# Australia's drought and bushfires, a personal view

Science Advisor
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2019 Award

## Main Question or Discussion Point

I have lived in Australia now for 20 years and the last 3 years in particular have been some of the worse
drought conditions ever experienced. The farmers that are west of the Great Dividing Range, that runs roughly north-south, along the eastern side of the of the country are really doing it tough. Many of
them have lost everything, crops and animals as there is no water to irrigate or to grow fodder for
livestock. Some areas have not seen significant rain in 5 or more years.

As you can imagine, the country towns and cities likewise are struggling, as their primary role is to
provide support for the farming sector, machinery, feed, and all the other agricultural needs. These
businesses are going broke and closing down.
Along the eastern coastal strip, tho it still has green foliage is only doing a little better. There hasn't
been significant rain for many months and the water catchments and reservoirs are drying up. Sydney,
where I live has been on level 1 water restrictions for several months and it's about to increase to level 2 restrictions. Sydney's main water source, the Warragamba reservoir is now at around 45-47%
capacity and is dropping as time passes.
In the last 2 months, I have seen more dust storms pass through the Sydney basin, than I have
experienced in the last 19 years. Those farmers on the earlier mentioned west side of the mountains
are slowly loosing more and more of their precious top soil.

Added to all of above, it has been the worst bushfire season on record for those of us on the eastern
(coastal) side of the mountains, with many large and out of control fires surrounding Sydney and
extending north across the New South Wales / Queensland state border and on towards the city of
Brisbane. Since around the beginning of October till today, the sky around my location has been
almost constantly for of smoke and sometimes dust at the same time. The only times we have had
smoke free skies a day here and there, has been when there was a brief change in wind direction.
These fires are truly huge, many started by thunderstorm lightning strikes and sadly a number by
arsonists. Sadly some lives have been lost, many homes and other buildings destroyed. The cost to
the environment and to wildlife is uncountable.

Some photos, satellite and weather radar images

Weather radar even picks up the huge smoke plumes. The blue dot in the centre is my location ..

A screen dump from today's weather satellite (07 Dec 2019) shows fires for 100's of km's
along the New South Wales coast ....

Huge pyro-cumulus smoke cloud, looking north to one of the huge fires NW of my workplace, NW of Sydney

I put my drone up ~ 55m above home Friday evening, the sky was this horrible yellow-orange colour
visibility range ~ 2km .....

I would have liked to post actual fire photos but don't want copyright issues

Regards
Dave

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## Answers and Replies

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BillTre
Science Advisor
Gold Member
Seems like a climate change kind of thing.
I have read that's hard for people to accept there.
What's the story? How's it being discussed? (in a descriptive, non-partisan way)

fresh_42
Mentor
IMO on the long run we will have to (re-)turn to big desalination plants. There will be no other possibility and should be possible in hot areas with a lot of sun. However, the infrastructure must be constructed. The phenomenon you described is - to a smaller degree as always when it comes to Australia - the same here. We never had had serious problems with not enough rain, until the last three years (+2003). Now it became the standard. You can literally _see_ it on such trivial things like the sizes of potatoes in the supermarkets. Same in the US: and they loot their big aquifers now for many decades. Almonds in CA, Vegas in the dessert? Such luxuries will not work for any longer than a couple of years. Personally I'm waiting for the first pipeline from Alaska to the south for water, instead of oil. But this would again be a living on reserves. Israel is pretty far in its technology of desalination. Time to book some tickets to learn!

