All of us who live here can taste the fire and feel it in our throats.
December 8, 2019 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Australia Burns Again, and Now Its Biggest City Is Choking - NYT. Psychologists describe a creeping sense of impotence and dread. “The stress based on the fact that thick smoke can accelerate pre-existing cardiovascular conditions is one thing,” said Frans Verstraten, who holds the McCaughey Chair of Psychology at the University of Sydney. “But the other kind of stress, based on the realization that there is not much we can do — helplessness; the realization that you can’t do anything about it — makes it worse.

The Facts About Bushfires and Climate Change - Climate Council
This is not normal. As we write, New South Wales and Queensland have declared a state of emergency. There are also fires in South Australia and Western Australia. For the first time catastrophic bushfire conditions have been declared for Greater Sydney. Climate change has worsened the catastrophic bushfire conditions. The nature of bushfires in Australia has changed.
Bushfire conditions are now more dangerous than in the past, and the risk to people and property has increased. For well over 20 years, scientists have warned that climate change would increase the risk of extreme bushfires in Australia. This warning was accurate. Scientists expect extreme fire weather will continue to become more frequent and severe without substantial and rapid action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Australia fires: blazes 'too big to put out' as 140 bushfires rage in NSW and Queensland - Guardian Australia
The largest conflagration, the “mega fire” at Gospers Mountain near Sydney’s north-western outskirts, is likely to burn for weeks until substantial rain falls, likely at the end of January or early February.
The NSW Bureau of Meteorology said the largest fires simply could not be extinguished by water-bombing aircraft or firefighting crews on the ground.
“The massive NSW fires are in some cases just too big to put out at the moment … they’re pumping out vast amounts of smoke which is filling the air, turning the sky orange and even appearing like significant rain on our radars,” the bureau said.

Leading scientists condemn political inaction on climate change as Australia 'literally burns' - Guardian Australia
Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a climate scientist with the University of NSW’s Climate Change Research Centre, said she was “surprised, bewildered, concerned” that the emergency had prompted little discussion from political leaders this week.
“Here we are in the worst bushfire season we’ve ever seen, the biggest drought we’ve ever had, Sydney surrounded by smoke, and we’ve not heard boo out of a politician addressing climate change,” she said.
They dismissed it from the outset and haven’t come back to it since.
“They’re burying their heads in the sand while the world is literally burning around them and that’s the scary thing. It’s only going to get worse.”


Ramping up Repression as the Australian Continent Burns - Jacobin
In her book On Fire, Naomi Klein warns of what she calls “climate barbarism” as a way that the wealthy world will adapt to the disruptions of ecological collapse, with governments intensifying the most toxic political tendencies already present in the body politic. “What starts as brutality at the border will most certainly infect societies as a whole,” she says.
Australia provides an obvious example. Prime Minister Morrison keeps on his desk a sculpture of an Asian fishing boat emblazoned with the words, “I stopped these.” The trophy — a gift, he says, from a constituent — memorializes his time as immigration minister, a period in which he deployed naval vessels to turn back refugee boats at sea.
posted by Acid Communist (51 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thank you for putting this together.
posted by theora55 at 3:04 PM on December 8, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'm glad the "debate", if you could call it that has moved on from the obvious lie that Greens banned hazard reduction burning, and now it's just clear to all that both the government and opposition are just fucking dumbfounded and are hoping it will all just go away.

It's worth remembering that wildfire fighting in Australia is primarily conducted by volunteers; volunteers who have been doing this since [checks calendar] July, there are still several months of what is forecast to be an extremely hot summer to come, and things haven't even kicked off in Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia yet.

Australian firefighting also relies heavily on resource sharing with the US and Canada, in terms of aircraft and crews - but climate change is spreading the Australian fire season further and further back into spring, there is increasing overlap between the North American and Australian fire seasons. When the current crisis in NSW was kicking off a few weeks ago, there were still serious fires burning in California. This is a new paradigm.
posted by Jimbob at 3:56 PM on December 8, 2019 [15 favorites]


I live near the bush in the Blue Mountains with my wife and daughter. We've had to evacuate twice in the last few weeks.

