What global warming can do to us – Part 2

In my new book, The Shale Controversy, one chapter is called Australia – Poster Child for Global Warming. I visited my old country in August 2019 for almost a month, and ran headlong into a number of events that seemed to shout, “Global Warming is here”.

The annual average temperature in Australia has been rising steadily the past 70 years – see figure 1.

Figure 1. Australian average temperature above or below the temperature in the period 1961–1990 (zero on the graph). The temperature has been rising steadily since 1950.

My home state of South Australia is the driest state in the driest continent of the world.

Emergency warnings were issued when superhot temperatures of 45°C (113°F) were recorded on November 20, 2019, some very close to my hometown of Jamestown.

The southern state has endured its driest first nine months [in 2019] of any year on record. 2018 was Australia’s hottest summer on record. Figures also show 2018 and 2017 were Australia’s third- and fourth-hottest years on record.

Australia emits 1.1 percent of the whole world’s greenhouse gases but has only 0.3 percent of the population. This imbalance simply means the country has one of the highest emissions of carbon dioxide in the world, per person.

Global warming played a significant role in generating long-lasting heat waves that fueled Australia’s deadly 2019–2020 wildfire season, as a new study by an international team of scientists has concluded.

Wildfires burned in Australia from November 2019 through February 2020 across about 73,000 square miles, an area nearly as big as Nebraska, killing at least 34 people and an estimated one billion animals.

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Figure 2. In December 2019, Australia suffered its worst heat waves ever. Here we see an unprecedented spread of wildfires over the vast expanse of a country that’s as large as the USA without Alaska. These wildfires were imaged by satellite in the seven-day period leading up to December 31, 2019. Source: NASA/FIRMS

The following is adapted from an article in BBC News on 18 September 2020.

Dozens of wildfires have been burning their way through swathes of the US West Coast over the last month, killing more than 30 people and forcing tens of thousands from their homes.

Scientists say the region’s wildfires are the worst in 18 years and have linked their increasing prevalence and intensity to climate change.

Plumes of smoke from the fires are so large, they have crossed the US and the Atlantic Ocean, carried by the jet stream, and have reached the skies of Europe.

The US National Interagency Fire Center has said firefighters are battling 106 large wildfires across the western US.

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Figure 3. Areas burned between September 1 and 18, 2020.
Many of the fires are in California, where fire officials have said more than 17,000 firefighters are battling more than 20 major blazes.

California Governor Gavin Newsom says the state has seen 7,606 blazes this year compared with 4,972 in 2019. And according to Cal Fire, five of the top 20 largest fires in California’s history have occurred in 2020.

The August Complex fire, in Tehama County, California (see figure 3), has become the state’s biggest recorded fire ever, covering more than 750,000 acres.

The fires have devastated several small towns, destroying thousands of homes and killing more than 30 people.





Figure 4 gives the history of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning of fossil fuels by country. The total CO2 emitted worldwide starts to rise much faster after 1950 (70 years ago).

Global warming and wild fires annual total CO2 emissions graph
Figure 4. Worldwide annual global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and (less than 10% from) cement manufacturing. (Reference 1.)

This jump corresponds to the increasing Australian temperature rise in figure 1 that also starts around 1950. In the USA, the temperature rise also starts around 1950 – 1960 as can be seen in figure 4 of Part 1 of this series.

It’s very hard not to associate the enhanced temperature rise of these two countries, starting 1950 -1960, to the accelerated burning of fossil fuels that emit 70% of the problematic greenhouse gases.

You can blame global warming for the wildfires in Australia and the West Coast of USA. You can blame a persistent temperature rise since 1950 caused by increasing greenhouse gas emissions into the upper atmosphere. You can blame about 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions on burning of fossil fuels coal, oil, and natural gas.

This is why some people argue to stop fracking, because this is the technique that allows more oil and gas to be pumped out of the ground.

Australia is a poster child for climate change based in part on over 100 intense wildfires in late 2019 that raged through Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria.

And I’m sad to say that the West Coast of the USA is another poster-child, with over 100 persistent wildfires raging in September 2020.

1. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser, “CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” Our World in Data, last revised December 2019 See Creative Commons license link https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/.)

Read the first part of this article here.


BLOG TOPICS: I write content (in-depth) blogs about a mix of topics: Inspiration and Hope, Health and Hiking, Science and Energy.
The Gray Nomad ….. Focusing on the data.
Beloved, if God loved us so very much, we also ought to love one another.

[Book of 1 John, chapter 4.]

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Julian Pfitzner
Julian Pfitzner
3 years ago

Good stuff, Ian. Unfortunately our federal government in Australia is pushing gas as a transition fuel for electricity and not supporting renewables. They claim to believe in climate change but their actions do not support this belief. The Queensland energy minister recently said that all state and territory premiers agree that the future is renewables. Only the federal government disagrees. He said, “I don’t know why they don’t get it!”
Because of 10 years of poor decision making the feds are now in somewhat of a bind. Gas will of course be a transition fuel for some time but not for the 30 to 40 years that this government suggests. Enough said!

Gray Nomad
Gray Nomad
3 years ago

Thanks for the comment Julian. For a decade in the USA the mantra of oil and gas companies has been that gas is a halfway house to renewables. And in one respect is has: the shale revolution has enabled cheap natural gas to replace coal in power stations, and this has reduced the greenhouse gas emission (mostly CO2) enough to satisfy the Paris Accords. But now I detect a palpable change in the country – partly because natural gas leaks everywhere send methane into the atmosphere and its effects on global warming are 20 times that of CO2. And partly the enormous cost of wildfires unprecedented along the West Coast is making believers of people who have been affected by this maelstrom.

Kevin K
Kevin K
3 years ago

Since global warming is global and is cause for increased fires in Australia and western US, is there increased prevalence of fires in all other parts of the world, or something else uniquely contributing to fires in these two areas?

Gray Nomad
Gray Nomad
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin K

As usual, good question Kevin. Here is my answer in two parts:
1. “How quick a runner you are depends on the nature of the track: slow in a muddy track, but fast on a paved road.” A temp rise of 1degC will make a bigger difference to fire amplitude and frequency in arid California than in green grassy eastern Kansas. So the southwest of the USA will reveal the effects of global temp rise more than the wetter areas of the USA. Conclusion: effects are localized, and California and Australia are outliers because they are arid places
2. In a 2006 paper, Westerling et al compared western forest fires in the period 1970-1986 to the period 1987-2003. They found 4 x as many large fires in the latter period (large = more than 10,000 acres), AND the fires were 6.5 x bigger by area burned. Also, the fire season lasted 78 days longer. The reason given was average spring and summer seasons were 0.9 deg C warmer. Ref: A Great Aridness, by William deBuys.

3 years ago

Ian, this is very revealing blog post. When will this nation and the nations of the world have the political and social will to solve this crisis? In the USA so many people are in denial, and have serious distrust of science. Is there a concerted effort to bring about this distrust? Maybe. The political, social, and economic issues attached to Global Warming are obviously very complex. However, it seem like a no-brainier to me and many others; the effort to combat and stay this crisis should have been underway decades ago.

Gray Nomad
Gray Nomad
3 years ago
Reply to  DonM

I’ve never known such distrust of science as the time we are living in. Science measures the Australian temperature in figure 1. Science images the fires by satellite in figure 2. Science calculates, by a complex algorithm, the amount of CO2 released by each country per year, in figure 4. An observer can see the correlation between figure 1 and figure 4, and experts can explain with chemistry why temperature follows CO2 content in the atmosphere. We don’t have to understand the physics of how cylinders fire in our car before jumping in and trusting the engineers who built it.

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