WWGD
Science Advisor
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2019 Award
IMO on the long run we will have to (re-)turn to big desalination plants. There will be no other possibility and should be possible in hot areas with a lot of sun. However, the infrastructure must be constructed. The phenomenon you described is - to a smaller degree as always when it comes to Australia - the same here. We never had had serious problems with not enough rain, until the last three years (+2003). Now it became the standard. You can literally _see_ it on such trivial things like the sizes of potatoes in the supermarkets. Same in the US: and they loot their big aquifers now for many decades. Almonds in CA, Vegas in the dessert? Such luxuries will not work for any longer than a couple of years. Personally I'm waiting for the first pipeline from Alaska to the south for water, instead of oil. But this would again be a living on reserves. Israel is pretty far in its technology of desalination. Time to book some tickets to learn!
There are many smaller-scale ideas that may be used too. Showering is extremely innefficient in that it could be accomplished with significantly less water than present avg. For one, turn water off while putting soap on. Not a big deal on an individual basis but water savings would add up over time when some 4 billion+ who have regular access to running water do it. But most if the time you need to reach a crisis for people to want to change.

fresh_42
Mentor
But most if the time you need to reach a crisis for people to want to change.
Sadly, but true. However, it's even worse. Not few predict future wars on water. So let's make the calculation: costs of war versus (inevitable) costs on infrastructure for desalination. We are so incredibly stupid and smart at the same time.

256bits
Gold Member
According to this chart, you in Australia are more dry than wet. Chart for Southern Australia.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-08-06/how-does-the-current-drought-compare/10055414

1902 was a year without a lot of moisture, the Federation drought ( late 1890 to 1903 ish ), and apparently affected species viability. Probably fires and bush burning also.

Around year 2000 it seemed quite dry for several consecutive years.
What's different about this year with so many fires?

WWGD
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2019 Award
Sadly, but true. However, it's even worse. Not few predict future wars on water. So let's make the calculation: costs of war versus (inevitable) costs on infrastructure for desalination. We are so incredibly stupid and smart at the same time.
Someone described the general attitude when people were asked to think of the environment and act accordingly for the sake of the future. People would reply : "What has the future ever done for me?"

Edit: So what are the options for the water problem? Is desalination viable? Reforestation?

Last edited:
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2019 Award
Seems like a climate change kind of thing.
I have read that's hard for people to accept there.
What's the story? How's it being discussed? (in a descriptive, non-partisan way)
It's not so much a problem of accepting that climate change is happening. It is more of a
"why should we take on the emissions burden and all the extra costs when the percentage
of the emissions that Australia produces is tiny compared to many other countries.
Remember, our population is only around 25 million and we look at countries like China who
don't care about their greenhouse emissions. Yet we are being told by world climate bodies
to tow the line with our emissions policies etc and China, pretty much the biggest air polluter
on the planet isnt. The population here take that pretty hard when they are told that the
electricity they pay for is being carbon emission taxed at upwards of $100 / quarter ( 4 invoices per year) to lower the emissions by maybe a percent or two on what is already a very low emission rate. IMO on the long run we will have to (re-)turn to big desalination plants. With the very dry conditions during the 2000's the state govt NSW ( where I am) after a lot of ummming and harring finally decided to build a desal plant for supplying Sydney with additional water. It was built and finished and was in operation for 2010 - 2012. Wiki .... The Sydney Desalination Plant is a potable drinking water desalination plant that forms part of the water supply system of Greater Metropolitan Sydney. The plant is located in the Kurnell industrial estate, in Southern Sydney in the Australian state of New South Wales. The plant uses reverse osmosis filtration membranes to remove salt from seawater and is powered using renewable energy, supplied to the national power grid from the Infigen Energy–owned Capital Wind Farm located at Bungendore. The Sydney Desalination Plant is owned by the Government of New South Wales. In 2012, the NSW Government entered into a 50–year lease with Sydney Desalination Plant Pty Ltd (SDP), a company jointly owned by the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Board (50%) and two funds managed by Hastings Funds Management Limited: Utilities Trust of Australia and The Infrastructure Fund (together 50%).[4] The terms of the A$2.3 billion lease lock Sydney Water into a 50–year water supply agreement with SDP.[5] The operator of the plant is Veolia Water Australia Pty Ltd.

