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Bjorn Lomborg Fighting Australia’s Fire Myths

February 16, 2020

By Paul Homewood




Bjorn Lomborg has an op-ed in the Australian this month about the bushfires. You can read it here.


His key argument is that this season’s fires are far from being unprecedented, as is regularly claimed.

No photo description available.

As he points out in the article:

Australia is the world’s most fire-prone continent. In 1900, 11 per cent of its surface burned annually. These days, 5 per cent of the country burns every year. By the end of the century, if we do not stop climate change, higher temperatures and an increase in aridity will likely mean a 0.7 percentage point increase in burnt area, an increase from 5.3 per cent of Australia to 6 per cent.

Unfortunately, many reports on Australia’s fires have exploited the carnage to push a specific agenda, resting on three ideas: that bushfires are worse than ever, that this is caused by global warming, and that the only solution is for political leaders to make even bigger carbon-cut promises.

Globally, bushfires burn less land than it used to. Since 1900, global burnt area has reduced by more than one-third because of agriculture, fire suppression and forest management. In the satellite era, NASA and other groups document significant decreases.

Surprisingly, this decrease is even true for Australia. Satellites show that from 1997 to 2018 the burnt area declined by one-third. Australia’s current fire season has seen less area burned than in previous years. Up to January 26, bushfires burned 19.4 million hectares in Australia — about half the average burn over the similar timeframe of 37 million hectares in the satellite record. (Actually the satellites show 46 million hectares burnt, but 9 million hectares are likely from prescribed burns.)

When the media suggests Australia’s fires are “unprecedented in scale”, it is wrong. Australia’s burnt area declined by more than a third from 1900 to 2000, and has declined across the satellite period. This fire season, at the time of writing, 2.5 per cent of Australia’s area has burned compared with the past 10 years’ 4.8 per cent average by this point.

What is different this year is that fires have been mostly in NSW and Victoria. These are important states with a little more than half the country’s population — and many of its media outlets.

But suggesting fires are caused by global warming rests on cherrypicking these two regions with more fire and ignoring the remaining 87 per cent of Australia’s landmass, where burned area has declined.

I certainly would take issue with the claim aridity will increase, as we know that rainfall has generally been greater since the 1970s than before.

Lomborg goes on to make the points I have made regularly, that there are many practical ways to reduce the risk of severe fires, and that even if Australia went totally net zero, it would have no effect whatsoever on their climate.

Well worth a read though. It may be paywalled, but I accessed it free

  1. MrGrimNasty permalink
    February 16, 2020 11:19 am

    You have to ask why Lomborg isn’t on the Climate Change Committee – even though I know the answer!

  2. Athelstan. permalink
    February 16, 2020 11:59 am

    Bjorn Lomborg is a thoughtful lad not given to hyperbole and making extreme boasts and yet some of the advocates of the great green scam would make Bjorn Lomborg public enemy No 1 for only making reasonable and cogently thought through comment.

    And we all know and see, daily witness it, you can’t argue reason with fanatics and political charlatans……….think here of the CCC.

  3. Broadlands permalink
    February 16, 2020 1:59 pm

    It is well known that many wildfires are the result of an increasing number of people visiting forests for recreation and causing accidental or intentional forest fires. Lightening only adds to that cause. The correlation between population and numbers of major wildfires is positive. This is one of the big problems facing those who want to plant trillions of trees to sequester CO2…temporarily.

    • dearieme permalink
      February 17, 2020 4:22 pm

      That wouldn’t be a problem in the UK as long as any new woodland consists of broadleaf trees rather than conifers. And in the UK there would be no need to plant new trees. All you have to do is protect the land from grazing and the trees grow spontaneously. That’s if you want to convert pasture and arable into woodland. Bloody silly idea, if you ask me.

  4. Rowland P permalink
    February 16, 2020 3:27 pm

    From what I’ve read, environmentalists have caused huge areas to be fenced off to basically return to nature, preventing regular winter controlled burns, making fire breaks and thus causing a build up of fuel load, which will naturally burn more ferociously. There was a huge area burnt off in 1974 over a sparsely populated area, I believe.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      February 16, 2020 8:16 pm

      Rowland P:
      Not really environmentalists, more politicians and public servants who were pandering to the green brigade. Closing off National (& State) Parks to the public, preventing access or use by those who’ve been there for generations, and trying to stop forestry. Further making it illegal to remove fallen branches, and allowing fire trails to become overgrown by introduced species e.g. blackberry and neglecting even clearing the roadsides (so they couldn’t act as a barrier). Even banning clearing away from a house and heavily fining those who did, even one man who cleared around his house and was fined over $50,000 but whose house was the only one left after the fires came through in 2009.
      They were warned and ignored those who wanted action e.g. better fire fighting equipment and controlled burns to reduce the fuel load. All in all complete failure by them and we were lucky that these fires were only a tenth as bad as those in 1974.

      And those incompetents blame climate change.

  5. February 16, 2020 8:34 pm

    Most wildfires in Australia occur in the north, as this page notes: “… Australia is a continent where bushfire is a common and, indeed, vital contributor to natural processes, and because many vegetation types encourage bushfires—with highly flammable foliage, litter and oils—bushfire can be beneficial to some species and ecological communities …”:
    The maps shows bushfire frequencies, number of times burnt 2007-13:

    Given the very short period in which to infer any long-term trend (paradoxically?) the areas of greatest frequency correlate with areas where the annual rainfall has increased markedly over the past forty years, over 100 mm/decade in some areas:

  6. Graeme#4 permalink
    February 16, 2020 10:55 pm

    Eucalypt forests can generate litter fuel loads around 8 tonnes/hectare every year. But the litter doesn’t readily decompose – only 28%/year. So if less than 10% is burnt every year with prescribed burns, this fuel load can easily build up to over 100 tonnes/hectare. And when these large fuel loads are set alight, nothing will stop them.

  7. Hivemind permalink
    February 17, 2020 8:09 am

    “Bjorn Lomborg has an op-ed in the Australian this month”

    Could you please update this to add that the article is paywalled. Thanks.

    • February 17, 2020 10:24 am

      Yes, I normally can’t get into the Australian, but it let me in free this time!

  8. Ivan permalink
    February 17, 2020 1:59 pm

    “I certainly would take issue with the claim aridity will increase, as we know that rainfall has generally been greater since the 1970s than before.”

    I’m not saying you are wrong to disagree that aridity is increasing. But average annual continent-wide rainfall is far too general to indicate it. If you want to demonstrate that aridity is not increasing, I think you need to look at some stats which engage more directly with aridity.

    As we can see from the the chart I_am_not_a_robot provides, rainfall has decreased in the long term in the SE region of Australia which suffered the recent terrible fires. Also most of the north of Australia (excluding the relatively small year-round rainfall areas), where rainfall has most increased, nevertheless still has a long and bone-dry dry season, regardless of the increase in rainfall.

    Maybe the real story is more nuanced – fewer fires in the north, more in the SE. Maybe that can happen even if the SE gets wetter too. Many parts of SE Australia recently had about 4 months rain in a few days. It put all the fires out in that part of Australia. It will make this period of time in SE Australia look rather wet when averaged over sufficiently long periods.

    We can also observe that the recent terrible California wildfires took place in a time period year where the lower-48 as an aggregated whole was unsually wet. I think it may even have been reasonably wet also in California, taken over a sufficiently long period. But it still got dry enough between the rain for those terrible fires.

  9. February 17, 2020 2:39 pm

    great post

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