Aussie Bushfires: Government Promises More Climate Action, but Defends Coal

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

The Scott Morrison Conservative government has agreed more action is required on climate change, but defended its support for coal mining.

McCormack concedes Australia must do more to fight climate crisis – but links fires to ‘self-combusting manure’

Deputy prime minister also suggests there’s ‘a lot of hysteria about climate change’ and takes strident line against those calling for end to coalmining

The deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, has conceded Australia must take further action to combat the climate crisis and acknowledged that the bushfires ravaging New South Wales and South Australia have further shifted community sentiment on the issue.

And he said former fire chiefs who had criticised the government were being funded by environmental campaigners.

However, McCormack took a strident line against those calling for an end to coalmining and, while acknowledging it was a factor, also suggested there had been “a lot of hysteria about climate change” in the commentary around the fires.

“Climate change is not the only factor that has caused these fires. There has been dry lightning strikes, there has been self-combusting piles of manure, there has been a lot of arsonists out there causing fire.”

He added: “For those running around saying we should abandon coal right now, what are we going to do with our electricity over summer if we shut them all down today? Coal provides almost two-thirds of our energy needs.”

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Where does this spineless attempt to play both sides leave Australian industry?

Should investors listen to McCormack’s support for more climate action? Or should they be reassured that the government thinks that for now, fossil fuel extractive industries are a necessary evil?

Perhaps McCormack means the Aussie government will pretend to take more climate action, say by pumping additional money into carbon capture and storage, or the outlandish solar “hydrogen export economy” idea kicking around academia?

Australia might have dodged a bullet in the last federal election, but if anybody is wondering why the Australian economy is not doing as well as President Trump’s USA, perhaps they should consider the mixed signals Aussie politicians are sending to global investors.

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Patrick MJD
December 22, 2019 3:07 am

That’s not what he said on Australia news tonight. He stated that “climate policies” taken to the Federal election in May will not change. What needs to change is preventative forest management.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 22, 2019 5:12 am

I went looking for the video and found this one instead. Not a mention of climate change or coal but a stunning example of reporter stupidity.

(my rough paraphrase, not a direct quote)
Reporter: Shouldn’t you be down at fire headquarters showing leadership?
McCormack: I’ve been there and I’ve talked to everyone that matters. At this time it’s really important to stay out of the professionals’ way and let them get on with their vital job.
Reporter: Shouldn’t you be showing leadership?

McCormack showed great patience and diplomacy.

Bryan A
Reply to  commieBob
December 22, 2019 8:25 am

At least McCormack is demonstrating, by action, that he isn’t on the payroll of “BigEco”

son of mulder
December 22, 2019 3:11 am

I’ve heard that the Aborigine population in Australia used to have regular burns of forest litter to avoid major fires. Also I heard that in recent times fires occur every 30 years or so. I also heard that many of the trees are gum trees that contain a lot of oil that can self combust in strong sunlight. There has been a drought for a year or so and it is very dry because there has been an El Nino, but there is nothing scientific I’ve heard that implies the fires were caused by anthropogenic climate change.

What aspect of CO2 has caused the new high temperature record? I thought CO2 mainly was supposed to cause a rise in minimum temperatures not highs.

Would someone enlighten me?

Reply to  son of mulder
December 22, 2019 4:47 am

The aboriginal people’s management of the land was extensive and complex. Bill Gamage’s book on the subject, “The Biggest Estate on Earth”, explains it. The title derives from colonists realising that the land they found often resembled the managed estates of the country they came from. Regarding CO2, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory basically shows – nothing. Like everywhere else in the southern hemisphere, there is no great seasonal flux of CO2. Might be one of the reasons why the results from this satellite are not publicised. Australia’s “carbon footprint” is basically zero.

Reply to  son of mulder
December 22, 2019 5:08 am

Gum trees don’t self combust. But Aborigines certainly did have regular burn offs. Infact that is an understatement – they burnt everything, all of the time. They would burn a forest, walk through collect the burnt (cooked) animal, eat, move on. The cleared forests also made hunting easier. For 40,000 years Australian forests were constantly being burnt. All of them. So much so, that many natives plants and trees evolved and now REQUIRE fire as part of their life cycle. Then in the 1980s/90s the madness kicked in, and we locked up national and state forests for fuel to build up and up. These fires are the product of 2 and 2 things only. 1) our idiocy in not managing forests that must be burnt regularly -and- 2) most of the fires were deliberately lit – something is sick in our society and culture. Drought played almost no part. Every Australian forest will burn like this even in a normal rain fall year. Once our summer kicks, every Australian forest is a tinderbox waiting to go up.