The Sydney Desalination Plant is the third major desalination plant built in Australia, after Kwinana in Perth which was completed in 2006 and Tugun on the Gold Coast which was completed in 2009.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_Desalination_Plant

It sustained significant damage from a tornado strike in 2015 and has been pretty much idle since then
and it is being resurrected to hopefully help with the dwindling natural water supply for Sydney.

WWGD
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2019 Award
It's not so much a problem of accepting that climate change is happening. It is more of a
"why should we take on the emissions burden and all the extra costs when the percentage
of the emissions that Australia produces is tiny compared to many other countries.
Remember, our population is only around 25 million and we look at countries like China who
don't care about their greenhouse emissions. Yet we are being told by world climate bodies
to tow the line with our emissions policies etc and China, pretty much the biggest air polluter
on the planet isnt. The population here take that pretty hard when they are told that the
electricity they pay for is being carbon emission taxed at upwards of \$100 / quarter
( 4 invoices per year) to lower the emissions by maybe a percent or two on what is already a
very low emission rate.

With the very dry conditions during the 2000's the state govt NSW ( where I am) after a lot

of ummming and harring finally decided to build a desal plant for supplying Sydney with
additional water. It was built and finished and was in operation for 2010 - 2012.

Wiki ....

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_Desalination_Plant

It sustained significant damage from a tornado strike in 2015 and has been pretty much idle since then
and it is being resurrected to hopefully help with the dwindling natural water supply for Sydney.
Third World countries' argument is that industrialized countries had no restrictions on emissions when they were building themselves up, which facilitated their development, so they should now bear thw brunt of the emission restrictions so 3rd world nations wont have such a heavy burden in their own development. Though your point about Australia is a valid one.

Science Advisor
Gold Member
2019 Award
According to this chart, you in Australia are more dry than wet. Chart for Southern Australia.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-08-06/how-does-the-current-drought-compare/10055414
That's approx. like a similar area to southern California, Arizona, New Mexico.
Which doesn't include NSW - my state. Tho is does give a rough indication for things in NSW.
And note they are referring to autumn, not a month by month or annual rainfall. In NSW, every month
has been dry.
This time around it is NSW that's really in the firing line for droughts. I'm trying to remember the last
significant rain locally, probably around 2 maybe 3 months ago where it rained for almost 2 days straight.
Guess what ? practically none of it fell in the Warragamba dam catchment area. It all fell within ~ 20 km
of the coast.

What's different about this year with so many fires?
Some thunderstorms with lots of lightning and little rain from them. Extended periods of a complete
lack of rain. Cool weather fronts that come though but don't bring rain, just strong gusty winds that
drive the fires out of control.

Someone described the general attitude when people were asked to think of the environment and act accordingly for the sake of the future. People would reply : "What has the future ever done for me?"
There maybe a few like that, but I doubt that it is a significant number.

Edit: So what are the options for the water problem? Is desalination viable? Reforestation?

I spoke about desal in my previous post
Note, for the most part, the areas being burnt out, isn't forestry it's native bush that is tinder dry.
Hazzard reduction burns are regularly carried out when weather conditions permit.

Science Advisor
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Third World countries' argument is that industrialized countries had no restrictions on emissions when they were building themselves up, which facilitated their development, so they should now bear thw brunt of the emission restrictions so 3rd world nations wont have such a heavy burden in their own development.
That is true, but they just go on with massive pollution themselves .... "pot calling the kettle black"
and are not being held accountable

WWGD
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2019 Award
That is true, but they just go on with massive pollution themselves .... "pot calling the kettle black"
and are not being held accountable
I consider myself a centrist. I simpathyze with their plight but like to remind them of their own say on the matter. India, for one, has gained 1 billion people ( not a typo, with a b) since independence in 1947. Similar for others. Edit: True, the West is hardly blameless, but the same goes for all groups if one cares to look closely -- which they dont for the most part. Sorry for this OT rant, will get back on topic.

