Australian forest fires died out, but climatic ranks continue

Australia’s “black summer” of devastating forest fires is finally coming to an end, but bitter discussions continue to emerge about how to deal with climate disasters.

When firefighters announced this week that all the fires in the most affected state in New South Wales were under control for the first time since September, the relief was palpable.

In other regions, some fires are still being contained, but most Australians can finally abandon the grim rituals of the past half year: morning checks of smog monitors and the “Fires Near Me” apps, deciding whether children can play outside, if to flee or defend their homes.

But the aftermath will last, and the national search for souls has already begun.

“We know that events like these can challenge the way we think about the world, undermine our security perceptions and break social ties,” said disaster response expert Erin Smith.

Dozens of families have lost loved ones, thousands of homes and farms have been destroyed, strips of the east coast are marked with black coal and millions of people have seen their sense of security shaken.

“It will probably take years and a lot of imagination for us to know where we are going from here,” Smith said.

The question of what is next for Australia is already being raised, especially of political leaders, and is being answered mainly with accusations and recrimination.

– “Heads above the parapet” –

While scientists agree that climate change created favorable conditions for fires, politicians of all senses are very aware of how sensitive the issue is in Australian politics.

In an arid nation whose economic strength is intimately linked to the mining and export of fossil fuels, at least four prime ministers have been partly expelled for their climate policies.

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has seen his conservative ruling coalition threatened by members of rural constituencies demanding funding for more coal-fired power plants.

At the same time, the centrist wing of his party has criticized his climate goals as inadequate.

Meanwhile, the rebel members of the Labor opposition met in secret to direct the leadership of the center-left party towards a more openly favorable coal stance.

The deputy director of the party clumsily refused to rule out more coal subsidies, months after promising they should end.

“They don’t want to poke their heads over the parapet, at least when it comes to suggesting substantive policies,” said Matt McDonald, climate policy expert at the University of Queensland.

One reason, he explained, is that while the dry and warm Australian continent is especially susceptible to the impact of climate change, it is also a global source of coal.

Coal accounts for about 75 percent of Australia’s electricity generation and fossil fuel exports are worth Aus $ 60 billion a year, the country’s largest export after iron ore.

People in rich suburbs can ask for emissions and green energy cuts, but coal represents thousands of jobs in the decisive districts of Queensland and New South Wales, and many more in the related aluminum foundry business.

The independent deputy Zali Steggall, a former Olympic medal winning lawyer and skier, who expelled the skeptical former Prime Minister Tony Abbott from his seat in Sydney in the last elections, wants to get some heat out of the debate.

She has presented a bill that would reduce Australia’s carbon emissions to zero by 2050 and divert some controversial issues to an independent body of experts.

“The debate has been very divisive,” partly due to the blame game, Steggall told AFP. “There was a certain defensive attitude in the early days of this debate because the finger pointed so directly to coal and fossil fuels.”

“You have to think of a generation that worked very hard to build Australia’s prosperity in fossil fuels. You must be very careful in the debate about the distribution of guilt. It is not that it was done on purpose.”

“It’s about recognizing and thanking that contribution, but recognizing that we do need to evolve,” he added. “We will all reach the end.”

With forest fires projected to be increasingly deadly and next season just over six months, the risk, says Steggall, is that politicians take so long to reach a consensus “it will be too late to do something.”

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Heavy rains bring relief and new dangers to Australian forest fires

MELBOURNE / SYDNEY: A four-day downpour on the east coast of Australia brought relief after months of devastating forest fires and years of drought, but also damage from widespread storms and forecasts of more wild weather to come.

Weekend rain accounted for the greatest amount of sustained rain in Sydney and its surroundings for 30 years, put out some forest fires and replenished depleted dams in New South Wales, the country’s most popular state.

Some rural areas received more rain in recent days than last year, a surprising and rapid change in forest fires that have killed 33 people and devastated much of the east coast.

The Bushfire warning signs were flooded by several floods in several areas when the weekend’s rain cut off power to tens of thousands of homes, caused travel chaos in Sydney and closed dozens of schools at the beginning of the week.

Nearly 400 millimeters (7.9 to 15.8 inches) of rain fell in the Sydney and surrounding area. The Warragamba dam, which supplies about four-fifths of Sydney’s water, increased from approximately 40% to more than 60% in just over a week, the state water authority said, propping up the city’s water supply of 5 million.

The headquarters of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service in Sydney has been reconfigured to respond to floods and storm damage amid the rapid change in climate threat.