Reply to  ggm
December 22, 2019 2:36 pm

They are blaming the fires on climate change. Many of the fires have been lit by brainwashed teenagers.

Andre Lewis
Reply to  ggm
December 22, 2019 4:52 pm

Basically correct. The problem with aboriginal fire stick farming was that it was not part of any pattern and certainly not managed as we understand the term. It was opportunistic and designed simply to flush out animals for food. The long term effect has been that outside of rain forests the bush has been burnt over thousands of years to create a virtual monoculture of animals that can run away from fire and only trees left that can regenerate after burning. Hence the more dangerous conditions being experienced now. Local media saying we should ask indigenous people how to manage forests do not know what they are talking about.

Jan E Christoffersen
Reply to  ggm
December 23, 2019 9:51 am


I note that here in Canada there is constant reporting of the Australian fires but no mention of the cause(s). Would that be due to the fact that most of the fires have been initiated by humans?

I also understand that eucalyptus trees can withstand fire and recover afterward. Perhaps someone with first-hand knowledge can confirm that.

Reply to  son of mulder
December 22, 2019 5:21 am

ok I will try; the aboriginals burnt chunks of land(with obvious excapes and far larger fires than they bargained for) to remove the regrowth saplings that made it hard for them to hunt and move through, burnt areas became more open and grassy for some time till big rains in some spots had saplings starting again,
when newgrowth is small animals will graze eucalptus tips etc but after about 1 yr they dont like it anymore.
personal obs from my land on that.
between elnino AND the idian ocean dipole being unco operative africa got flooded to hell n we got a late n slow startup to monsoon season, it appears to be beginning now at last!
eucy trees dont spontaneously combust in sunlight ok
lightning strikes in superdry areas however DO get a fast start on the trees bacuse the oils are there, its why i plant non native trees around my place , they need a bit more care when young but most cope when established.
we have more issues with firebugs purposely starting fires tres falling on powerlines(adelaide this week) and natural lightning as causes.

whats been interesting is the heavy smoke actualy kept temps down by blocking the sun in the worst nsw fire areas and creating a dense atmosphere helping to delay combustion. thats not been noted before though its prob always happened we just didnt twig it.

Reply to  ozspeaksup
December 22, 2019 2:45 pm

The cool section of the Indian Ocean Dipole current is currently along the west coast of Australia. This cause little evaporation and near zero clods. Weather systems move west to east in Aystralia so this has caused the current drought and high temperatures. Normally the warm current is in this position at this time of year, (summer) giving generous rainfall. Met Bureau expect this to last till April/May.

Reply to  ozspeaksup
December 22, 2019 4:42 pm

”its why i plant non native trees around my place , they need a bit more care when young but most cope when established.”

Yes. Eucs should be the last choice around dwellings. I have planted mainly non native species. Mediterranean oaks probably being the best.

Jan E Christoffersen
Reply to  ozspeaksup
December 23, 2019 11:58 am


OK. But do mature eucalyptus trees regenerate after after a fire?

steve case
Reply to  son of mulder
December 22, 2019 5:36 am

Son of mulder December 22, 2019 at 3:11 am
I thought CO2 mainly was supposed to cause a rise in minimum temperatures not highs.
Would someone enlighten me?

The IPCC’s AR4 Report Chapter 10 Executive Summary Page 750 under Extremes


Almost everywhere, daily minimum temperatures are projected to increase faster than daily maximum temperatures, leading to a decrease in diurnal temperature range.

The AR5 probably says more or less the same thing and the AR6 will probably do so as well. But then maybe the mavens who run the IPCC may decide some day that they don’t like that quote shoved down their throats and ignore it in some future Assessment Report and act like they never said it.

Reply to  son of mulder
December 22, 2019 4:36 pm

Until the last couple of decades there was extensive forest management with controlled burns during winter. This resulted in minimal bush fires. This all stopped with the greens hysteria against it and now we are back to where we were a century ago.

December 22, 2019 3:14 am

One of the recent newspapers came it with something with which I agreed. It said that Australia should not use Kyoto Protocol legacy numbers, which are reducing, to claim they are doing something about the climate.

