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.

Predictions are notoriously difficult

…especially about the future.

But they are a fun diversion.

Here’s ten of mine for the year 2020. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Australian Politics

Politicians of all sides of the aisle increase the warnings against reliance on China. There will be noises made by the Federal government to have closer trade and defence links with the USA (particularly following the USA election).

A Westpac executive is jailed for the AUSTRAC issues. Probably Lynn Cobley.

Global Politics

The UK will reach a WTO+ deal (ie closer to WTO terms than a full trade deal) with the EU and negotiations won’t be extended. Boris will call their bluff.

Congress won’t send the impeachment papers to the Senate. The GOP will make political hay about this all the way to the election.

Zeitgeist

Sentiment turns against Saint Greta. There’s a financial scandal involving her parents or handlers.

A judge in the USA finds a single mother of a transgender child guilty of abuse. The Supreme Court supports this finding on appeal.

Sport

Six Nations table:

1 England

2 Ireland

3 Wales

4 France

5 Scotland

6 Italy

Australia finishes bottom of the Rugby Championship table.

Economy

Gold to temporarily breach all time high ($1,895).

The Dow to breach 30,000.

The heat is on

Many people all over Australia received messages of support from overseas friends and relatives yesterday.

Why?

Because yesterday was “Australia’s hottest day“.

No, really it was.

See, this is the record of temperatures in Sydney during the day yesterday:

Nudging 25 degrees there. Phewwwww!

In other words, a pleasant day in early summer.

The “hottest day” is calculated by taking an average of averages across the entire continent.

Yep.

In other news, an average of Tom Cruise and Shaquille O’Neal is as tall as Chris Hemsworth.

Bill’s Opinion

Perhaps catastrophic man made global warming is an existential threat to humanity or perhaps it isn’t.

One thing is certain to anyone with any experience of reviewing data and reporting; the reporting of climate change is indistinguishable from blatant lying.

May Day!

The verb “may” and its synonyms do yeoman’s work again for the cause of global warming this week:

Australia “may” break a heat record this week.

Crikey (to use the vernacular), that’s scary!

What are the details of this climate catastrophe?

The mercury in Sydney’s CBD may shoot 12 degrees over the historical average for December this weekend while the western suburbs face their hottest day ever in the month.

Smart readers will already have mentally filed the first half of that sentence to the folder marked “bullshit” because of the use of the juvenile “average”.

We’ll come on to the second half of the sentence later.

There’s more heavy lifting for “may”:

“If Penrith gets shrouded by bushfire smoke, it may not get that warm – but either way we’re pretty confident of getting temperatures well into the 40s,” meteorologist Rob Taggart said. He noted that in some parts of western Sydney, measurements only went back 25 to 45 years.

Well into the 40s“, eh?

Oh, and records that only span one human generation?

In case you didn’t get the memo, “average” gets another run off the bench:

“At this stage, we’re forecasting a late breeze, but that may change. If it doesn’t come at all, we could see temperatures into the 40s,” he said.

The average December maximum for the CBD is 25.2 degrees.

Bill’s Opinion

Averages should play no part in any reporting of weather. None.

Why?

Last year, the coldest December day in New South Wales was 14.3 degrees. The hottest was 41.4 degrees.

When the wind shifts to blow from the south, there is no land mass between Sydney and the Antarctic. Good luck using an average temperature to make any useful weather-based decision about Sydney.

A note to those who wish to convince me and others of the climate emergency; try not using persuasion techniques that look indistinguishable from confidence trickery and lies.

I don’t want a lot for Christmas….

This rubbish imposed itself on my Creepbook for Business feed this morning.

Imagine having the available free time to be concerned about questions such as this?

Let’s take a moment to go full ad hominem and check out our corresponent’s experience and qualifications to be advising us on CO2 per Christmas tree:

Ok, bold claims. What’s your background?

Theology, executive assistant and an entry level degree in ecology.

This is the calibre of person demanding we change our economy to save the world.

Okaaaay.

Bill’s Opinion

If I thought she’d listen, I would suggest to Olivia McGregor that her time and energy would be better spent donating money and/or time to the organisations who are doing the hard yards inoculating kids in war zones in order to get the number of worldwide cases of polio from about 100 a year to zero.

We’re so close. Imagine the massive human misery that’s been averted so far.

And in the meantime, if it bothers you that much, don’t bother having a Christmas tree this year, just draw one with crayons and stick it on the fucking wall.

Mitigating actions? Nej tak

That the normal rules of logic don’t apply to discussions of climate change seems obvious to any casual observer, but sometimes we can also snatch a glimpse at a possible agenda through the offered illogic.