The New South Wales State Emergency Service, which responds to flood and storm damage, received more than 2,700 calls for help overnight, and the number of calls since last Wednesday exceeded 10,000, the SES spokesman said Andrew Richards

MORE RAIN IS NEEDED

Parts of the north and interior of New South Wales, along with the south of Queensland, have been in drought since 2016, drastically reducing the levels of rivers and dams, while creating the tinder conditions that have fed the deadly forest fires of this season

The rain of the weekend put out one of the worst forest fires in the state, Currawon, on the south coast, which burned for 74 days, destroyed 312 homes and razed almost 500,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) of land, according to the Service NSW Rural Fire (RFS)

As of Monday morning there were 33 fires lit in the state, but all were at the lowest “council” warning level and mainly in the southeastern areas where the rains were headed.

Flood evacuation warnings have been ordered for parts of the Conjola region, authorities said, where deadly fires swept dozens of homes on New Year’s Eve. Thunderstorms are forecast for NSW and the neighboring state of Victoria in the coming days.

Still, the forecaster on the bill of materials, Jane Golding, said more rain was needed to end the country’s three-year drought.

“I know that some farmers … feel quite optimistic. But what we really need is follow-up rain, ”he told reporters.

“The rain deficiency is so severe that the soil is dry at deep levels, so we really need that follow-up rain.”

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Australia’s inflation rises but remains below the target

SYDNEY: Australian inflation rose in the last quarter of 2019, but central measures remained moderate despite three interest rate cuts, suggesting that the country’s central bank will have to do more to revive consumer prices .

The consumer price index (CPI) rose 0.7% in the December quarter, more than forecasts of a 0.6% increase, driven by increases in cigarette prices, national vacations, travel, fuel and fruits.

The annual rate increased to 1.8%, still below the floor of the 2-3% target band of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). In fact, a key measure of core inflation stagnated at an even slower 1.6%, marking four consecutive years below the target.

This persistent weakness was one of the reasons why the RBA reduced interest rates three times last year to a record low of 1.75%, and why markets are still pricing at least one more flexibility.

The central bank holds its first policy meeting of the year next week, but it is believed that it will remain firm given the recent drop in the unemployment rate.

Futures <0#YIB:> they imply a probability of less than 15% of a relaxation on February 4, although that increases to more than 70% in April.

While the rate cuts to date have revived housing prices, consumers remain overwhelmed by stagnant wage growth and record debt levels.

Weeks of intense forest fires have further darkened the mood, as has the coronavirus outbreak and its negative impact on Chinese tourism to Australia.

Part of the price increase was due to drought and lower seasonal supplies of fruits, vegetables and meat. Economists expect forest fires and ongoing drought to increase prices further in the coming months.

Ivan Colhoun, a senior economist at NAB, estimates that the fires could reduce 0.4% of economic growth points this quarter, while the virus could cost between 1 and 2 billion dollars in lost tourism revenue.

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Prolonged pizza delivers funds for embattled Australian firefighters

An Italian restaurant in Australia has made a 103 meter (338 foot) Margherita pizza to lift funds for firefighters battling bushfires.

The pizza was rolled out in rectangular, meter-long items of dough, pieced collectively and lined with tomato sauce and mozzarella, earlier than being baked utilizing a conveyor oven.

It was then liberally seasoned with basil leaves, oregano and olive oil.

Individuals look on as a 100m lengthy margherita pizza sits on a desk earlier than receiving its last toppings. Reuters

The trouble took about 4 hours, in response to Pellegrini’s restaurant, and yielded 4,000 slices.

The proceeds went to the New South Wales Rural Hearth service.

A video of the pizza being made has gone viral on social media with numerous customers marveling at its dimension.

The restaurant is now holding a contest to guess what number of kilograms of flour went into making the pizza.

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Australia to display some flights, warns new virus tough to cease

SYDNEY: Australia will start screening passengers arriving from a Chinese language metropolis in a bid to cease the unfold of a brand new virus, the nation’s chief medical officer stated on Tuesday, though authorities warned that an outbreak could be laborious to stop.

Chinese language authorities have confirmed greater than 200 individuals have caught the coronavirus, which may trigger a sort of pneumonia that has killed 4 individuals within the central metropolis of Wuhan.

The virus – which may move from individual to individual – broke out in Wuhan however 4 circumstances have been reported in Thailand, Japan and South Korea, elevating issues about its unfold via worldwide air journey.

Brendan Murphy, the chief medical officer for the Australian authorities, stated biosecurity officers would start screening passengers arriving on the three weekly flights to Sydney from Wuhan beginning on Thursday.

Passengers could be given an info pamphlet and requested to current themselves if that they had a fever or suspected they could have the illness.

Murphy stated the measures solely provided restricted safety.

“You can not completely forestall the unfold of illness into the nation. The incubation interval might be every week,” Murphy informed reporters in Canberra.

“It’s about figuring out these with a excessive threat and ensuring those that have a excessive threat find out about it and know easy methods to get medical consideration.”