The reason is the Kyoto Protocol is not necessary. CO2 sequestration is dynamic, it happens each year. Australia is a net carbon sink already. Some nations are trying to get to net zero. Something we already achieve.

Peter Miller
December 22, 2019 3:19 am

Australia is a dought prone country and its trees are mostly highly combustible eucalyptus. Throw in a few arsonists, some hot dry windy weather, plus green ecolunacy about banning controlled burns, and nature can be relied on to do its thing.

Nature, left to itself, will have huge fires once every 30-40 years in SE Australia, as the records prove. Ecoloons are going hysterically ape about climate change being the cause of the fires, when it clearly isn’t.

December 22, 2019 3:49 am

Politicians speak to maxmise their votes at the next election.
They chart a course, like you or I do, based on a summary of what they have read, seen, heard, been advised. There are few scientists in the Australian parliament. On science topics, our pollies will act this way or that, depending on whom they find credble.
Currently, our Chief Scientist and seemingly all involved learned societies are advising what many here consider to be an alarmist view. In my research, these views have been adopted through lazy science. The science advisors have only shallow understanding of the science. They have not dirtied their hands by digging into it to nearly the depth I have, as many others here have.
One helpful solution would be to encourage these advisors to look more closely at the science.
I do not have hopes that insulting the politicians will help. They have to ask the advisors to do a more thorough evaluation. They are currently at about undergrad levels of understanding when they should be trying for D.Sc. levels.
The media are little help. They tore into the PM for taking a holiday in Hawaii this week, when there were bushfires in the country. Not courteous, not helpful to anyone.
So, please work to encourage these science advisors and the honest scientists in academia to learn about what is really happening and how poor the climate science has been. Geoff S

Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
December 22, 2019 5:24 am

pity Ian Plimer and a few more of our saner people , Viv Forbes etc dont ever manage to BE heard or given advisory roles..
which shows the level of control the pro warmist advocates DO have in our political arenas.
NGO lobbyists have way much money and access

old white guy
December 22, 2019 3:50 am

Everybody could leave Auzziland tomorrow and the climate will do what it has always done and fires will burn as they have always done. Rains will come, floods will occur, all will be as it always has been. Man has no control.

December 22, 2019 4:02 am

The Australian Prime Minister and his Deputy are each attempting to stand on both sides of a barbed wire fence.

Reply to  Michael Darby
December 22, 2019 4:26 am

Brings a tear to your eye doesn’t it?

Reply to  JB
December 22, 2019 5:25 am

sure can do, if youre not very careful;-))

son of mulder
Reply to  Michael Darby
December 22, 2019 5:26 am

Sounds like what the UK Labour Party did so successfully (sarc) in the recent UK General Election.

December 22, 2019 4:04 am

Now they speak of highest average temps to do the alarm thing not highest temp which was 51.6 deg c in 1909 in bourke but it’s not in their records because it was taken on a Sunday. the BOM have been caught out lowering old temps also. It’s all a scam in australia, I lived in bourke for 7 years 83 – 90, Ford’s bridge recorded 51 deg c in about 1986, nothing new here.
Never heard of gum trees starting fires, more like fire bugs, lightning, broken glass city butts.
You can’t take fallen timber from the forrest so there is plenty of fuel on the ground, it’s a bomb fire.

December 22, 2019 4:06 am
According to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), Australia’s coal exports are expected to rise over the next 5 years on the back of growing demand from Asia.
China’s thermal coal-derived electricity production growth has again exceeded coal production growth.
Data released this month shows that China’s coal production totalled 334.1 million t in November 2019. This mark’s y/y growth of 6%. Also of note is that China’s thermal coal-derived electricity production totalled 432.5 billion kWh last month, which marks year on year growth of 7%.

December 22, 2019 4:23 am

This is very simple, green councils and their government counterparts, have managed to stop the controlled burns that used to keep these fires from getting totally out of control, they have turned vast amounts of land into national parks, stopping people from collecting dead trees, who also tend to keep tracks clear..handy for fire trucks. Then there’s the actual cause of the Queensland alone, 97 people facing charges for lighting fires, thats since September. The fire fighters can’t put fires out fast enough. These clowns are blaming climate change? They make idiots of themselves every time they speak. Rumours abound that some of the arsonists are extinction rebelion or other green activists, the number of fires is unprecedented.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Ken
December 22, 2019 4:41 am

Given the number of deaths and damage I hope these arsonists get to serve some jail time.

