types, as though they needed to be exposed to mild fire effects to become activated. Note that this is a “cool burn” as shown in the article on Indigenous fire use, with flames typically less than a metre high that consume mostly only dry grass and litter and pass quickly, leaving the humus layer below and the tree crowns above relatively untouched and from which animals can escape easily or shelter from – the kind of massive firestorms we have been seeing more intense by orders of magnitude, somewhat like comparing a squib to a neutron bomb – they destroy all in their path, even killing large trees and burning the humus layer right down to mineral earth. This is what fuel reduction burning and Indigenous fire management both aim to avoid.

    The more I’ve thought about it, I see a serious increase in land management as too important for it to be a purely employment buffer stock role with numbers fluctuating across the cycle- I think we need a core permanent workforce here for areas that are within a certain distance of population centres, with perhaps Job Guarantee workers managing areas further out. In any case, it seem like an ideal employment opportunity for Indigenous Australians of working age, whose unemployment rates are typically much higher than for other groups.

    This will definately need the Australian federal government of course, given that they are financially non-constrained – the non-sovereign state governments who manage nearly all of Australia”s public land outside of municipal councils typically say that they do not have the resources for such large expansions – meaning that they are saying that they do not have or do not wish to spend the money on bringing the resources to bear.

  23. Jules,
    There is no legal way to contribute to US political campaigns if you are not citizen. It is illegal for them to accept such donations and has been for many decades. If you are a rich businessman then you can buy a controlling interest in a US corp. and have it make donations.

  24. @robertH

    Cheers Robert. Yes, it’s like economics – there can be a lot of misinformation out there. If it were not for people like Bill and Warren and Randy and others, I would still be in economic flat-earth land, not understanding what money is or where it comes from and still believing that a fully-sovereign government can somehow run out of it’s own currency of issue.

    For sure we need to address climate change and start doing so right away – it’s urgent! A zero-carbon emission future is a must. But we in this particular part of the world also need to understand that owing to the unique local environment, reducing or even halting carbon emissions alone will not do a great deal to prevent tragedies like this from occurring again and again – humans took an active role in shaping this environment for tens of thousands of years and we need to return to the old ways of managing it that were used by the original owners, as much as is possible.

    Slowly, the mainstream media appears to be starting to come round to some degree (after some very selective quoting of experts). Here in the Australian version of The Guardian is an article by one such person…………..”As fire is such a big part of our lives, that too is informed by the biota and weather. In western Arnhem Land, dryer cool air, combined with morning fog and flowering of the Woolybutt (Eucalyptus miniata) signal Yekke season. This is the time to light small “cool” fires to create a mosaic throughout the landscape that breaks up the country, reducing large hot fires later in the year.

    This allows people to walk through country, and provides refuge for animals. The way Indigenous seasons are defined and the way our actions respond to changes in country allow for management that is locally relevant and involves a spiritual element, as well as physical and mental. Being able to walk through country is a significant indicator.

    Indicator species for fire would be apparent for southern Australia, even within these modified landscapes. These indicators need to be reinvigorated and brought back into knowledge through the active participation and guidance of Indigenous people.

    Animals adapt to fire and some get involved. *Karrakayn, the brown falcon, gets actively involved in fire by picking up embers and moving them around to spread the fire so that it can hunt, just like Indigenous people. I wonder how many of the millions of animals killed in the current bushfires have ever seen or interacted with fire, making it almost impossible for them to respond to bushfires.

    People need to see and understand that an unburnt country is not “wilderness” and how country should be – but country desperately calling for fire to rejuvenate it and restore the balance of risks. Not uncontrolled damaging fires, but fires that are understood, planned, patchy and regular – the fires of 1788 are informative.”
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/11/how-first-australians-ancient-knowledge-can-help-us-survive-the-bushfires-of-the-future

    *Note – this is not a traditional myth, it is now an a scientifically established fact. Imagine that – animals other than humans deliberately using fire to their own advantage! Absolutely
    intriguing! https://www.sciencealert.com/birds-intentionally-set-prey-ablaze-rewriting-history-fire-use-firehawk-raptors

  25. Leftwinghillbillyprospector: “In any case, it seem like an ideal employment opportunity for Indigenous Australians of working age, whose unemployment rates are typically much higher than for other groups.”]]]]]

    Quite right. Vine Deloria wrote about how the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps was a great boon to American Indians on reservations and elsewhere. Doing very necessary environmental work the young people in it were often earning more money than their families had seen in a lifetime.

    Your points about the co-evolution of humans and Australian ecology and fire are well taken and should be better known. JG plans usually expect a core minimum size; shouldn’t be hard (for Bill :-) ) to design one that would be big enough to take care of the relevant environmental tasks that are urgent.

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