Planet Gore

More on the Australian Wildfires

Planet Gore reader Bill in Australia writes:

Dear Greg,

The latest death toll as of Tuesday is 179 and counting. Authorities expect the figure to exceed the 200 mark. Entire towns have been wiped from the face of the map.

Sadly, there is a Climate Change Conference going on in Melbourne at the moment, and [they] are eager to place the global warming/change label on the cause of this disaster. […] However, in the midst of all their alarmist claims, the Australian has an article headed ‘State of Forests fanned Inferno’ on page 6. The article is most revealing and is not unlike the claims made following the Californian fires of recent memory.

Here’s the article Bill references. An excerpt:

STATE and federal governments have been accused of succumbing to pressure from the green lobby by abandoning responsibility for controlled burning of forests, despite growing populations in bushland suburbs.

As the death toll from the Victorian bushfires topped 130 yesterday, fire control experts said forest managers had failed to learn the lessons of past infernos such as Ash Wednesday in 1983 and the 2003 Canberra bushfires.

They said too little was being done to thin out the bush to protect lives and property against extreme weather conditions that fuelled the fatal Victorian blazes.

David Packham, a researcher from Monash University’s climatology group who has specialised in bushfires, said governments had abandoned responsibility for the one control they had over wildfires — the state of the forests that fed the flames.

“Due to terribly ill-informed and pretty well outrageous concepts of conservation, we have failed to manage our fuel and our forests,” Mr Packham said. “They have become unhealthy, and dangerous.”

And actually, controlled burns have turned into somewhat of a money-maker for Australia’s Aborigine population, and will reduce Australia’s carbon emissions. BBC from 2007:

A crackling fire snakes towards Dean Yibarbuk’s bare legs, as he and a group of fellow Aborigines walk through this isolated corner of the Australian Outback, pouring long trails of burning kerosene into the grass.

It may seem strange, even dangerous behaviour, in a region where wildfires sweep through almost half the wilderness every year.

But this work is part of a unique “carbon trading” deal which is harnessing ancient traditions of indigenous fire management in a very modern struggle against greenhouse gas pollution.

It has agreed to pay the Aborigines A$1m ($850,000) a year, for 17 years, to offset 100,000 tons of the refinery’s own greenhouse emissions.

“Our people have been doing this for thousands of years, to control the land,” says Dean, a 53-year old community ranger with a grey beard and dreadlocks.

“We burn now, just after the rains, and we make fire breaks to stop hot wild fires later in the year.”

Now scientific evidence has confirmed that the old Aboriginal system works – dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions from savannah fires, by limiting both their numbers and their intensity.

Today those wildfires account for 40% of the region’s total greenhouse emissions.

The key now is to operate on a big enough scale to make a real impact, as the fires did decades ago before Aborigines began to move out of the countryside and into towns.

“The greenhouse emissions are far, far lower,” says Andrew Edwards, a scientific researcher monitoring the traditional fires for the Northern Territories’ Bush Fires Council.

“If we were better resourced we could make extraordinary savings in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Those savings are now a real possibility, as a result of a landmark deal between traditional leaders in Western Arnhem Land, and a giant new natural gas refinery in Darwin, ConocoPhillips.

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