The Australian bushfire climate crisis – an antidote to the chaos

After a self-imposed digital purdah over the holiday period where I managed to teach myself a lot about methods to replace structural bulkheads and fibreglassing on 30 a year old yacht, normal service has been resumed.

It may have not have come to your attention, but Australia has suffered a bushfire crisis this summer, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria.

While brave people have worked around the clock, mostly as volunteers, and stoical homeowners have watched as their possessions have been destroyed, metropolitan-dwellers such as me have expended terabytes of data explaining what the cause of these fires is and, by obvious extrapolation, the only solution.

There have been several occasions in my life where I’ve been fortunate to have been able to observe a moment of the zeitgeist in which I’m not personally-invested enough to take a side and could therefore watch friends I’ve previously considered sane, make total fools of themselves.

Examples of this include, the death of Princess Diana, the financial crisis of 2008 and the election of Donald Trump.

To offer a mea culpa and to show fallibility, sadly, I made a fool of myself immediately following the 911 attacks. So, my filter is probably as good as anyone else’s.

However, I’m watching the Australian debate on bushfires and climate change from a position of (self-perceived) neutrality. I’ve accepted that a debate about the various scientific aspects of climate change ultimately converts nobody from one side of the argument to the other.

People pick a team and then find justifications for their team. A compelling chart or dataset isn’t going to dent that certainty.

Once one accepts a role of observer, rather than team player, a different perspective can be offered.

Here it is:

The Australian debate over climate change and bushfires is not a scientific debate, it’s a discussion on opportunity cost.

By this, I mean Australia has finite resources to apply to a problem, any problem. It also has a finite range of influence over the global climate. Which problem it chooses to allocate those resources against and how, are the only two questions that should matter to anyone who has any interest in improving the situation.

Yet, the current hysterical debate in the media and pages of Facebook, Twitter, etc. is around the global problem and solutions.

Does anyone see a future where the two sides of that conversation could ever be reconciled?

I have a circuit breaker for Australia which I offer free to any Prime Minister (it’s a job filled in the same way jury service works, ensuring a new one every 18 months) smart enough to use it. This is copyright free, open source:

(For immediate release)

From the Office of The Prime Minister of Australia:

Fellow Australians, the terrible consequences of the bushfire crisis this summer has convinced many of us, myself included, that climate change is real and poses an existential threat to our planet.

With our unique flora and fauna and naturally dry conditions, Australia is particularly at risk from an increase in global temperatures,

The debate now is not about whether climate change real; the science is settled. The debate is about what we as a relatively small economic power can do in response to it?

This is not a question that can be answered by ideology or one specific scientific discipline; it is now a question for all aspects of daily life, from agriculture to economics, energy production, health, land-use, planning and so much more.

This is why this government is seeking input and answers from all relevant experts. Today, I announce a Royal Commission on the Climate Emergency with the aim of determining Australia’s response.

The terms of the Royal Commission are to include the following non-negotiable considerations:

  • We will disproportionately harm the most vulnerable in our society if we deliberately hamstring the economy, therefore any proposed solutions will be fully-costed and, in total, will not exceed 1% of GDP (benchmarked at 2020 levels).

  • Although Australia is well-respected internationally and is seen by many as a progressive thought leader, our relative ability to influence the global climate is low, therefore any proposed solutions should assume no international collaboration. We will lead by example but not be reliant on others.

  • To protect the weakest and most vulnerable, Australia needs low cost energy. The balance between ensuring this and preventing climate change needs to be clearly examined, therefore the Royal Commision will undertake a full cost/benefit analysis of all possible replacement energy sources, regardless of ideology and factoring in existing government subsidies, tariffs, tax allowances, etc. It is time to reconsider every aspect of energy generation.

I look forward to the full support of the leaders of all major parties in this, our biggest challenge since Gallipoli and the Bodyline Tour.

Bill’s Opinion

If you are 100% certain of what the primary cause of a multi-variable problem is, consider the possibility you’re suffering from cognitive dissonance.

To frame a Royal Commission around the terms above removes the dumb ideology from either side of the fight and concentrates on the opportunity cost to find the best pragmatic use of Australia’s money, time and effort.

The current narrative is one where we are allowing scientists to not only describe the problem but to also the solution when that solution is economic and societal, ie far wider than physics and chemistry. At the risk of going full Godwin, surely we had enough of scientists driving policy in the 20th century?

It has the added benefit of flushing out everyone’s indefensible ideological thoughts, such as the underlying Malthusianism and Millernariasm which, in my view, seems to be the motivation behind most of the louder commentary.