Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Decorated former firefighter Greg Mullins thinks fire chiefs are being prevented from talking about climate change.
‘Some things were out of bounds’: Fire chiefs ‘gagged’ on climate change warnings to government, inquiry told
Decorated former firefighter and climate action advocate Greg Mullins says current fire chiefs have been effectively gagged from raising the bushfire risks created by global warming with politicians.
Mr Mullins said he had “deep concerns over climate change”, which was fuelling “unprecedented” bushfires in evidence to a Senate inquiry into the 2019-20 bushfire season on Wednesday.
Asked by Victorian Liberal senator James Paterson if he thought “the current serving fire chiefs are gagged in some way”, Mr Mullins replied: “yes”.
Mr Mullins, a former Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner, said when he was in the role “some things were out of bounds and often climate change was one of those issues, even to the point of having to work around it when preparing documents, and I think that is a tragedy”.
…Read more: https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/some-things-were-out-of-bounds-fire-chiefs-gagged-on-climate-change-warnings-to-government-commission-told-20200527-p54wxv.html
This issue is more complex than it might seem.
There is a 20 year drying trend in Australia, which fire chiefs operating in those areas would have noticed, so I understand fire chiefs being concerned about climate change. But some parts of Australia are getting wetter. And on a 100 year timescale, there is no trend.
There is also very little correlation between temperature and bushfires. From Roy Spencer’s post;
First, if we correlate the yearly temperatures in Fig. 2 with the bushfire land area burned in Fig. 1, there is essentially no correlation (-0.11), primarily because of the huge 1974-75 event. If that year is removed from the data, there is a weak positive correlation (+0.19, barely significant at the 2-sigma level). But having statistics depend so much on single events (in this case, their removal from the dataset) is precisely one of the reasons why we should not use the current (2019-2020) wildfire events as an indicator of long-term climate change.
Secondly, while it is well known that the CMIP5 models are producing too much warming in the tropics compared to observations, in Australia just the opposite is happening: the BOM temperatures are showing more rapid warming than the average of the climate models produces. This could be a spurious result of changes in Australian thermometer measurement technology and data processing as has been claimed by Jennifer Marohasy.
Or, maybe the discrepancy is from natural climate variability. Who knows?
…Read more: https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/01/09/are-australia-bushfires-worsening-from-human-caused-climate-change/
But what if Roy Spencer is wrong? (just kidding Roy!) If the risk is getting worse, even on a 20 year timescale, what should be done about it? An obviously solution is to remove tracts of forest which pose a danger to people, and cut bigger firebreaks. But in Australia, there appears to be a strong relationship between land clearance and reduced rainfall, so removing too many trees might actually increase the risk of the rest of the woodlands burning.
But lets assume for a moment, despite the lack of evidence, that anthropogenic climate change is causing a problem. What should be done about it?
Embracing renewables is not a solution. How much forest would have to be cleared to power all of Australia from wind and solar energy? What impact would all this land clearance have on rainfall and fire risk? How much overcapacity would be required to eliminate the risk of blackouts, assuming this is even possible? How much water would be needed to clean the solar panels – in dry, dusty country, solar panels have to be washed regularly to stop the dust blocking the sunlight, just like house windows have to be cleaned to let the light in. The thousands of square miles of solar panels (see calculation below) which would be required to have any chance of powering Australia from renewable energy would consume a lot of water.
Nuclear power is the only zero carbon energy source which has a hope of replacing fossil fuel. But I doubt you will see Climate Council contributor Greg Mullins and his friends advocating for more nuclear power plants anytime soon. Like many green groups, the climate council is dead against zero carbon nuclear energy.
Calculation: how many solar panels would be required to power Australia?
Australia consumed 6,172 petajoules of energy in 2017-18. or 6,172 x 10^15 / (1000 * 3600) = 1714 billion kw/h. Using land art generator’s generous 400kwh / year / square metre, Australia would need 4.3 billion square metres of panels, or 4286 square kilometres (1654 square miles), an area equivalent to a square 66km (40 miles) on each side. Of course the real amount of land required would be far higher; my calculation assumes unlimited capacity 100% efficient energy storage and transmission, and no gaps between panels for access and maintenance.
Even if we stick with the idealised calculation, building the required solar system would still be impractical. A 4m^2 outdoor clothes hangar I recently installed in sandy clay required a recommended 40kg of concrete to stabilise the pole. Since solar panels can’t be furled in high winds like a clothes line, they would require a lot more concrete and structural support.
Assuming an optimistic weight of 50kg / square metre (concrete foundations, metal supports, panels, wiring, step up transformers, cleaning system, maintenance roads), building the array would require 4.3 billion square metres x 50kg = 215
billion million tons of concrete, refined silicon solar panels, wiring and metal supports. Australia currently produces 10 million tons of concrete, and 1.5 million tons of alumina per year, somewhat short of the required amount. A 20-100x increase in mining and heavy industry to produce the required concrete, metal and silicon panels would require a substantial upward revision to Australia’s 6,172 petajoule annual energy consumption number, which in turn would increase the area of solar panels which would have to be built.
Correction (EW): the calculation is 215 million tons of material, not 215 billion tons. The rest of the calculation is correct AFAIK, 215 million tons is 20-100x Australia’s current heavy industrial production of relevant material like concrete and alumina.