Australia's Bush Fires and Climate Change

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What are the ecological and climate consequences of the bush fires that have devastated the state of Victoria?

By Dave Riley
from Left Click

I was wondering if any one has hazarded an estimate as to the immediate and long term ecological and climate consequences of the Victoria bush fires.

QUESTION: The total amount of biomass burnt and the consequent carbon tonnage emitted?

Reports suggest that the ash will now pollute Melbourne water supply as several key dams are within the bushfire catchment– Maroondah for one. However, recent CSIRO research indicates that a forest while recovering from a bush fire takes up 20 % more water to sustain regrowth over the NEXT 20 YEARS and so 20% less water is harvested by the catchment for downstream take up. (Research done on the Snowy Mtns burn)

The irony is that places like Marysville included many ferny glens and ancient rain forest stands. Much of that biomass: fuel!

Similarly, ABC radio caught an element not so clear from the TV coverage: in places like Kinglake and Flowerdale many of the homes incinerated were back to nature and ‘environmentally sustainable’ mud brick style homes. At stake here is not only the long term bush interface that runs as a thread through Australian colonial history, but the culture of the new tree change demographic who argue that they bring back to the land sustainable farming and accommodation practices ‘at one’ with nature. What good is individual permaculture projects or environmentally friendly house design, for instance, (even with complicated bush fire design principles in place) if the land so cherished is as prone to burning as the rest of the landscape and the fires proceed by spot outbreaks kilometres in advance of the fire front?

The Vic media were bandying around the figure that 1 million animals may have died in the fires.I assume that includes livestock as well as fauna?It is hard to imagine what species could have out run the fire or survived as it came over them. So the ecological significance of these blazes are going to be long term in these areas. Many native animals can live through most fires, but this one was a bit different, I’d think.

And while there is a commitment to rebuild these townships surely there is going to be both a major cultural and financial shift. Not only will insurance premiums rise steeply but the resale value of these properties are sure to fall — and these homes would need to be rebuilt where much infrastructure has been destroyed.

Assuming the location are correctly referenced, today’s bushfire map on Google Maps suggest that the continuing outbreak of fires follows a pattern that relates directly to human habitation and urban sprawl. (There are no fires east of Mt Buller and Mt Beauty for instance) In fact it’s urban sprawl that is the main arsonist rather than individual pyromaniacs.

So I’m suggesting, that the underlying question raised by these fires in a time of galloping climate change — for Australians — is shocking indeed such that a major sociological shift may be called for. The floods to the north raise a similar quandary.

There is no bargain to be had with climate change, no little niche you can grab, that will spare your existence from its impact. That in fact, maybe unbeknown to us yet, we may be as vulnerable in many ways as the people of Kiribati.