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Analysis and Comment (34)

Coalmining poses risks that can’t be managed away. Coalmining poses risks that can’t be managed away. AAP Image/Incident Control Centre Hazelwood

The real disaster, at Hazelwood and elsewhere, is brown coal itself

Fittingly for a report on a huge fire, the findings of the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry act as a smokescreen for the bigger issues behind the disaster. Partly because of its narrow terms of reference, the…
The blaze was eventually extinguished 45 days after it was sparked by a grassfire. The blaze was eventually extinguished 45 days after it was sparked by a grassfire. Country Fire Authority/AAP

The Hazelwood mine disaster could easily have been avoided

The Hazelwood coalmine fire, which burned for 45 days earlier this year, was a catastrophe for the town of Morwell in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley. Homes were blanketed in smoke and ash, many residents were…
Firefighters say they have the Hazelwood mine fire under control, but it’s still expected to burn for some time. Firefighters say they have the Hazelwood mine fire under control, but it’s still expected to burn for some time. AAP Image/Incident Control Centre hazelwood

Stronger laws needed to prevent another Hazelwood coal mine fire

The Hazelwood coal mine fire shows that Victoria’s current mining laws are not strong enough to prevent a similar disaster in the future. While the mine’s owner GDF SUEZ has vehemently rejected claims…
For millennia, humans have had the tools to change the atmosphere: when will we develop a sense of caution? For millennia, humans have had the tools to change the atmosphere: when will we develop a sense of caution? AK Rockefeller/Flickr

Human global domination began with fire, not factories or farms

The era in which humans have had the power to alter the conditions for all life on Earth is widely thought to have begun with the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago. This era has been dubbed the “Anthropocene…
Firefighters battling the blaze at an open-cut coal mine in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, with Hazelwood power station in the background. Firefighters battling the blaze at an open-cut coal mine in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, with Hazelwood power station in the background. AAP Image/Incident Control Centre Hazelwood

Victoria’s coal fire poses a rare challenge for firefighting

Victoria’s Hazelwood coal mine is still burning, nearly three weeks after it started from a grassfire during severe fire conditions. Police are currently investigating the original fire for arson. Meanwhile…
Too few Australian bushfire preparedness plans consider people with disabilities. Too few Australian bushfire preparedness plans consider people with disabilities. Giant Gingko/Flickr

Bushfire planning leaves behind people with disabilities

When bushfires start, no one should be more worried than people with disabilities. Recent research shows people with disabilities are twice as likely to die or be injured than the general population during…
Fire zone: bushland ablaze in the Perth Hills. Fire zone: bushland ablaze in the Perth Hills. AAP

Bushfires: rural residents are the solution, not the problem

The return of heatwaves and bushfires to the news pages has brought fresh warnings that Australians who live in fire-prone zones still don’t fully understand the risk they are running. Deadly fires in…
For firefighters, as for communities, knowing when to leave makes all the difference. For firefighters, as for communities, knowing when to leave makes all the difference. AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

Know when to go: a new way to keep firefighters safe from harm

For a firefighter, knowing when it’s time to evacuate can be the difference between life and death. But that can be a difficult call to make when you’re trying to protect life, property and resources while…
The aftermath of the bushfires that swept through the Blue Mountains last October. The aftermath of the bushfires that swept through the Blue Mountains last October. AAP Image/High Alpha

Our deadly bushfire gamble: risk your life or bet your house

News images of traumatised homeowners huddled in front of the ashes of their homes have become increasingly familiar in recent years. But the question has to be asked - why are we so often surprised when…
People living in the bush can’t rely too heavily on controlled burn-offs to protect their home. People living in the bush can’t rely too heavily on controlled burn-offs to protect their home. AAP Image/Channel Ten

Which homes will survive this bushfire season?