The first time was an adventure, the second time, not so much. It was Friday night, my wife was away, my kid was in bed. I'd had a couple of beers and I was halfway through a documentary. I get an alert on my phone. There's an out of control fire a street away. The last really bad fire in that stretch was in 1968, but people died that time, and you can't help thinking that maybe this is the big one. Because this year is the worst in memory. My neighbour is a veteran of the Rural Fire Service and it's got him shook. We pack and head to my parents. I hope I'm ok to drive.

It wasn't the big one, as it happens. But we're sick of the smoke. The all-pervasive apocalyptic haze. The dread. The sense that this country is, in more ways than one, cooked.

We're 9 days into summer.
posted by misterbee at 3:57 PM on December 8, 2019 [42 favorites]


Living in Sydney at the moment I really struggle to put my thoughts into words. I'd like to be optimistic but that seems grotesque. I'd like to be realistic but that is unfair to people who are sensitive to depressing news. I'd like to be practical but the most practical impulse I have at the most is also the most ignoble: I want to run away, far away to another country which isn't on fire and pretend Australia doesn't exist.
posted by um at 3:59 PM on December 8, 2019 [14 favorites]


Always wise to remind yourself when you're reading stories like this:

This place isn't special. It's just first.
posted by ocschwar at 4:46 PM on December 8, 2019 [35 favorites]


See also: California
posted by Windopaene at 5:03 PM on December 8, 2019 [5 favorites]


It's horrible. The smoke sitting on me is from a fire that has burned out two family blocks last weekend as well as a favourite holiday spot. Lots of coughing and stinging eyes and throat. Already stretched hospitals seeing a 30% increase in respiratory presentations. It'll be 38 deg C / 100 deg F and smoky and <20% humidity here this week.
posted by quercus23 at 5:18 PM on December 8, 2019 [9 favorites]


Did Australia cede power to the conservatives in the same way we did here in the US?
posted by maxwelton at 5:38 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yes, just like in the US, the "centre left opposition" are a pick of pathetic, weak, believe-in-nothing, excuse-making corporate stooges interested in little more than propping up the status-quo, ignoring the reasonable rights and demands of future generations and, on an individual level, ensuring profitable careers for themselves as fossil fuel company lobbyists when their parliamentary careers are over. Same as in town.
posted by Jimbob at 5:42 PM on December 8, 2019 [19 favorites]


Fuck Albo.
posted by Jimbob at 5:43 PM on December 8, 2019 [10 favorites]


It's worth remembering that wildfire fighting in Australia is primarily conducted by volunteers

I'm having a hard time understanding how this can possibly work. Surely most people can't spend months at a time working without pay. Is it mostly retirees?
posted by Not A Thing at 5:52 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


The volunteer fire fighting forces are definitely getting older. The law prevents employees who take leave to assist in fighting fires from being discharged or discriminated against in the workplace; however, they aren't getting paid obviously. The volunteer system was intended so local people could respond to short-lasting emergencies in their local communities - not for months-long campaigns stretching across multiple states. In short, yeah, it can't continue to work.
posted by Jimbob at 5:59 PM on December 8, 2019 [17 favorites]


This place isn't special. It's just first.

This year was the first year for a good few years we didn't have at least a few days where downtown Vancouver looked like mars. I excpect it'll be back soon. I'd gotten worryingly used to having a few weeks a year where you weren't supposed to exercise outside and we're warned to stay inside as much as possible for health reasons. It's scary.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 6:01 PM on December 8, 2019 [5 favorites]


Tony Windsor asked the PM in QT the other day about using the RAAF for water-bombing now that California is going to want to be keeping its own water-bombers for longer each year. SmoKo gave his usual bullshit non-answer. Just utterly enraging. I recommend everybody not seek out the exchange.
posted by pompomtom at 6:18 PM on December 8, 2019 [4 favorites]


(I don't expect the PM to do anything to address the causes of this shit, but we're talking about amelioration and presumably lots of photo-ops in hi-viz, maybe sitting in a cockpit with a thumb up. Thought they loved that shit...)
posted by pompomtom at 6:21 PM on December 8, 2019 [5 favorites]




Uh yeah next time someone trots out compulsory voting as The Answer to low voter turnout just remember Australia still burns and the empty suits in charge have decided to live in delusion rather than face their responsibilities.
posted by um at 7:00 PM on December 8, 2019 [6 favorites]


I'm having a hard time understanding how this can possibly work.

