No End for Drought as Sydney Disappears Into Smoke

Yves here. The photos of the pall over Sydney are distressing, particularly if you’ve ever been there:

Via e-mail, consistent with other accounts:

Been following the NSW bushfires. Smoke in parts of Sydney yesterday 10xs over hazard rating (200 = hazardous; some parts of the city over 2200!). Smoke alarms in buildings being triggered by the smoke (150 falseallarms between 11:30 am-1:30pm.

Read a lot of angry tweets how the government is on radio silence. PM refused additional help for firefighters. Held a press conference yesterday to discuss religious freedom bill. Incredible.

By David Llewellyn-Smith, founding publisher and former editor-in-chief of The Diplomat magazine, now the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics website. Originally published at MacroBusiness

Sydney has disappeared, at The Guardian:

The New South Wales environment minister Matt Kean has split from his federal Coalition counterparts, arguing climate change is behind the bushfire crisis and calling for greater emissions reduction.

Kean’s intervention piles pressure on Scott Morrison to do more on emissions reduction and disaster management after his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull urged him to step up his government’s response to the “national security issue” and former emergency services chiefs pushed for a national summit.

As Sydney suffered through air quality 11 times worse than hazardous levels on Tuesday, Kean told the Smart Energy Summit that weather conditions were “exactly what the scientists have warned us would happen”.

“Longer drier periods, resulting in more drought and bushfire,” he said. “If this is not a catalyst for change, then I don’t know what is.

“This is not normal and doing nothing is not a solution.

“We need to reduce our carbon emissions immediately, and we need to adapt our practices to deal with this kind of weather becoming the new normal.”

At least the pollies are now choking too, via Canberra Times:

ACT school principals have been urged to keep students indoors during recess and lunch and to cancel all physical activity, as the smoke haze engulfs Canberra.

In a letter to principals, the ACT Education Directorate has recommended all outdoor activities at schools be cancelled on Tuesday and Wednesday due to the smoke.

The smoke haze from bushfires burning near Braidwood and on the South Coast has blanketed the city since Saturday, causing air quality in Canberra to plummet.

No relief in sight, at The Australian:

There will be no relief for drought-ravaged regions over the summer, with Bureau of Meteorology officials telling a meeting of state and federal ministers there would be no significant rain until at least April.

The ministers gathered in Moree, in NSW’s northwest, to discuss the best strategies to combat the enduring drought.

Federal Drought and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud vowed to work with drought co-ordinator-general Shane Stone by February to cut bureaucratic red tape so desperate farmers did not have to make separate state and federal applications for assistance.

Meh, at SBS:

Australia’s climate change record has been ranked among the bottom five nations in the world in a global assessment of countries’ emissions trajectories.

The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) measures the emissions, renewable energy share and climate policies of 57 countries and the European Union.

It has been released at COP25, the UN climate summit being held in Madrid, as nations attempt to thrash out the way forward on the global Paris framework responding to the crisis.

More, at Domain:

Here at the 25th UN climate conference in Madrid, Australia’s plan to use leftover Kyoto credits is seen as an attempt to conceal that the government is not trying to meet the Paris target. We could do so much better.

The government expects national emissions in 2030 to be 16 per cent lower than in 2005, the headline Paris target is a 26 per cent reduction. The actual target is framed as an aggregate reduction during the 2020s, nevertheless a large gap remains. This is to be filled with “carry-over credits” from the Kyoto Protocol, the climate treaty that preceded the Paris Agreement.

…We are the only country planning to “carry over”. Almost all countries that care are opposed to it. It reminds the world of the “Australia clause” which the Howard government pushed through at the 1997 Kyoto summit, allowing Australia to count land-use change reductions. It is what created the Kyoto carry-over credits in the first place.

Let them eat ash.

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  1. Steve H.

    Six of seven of Australia’s top exports sequester carbon (wood and food). Manufacturing output has decreased for 11 years and is back to 20th century levels. Even if you eliminated aluminium smelting, Oz still needs energy to live; average temperatures look to be over 20’F greater than the US. Your can directly burn biomass to heat, but you need electricity to cool.

