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Why a Royal Commission into the Bushfires is Essential

At the moment the debate about the origins of the bush fires in Australia is a dialogue of the deaf. On one side there is the cabal that shout that climate change is the dominant cause of the ‘unprecedented disaster’. On the other side are the skeptics who say the fire season is simply a cyclical event that is driven by the Indian Ocean temperatures and exacerbated by the heavy fuel load in the national parks.

A royal commission will enable science to be settled. It could call scientific experts from around the world to give evidence. People like Scott Stephens, Professor of Fire Science at the University of California, Berkeley. After analysing the California wild fires that occurred in 2019, Professor Stephens concluded that climate change made a 25% contribution to the severity of the wild fires. Other factors made a 75% contribution. Jennifer Montgomery, the head of California’s Forest management Task Force, concurs with this view, saying climate change amplifies the natural systems and occurrences that generate bush fires but is not the primary cause.

Because climate change is a global phenomenon it is important that any analysis takes on an international perspective. From this point of view a report released by the global insurance company Munich Re on New Year’s Day is significant. This shows that the level and damage from international disasters is on average the same in 2019 as for disasters in previous years and decades.

In Australia there has been similar analysis by scientists. Professor Andy Pitman of the Bushfire Centre at the University of New South Wales has said that there is no direct link between climate change and bushfires although climate change amplifies the effects of the fires. Dr Cai Wei, the head of weather systems at the CSIRO, has made it plain that the dominant factor in the conditions that led to the bush fires is the Indian Ocean Dipole. When the Indian Ocean current is cold on the Australian side then we have hot dry climates. These cycles match the incidence of bush fires in Australia and have done for thousands of years.

A royal commission can establish an agreed and transparent scientific basis for the causes of bush fires which can then form the basis of policies to deal with the risk and implement prevention measures.

One fantasy that should be scotched is the Greens’ proposal that fossil fuels should be eliminated by 2030. As Adam Bandt said on the ABC last week “coal should be banned because it kills”.

Bandt’s fantasy is that coal can be replaced by renewables. But renewables require coal for fabrication. Wind turbines are made of steel; transmission line towers are made of steel and the frames for solar panels incorporate large amounts of steel. At the moment there is no substitute for coking coal in the production of steel and no substitute for the metal in the production of energy.

Currently there is no way Australia can eliminate the use of fossil fuels by 2030 and the contribution of this activity to bush fires is negligible as a royal commission would demonstrate.

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