At present, it doesn't, really. But OTOH we haven't slaves available like in California, and the govt is heavily invested in prayer as a solution.
posted by pompomtom at 7:04 PM on December 8, 2019 [14 favorites]


The photos of downtown Sydney look like last year's Seattle, after our forest fires. You could barely see 50 ft in front of you.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 7:08 PM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'm in Brisbane right now. As we landed, I thought, "Wow, this looks like summer in LA." And that was before the winds changed. It was smoky all weekend and seemed a bit more like Bangkok in the dry season, although it's still just a fraction of what Sydney has. I read both the Australian and the Courier Mail (the hotel's newspaper options) and the fire news was just buried. I looked at australia.com and there's no mention of the fires on there. (Bad luck for them to launch their new ad campaign just as the fires got huge.) It really is an "if we ignore it, it will go away" attitude across the board.
posted by rednikki at 7:18 PM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


It's heart-breaking and terrifying. Flying into Sydney is like descending into the stylised hell portrayed in bad movies.
posted by nfalkner at 8:31 PM on December 8, 2019 [5 favorites]


It really is an "if we ignore it, it will go away" attitude across the board.

I brought spare N95 masks into my research lab, back when we had the Seattle fires. People grabbed them quickly. After the smoke cleared out a week later, I left my mask on my desk, and I still get asked why, every now and again. We probably are doomed, or at least most of humanity is doomed. We're not good at thinking about the future more than a few meals ahead.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 8:58 PM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


rednikki: Brisbane had its moment in November. I'm in South Brisbane and couldn't leave the house. I live with a chronic asthmatic and he had to take a couple of sick days because he simply couldn't breathe. I shut the house up and put the airconditioner on purely to filter the air. It was pretty dire. What you're seeing now is a significant improvement.

And we still have people who are totally "business as usual". Still deniers. Still people who are insisting that This is Fine. It's heartbreaking.
posted by Jilder at 10:18 PM on December 8, 2019 [6 favorites]


This place isn't special. It's just first.

Actually, no. I went through something very similar in Australia in my teens in the early 1990s. It just happened on the Atherton Tablelands, in far north Queensland, rather than Sydney, but like so much press coverage, if it doesn't happen near Sydney or Melbourne, it never really happened.
posted by Megami at 12:14 AM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


Uh yeah next time someone trots out compulsory voting as The Answer to low voter turnout just remember Australia still burns and the empty suits in charge have decided to live in delusion rather than face their responsibilities.

And that would be better if voting wasn't compulsory? No, you'd still have all of that and would be wasting effort and resources on trying to get people to the polls. Compulsory voting is The Answer to a different question, one that Aussies haven't had to worry about for a century.
posted by rory at 1:59 AM on December 9, 2019 [17 favorites]


Some things to keep in mind about Australian politics: (1) Rupert Murdoch controls about 70% of the print media, and various right-wing mining oligarchs control other parts, (2) there is a long tradition in Australia of passiveness and apathy in politics, summed up by the cliché of the “lucky country” and the phrase “she'll be right, mate”. (Some of that may have originally come out of learned helplessness, with Australia having originated as a set of militarised colonies governed from London.) So, the idea that everything's going to turn out fine/we've always had bushfires like this/climate change is a (((Cultural Warmist))) myth spread by those nefarious inner-city lefties who hate meat pies, football and Australia Day (and who are Red Scare-style folk villains in the right-wing media) is always going to have legs.
posted by acb at 3:07 AM on December 9, 2019 [7 favorites]


If voting in Australia wasn't compulsory, the first thing that would happen would be the conservatives shifting their strategy to appeal only to a hardcore base and move to forcibly disenfranchise those whose views are inconvenient to them. Compulsory voting at least keeps the parties needing to have something to sell to the mainstream.
posted by acb at 3:11 AM on December 9, 2019 [13 favorites]


Rupert's been around for decades though. I'm gonna blame this one on social media.

Compulsory voting at least keeps the parties needing to have something to sell to the mainstream.

Yeah that's the theory that keeps getting trotted out, but I seem to recall at the last election the party which made the most effort to sell something tangible policy-wise did not win.
posted by um at 5:28 AM on December 9, 2019


Must have been watching a different election than me because I can barely remember any of Bill Shorten’s awe-inspiring policies.
posted by Jimbob at 11:30 AM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


Franking credits, carbon trading, dental policy for starters.