    Point being, as long as climate mitigation caps at the national level in practical terms, there is no solution, there is only competitive advantage. Whether juggling carbon credits or introducing religious freedom bills, distractions are needed from the hardest fact: the carrying capacity of the continent, across millennia of data points, allowed no continuous settlement until external support was provided. The new normal will increase indoor time and the need for filtered and cooled air. More electricity, not less.

    China continues to import coal while sitting on its reserves. It’s saving that coal for later. It brought billions out of poverty by not giving a rat’s ass about what the rest of the world thinks. China is the source for increased atmospheric CFC’s, and while that problem could be handled by sabotage or missiles to the factories, the solution does not work for CO2. Knock down the centralized plants and decentralized biomass burning jumps as people try to live and eat.

    I’m picking on China, you could trade out India and the point remains. And the 15% of the population which accounts for half of carbon emissions seems to be doubling down on the ‘little people’ solutions. (Yves’ article on Volker is further clarifying, here. Elites gon’ elite.) Homo sapiens has a real issue with self-deception in the Upton Sinclair sense. So while we can mock religious freedom bills, given the layout and uncertainties, we can’t say that an appeal to Universal humanity will be any less important than carbon tax credits and the latest green tech unicorn.

    1. skippy

      Lmmao …

      The double speak to call this a religious freedom [tm] bill is the punch line.

      Moving forward … Murdoch wanted and got Tony Abbot, that was a spectacular flop, which gave us Turnbull, fundies were on a mission from goat and managed to hamstring him enough to get Murdochs second pick Morrison in [actuality wanted Dutton but had the same potential as Abbot], not that Labour lost the election in Queensland due to mining workers concerns about jobs.

      We have the Lord Monckton sphere of the LNP running things and it has everything to do with environmental outcomes – see volunteer fire fighters wanting to be there comment by PM Morrison. You could draw a parallel with Bush Jr running on an environmental platform and then having the establishment economist advise that would kill the economy.

      Almost all of NSW is in unprecedented drought, 3/4 of Queensland and rain is not scheduled till April or May. Just for curiosity sake one could look at say the dairy farmers numbers just a year ago, down almost 500 and over a few years the numbers are in the thousands, all whilst the 2 big grocery chains are in a cheap milk war to get foot traffic in. That’s just a sample of both the ideological politics and its front runner ideological economics setting up the problem set and then ignoring it because it conflicts with its validity.

      Might as well call it the Agnotology Freedom bill.

      1. Steve H.

        I hadn’t heard of Lord Monckton so I looked him up. He invented the Eternity Puzzle and the Wiki page notes:

        > Before marketing the puzzle, Monckton had thought that it would take at least three years before anyone could crack the puzzle. One estimate made at the time stated that the puzzle had 10^500 possible attempts at a solution, and it would take longer than the lifetime of the Universe to calculate all of them even if you had a million computers.

        …longer than the lifetime of the Universe : I remember that phrase from around a decade ago, justifying actions that led to the GFC. I wish I could find a version of the ‘unknown unknowns’ quote that didn’t involve a name I could do without.

        Anyway, you’re absolutely right about the Freedom Bill. I made the mistake at taking the words to have their apparent meaning, and got it 180′ wrong. I should know better.

        1. skippy

          Lord Monckton is a rabid anti AGW sort and was caught out on a phone video with some other ideological political and business malefactors back in Rudd’s day. Banging on about needing a Fox news level counter narrative mouth organ to screw peoples heads on backwards.

          When these people are not protecting their ideology above any consequence, due to blatant outcomes from it, they are enabling massive frauds whilst privatizing government everything.

          If your curious you can search the news feed about what firefighters think about PM Morrison, then about his Hillsong ministers desire about getting political face time in America – shades of P. Robinson in Rayguns time.