After the early onset of the 2013-14 bushfire season, it is worth reviewing which homes are more likely to be left standing when the fires inevitably return. One of the most important factors to note is…
Firefighters battle a bushfire close to homes in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, in October this year. Firefighters battle a bushfire close to homes in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, in October this year. AAP/Dan Himbrechts

Climate Council’s Code Red bushfire warning

Australians have always had to live with bushfires - but climate change is driving that fire danger even higher. And we’re not talking about a distant threat to future generations. According to real observations…
Firefighters have plenty of ideas about disaster management - so why don’t we listen? Firefighters have plenty of ideas about disaster management - so why don’t we listen? AAP/Dan Himbrechts

What firefighters say about climate change

You do not find many climate change sceptics on the end of [fire] hoses anymore… They are dealing with increasing numbers of fires, increasing rainfall events, increasing storm events. – A senior Victorian…
Smoke from deliberately lit forest fires is destroying the health of Southeast Asians, and looks set to be a yearly event. Smoke from deliberately lit forest fires is destroying the health of Southeast Asians, and looks set to be a yearly event. EPA/Amriyadi Bahar

Southeast Asian smoke warns of never-ending fires

Look at satellite images from Southeast Asia this week and you will see large areas of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore blanketed by dense plumes of smoke. These smoke plumes have severely degraded ground-level…
Giant eucalypts like this swamp gum (Eucalyptus regnans) tower over an understory of rainforest plants, and are dependent on fire for their survival. Giant eucalypts like this swamp gum (Eucalyptus regnans) tower over an understory of rainforest plants, and are dependent on fire for their survival. Flickr/freelancing god

We need to think about fire in Tasmania’s forests

Forest activist Miranda Gibson’s 15-month stay up a giant eucalypt has been interrupted by bushfire. Meanwhile Tasmania’s forestry peace deal, now being considered in the state’s upper house, has drawn…
An early season burn in Arnhem Land. Low intensity fires decrease greenhouse emissions and increase carbon stored in trees. Brett Murphy. An early season burn in Arnhem Land. Low intensity fires decrease greenhouse emissions and increase carbon stored in trees. Brett Murphy.

Savanna burning: carbon pays for conservation in northern Australia

Fire and biodiversity have a complex relationship in northern Australia. Tim Flannery and others blame the current northern biodiversity crisis, at least in part, on changed fire regimes. Improving fire…
Victoria’s alpine forest is burning more often, changing the landscape and reducing its ability to store carbon. Victoria’s alpine forest is burning more often, changing the landscape and reducing its ability to store carbon. AAP Image/Australian Workers Union

Ash to ashes – what could the 2013 fires mean for the future of our forests?

In the high country of Victoria, firefighters are presently battling a large bushfire that is moving through the forests south of Harrietville and past the second highest mountain in Victoria, Mt. Feathertop…
It will take social change to prevent people deliberately lighting bushfires. It will take social change to prevent people deliberately lighting bushfires. AAP Image/NSW Rural Fire Service, Barry Ballard

Bushfire arson: prevention is the cure

At this time of year, each year - the bushfire season - the complex nature of human behaviour hits home. Bushfires are a terrible event. The environmental destruction, the loss of property and sometimes…
An early dry season fire in Kakadu National Park – are these fires burning up our mammals? An early dry season fire in Kakadu National Park – are these fires burning up our mammals? Clay Trauernicht

Scientists and national park managers are failing northern Australia’s vanishing mammals

Conservationists should take heart that Australia is finally waking up to the biodiversity crisis in Australia’s north. It is an urgent problem: right now, a diverse assortment of our small mammals – bandicoots…
Researchers and firefighters have long speculated that fire tornadoes might exist. Now we know they do. Researchers and firefighters have long speculated that fire tornadoes might exist. Now we know they do. Dig/AAP

Turn and burn: the strange world of fire tornadoes

We’ve all seen footage of out-of-control bushfires sweeping the Australian landscape, burning out hectares of native forest in their wake. But you might not have heard of a fire tornado, let alone seen…
Could charcoal be our climate saviour? Could charcoal be our climate saviour? Oli R/Flickr

The charcoal challenges: fire and climate dynamics

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is co-ordinating a new venture to tackle short-lived global warming agents such as black carbon. Should we be paying more attention to black carbon? Yes…
Humanity’s control of fire has led to a vastly changed atmosphere. Humanity’s control of fire has led to a vastly changed atmosphere. Jason A Samfield

The discovery of fire: initial steps toward anthropogenic climate change

The evidence for a rapid shift in state of the terrestrial atmosphere-ocean system over the last two centuries (see figure 1) requires a deep time perspective, beyond events of the day. Tracing the original…
If speaking up helps avoid devastating bushfires, scientists should take the risk. If speaking up helps avoid devastating bushfires, scientists should take the risk. AAP