Meanwhile albo is up in qld this week talking about how we need to keep exporting coal. That was after a week of back patting for dragging Taylor in parliament - meanwhile three quarters of the eastern seaboard is choking. Fuck this guy and fuck Labor.
posted by smoke at 12:35 PM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


I don't think I remember much about elections thou.
posted by Mawex at 12:54 PM on December 9, 2019


This is so horrible. It's been several weeks now already and I don't know that there's much hope of the air quality improving properly any time soon. The fires will need weeks of rain to go out and when was the last time we had that? Months ago, for sure. I don't even remember it.

This might just be what summer is like now.

Many of my colleagues have had to evacuate. One who lives more rurally hasn't been able to return to his property in about a week and the fires are closing in.

The sky is yellow and apocalyptic looking. It's impossible to run for the bus without coughing up a lung. Even a short walk at a slow pace makes you feel sick.
posted by lollusc at 2:46 AM on December 10, 2019 [4 favorites]


I was in Northmead today and it was a real mistake on my part. What even.
My sister's boyfriend works outdoors across Sydney, he's off work coughing blood.

Sydney smoke at its 'worst ever' with air pollution in some areas 12 times 'hazardous' threshold
posted by Acid Communist at 3:05 AM on December 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


This might just be what summer is like now.

In a few years, the Summer Smoke may be as much an accepted annoyance of Australian life as the persistent blowflies, and the Slip Slop Slap ads may be rewritten encouraging kids to put on P2 respirators before going outside in the summer. Meanwhile, the right-wing press will gaslight the public by insisting that this was always what Australian summer was like because climate change is commie-traitor propaganda. The Daily Tele will run 'shopped photos of 1960s Bondi in the smoke haze, of surfers and bodgies and outback drovers wearing masks to filter the smoke, and pundits will come up with explanations how contradictory images, of blue skies over Australia, were actually from anomalous phenomena, much in the way that temperature increases are to do with 4000-year sunspot cycles or there being no Wookiees on Endor or whatever. The Department of Home Affairs will keep a special eye out for ratbags and troublemakers who talk too much about how the weather used to be, in a similar way to how the authorities in China keep an eye out for people who mention June 4.
posted by acb at 5:03 AM on December 10, 2019 [7 favorites]


More likely scenario is the forests failing to regrow, and the desert expanding, with more flood risk and the nation at large impoverished.
posted by ocschwar at 8:20 AM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


There's been quite a large fire on Tasmania's east coast (just west of Swansea) that's been burning since December 2. Firefighters (with aircraft) have been trying to contain it via back-burning and building suppression lines, but it just keeps on burning. With drought-like conditions, we're anticipating a pretty rough summer (again).

But hey, the thoughts and prayers of a cabal of pedophile enablers and apologists are always welcome!
posted by Tasmanian_Kris at 2:09 PM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


Scientists deeply worried after climate disaster reaches “white people wearing facemasks” level

and I believe this is the rally referenced in that article:

NSW is Burning, Sydney is Choking - Climate Emergency Rally!
5.30 pm today!, Sydney Town Hall.

WE DEMAND:
1. Climate action now!
- No new coal, oil and gas projects, including the Adani mine.
- 100% publicly owned renewable energy generation & exports by 2030
- Fund a just transition & job creation for all fossil-fuel workers & communities.
2. Fund fire services!
- Reverse the funding cuts and increase funding immediately to the RFS and NSW Fire and Rescue
3. Action to address toxic smoke and protect workers!
- All employers required to cease operations immediately in areas where air pollution reaches dangerous levels for workers.
- Special allowances made for additional, paid, sick leave for people suffering from the effects of air pollution.
- All hospitals, aged care facilities, schools and child care centres to be fitted with proper HEPA filters or air conditioning.
- Those particularly vulnerable to respiratory conditions offered government-supplied HEPA air purifiers, or fully funded evacuation to clean areas for the duration of the crisis.
- Publicly funded, free P2 masks.

posted by Acid Communist at 5:25 PM on December 10, 2019


Calm down everyone, the Sydney Polo Club is safe.
posted by pompomtom at 6:24 PM on December 10, 2019


Out here in the Hunter, I have all my important and precious things packed and piled in the dining room ready to leave if necessary. Weird living partially out of suitcases in your own home. I keep the doors and windows shut against the smoke and a tab open to the NSW Rural Fire Service map Fires Near Me.