Take, for example, this argument on how the New South Wales’ climate fund should be allocated.

The Berejiklian government’s Climate Change Fund has spent almost $50 million supporting work on raising the Warragamba dam wall – an outlay critics say is unrelated to the fund’s original purpose.

In the latest year, the fund spent $24.7 million on the Hawkesbury–Nepean Valley flood risk management, the centrepiece of which is the plan to lift the Warragamba Dam by 14 metres. That sum was up from $15.9 million in the previous year and $5.9 million for the 2016-17 year.

It seems to me that, if one believes anthropological climate change is a global existential threat, there are a finite range categories of response:

  1. Stop or reduce domestic pollution
  2. Stop or reduce pollution by other countries
  3. Find and implement alternate methods to generate energy
  4. Plan mitigating actions to reduce the impact of climate change

Of these, (1) and (4) seem most likely to achieve significant progress without unprecedented international cooperation. These are within the gift of a sovereign nation to deliver.

Some are not happy with mitigation as an approach, however:

“The money is being used more like a slush fund on tenuously linked projects rather than a strategic reserve to invest in a real plan to reduce the state’s carbon footprint and climate risk,” said Justin Field, an independent upper house MP.

Tenuously-linked?

What’s the fund’s purpose?

The fund was set up in 2007 with legislated purposes such as cutting greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of climate change associated with water and energy use. It was also intended to spur energy and water savings.

Seems like mitigation is a goal.

Harry Burkitt, a campaign manager with environment group The Colong Foundation, said it was “an absurd argument that raising the Warragamba Dam wall would somehow mitigate the impacts of climate change”.

Given that the current drought in NSW and increased bush fires this year are blamed on climate change by those who are most vocal on the subject, it seems somewhat hypocritical to suggest we shouldn’t try to capture more water.

“The government’s own leaked reports have stated that nearly 7000 hectares of UNESCO listed forests would be drowned by the raised dam, meaning thousands of tonnes of carbon would enter the atmosphere if the project were to be approved,” Mr Burkitt said.

More statistics obfuscation there. What’s the denominator, over what period, estimated relative impact, etc.?

Bill’s Opinion

If you believe climate change is going to wreak havoc on the globe, killing many people and plunging more into poverty, yet you aren’t pushing for mitigating actions in addition to reduce pollution, consider the possibility you’re driving an ideological agenda, rather than a fact-based one.

Ask yourself two questions:
1. Why shouldn’t we be immediately implementing local mitigation, and
2. Why aren’t we talking about nuclear energy?

Book ‘em Danno; First Degree Statistics Crime

Here’s a example of the modern malaise of innumeracy:

Drought hits Sydney

Whilst it’s clear there’s been a paucity of rainfall in the state of New South Wales, the article is riddled with unasked questions.

Sydneysiders are using higher than average amounts of water and face the prospect of four more years of restrictions and a hike in bills from next July if the drought does not break.

Higher than average.

Per person? Per household? In total and therefore compared to previous years?

Has the denominator changed, such as an increase in population, for example?

We aren’t told.

Instead, we have a late entry for the 2019 Stating the Bleeding Obvious Prize:

Although a typical household bill would be 2.5 per cent higher under the latest submission, customers could cut bills by saving water.

We do get a clue to the answers to the earlier questions though:

But despite a recent increase in usage, the Berejiklian government says Sydneysiders are using less water per person each day than they were during the Millennium drought.

Ok, that suggests a population increase has occurred. Funny the article doesn’t spell that out though.

That dreaded noun, “average”, makes yet another appearance:

It says rainfall across the catchments over the past two years was “below to very much below average” and the Bureau of Meteorology predicts a dryer and warmer than average summer.

Below to very much below.

Well, that clears things up for us….

Bill’s Opinion

Either the journalist writing this article is completely innumerate, not curious, blindly regurgitating a press release or trying to drive an agenda.

If the first explanation, perhaps they should read Factfulness.

The climate of crazy ideas

The former Australian rugby player, Israel Folau, is in the news again today (not really; he’s only in the Sydney Morning Herald).

Yesterday, he gave a sermon at his church where he suggested the recent bushfires in Australia were a direct result of the godlessness of the country’s population.

Of course, the ever-declining business masquerading as a news outlet has inferred because of this, Folau is a religious nutcase.

Picking on the religious beliefs of others is always a fun pastime, mainly due to the low cost to oneself; a religious belief, by its definition, is one that not capable of being disproven using the scientific method.

