This article first appeared in the Australian publication Quadrant Online on December 26, 2019, and is republished by kind permission.
THE bushfires up and down the eastern coast of Australia are a national tragedy. They have claimed many lives, destroyed hundreds of houses and devastated thousands of hectares of bushland. Everyone agrees that we are overwhelmingly indebted to the fire-fighters who have been tirelessly waging war against nature: they have done a tremendous job in the face of a seemingly insurmountable task.
Whilst the cataclysmic nature of the inferno is unanimously acknowledged, a chorus of Australians have hastened to the conclusion that global warming is the cause, and CO2emissions the culprit. Sadly, this is exactly the sort of behaviour to expect in our post-Christian nation. Since we have abandoned God, we are constantly trying to find someone – some thing – to blame for the disasters that naturally and tragically occur. It is almost unbearable to accept the reality that we live in a broken world in which nature is often hostile, and that this truth is more apparent at particular times in history. As Thomas Sowell wrote in 2008: ‘The reason so many people misunderstand so many issues is not that these issues are so complex, but that people do not want a factual or analytical explanation that leaves them emotionally unsatisfied. They want villains to hate and heroes to cheer – and they don’t want explanations that do not give them that.’
Here’s why the climate change narrative fails to offer any meaningful solution to the current calamity.
1. Australia’s historical record of bushfires
The truth is that the climate is, and has always been, changing. Likewise, bushfires have always been part of Australia’s history; the recent bushfires are not an historical anomaly. Long before the era of modern industrialisation, bushfires occurred sporadically due to factors beyond the control of humans. As the Australian government’s Geoscience says:
‘The Australian climate is generally hot, dry and prone to drought. At any time of the year, some parts of Australia are prone to bushfires . . . For most of southern Australia, the danger period is summer and autumn. For New South Wales and southern Queensland, the peak risk usually occurs in spring and early summer.’
The worst bushfires to hit Australia were the ‘Black Thursday’ fires of 1851. The State Library of Victoria says:
‘Fires covered a quarter of what is now Victoria (approximately 5million hectares). Areas affected include Portland, Plenty Ranges, Westernport, the Wimmera and Dandenong districts. Approximately 12 lives, one million sheep and thousands of cattle were lost.’
Australia’s population in 1851 was around 435,000, not even 2 per cent of today’s figure. You don’t need to be a mathematician to see that, per capita, the recent fires have been less devastating than the inferno of 169 years ago. It is unthinkable to imagine the number of lives that would have been lost if the population in 1851 matched today’s 25million.
Since 1851, the world’s population has far exceeded seven billion, requiring an astronomical increase in the use of fossil fuels to produce the necessary goods and services. Yet the irony is that both the frequency and intensity of bushfires has not changed at all since then. Various other bushfires occurred before the rapid Australian industrialisation of the late 20th century, and therefore cannot be attributed to climate change. These include those of 1898 ‘Red Tuesday’, 1926, and 1939 ‘Black Friday’. If climate change really is the fundamental catalyst for severe bushfires, wouldn’t they be practically absent from Australia’s pre-industrial history? Moreover, while Europeans have been in Australia for less than 300 years, it is highly likely that similar or even worse bushfires have occurred throughout our nation’s history prior to colonisation. Again, if this is the case, it completely dismantles the claim that anthropogenic climate change is the cause of the recent catastrophe.
2. Fossil fuels save lives
Rather than being the cause for bushfires, industrialisation and technologisation – brought about by the utilisation of fossil fuels – have alleviated the effects of natural disasters by allowing us to prevent millions of deaths. In 1900, more than 1.25million deaths were caused by natural disasters. As shown below, both the frequency and number of deaths have dramatically decreased since then.
These drastic improvements can be directly attributed to technological innovation and advancement. Here are just a few of these developments:
# Increased Transport: People can flee disaster zones more quickly, preventing their deaths.
# Increased Warning Systems: These systems allow us to predict more accurately when natural disasters will hit, allowing time to prepare and evacuate from danger areas. They also help us to save wildlife such as koalas which would otherwise be eliminated by natural disasters.
# Increased Economic Productivity: Increased global GDP has allowed millions to rebuild their lives after natural disasters. Amongst many other benefits, increased GDP has increased our ability to deliver disaster relief, transportation of people out of disaster zones and communication to those in danger areas through telecommunications.
# Improved Medical Technology: Dramatic improvements in medical treatment have saved the lives of countless people affected by natural disasters.
Industrialisation is not the cause of the bushfires. Rather, it has been and continues to be verifiably beneficial to victims of natural disasters. What a foolish and naive political manoeuvre it would be to restrict Australians access to fossil fuels when they are the very resources that mitigate suffering.
Just look here for some of the false environmental predictions and their drastic consequences on human life.
3. Australia’s low (and decreasing) CO2 emissions
Australia contributes a low 0.3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. When you compare this with China’s 26 per cent contribution, our emissions are negligible. Furthermore, our nation has been decreasing its global emissions since 2000. The graph below shows that Australia’s ‘emissions per capita’ have been sliced by almost a third, decreasing from 36 tonnes per person in 1990 to less than 22 tonnes in 2019.
If climate alarmists truly believe that industrialisation is the cause of bushfires, they ought to chase after the primary contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. Further, they ought to acknowledge that our CO2 emissions are indeed decreasing without the assistance of multi-billion dollar climate initiatives, and admit that bushfires such as those we have witnessed this year are therefore not directly caused by climate change.
We live in an age when earnest debate is often exchanged for superficial slogans, and the climate change movement is a clear example of this. The quasi-religious commitment of some Australians to climate change is a manifestation of what happens to a nation when it abandons its Judeo-Christian roots. Let us give our hearts to those who are suffering as a result of the recent bushfires by doing all we can to support them. However, in the process, let us not sacrifice our brains on the altar of a hysterical political movement. What the victims of these fires need is not social commentators blaming ‘climate change’ for their suffering, but rather a helping hand to restore their lives.
Note: I am yet to meet someone who doesn’t believe that the climate is changing. What is debated is the degree to which these changes are primarily anthropogenic or not. For the sake of simplicity, I have used ‘climate change’ in this piece to refer to ‘anthropogenic climate change’.