Beds are Burning: Mike Mann in Australia

January 7, 2020

Michael Mann PhD in the Guardian:

After years studying the climate, my work has brought me to Sydney where I’m studying the linkages between climate change and extreme weather events.

Prior to beginning my sabbatical stay in Sydney, I took the opportunity this holiday season to vacation in Australia with my family. We went to see the Great Barrier Reef – one of the great wonders of this planet – while we still can. Subject to the twin assaults of warming-caused bleaching and ocean acidification, it will be gone in a matter of decades in the absence of a dramatic reduction in global carbon emissions.

We also travelled to the Blue Mountains, another of Australia’s natural wonders, known for its lush temperate rainforests, majestic cliffs and rock formations and panoramic vistas that challenge any the world has to offer. It too is now threatened by climate change.

I witnessed this firsthand.

I did not see vast expanses of rainforest framed by distant blue-tinged mountain ranges. Instead I looked out into smoke-filled valleys, with only the faintest ghosts of distant ridges and peaks in the background. The iconic blue tint (which derives from a haze formed from “terpenes” emitted by the Eucalyptus trees that are so plentiful here) was replaced by a brown haze. The blue sky, too, had been replaced by that brown haze.

The locals, whom I found to be friendly and outgoing, would volunteer that they have never seen anything like this before. Some even uttered the words “climate change” without any prompting.

The songs of Peter Garrett and Midnight Oil I first enjoyed decades ago have taken on a whole new meaning for me now. They seem disturbingly prescient in light of what we are witnessing unfold in Australia.

The brown skies I observed in the Blue Mountains this week are a product of human-caused climate change. Take record heat, combine it with unprecedented drought in already dry regions and you get unprecedented bushfires like the ones engulfing the Blue Mountains and spreading across the continent. It’s not complicated.

The warming of our planet – and the changes in climate associated with it – are due to the fossil fuels we’re burning: oil, whether at midnight or any other hour of the day, natural gas, and the biggest culprit of all, coal. That’s not complicated either.

When we mine for coal, like the controversial planned Adani coal mine, which would more than double Australia’s coal-based carbon emissions, we are literally mining away at our blue skies. The Adani coalmine could rightly be renamed the Blue Sky mine.

In Australia, beds are burning. So are entire towns, irreplaceable forests and endangered and precious animal species such as the koala (arguably the world’s only living plush toy) are perishing in massive numbers due to the unprecedented bushfires.

The continent of Australia is figuratively – and in some sense literally – on fire.

Yet the prime minister, Scott Morrison, appears remarkably indifferent to the climate emergency Australia is suffering through, having chosen to vacation in Hawaii as Australians are left to contend with unprecedented heat and bushfires.

Morrison has shown himself to be beholden to coal interests and his administration is considered to have conspired with a small number of petrostates to sabotage the recent UN climate conference in Madrid (“COP25”), seen as a last ditch effort to keep planetary warming below a level (1.5C) considered by many to constitute “dangerous” planetary warming.

But Australians need only wake up in the morning, turn on the television, read the newspaper or look out the window to see what is increasingly obvious to many – for Australia, dangerous climate change is already here. It’s simply a matter of how much worse we’re willing to allow it to get.

Australia is experiencing a climate emergency. It is literally burning. It needs leadership that is able to recognise that and act. And it needs voters to hold politicians accountable at the ballot box.

Australians must vote out fossil-fuelled politicians who have chosen to be part of the problem and vote in climate champions who are willing to solve it.

11 Responses to “Beds are Burning: Mike Mann in Australia”

  1. Bryson Brown Says:

    Australia’s capture by coal interests (perhaps best expressed by Morrison’s pre-PM stunt, bringing a lump of coal into the legislature to complain about the silly people who are afraid of coal) is a pretty good small-scale model of the big problem: the capture of governments around the world by fossil fuel interests. The failure to respond seriously and adequately three decades ago has left us with no adequate responses that don’t involve extreme measures, and still the coal/oil/gas lobby continues to defend short term profit over the future of our civilization (along with species worldwide, incidental victims of short-term human greed).

    • Sir Charles Says:

      Australia is world’s biggest exporter of coal. And the country is just preparing a new mega project: The Adani’s Carmichael mine which will…

      * Destroy the ancestral lands, waters and cultures of Indigenous people without their consent.
      * Allow 500 more coal ships to travel through the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area every year for 60 years.
      * Get access to 270 billion litres of Queensland’s precious groundwater for 60 years, for free.
      * Risk damaging aquifers of the Great Artesian Basin.
      * Add 4.6 billion tonnes of carbon pollution to our atmosphere

      You can express your solidarity with the (Australian) people and take action here => https://www.marketforces.org.au/info/key-issues/theadanilist/

  2. Sir Charles Says:

    Heartbreaking. Mike is not ‘only’ a top scientist. He’s also an excellent writer!

  3. Paul Whyte Says:

    The old parties in Australia are completely in the hands of coal, oil and gas industries as if these are the only industries that employ in Australia.
    https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/feb/01/coal-lobby-ads-biggest-third-party-political-expenditure-in-australia

    The population does not want these polluting projects and wants more done to avert climate change. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/07/most-australians-oppose-adani-mine-poll-shows-amid-national-protests

    Just like in other countries where Murdoch owns media the politics are twisted with the Murdoch press pushing fossil propaganda.

    https://theconversation.com/factcheck-does-murdoch-own-70-of-newspapers-in-australia-16812

    https://theconversation.com/the-secret-history-of-news-corp-a-media-empire-built-on-spreading-propaganda-116992

    https://thenewdaily.com.au/news/national/2020/01/02/michael-pascoe-murdoch-climate/

  4. redskylite Says:

    I see that some media outlets are pointing to arsonists as the main reason for the terrible bushfires:

    Worth fact checking these claims with snopes:

    Were ‘Nearly 200’ People Arrested for Deliberately Starting Australia Bushfires?

    False

    The number of arrests is being highlighted across right wing media in order to muddy the waters and avoid discussing the real reason that bushfire season is longer and more dangerous.” Wilson pointed to a statement by a fire captain fighting the fires, who said crews are seeing fires the likes they’ve never seen before, and the evidence that climate change is driving them is “overwhelming.”

    https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/australia-arrested-bushfires/

  5. jimbills Says:

    Good article on the Australian fires:
    https://www.popsci.com/story/environment/australia-fires-management-climate/

    The problem isn’t JUST climate change, it’s a combination of decades of poor land management AND climate change. Or, where humans screw up in one area ecologically (with GG emissions), they are very likely to screw up in multiple other ways ecologically.

    • jimbills Says:

      Of course, conservatives seize on simple-minded scapegoating tactics by blaming the fires on things like green measures to protect wildlife and deliberate arson. It’s a lot more complicated than that, however.

      Some fires have been set deliberately. Sometimes, concerns for local wildlife have led to measures that only serve to threaten that same wildlife in the long term. But a common thread underlying it all has been a failure by all political leaders to fund and authorize intelligent land management, as well as the continuing pressures of climate change in the form of increasing droughts and heat. The seasonal windows for controlled burning shorten at the same time as the funds for better management are falling short.

      On more recent article which goes into the complexity a bit:
      https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jan/05/explainer-how-effective-is-bushfire-hazard-reduction-on-australias-fires


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