20 kms away there's a 1200 hectare bushfire been going a bit over a week, its perimeter now controlled by the RFS. A bit closer was a 6 ha grass fire now designated Under Control, that is "at a stage where fire fighting resources are only required for patrol purposes and major re-ignition is unlikely".

Last month there was a 700 ha bushfire about 10 kms up the road, burned for a couple of weeks. That's no longer marked on the map, must be extinguished.

The firies, they are amazing. Gratitude, respect. Sent 'em a donation since our government doesn't care to fully fund them.
posted by valetta at 1:29 AM on December 11, 2019 [1 favorite]


More likely scenario is the forests failing to regrow, and the desert expanding, with more flood risk and the nation at large impoverished.

And the jury will remain out. The left will go on about how our national misery is due to climate change and the rapacious greed of the Liberal/Labor coaligarchy (and by definition, anybody with those views is on “the left” of the Australian Overton window), whereas other people will assert that it's the Lord punishing Australia for turning away from gay marriage or Women's AFL or abandoning traditional values where blokes are blokes and sheilas are sheilas or something. As misery increases and a sense of agency declines, people will look for conspiracy theories and scapegoats, and “it's the gayslamics funded by (((George Soros)))” may have longer legs than “we need to guillotine all the coal barons yesterday”.
posted by acb at 3:36 AM on December 11, 2019 [2 favorites]


This is so terrifying. My friend in Sydney has been advised not to go outdoors.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:11 AM on December 11, 2019




Greta Thunberg: #thisisfine
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:53 AM on December 31


NZ (roughly 1800-2000km away) has been on the receiving end of the smoke from the fires for the last 5-6 days now. Its been interesting to see the people start to get stuck into Scomo and the terribleness of successive governments inaction on climate-change and/or inability to deal with its predicted impacts.

Recent articles -
* Australia’s pathetic PM reveals much about the right’s effort to deny reality
* 'People aren't stupid': Australian bushfire crisis scorches country's image
* Australia bushfires: 'Unprecedented' plumes turn skies orange as smoke hits NZ
* Australia fires live: NSW and Victoria bushfires crisis has 'months to go' as Morrison announces recovery effort – latest updates
* Never again should we hesitate: the climate emergency is here

On twitter there have been some interesting posts/threads/talking-points bought up in the media as diversions/distractions blaming the Greens for blocking necessary fire-prevention initiatives & also claiming the fires are largely the work of arsonists and not related to climate change.

It'll be interesting to see what if any real political/policy change follows this fire-season (its very early on in summer).
posted by phigmov at 11:39 PM on January 4


There's a check-in thread on Metatalk too, if anyone is inclined.
posted by Coaticass at 11:54 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


On twitter there have been some interesting posts/threads/talking-points bought up in the media as diversions/distractions blaming the Greens for blocking necessary fire-prevention initiatives & also claiming the fires are largely the work of arsonists and not related to climate change.

A coworker has told me that his Qld mate is all about the fires being a government plot to get people off land that is to be sold to the evil foreigners to build a train line. What can you do with these people?

Transport-wonk twitter seems to find this line grimly amusing.
posted by pompomtom at 8:48 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]


(I’ll add that I didn’t mention that craziness on twitter. It’s obviously a thing that’s going around among weirdo circles.)
posted by pompomtom at 2:22 AM on January 6


My greengrocer explained to me that the fires are worse now because they stopped cattle grazing in the high country.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:14 AM on January 6


That's a fun new variation on the "Greenies made this happen" argument.

Unfortunately my understanding is that many of these fires couldn't even have been prevented by removing fuel, unless we want to turn half the country into a moonscape completely shorn of organic material as a firebreak.
posted by Acid Communist at 1:55 PM on January 6


unless we want to turn half the country into a moonscape completely shorn of organic material

Cliev and Gina are listening...
posted by pompomtom at 3:13 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


That's a fun new variation on the "Greenies made this happen" argument.

At one point I could almost literally see "but Mallacoota is basically at sea level" start to trickle across his consciousness, but to give him credit he suppressed the treacherous urge to rationality.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:19 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


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