As we enter 2020 this is what lies ahead for all of us: One climate disaster after the other. Steve Keen on the fires in his native Australia.
Do remember, the Australians have voted in one climate crisis denial government after the other.
Steve Keen is Distinguished Research Fellow, Institute for Strategy, Resilience & Security (ISRS) at UCL
Cross-posted from Steve Keen’s Website Rebuilding Macroeconomics
Australia has had bushfires forever, since it is the world’s second driest continent–only Antarctica receives less precipitation, but of course it has far less evaporation. The local flora and fauna are adapted to fire: I think most people know that most eucalyptus seeds require fire to spawn, so that a fire is normally followed by rapid re-growth; and often fires kill only small trees, not penetrating into the living heart of older and larger ones. Less may know that female kangaroos can re-absorb a foetus, if feed is restricted by drought.
Such adaptations are useless to the scale of the fires being experienced this season: when an area larger than whole European countries goes up in flames (they’re currently substantially larger than Belgium, and peak fire season has only just commenced), fauna can’t move fast enough to get away, and old trees are being burnt to their cores.
For humans, it means images against which previous peak fire seasons pale into insignificance. I was in Sydney for the 74-75 fires, and the 1993-94 fires. I was in Canberra on the day of the 2003 fires: we drove out of Canberra back to Sydney as hundreds of homes went up in flames in the matter of an hour. I had friends in the regions hit by the Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009. I never saw, my friends never saw, the media never showed, images anything like what this fire season is throwing up. Yes to a trivial degree, this is because social media and mobile phones with high quality video capabilities didn’t exist then; but overwhelmingly, it’s because conditions like this have never applied before.
No survivors anywhere from previous fires reported that it was pitchblack at 9 or 10 am, four to five hours after sunrise during an Australian summer. Sydney has had smoke before, but not smoke that has blanketed the city for months now, and frequently caused pollution levels that are worse than Delhi on a bad day.
This fire season is epochal. Climate change trivializers will ignore that it is far, far larger and more ferocious than any previous season. They will use the social media excuse. They will treat it as something within the statistical bounds to be expected from our history of fire. They will be wrong. They will be lying, whether they are conscious of that or not.
One common prediction from virtually all climate change models is a decline in precipitation in Australia as the global temperature rises. I suspect this is because the major atmospheric circulation cell (the Hadley cell) is expanding as temperatures rise, pushing the rain band it generates from about 30 degrees South to further south, so that the moisture lands in the Great Australian Bight, rather than on land.
If so, these forests won’t growth back as before. Sections of rainforest that did not develop the fire-adaptations, because they were never dry enough to ever burn before, will be deserts, until possibly eucalypts that have that adaptation colonise the barren ground. The eucalyptus forests may not be moist enough to allow tree regrowth on any substantial basis, potentially turning them into grasslands. Though the next season may be far less dangerous than this one, rains might come (after February 2020) that both douse fires and enable regrowth. But if the distribution of rainfall has shifted as climate change models predicted it would, what regrows will not be a revival of the existing flora or fauna.
I have to end with the observation that this reality plays no role in conventional economic models of climate change. They are all based on the “Ramsey growth model”, which is a model of a phenomenon that doesn’t exist: equilibrium growth. Even the best of these models-and that’s a very low standard–omit the transitional, far-fucking-far-from-equilibrium process by which Climate Change occurs. Thus far, my critiques of these models has been restricted to the garbage numbers on which their models are fitted, but even if they were fitted to reliable data, they would still underestimate the process of change because they would shoehorn a violently non-equilibrium process into an equilibrium shoebox.
I once thought that the 2007 Global Financial Crisis would be enough to shift people’s opinion of economics away from trust to scepticism, and make economics more willing to consider the real world. I was wrong: though there’s certainly more scepticism, and protest movements like Rethinking Economics have sprung up because of the crisis, and they’re not going away, economics continues as business as usual. The same suspects whose models predicted that 2008 was going to be a great year are still in charge of economic policy.
So, I have to be realistic, and expect that even these fires won’t be enough for people who currently think they are sceptics to revise their opinions–though some will. And probably the Australia zeitgeist will shift only fractionally once winter commences and cooler temperatures and some rain douse the fires. But the experience has been so horrific that those who lived through it–like the people in this video–will forever be changed by the experience, and be willing to campaign, somehow, for Australia to abandon its climate-change-trivializing policies.
On a final note on this first day of 2020, I am looking forward to seeing the first political opinion polls later this month or early next. Morrison has handled this crisis so appallingly that, even with my caveats above, I expect to see his “preferred Prime Minister” ranking sink faster than the Titanic.
I seriously wonder whether his evangelicalism lies behind his blase reactions to this crisis–going on holiday during it, thinking people wanted him back for company during the crisis rather than to make some fucking decisions to assist, which he’s had to be dragged kicking and screaming into doing at a trivial level thus far, The Bible has a section in which God pledges never to destroy the world by water again after Noah’s Flood:
New King James Version
Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
If you believe this–and he’s a Pentecostal, I would be surprised if he didn’t believe it (maybe a journalist should question him on it, thus either getting to admit that he does, or forcing him to lie that he doesn’t–or more likely, to just evade answering the question)–then ipso facto, climate change must be a hoax. I mean, it’s all about sea level rising and destroying the Earth, isn’t it? So climate change must be a left-wing hoax, because God said he’s never destroy the Earth by water again.
“Dang, what did he say about destroying it by fire though?”
There is also the story of Gideon, whom God directed to fight a battle against overwhelmingly stronger forces with a mere handful of volunteers:
“Then Jerubbaal, who [is] Gideon, and all the people that [were] with him, rose up early, and pitched beside the well of Harod: so that the host of the Midianites were on the north side of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.”
“And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people that [are] with thee [are] too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.”
“Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever [is] fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand.”
“And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people [are] yet [too] many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, [that] of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.”
“So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink.”
“And the number of them that lapped, [putting] their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water.”
“And the LORD said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the [other] people go every man unto his place.“
“So the people took victuals in their hand, and their trumpets: and he sent all [the rest of] Israel every man unto his tent, and retained those three hundred men: and the host of Midian was beneath him in the valley.”
“And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the LORD set every man’s sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host: and the host fled to Beth-shittah in Zererath, [and] to the border of Abel-meholah, unto Tabbath.”
So, maybe “God told him” not to panic, to let God do His work and deliver Australians from the fires, so that they might believe in Him more….
That, of course, is a crazy thought. But I find it difficult to come up with any other explanation of Morrison’s calm when he should be panicking, or at least acting to gain maximum favourable publicity out of this tragedy like any normal politician. I am sure that well-known climate change denier Tony Abbott (who, to give him absolutely deserved due, is a volunteer fire fighter, and has been out fighting these fires even though he can no longer make political mileage out of it), would have acted decisively in at least some ways: sending in military aircraft, renting some fire fighting planes from the USA and Europe, something. Even Howard (whom Kevin Rudd’s daughter Jessica informed us yesterday, accidentally left a copy of a climate-change-denialist DVD when he vacated The Lodge after losing the 2007 election) would have done something, if only for electoral effect.