          Umbrage was not personal, just a result of machinations of this lot and its effects near and long term. Can’t have a political dialogue on AGW or anything else based on evidence and then everything boils down to immigration bogeyman arguments. Like supply and demand would magically transform dominate business views on labour or something.

    2. Jabbawocky

      Food sequesters carbon?! I think you will find that agriculture is responsible for around 10-15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and that the agriculture sector is the second largest emitter after energy.

    1. Shiloh1

      Sums it up completely.

      Chinese “economic miracle” is built on exploitation of labor and the environment, with approval by their customers.

      1. The Pale Scot

        Customers? you mean western consumers. move the bulk of those carbon debits over to the ledger of First World countries. When per capita carbon use gets close to USA levels in Brick countries, then you’ll have an argument

        1. Tony Wright

          And population size has nothing to do with it? Both India and China have well over a billion people.
          And, yes here in Australia we are still happy to sell them coal. I am personally ashamed, angered and despaired at this and many other government policies.
          Another one: we have committed to spend $50 billion on French submarines, but outside our cities the heroic, overstretched firefighters are unpaid volunteers.
          Drought? Here, outside Uki in subtropical northern NSW I have been recording rainfall daily for 14 years. Our annual totals over that time have ranged from 1200mm to 2400mm. So far this year we have received less than 700mm.
          In March 2017 we got more than 750 mm in two days and the biggest flood in living memory, with the horses at the local racecourse up to their necks in water in their stables.
          Climate Change? Nothing to see here……

        2. Shiloh1

          Yes, I do mean western consumers, including buyers of Nike, Apple and any Walmart junk. Also in agreement that China did not invent it; it was and is U.S. multinational corporation globalism arbitrage. Household living circa 1910 is a-ok with me, sans coal burning boiler; pretty sure indoor plumbing was available. Deflationary collapse will save the planet, eventually. Population and “economic growth” last 40+ years has been mostly credit/debt fueled.

      2. skippy

        “Chinese “economic miracle” is built on” – the U.S. corporate [and some across the pond sorts] stampede to set up shop in the biggest untapped market on the planet with a gold rush like zeal …. with a side of self deception about liberalizing [tm] its political sphere.

        Now its time to whitewash history and the machinations of those that’s greed and self awarded superior mental facilities wrought, its all the Chinese fault just like its all Russia’s fault for not following the Chicago boys schools game plan.

  2. jez

    I’m living in Sydney at the moment. Many days over the last few weeks, whilst inside at home, my eyes have been stinging and I have felt ill and suffering from a headache. And I live next to the ocean where conditions are no where near as bad as in the rest of the city. Talking with people here about the situation has been strange. It feels like their heads are in the sand. Discussion is only on how poor the air quality is and how shocking all the fires are. It never seems to develop to more than that to topics such as what has caused this and what do we do about it and is this the new norm. When I ask these things I get thousand mile stares or change of topic or jokes in return. People just seem to be ignoring it mainly and operating like it doesn’t exist.

    Surprising. I’ve just come back to oz after living in the UK for seventeen years and my thought is that if the same conditions existed in the UK, people would be up in arms. Maybe people are just too psychologically harried by all the various things going on in the world and in their lives these days and can’t cope so just hope it will all ok sometime soon. Best not to dwell on it or something like that.

    1. Steve H.

      Hi, jez. I have friends in oz and I’ve noted a change in thinking in the last few years. They are more concerned about their isolation, and the lack of defensibility of their borders. Specifically with regard to deteriorating relations with China, and becoming a staging ground for military action.

      In the US, it’s been two years since the video from California, of a burning hillside with a multi-lane highway in front, and people just kept on keepin’ on, looking for the quickest way to get to work. The word Cope comes from ‘to meet in battle.’ Best not to dwell = pick the fights you have a chance to win.

  3. Wukchumni

    Even though they may be of little use, its time for our California firefighters to go help en masse and learn the ropes of Aussie conflagrations in on the job training. Its the perfect time to do it as our contingents had such a nothingburger wildfire year here, and aren’t all beat up physically from long months on the line.

