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One of the World’s Leading Climate Scientists Explains the Link Between the Australia Bush Fires and Climate Change

I am a climate scientist on holiday in the Blue Mountains, watching climate change in action

After years studying the climate, my work has brought me to Sydney where I’m studying the linkages between climate change and extreme weather events.

Prior to beginning my sabbatical stay in Sydney, I took the opportunity this holiday season to vacation in Australia with my family. We went to see the Great Barrier Reef – one of the great wonders of this planet – while we still can. Subject to the twin assaults of warming-caused bleaching and ocean acidification, it will be gone in a matter of decades in the absence of a dramatic reduction in global carbon emissions.

We also travelled to the Blue Mountains, another of Australia’s natural wonders, known for its lush temperate rainforests, majestic cliffs and rock formations and panoramic vistas that challenge any the world has to offer. It too is now threatened by climate change.

I witnessed this firsthand.

I did not see vast expanses of rainforest framed by distant blue-tinged mountain ranges. Instead I looked out into smoke-filled valleys, with only the faintest ghosts of distant ridges and peaks in the background. The iconic blue tint (which derives from a haze formed from “terpenes” emitted by the Eucalyptus trees that are so plentiful here) was replaced by a brown haze. The blue sky, too, had been replaced by that brown haze.

The locals, whom I found to be friendly and outgoing, would volunteer that they have never seen anything like this before. Some even uttered the words “climate change” without any prompting.

The songs of Peter Garrett and Midnight Oil I first enjoyed decades ago have taken on a whole new meaning for me now. They seem disturbingly prescient in light of what we are witnessing unfold in Australia.

The brown skies I observed in the Blue Mountains this week are a product of human-caused climate change. Take record heat, combine it with unprecedented drought in already dry regions and you get unprecedented bushfires like the ones engulfing the Blue Mountains and spreading across the continent. It’s not complicated.

The warming of our planet – and the changes in climate associated with it – are due to the fossil fuels we’re burning: oil, whether at midnight or any other hour of the day, natural gas, and the biggest culprit of all, coal. That’s not complicated either.

When we mine for coal, like the controversial planned Adani coalmine, which would more than double Australia’s coal-based carbon emissions, we are literally mining away at our blue skies. The Adani coalmine could rightly be renamed the Blue Sky mine.

In Australia, beds are burning. So are entire towns, irreplaceable forests and endangered and precious animal species such as the koala (arguably the world’s only living plush toy) are perishing in massive numbers due to the unprecedented bushfires.

The continent of Australia is figuratively – and in some sense literally – on fire.

Yet the prime minister, Scott Morrison, appears remarkably indifferent to the climate emergency Australia is suffering through, having chosen to vacation in Hawaii as Australians are left to contend with unprecedented heat and bushfires.

Morrison has shown himself to be beholden to coal interests and his administration is considered to have conspired with a small number of petrostates to sabotage the recent UN climate conference in Madrid (“COP25”), seen as a last ditch effort to keep planetary warming below a level (1.5C) considered by many to constitute “dangerous” planetary warming.

But Australians need only wake up in the morning, turn on the television, read the newspaper or look out the window to see what is increasingly obvious to many – for Australia, dangerous climate change is already here. It’s simply a matter of how much worse we’re willing to allow it to get.

Australia is experiencing a climate emergency. It is literally burning. It needs leadership that is able to recognise that and act. And it needs voters to hold politicians accountable at the ballot box.

Australians must vote out fossil-fuelled politicians who have chosen to be part of the problem and vote in climate champions who are willing to solve it.

Michael E Mann is distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University. His most recent book, with Tom Toles, is The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy (Columbia University Press, 2016).


No, it's not complicated, climate change is happening right in front of our eyes.

What is complicated are the lies of climate change deniers which are getting more twisted and contorted as they get desperate.
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Curt wrote:The bushfires are causing a massive spike in greenhouse gases:

https://www.reuters.com/video/watch/idPyO2?now=true


That link has become unavailable.

According to the Copernicus emissions monitoring program, CO2 emissions from Australia's wildfires will be in excess of 900 million tons for this season, which is about twice the amount of Australia's annual emissions.

Emissions from wildfires ought to count double because they turn a CO2 sink into a CO2 source.
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Australia wildfires: Devastating blazes pushing global CO2 levels to record high

Catastrophic wildfires in Australia are pushing global carbon dioxide levels to new highs, scientists have warned.

The UK’s Met Office predicted 2020 would see one of the largest annual jumps of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since records began, with the raging bushfires blamed for up to a fifth of the increase.

Fossil fuel burning and changes in land use are also driving the rise and worsening global warming, the meteorological agency said in its yearly forecast of carbon concentration, which has been measured at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii since 1958.

The level of CO₂ in the atmosphere is expected to peak at 417 parts per million (ppm) in May, before settling at an average of 414ppm — an increase of 2.74ppm from last year.

As well as pumping carbon emissions into the atmosphere, the wildfires are burning vegetation, which would otherwise act as a “sink” to soak up CO₂.

More than 24 million acres of land have been destroyed as the blazes have raged across New South Wales and Victoria since September, and the extreme scale of the fires means regrowth of plants will be slower than usual.

Professor Richard Betts, of the Met Office’s Hadley Centre for climate change research, said: “Although the series of annual levels of CO₂ have always seen a year-on-year increase since 1958, driven by fossil fuel burning and deforestation, the rate of rise isn’t perfectly even, because there are fluctuations in the response of ecosystem carbon sinks, especially tropical forests. Overall these are expected to be weaker than normal for a second year running.”

If the Met Office’s forecast is accurate, the CO₂ rise in 2020 would be the fourth highest since records began. The larger previous increases in 1998, 2016 and 2019 were all linked to warmer temperatures caused by the El Nino climate cycle, according to the Met Office.

The uptake of carbon dioxide by land ecosystems is known to be affected by weather patterns linked to year-by-year swings in Pacific Ocean temperatures.

In years with a warmer tropical Pacific, many regions become hotter and drier, limiting the ability of plants to grow and absorb CO₂ and increasing the risk of wildfires. The Met Office said this, along with other weather patterns and human-induced global warming, contributed to the hot, dry weather that has fuelled Australia’s most devastating bushfires in decades.

Professor Betts added: “The success of our previous forecasts has shown that the year-to-year variability in the rate of rise of CO₂ in the atmosphere is affected more by the strength of ecosystem carbon sinks and sources than year-to-year changes in human-induced emissions. Nevertheless, the anthropogenic emissions are still the overall driver of the long-term rise in concentrations.”

Australia’s wildfires have killed at least 33 people, destroyed thousands of homes, and burned to death millions of animals.

The devastating blazes could become “normal” if global temperatures rise as projected between 3C and 5C this century, the Met Office warned earlier this month.



Australians, who already emit 3 times as much as Europeans, are increasing their emissions by coal exploitation and by turning carbon sinks into carbon sources, while Europe is making great efforts to reduce GHG emissions:

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Total greenhouse gas emission trends and projections in Europe
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