December 22, 2019 4:24 am

“He added: “For those running around saying we should abandon coal right now, what are we going to do with our electricity over summer if we shut them all down today? Coal provides almost two-thirds of our energy needs.””
Simple solution. Shut down all the coal fired power stations and let everyone know what the enviro lobby want.
After a few hours the environmentalists will be reduced to silence.

December 22, 2019 5:32 am

the absolute miracle this week is most powers stayed ON!
cut to areas of fire and outages from treefalls etc have been very low
most comms have stayed up also
outrage when optus signals went in nsw, ignoring the fact that towers in fire areas get damaged as well
having ANY outside comms is a far cry from not that long ago when you had a radio at best
on that topic the supposed emergency radio bands are crap and the digital radio bands are lousy without fire days when its windy for eg
i had to use a tiny battery radio and even then the reports were useless to anyone requiring even an hour or so lagtime in info as to where fires were and what way they were going…not a scrap of that required info was available

Justin Burch
December 22, 2019 5:37 am

This wimpy half way compromise position on climate change is part of what defeated the Conservative Party in the last Canadian election. Ot takes a lot of guts to pooh pooh the climate change hysterics. Most politicians don’t have any.

December 22, 2019 6:15 am

The primary cause of all this (other than excessive combustible material) is the recent stratospheric warming over Antarctica causing high pressure (negative AAO) over Ozzie land. The result is hot and dry. It’s the quiet Sun.

Rich Davis
December 22, 2019 7:29 am

I pity the conservative politicians who must choose between reelection and expressing the truth.

Power elites have been hypocrites expressing belief in the tribe’s popular mythology since the dawn of recorded history. Australia’s secular religion is no exception. ScoMo must bow to the Climate Change idols if he wants to remain in office, just like BoJo. The only reason Trump gets away with his apostasy is that most of his voters are skeptics. Even still, he does not make a campaign issue of it.

michael hart
Reply to  Rich Davis
December 22, 2019 1:44 pm

Yet once a politician crosses that line and doesn’t suffer electorally as a result, it becomes much easier for subsequent politicians to do like wise. Trump has shown them the way.

IMO, most of the politicians don’t believe the alarmist spiel any more than most readers here. They are just frightened to say so. When every Party and everybody toes the line, they decide to differentiate themselves from the opposition in different areas of policy. Similarly, in the UK, mainland British politicians often avoided saying anything controversial about Northern Ireland because it is a political hornet’s nest. They mostly just want an easier life by not disagreeing with each other on this topic, despite their other differences.

Hokey Schtick
December 22, 2019 7:56 am

Every one in Australia has lost their minds over carbon and climate change. This is what you get with a culture-free country and a dumbed-down population. The smug self-righteousness of the progressives has infected the entire nation, other than a few holdouts, who are regarded as dinosaurs. Tim Minchin is the face of Australia now, the dull dumb eyes, the lanky hair, the know-it-all smirk, the insufferance arrogance of the ignorant.

David Tallboys
December 22, 2019 9:03 am

They could carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission following the the devastating 1939 fires.

Internationally, south-eastern Australia is considered one of the three most fire-prone landscapes on Earth, along with southern California and the southern Mediterranean. Major Victorian bushfires occurred on Black Thursday in 1851, where an estimated 5 million hectares were burnt, followed by another blaze on Red Tuesday in February 1891 in South Gippsland when about 260,000 hectares were burnt, 12 people died and more than 2,000 buildings were destroyed. The deadly pattern continued with more major fires on Black Sunday on 14 February 1926 sees the tally rise to sixty lives being lost and widespread damage to farms, homes and forests.

Considered in terms of both loss of property and loss of life the 1939 fires were one of the worst disasters, and certainly the worst bushfire event, to have occurred in Australia up to that time. Only the subsequent Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983 and the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009 have resulted in more deaths. In terms of the total area burnt the Black Friday fires are the second largest, burning 2 million hectares, with the Black Thursday fires of 1851 having burnt an estimated 5 million hectares.

Putting aside large conflagrations of cities like the Great Fire of Meireki or the Great Fire of London, perhaps the world’s worst bushfire was at Peshtigo in Wisconsin in 1871, which burnt nearly 1.2 million acres, destroyed twelve communities and killed between 1500–2500 people. Now largely forgotten, Peshtigo was overshadowed by the Great Fire of Chicago that occurred on the same day.