  4. Basil Pesto

    I posted in links on 8/12 about flying into a smoke blanketed Canberra. The following day, Monday, drove 3 hours northwest to Parkes, a country town in NSW. The haze was there the whole way, and the horizon was never clear – it was all rather eerie. Farmland that we could see was in pretty bad shape.
    The last two days have been fine as far as the haze goes, but stinking hot.

    I played golf on an unusually well appointed country town course yesterday, set in some picturesque parklands. The greens and tees were watered but the fairways were not, and the drought conditions were very apparent. The course’s two dams were heavily depleted.

    I went to the Parkes swimming pool today to cool off, adult admission was $2.20, apparently half the usual price. Last year admission was free. I was told the price reductions were implemented as relief for the drought-stricken farmers.

  5. The Rev Kev

    How about I link in some music for all those people who disbelieve that these fires are not connected with climate change first-

    A bit of context to understand the shambles that has developed here in Oz politically. The party coalition in power has a visceral hatred of anything to do with climate change and I suspect a cross-pollination with ultra-conservative forces in other countries at work here. Here is what they did just after getting into power back in 2013-

    Our present Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is all onboard with this and two years ago as a stunt brought in a lump of coal into Parliament. What is also unusual for him as a Prime Minister is that he is a “happy-clapper” which influences his policies in government. Actually believing in religion is not normally associated with our PMs. In short, he would not be out of place with extremist US Republicans.
    But his present tone deafness is something else. He has refused calls for more bushfire help for firefighters, saying volunteer firefighters ‘want to be there’. In the meantime, NSW fire brigades have mooted crowd-funding to buy heavy duty mask to protect them or food and drinks for the firefighters at the front. I guess that as there are still three more years till the next federal election, that he feels that he can ignore it and it will all go away. So we are hearing quotes from conservatives like-

    NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham tells Steve it’s “opportunistic” for any politician to use the bushfires to talk about climate change.
    “It’s ill-advised for any politician to be mixing up weather events with 1500 year climate trends.
    “In Australia, we’ve had bushfires for 60,000 years.
    “The important thing is to focus on the fundamentals of saving properties and lives.”

    So here is how things are really playing out here-

    1. Wukchumni

      One of the things that captivated me in regards to Aussie & NZ when I first visited in the early 80’s was the lack of dogma, religion may have existed but you’d hardly know it.

      NZ is still very much like that, the attempt to insert hard-right-evangs into politics was short circuited 15 years ago when the leader of the mob was found to be quite the pedophile.

      In March 2005, newspapers reported that a “prominent New Zealander” was “punched and left whimpering on the ground” outside the Christchurch High Court, where he was defending sex charges. The papers could not name the man because of a court suppression-order. On 1 April 2005 the court lifted name-suppression and the press revealed the man as Graham Capill.

      Capill admitted the indecent assault of an eight-year-old girl on four occasions in 2001 and 2002, while he led Christian Heritage. Further charges of rape and indecent assault against girls aged under 12 (committed during the 1990s) followed.

      As Capill had strongly condemned “sexual perversion” throughout his political career, the charges had a strong impact both on Capill and on Christian Heritage, which swiftly condemned his conduct. Newspaper-reports described Capill as “a sexual predator”. Before sentencing, Capill emailed supporters asking that they pray for a light sentence and claiming the sex with one of the young girls as “consensual.

    2. norm de plume

      ‘Actually believing in religion is not normally associated with our PMs’

      I am not convinced he is as religious as he appears to be. It seems to me that is a box he thought would be useful to tick in order to ascend. It lends a licence, a sort of specious ballast to his sanctimony, and like the possession of a smiling suburban family it helps provide a veneer of benign normalcy.

      He is a distillation of the modern enemy: a morally and intellectually vacant but savvy neoliberal enabler. His instincts tell him that he can get away with almost anything in a media landscape dominated by News Ltd and the shock jocks. He looks around the West and sees populist cartoon characters successful despite or perhaps because of their gleeful iconoclasm and so has turned himself, a former marketing man, into a popular cartoon character – the footy-loving, god-bothering daggy dad in the Trump cap with the upturned thumbs and the slightly alarming shit-eating grin.