I must admit to having never entered the auspicious offices of The Sydney Morning Herald in Pyrmont, but if I did, I would be unsurprised to discover the following demographic boxes and beliefs ticked by the vast majority, if not all editorial employees;

  1. Politically left
  2. Accepting of the concept that the west is a toxic patriarchy
  3. Accepting of the concept that the west is systemically racist
  4. Accepting of the concept of gender fluidity
  5. The concept of Judeo-Christian values or worth is to be dismissed as morally-inferior
  6. Acceptance of every report issued by the IPCC as being accurate, including every prediction and solution

If you are or know someone who is employed in that department and don’t tick one or several of those statements, please do correct me below.

Bills Opinion

We all hold unprovable beliefs.

Sit on a bus or a train and look around you. Do you know even a fraction of the thoughts appearing in your fellow travellers’ minds?

Of course not.

Does it matter?

Not if they aren’t harming you in any way.

Israel Folau isn’t attempting to dip into my bank account, restrict my ability to heat/cool my home, drive a car or take overseas holidays.

Izzy can believe whatever utter garbage he wishes.

Super, smashing, great

Mark McVeigh, a 24-year-old environmental scientist from Australia, won’t be able to access his retirement savings until 2055. But, concerned about what the world may look like then, he’s taking action now, suing his A$57 billion ($39 billion) pension fund for not adequately disclosing or assessing the impact of climate change on its investments.

Cue picture of stereotypical ponytailed unshaven millennial affecting zher best serious face:

Is that shirt available in “ironed”, son?

Before launching the legal action, McVeigh asked Retail Employees Superannuation Trust, or Rest, how it was ensuring his savings were future proofed against rising world temperatures. Its response didn’t satisfy him and he ended up engaging specialist climate change law firm, Equity Generation Lawyers.

Readers outside Australia might not know this, but the legislation around Superannuation is excellent in terms of portability and choice for the consumer. If you don’t like how your fund is invested or administered, switching to another provider is relatively simple. In most cases it’s a quick and easy online process using an industry standard reference number.

So, our faux gravitas-faced soy boy could log on to the laptop pictured in front of him and switch to this fund, for example.

That he has, instead, chosen to engage an activist legal firm (who are hopefully acting pro-bono) to sue his existing fund requires some explanation, then.

Given that portability of funds, and the availability of real alternatives, it’s not unreasonable for observers to wonder at Mark’s motivation in this.

Is he genuinely concerned about how his investments are being made? Complete an online form and switch funds then.

Or, is this an attempt to set a legal precedent restricting the choice of the rest of us?

Bill’s Opinion

We can’t read Mark’s mind, but his actions suggest less concern about his personal investments and more a desire to interfere with ours.

The problem he will face is that the prime objective, written in law, of superannuation funds is to increase the wealth of the savers.

It won’t be hard for the Defence lawyers to argue that, compared to a pathetic 1.2% annualised performance, his current fund is performing their legal duties far more diligently then the virtue signalling “ethical” fund.

It won’t have entered Mark’s mind, given the incontrovertible truth that, starting about 20 years before his birth, the world has witnessed nothing short of a miracle in the reduction of human suffering as a result of economic freedom to trade and invest:

But sure, go ahead Mark, tell us all how we should spend our own money, because you’ve worked it all out for us in your 24 years of existence.

On bush fires and global warming

The human brain, when faced with complex, multi-variable problems requires simple, easy solutions. Sadly, this is rarely feasible.

Take, for example, the huge outbreak of bush fires currently occurring in New South Wales, Australia.

These fires are serious. Tragically, lives have been lost.

Residential properties have been destroyed, with all the concomitant heartbreak that entails, the photos, the documents of memories, the moments in places that have been forever changed or destroyed.

While the fires are still burning, rational people ask what they should do to protect themselves and their families. This describes my current situation, living as I do in an area with a heavily forested area within an easy stone’s throw.

Those not in immediate danger wonder what they might do to help their neighbours.

Then there are those who live in the Australian equivalent of Islington.

Before the bodies of the dead have been recovered, they have already determined the effect, cause and solution.

The effect is obvious; catastrophic fires.

The cause is man made climate change.

The solution is to artificially hamstring the economy in a massive transfer of wealth and power from individuals to the state:

Bill’s Opinion

A more curious mind might read the coverage of the fires and search for answers to questions such as these:

Obviously, to answer these questions one would need a lot of time to undertake research or a competent and non-activist news media to perform this on our behalf.

Instead, we are presented with the simple message that these fires are definitely the result of man made climate change and the only viable solution to the problem is renewables such as solar and wind turbines.

Finally, I challenge you to find a single mention in the Australian media or political discourse of the vaguest possibility of nuclear energy being even a minor part of the solution.

Our media are mendacious, low IQ or a mixture of the two.