Dave Ward
December 22, 2019 9:34 am

I watched a BBC news bulletin last night about the fires DownUnder. I can’t remember the name of the person being interviewed (by phone), but he said that more needs to be done about the design of houses, as well as proper management of forest areas. He didn’t go so far as to say this is what used to occur, but it was better than the normal Climate Change rubbish the Beeb spouts!

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Dave Ward
December 22, 2019 8:17 pm

It is easy to blame something you can’t see or control rather than actually doing something about mitigating the fire risk like forest management, y’know, the stuff we used to do.

December 22, 2019 12:50 pm

There needs to be a major rethink about the building codes with communities living in the bush. You see so many burnt houses with the bush at their back door. The power of local councils, often run by green influence, preventing people from clearing trees around their property and fining them if they do is simply ludicrous. There needs to be a uniform national code that should make it mandatory for people to make their property fire safe. A good start is for fire service declared undefendable houses to be uninsurable. Then maybe common sense will prevail.
Mandatory containment lines of at least 50 meters wide cleared around communities and regularly maintained with a combination of bare earth tracks for fire truck access and slashed grass. And of course the biggie is more fuel reduction burning to remove excess fuel loads.
Too often complacency becomes our enemy where people forget too easily. There have been numerous occasions in our history where we have experienced major bush fires, but somehow we never seem to learn from those experiences. Maybe its the generational gap between them, I dont know the answer, but it sure bugs the hell out of me. Especially as I have been involved with the fire service for 45 years.

John in Oz
December 22, 2019 12:51 pm

From South Australia:

My wife’s late-eighties aunt was recently commenting that, in the ‘old days’ there used to be lots of cattle and sheep grazing between the trees which reduced the fuel load.

Many of these areas are now locked away from such practices in national parks and/or under ‘back to nature’ orders and laws.

I’m also wondering how serious the fires would be without the one degree of ‘global warming’ that gets so many hot under the collar (deliberate pun).

December 22, 2019 4:27 pm

Conservatives in Australia are busy being clever with the electorate.
We have pain coming as energy prices continue to skyrocket despite election promises.
January 1 our business electricity rate increases from 23 to 28.5c/kWh.
That’s a 20% increase and it was meant to be a 5 to 7% decrease as espoused by the lying Liberal Party (conservatives here).
My next vote will be a ‘protest vote’ and I know many conservatives that intend doing the same.

Michael in Dublin
December 22, 2019 5:31 pm

An interesting comment that needs confirmation:

“As firefighters remained on high alert, police revealed 103 of the destructive fires that had lashed Queensland since September were deliberately lit.

Figures obtained by AAP revealed police had dealt with 98 people – 31 adults and 67 juveniles – for deliberately setting fires.”

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Michael in Dublin
December 22, 2019 8:08 pm

Similar story here in New South Wales, and I am sure other states too. Here in NSW about 87% of files were started by arsonists and 7 fires here in were started by a volunteer Firey. If it is determined these people were in anyway connected to Extinction Rebellion or other climate change alarmist group I sincerely hope they get some serious jail time. By far the biggest fire was started by lightening in a national park.

Michael in Dublin
Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 24, 2019 4:05 am

Thanks for the reply. Please include links to your sources.

It makes me angry when I see a twitter comment by a Mail & Guardian environment reporter far from Australia – ignorant of the situation on the ground and the history of the country – who declares:
“Australia, a country led by climate change deniers, is burning. Because the climate is changing.”

David William Spencer Sivyer
December 22, 2019 7:14 pm

Carbon capture & stowage? Regen agriculture increases soil carbon which, in turn, increases water retention. Trees are pretty good at CCS. Too simple?

December 23, 2019 4:26 pm

Gum trees don’t self combust. However, during very hot spells common in Australia at this time of year, volatile vapors from the gum seep out and become concentrated in still air. So if there is a nearby fire due to campfires, arson or lightning its like taking a match to a room that is full of gas. Boom. The fires then spread very rapidly jumping miles at a time

A British author (Nevil Shute) of the 50’s who wrote novels based in Australia described similar fires early in the 20th century in one of them

Perhaps the arsonists in Australia had a political agenda or maybe it was a coincidence. No idea but anything is possible, even ecoterrorism

December 23, 2019 5:18 pm

Don’t worry about it, the PM – just back from Hawaii despite unprecedented fires, even a state of emergency – is just like TDJT or BoJo …, and so apparently the PC/ SJW-approved phrase now is Happy Holidays!

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