      He has the discipline Mark Latham always lacked, and is all the more dangerous for it.

  6. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

    My son works in a research hospital and he said you could see the smoke just by looking down the hallways. It’s bad, my eyes itching, nose running. The sun is just a red dot. The moon is orange. Everyone says it feels apocalyptic. Sorry to re-post but the Green’s Senator speech in Parliament sums it up nicely. There is no more opposition:

  7. Slbrown

    Respectfully I disagree with nothingburger year. This past summer we had several serious fires in CA. I live in northern CA and there was the Kincaide fire. That fire was only fully extinguished by rain.

    Twenty-one US firefighters departed to fight
    Bushfires down under. I believe they departed SFO on 12/5. Canada sent 21 firefighters, too. The Canadians got the fanfare in the press, us Yanks nothing. That said, I know all will be welcomed. The Aussie volunteer firefighters are really under stress. Cannot believe PM Morrison said they got everything they need. (Except pay and more people to help fight the fires.) Thank heaven in CA our firefighters have not been treated this way.)

  8. Savita

    Thanks Rev, bit of extra background for non Antipodeans on ‘Religious Freedoms. This came up when a ‘Wallabies’ football player made twitter comments condemning gays and adulterers to hell, this apparently being Gods word. Thats the watered down version. Rugby Australia sacked him for breach of contract. The football player challenged it publically screaming religious discrimination, got Christian groups to crowdfund for him, and just last week he settled privately with Rugby Australia for allegedly tens of millions. Meanwhile the PM, practising extreme fundamentalist, supported said footballer promising to raise a ‘Religious Freedoms’ Bill. Which is still of vital urgency as you can see.

  9. Savita

    And, in other news, Israel Folau recently challenged McDonalds in the Supreme Court after tipping a McDonald coffee on his leg and scalding his skin. ‘It was hot, and I didnt expect that. And, as a former football player I only ever wear shorts. They must pay for burning a Christian Soldier. Love their burgers, though’. /sarc

  10. Savita

    And, in other news, Israel Folau recently challenged McDonalds in the Supreme Court after tipping a McDonald coffee on his leg and scalding his skin. ‘It was hot, and I didnt expect that. And, as a former football player I only ever wear shorts. They must pay for burning a Christian Soldier.. love their burgers, though’. /sarc

  11. Kfish

    Australia has hand-marked voting ballots, counted by hand under supervision from all parties. The Coalition has never made any secret of their environmental position; we voted for this, and now we’re choking on it. At least the ‘important’ places are being affected.

    1. skippy

      Last I checked here in Oz we’ve had a handful of non voting changes in PM over an incredibly short period of time, Murdock’s finger prints all over heaps of it, and enabling media to top it all off ….

      The environmental position is not hard to understand when one puts it all into context and the voter E.g. Queensland and mining jobs, Franking credits and structural income expectations or demands, IP RE [see aforementioned], all whilst work quality and longevity becomes more precarious, to top it off more privatization of government services which translates to more demands on ones income – its a baked in structural social psychological condition.

      As Howard said – he wanted the people of Australia to sleep through the transition.

      BTW two of my kids work for a private company that does NDIS et al client interface …. its performance based on quantity … Jefferson’s Nail shack as it were … with a bit of hiving off of political risk, like with the Center Link robo algo debt collection – see maw no human agency …. Ka-Ching ….

      Hard to vote when the chickens keep getting it and ideological proselytizing is used to obfuscate evidenced based knowledge. Yet per normal when the facts can’t be white washed any more the unwashed do take notice.

        1. The Rev Kev

          Well I am sure that our Alexander Downer is totally trustworthy here and that he is not doing special pleading on the behalf of “special interests”. And that that 2016 London meeting with George Papadopoulos which triggered an FBI investigation into Russian “meddling” was just an aberration on his behalf and was not intentional.

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