Will climate change increase bushfires? Not knowing is no excuse for not talking

Scientists are increasingly expected to engage with the media to communicate their findings. My research leads me to believe Hobart is at risk from a severe bushfire disaster – but what are my responsibilities…
We know Aboriginal fires affected Australian vegetation, but now we have evidence they altered the monsoon too. We know Aboriginal fires affected Australian vegetation, but now we have evidence they altered the monsoon too. ciamabue/Flickr

How Aboriginal burning changed Australia’s climate

For thousands of years, Aboriginal Australians burned forests to promote grasslands for hunting and other purposes. Recent research suggests that these burning practices also affected the timing and intensity…
Indigenous Australians systematically burnt grasslands to reduce fuel and stop fires raging out of control. Indigenous Australians systematically burnt grasslands to reduce fuel and stop fires raging out of control. Flickr/pietroizzo

The biggest estate on earth: how Aborigines made Australia

Aboriginal people worked hard to make plants and animals abundant, convenient and predictable. By distributing plants and associating them in mosaics, then using these to lure and locate animals, Aborigines…
When it comes to weather, scientists and the media have different understandings of risk. When it comes to weather, scientists and the media have different understandings of risk. Ameel Khan

Spinning uncertainty? The IPCC extreme weather report and the media

The “reasonable person” would agree that disaster risk is best avoided. Under a changing climate, how exposed people are to risk and how socially and physically vulnerable they are affects how often disasters…
We all want to know how bad the next fire season will be, but working it out isn’t easy. We all want to know how bad the next fire season will be, but working it out isn’t easy. AFP/Torsten Blackwood

‘The worst fire season ever’ … until next year

Bushfires are part of the Australian landscape and the psyche of its human inhabitants. This is particularly true as months of hot, dry weather approach. Recent warnings have predicted a dire summer ahead…
Research done in South Africa can guide Australian conservation managers on where to focus effort. Research done in South Africa can guide Australian conservation managers on where to focus effort. Brian van Wilgen

Spending to save: what’s the best use of our conservation dollar?

It’s true: many species will go extinct due to the direct and indirect impacts of climate change. We will have to make some hard decisions about where to invest conservation dollars for the best effect…
Fire has played a key role in human evolution, and will continue to do so. Fire has played a key role in human evolution, and will continue to do so. john curley

Playing with fire – life on our flammable planet is about to get hotter

We have been fascinated and repelled by fire for millennia. It’s the defining feature of humanity and it has powered all cultures. But our relationship with this fundamental element, whether wild or contained…
Cosy, sure, unless your house is on fire. Cosy, sure, unless your house is on fire. sediger/Flickr

Firewood and biodiversity - are we burning their homes to warm ours?

The issue of firewood management has recently attracted renewed attention in Victoria, where the State Government has changed the regulations on collecting firewood from State Forests. Firewood is cheap…
Bushfires are a greater risk in areas of human habitation than in alpine regions. Bushfires are a greater risk in areas of human habitation than in alpine regions. AAP

Alpine grazing: let’s research fires where they pose most threat

Last summer, the Victorian government allowed cattle to graze in the Alpine National Park. They claimed it was part of a scientific trial to assess grazing as a tool to reduce fire risk. Now it seems there…
Can prescribed burning stop carbon stores going up in smoke? Can prescribed burning stop carbon stores going up in smoke? AAP

Burn bush, reduce emissions: evaluating costs and benefits of prescribed burning

Bushfires are, together with cyclones and flooding, among the most important natural hazards affecting Australian communities. They also make a significant contribution to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions…
Publicly funded scientists have a responsibility to the public. Publicly funded scientists have a responsibility to the public. AAP

Science and alpine grazing: politics and responsibility

Australian science institutions and scientists must retain the confidence of the public and Australian governments. By blurring facts, disrespecting other institutions' research processes and turning their…
Cattle grazing in Alpine National Park is not supported by science. Cattle grazing in Alpine National Park is not supported by science. foxypar4 on flickr

Science the loser in Victoria’s alpine grazing trial

In January, 400 cattle were released into Victoria’s Alpine National Park as part of a research trial to investigate the influence of strategic grazing as a tool to reduce fuel loads and bush fire risk…

Research and News (2)

Research Briefs (12)

Burning mountains saves lizards

Lizard populations have been brought back in America’s Ozark glades through the burning of entire mountains and valleys…