Bandersnatch
Science Advisor
and we look at countries like China who don't care about their greenhouse emissions.
China, while being the largest nett CO2 emitter on the planet, has only overtaken the US in the last decade or so (but steeply). Furthermore, in terms of per capita emissions, the US remains in the lead. Additionally, China is leading in terms of investment in renewables.
So I don't think it's fair to say they should take all the blame or that they don't care.

WWGD
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2019 Award
China, while being the largest nett CO2 emitter on the planet, has only overtaken the US in the last decade or so (but steeply). Furthermore, in terms of per capita emissions, the US remains in the lead. Additionally, China is leading in terms of investment in renewables.
So I don't think it's fair to say they should take all the blame or that they don't care.
China's total emissions are growing steeply, US', rest of dev world's have been essentially stable since 1970.

Bandersnatch
Science Advisor
China's total emissions are growing steeply, US', rest of dev world's have been essentially stable since 1970.
Yes, but. Since the rest of the (developed) world has been going at it for a long time already, the total contribution to the increased CO2 concentrations that China has managed to achieve is still at only half of what the US or the EU have pumped into the atmosphere, and merely twice that of Russia.
That China's total emissions (and soon also India's) are so steeply rising is simply due to its large population. Per capita emissions are much lower than e.g. US' or Australia's - which are among the worst offenders.
And (as was mentioned already) they're leading the world in renewable energy investment.
All that is happening here is the rest of the world catching up to the level of per capita emissions more in line with the western economies.
The point I'm trying to make, is that arguments along the lines of 'there's no point reducing >our< emissions, since that dirty China doesn't care', are just attempts at deflecting responsibility.

WWGD
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2019 Award
Yes, but. Since the rest of the (developed) world has been going at it for a long time already, the total contribution to the increased CO2 concentrations that China has managed to achieve is still at only half of what the US or the EU have pumped into the atmosphere, and merely twice that of Russia.
That China's total emissions (and soon also India's) are so steeply rising is simply due to its large population. Per capita emissions are much lower than e.g. US' or Australia's - which are among the worst offenders.
And (as was mentioned already) they're leading the world in renewable energy investment.
All that is happening here is the rest of the world catching up to the level of per capita emissions more in line with the western economies.
The point I'm trying to make, is that arguments along the lines of 'there's no point reducing >our< emissions, since that dirty China doesn't care', are just attempts at deflecting responsibility.
I agree that developed countries had a free ride for a while so that they did not bear the costs of polluting they now expect developing countries to bear but the developed world has for the most part assumed respobsibility and taken action.

Bandersnatch
Science Advisor
the developed world has for the most part assumed respobsibility and taken action
Has it? As you said, the emissions have remained roughly steady. And the worst offender of the lot backpedalled on the Paris agreement. If it's not exactly business as usual, then it's nearly so.

anorlunda
Mentor
That China's total emissions (and soon also India's) are so steeply rising is simply due to its large population.
Not simply, no. Elimination of poverty is the big factor.

When the poor are lifted up to middle class affluence, they suddenly want houses, cars, roads, cities, power, water, lots of infrastructure and stuff. Things like concrete create lots of emissions. Because of that, their environmental footprint is transiently 11x times their steady state footprint. My source is the Wall Street Journal, but I'm afraid I lost the link.

If we succeed in eliminating poverty elsewhere, we should expect similar surges in environmental demands.

Closer examination seem to relate the variation of rainfall and lack thereof to the ENSO.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221209471930009X

Moreover, specialists attribute the intensity of the wildfires to the specifics of Eucalyptus, for instance, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6054383/ being rather susceptible to bushfire due to the high oil content and also the accumulation of kindle due to the aboriginals no longer burning it at regular intervals (https://www.jstor.org/stable/3554847?seq=1).