China is the most important supply of vacationers to Australia, with greater than 1 million individuals arriving final yr.

Round 160 flights arrive in Australia from China every week, and Murphy acknowledged Chinese language vacationers may arrive through different areas. There are solely three flights from Wuhan every week, arriving in Sydney.

Australia’s extra screenings come as lots of of thousands and thousands of Chinese language put together to journey domestically and overseas through the Lunar New 12 months vacation that begins this week.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged Australians to stay calm.

“We’re effectively ready to reply to this case and we are going to proceed to watch and take motion the place mandatory,” Morrison tweeted.

The federal government would elevate its journey advisory for Wuhan to induce Australians to rethink travelling to the town, he added.

Regardless of the elevated threat, Murphy stated Australia wouldn’t start scanning passengers for larger physique temperatures, a precaution beforehand used through the Extreme Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak.

SARS killed practically 800 individuals globally through the 2002/03 outbreak that additionally began in China, however Murphy stated current proof indicated body-temperature screening was ineffective and created a false sense of safety.

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Australia fires ‘devastating habitats’ of endangered species

SYDNEY: Australia’s bushfires and different local weather change results are devastating the habitats of critically endangered species and driving the native platypus in direction of extinction, based on surveys highlighting the nation’s vulnerability to rising temperatures.

The unprecedented blazes which have swept via an space the dimensions of Portugal have claimed 29 lives but in addition examined Australia’s wealthy and infrequently distinctive wildlife, with consultants warning as much as one billion creatures might have perished within the inferno.

Even animals that survive the flames might take years to get well and consultants have cautioned it’s too early to evaluate the injury on the habitats of already endangered species.

The federal government’s preliminary efforts to chart the influence confirmed the blazes had affected the habitats of 32 species outlined as critically endangered — these which face a particularly excessive danger of extinction within the wild.

These have been primarily plant species, however the habitats of frogs, turtles and three kinds of birds have been additionally hit, based on the preliminary record revealed on Monday by the Division of the Atmosphere and Vitality.

The survey confirmed 49 species had seen greater than 80 % of their recognized or probably habitat broken within the fireplace zones. For an extra 65 species, a minimum of half of their habitat was affected.

However Sally Field, the Threatened Species Commissioner on the division, warned it was nonetheless too early to supply a definitive evaluation.

“Some species are extra susceptible to fireside than others and a few areas have been extra severely burnt than others, so additional evaluation might be wanted earlier than we are able to absolutely assess the influence of the fires on the bottom,” she mentioned.

Officers have warned that the impact of the fires, which have already burned for months, might be crippling for farmers, with the livestock toll exceeding 100,000 throughout Australia and the longer term troublesome to foretell.

Agronomist Daniel Pledge from Kangaroo Island off the coast of Adelaide in southern Australia has warned that the influence will stretch past the speedy agony of shedding livestock to the flames.

In what he described to AFP as a “snowball impact”, farmers might want to purchase additional feed, re-seed burned paddocks and — maybe most worryingly — the stress will make animals much less more likely to conceive, the skilled mentioned.

‘Dinosaur bushes’

Farmers have already been battered by a protracted drought, which can also be pushing the distinctive platypus inhabitants in direction of turning into extinct, based on one other research revealed on Monday.

The platypus, recognized for its duck-like invoice, is already classed as “close to threatened” and has vanished from as much as 40 % of its historic vary on Australia’s east coast resulting from drought, land clearing, air pollution and dams.

However scientists from the College of New South Wales’ Centre for Ecosystem Science mentioned injury to river techniques attributable to years of little rainfall and excessive temperatures had worsened prospects for the animal.

Platypus numbers may fall as much as 66 % over the subsequent 50 years. If projections concerning the accelerating charge of local weather change are taken under consideration, this might rise to 73 %.

The consultants mentioned there was an “pressing want” for a nationwide danger evaluation to resolve whether or not to downgrade the platypus to “susceptible” standing and chart conservation steps to “minimise any danger of extinction”.

In a uncommon piece of fine information for Australia’s charred panorama, it emerged final week {that a} secret operation by specialist firefighters had saved a bunch of prehistoric “dinosaur bushes” from oblivion.

The Wollemi Pine, which grows as much as 40 metres (130 ft) excessive, is believed to have existed because the Jurassic Interval 200 million years in the past however fewer than 200 stay.

Because the fires approached, air tankers dropped fireplace retardant in a hoop across the bushes and firefighters have been winched all the way down to arrange an irrigation system to guard the pines from encroaching flames.

A number of the bushes have been charred, however the distinctive grove survived.

“It’s simply been an outstanding success story,” mentioned Matt Kean, atmosphere minister for New South Wales state.

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