Australia bush fires: harbinger of global warming?

From The Guardian, Feb. 8:

Bushfires and global warming: is there a link?
Scientists are reluctant to link ­individual weather events to global warming, because natural variability will always throw up extreme events. However, they say that climate change loads the dice, and can make severe episodes more likely.

Some studies have started to say how much global warming contributed to severe weather. Experts at the UK Met Office and Oxford University used computer models to say man-made climate change made the killer European heatwave in 2003 about twice as likely. In principle, the technique could be repeated with any extreme storm, drought or flood – which could pave the way for lawsuits from those affected.

Bob Brown, a senator who leads the Australian Greens, said the bushfires showed what climate change could mean for Australia.

“Global warming is predicted to make this sort of event happen 25%, 50% more,” he told Sky News. “It’s a sobering reminder of the need for this nation and the whole world to act and put at a priority our need to tackle climate change.”

Models suggest global warming could bring temperature rises as high as 6C for Australia this century, if global emissions continue unabated, with rainfall decreasing in the southern states and increasing further north. As if to demonstrate that, Queensland, in the north, is currently experiencing widespread flooding after rainfall of historic proportions.

More than 60% of Queensland has been declared a disaster zone in the worst floods for more than 30 years. Some 3,000 homes have been affected, and the main highway between Cairns and Townsville has been cut off.

The Victoria fires have left 200 dead, 7,000 displaced, and destroyed 900 homes. (NYT, Feb. 11)

See our last posts on the Australia, global climate destabilization and the political ecology of fire.

  1. Images of Victoria fires
    These chilling images were received by e-mail. We hope this isn’t a taste of what is in store for us across the Great Plains of North America and steppes of Eurasia in the years to come.

    1. Kaola in the news
      The koala pictured below is apparently named Sam and recovering from her burns at the Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter in Rawson. Some 20 koalas have been brought to the shelter in recent days. The photo was taken by Mark Pardew. Read the Reuters account at PlanetArk.

      More than a million native animals are believed killed in the Victoria fires, including koalas, sugar gliders, possums, bandicoots and antechinus (a mouse-like marsupial), Australia Associated Press informs us.