More info:

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/trees/eucalyptus/eucalyptus-fire-hazards.htm
https://www.livescience.com/40583-australia-wildfires-eucalyptus-trees-bushfires.html
https://talltimbers.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/75-Mount1969_op.pdf

Science Advisor
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Closer examination seem to relate the variation of rainfall and lack thereof to the ENSO.
Yeah, lack thereof

Moreover, specialists attribute the intensity of the wildfires to the specifics of Eucalyptus, for instance, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6054383/ being rather susceptible to bushfire due to the high oil content and also the accumulation of kindle due to the aboriginals no longer burning it at regular intervals (https://www.jstor.org/stable/3554847?seq=1).
This hasn't changed in the last 200 years other than, it's now the various Govt services that do regular
hazard reduction burns where possible and when suitable. Unfortunately due the long period of drought,
it hasn't always been overly safe to do significant hazard reduction burns.

Add to the mix lightning strikes and idiot arsonists lighting fires and it's a recipe for disaster.

Wrichik Basu
Gold Member
That China's total emissions (and soon also India's) are so steeply rising is simply due to its large population.
Not only population, but also negligence and lack of interest in the general public about the environment. Let me narrate some real-life incidents:
• (Read this in the newspaper) A person planted a large number of trees throughout his life on the two sides of the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass in Kolkata. Don't remember the exact figure, but maybe it was around 40-50 large shelter-giving trees. Now, in order to metal the sides of the road, the Kolkata Municipal Development Authority cut down 90% of those trees.
• In my neighbourhood, people are seriously allergic to trees. There was a jackfruit tree in a neighbouring house. They cut it down to half its previous size in order to let in more sunlight during the winter months. And guess what - winter stays only for two months; rest of the year, it is scorching 40°C, and those trees are the ones providing relief. Same incident with a neem and a mango tree.
• Some people can withstand trees, but not their leaves. They would weekly sweep all the leaves and branches together, and burn them down. The smoke is so disgusting that we often suffocate.
I believe a major reason for this is illiteracy. Illiteracy not in the sense of academic qualifications, but they don't have any concern about the environment. The result? If you get outdoors at night, you will suffocate.

China is still trying to control emissions, but India...leave it.

I suspect some of the fires in Australia were started by careless individuals, or even worse: they were set deliberately...I don't have statistics about Australia but pyromania is on the increase in many mediterranean countries . Don't know what's going on in humans heads

Science Advisor
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I suspect some of the fires in Australia were started by careless individuals, or even worse: they were set deliberately...I don't have statistics about Australia but pyromania is on the increase in many mediterranean countries . Don't know what's going on in humans heads
Accidental starts, from news reports is very low, major starts from lightning and sadly arsonists

Around a month ago, in Queensland state, more than a dozen arsonists were arrested in a 14 day period

went looking for the original article, couldn't find, but there are lots of articles on various individuals arrested

Astronuc
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
I've been following some of the news, which is heartbreaking.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/30/australia/australia-mallacoota-beach-fire-intl-hnk-scli/index.html
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-50953591

I read that the Victorian government was recommending evacuating East Gippsland area around Bairnsdale, but it wasn't clear to me how large an area. Mallacoota is about as far east as one can go in East Gippsland, whereas Bairnsdale is near the western border.

Extremely large pyrocumulus clouds tower over bushfires in New South Wales and spread over the Pacific Ocean. Sentinel-2A image, December 31, 2019 (extremely large seems like an understatement)
https://wildfiretoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Sentinel-2A_ClydeMtnFire_1107AEDT_12-31-2019_@andrewmiskelly.jpg

Last edited:
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I read that the Victorian government was recommending evacuating East Gippsland area around Bairnsdale, but it wasn't clear to me how large an area. Mallacoota is about as far east as one can go in East Gippsland, whereas Bairnsdale is near the western border.
Jst to be clear, or those that dont know Australia well, Bairnsdale and Mallacoota are about 200km apart ( crow flies). This just
a smaller eastern region of the state of Victoria ( SE state of Australia). Bairnsdale isn't on/near any border. the state borders
are the fine grey lines/wriggles.

Pretty much all of the dark green areas (bushland) from the white rectangle area and right up to Sydney and beyond has burnt out
or is still burning at this time

Dave