From: Bruce Sterling [email@example.com]
Sent: Sunday, January 26, 2003 2:17 PM
Subject: Viridian Note 00359: Canberra Flames Subside
- Key concepts:
- Viridian commentary, massive wildfires,
climate change, capital of Australia, Khaki Green,
Kyoto Treaty, John Howard
- Attention Conservation Notice:
- Various interested
Viridian parties weigh in on the subject of the recent
fires around the capital of Australia. Over 2,700
words. The earlier note was painful, ugly and scary,
but this one is worse. Large numbers of dense, brain-
I asked Viridians for pictures of that molten observatory,
and I got 'em. And much more.
"What a small tactical nuke might look like:"
The molten Observatory's rare pink-tailed legless lizard:
The Australian, global-warming, giant squid peril:
The Great Barrier Grief:
From: Joseph Hope <joseph.hope*anu.edu.au>
Date: Sun Jan 19, 2003 11:34:21 PM US/Central
To: Bruce Sterling <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Viridian Note 00358: Canberra in Flames
"Long time Viridian reader, first time commenter.
"I'm a resident in Canberra, and was on alert to
defend my house yesterday, as my suburb is on the edge on
Canberra between the two main parts that are burning. It
was still standing as of this morning, and I'm having a
day off due to a favourable wind direction.
(((Congratulations on surviving, Dr. Hope, we are glad
to have you with us.)))
"I admire a ruthless dedication to the cause of
highlighting global warming, and Viridian notes have
provided many good links to evidence that has found its
way into my first year university physics lectures,
whether it strictly belongs there or not. However, the
fires around Canberra can't honestly be called a
(((Oh yes indeed they can! Watch me.)))
"The Australian bush, particularly in this area, is
supposed to have a devastating fire every few decades.
It's how the trees germinate, which is why they're so fire
resistant, and produce so much flammable forest litter
which can be started by lightning strike. I'd call this a
very natural event.
(((That is true. And it used to be very
Greenhouse events are weather events. But they are
startlingly huge, historically unprecedented events that
overwhelm conventional disaster-relief infrastructures.
That is how one knows them. It's not like the Australian
sky suddenly rains Dr. Seuss oobleck.)))
"What's so funny is that so many people were wandering
around saying 'I didn't think this could ever happen.'
'It feels so surreal'. The same sorts of things people
say whenever there's a very predictable natural or
(((I rather doubt I find that any more genuinely
funny than you do. Yes, people do make banal remarks like
that sometimes. They probably breed lame cliches during
the collapse of their civilization, maybe, for that too
is also all too predictable. It's right there in the
historical records, what's left of 'em.)))
"The big climate related topic here in Australia is
the drought. It's old news, but it just keeps growing.
(((I see. Well, Australia is mostly desert, so if
Australia becomes 100 percent desert, that's likely a
trifling statistic that wouldn't necessarily suggest a
climate problem to a scientifically objective observer.)))
"It's not treatable by throwing a little money at it,
or even a lot of money at it. Over-irrigation is leading
to land-busting salination, which is much worse than
desert. Australia has always been largely water-poor, and
our entire agricultural industry could really die over the
next decade. As could most of our inland towns. (((You
heard it here first, ladies and gentlemen. Deserts cover
the Australian ruins.)))
"The drought may be partially responsible for the
severity of the bushfire, but it's a growing crisis that
may ultimately blow such piddling problems as a few
burning houses out of the, uh, sand. (((And what's
responsible for that drought? "El Nino." And what's
responsible for El Nino? It's "natural," but happens more
and more often with more and more severity.)))
"Invading Iraq, an ex-trade partner on the other side
of the world, to secure some oil for some other country,
may become even less appealing to the Australian public.
The two sound bites from the Prime Minister on TV last
night were (this is as close to verbatim as I can manage,
but from memory):
These fires are the worst I have seen.
It's as though Canberra is being ATTACKED from
the TERROR of the bushfire.
"He's desperately trying to create emotional links
between this and a desperate need to fight back against
the nasty weather. With guns. In, presumably, Iraq."
(((War is the health of the state, unless the capital is
on fire, in which case Khaki Green emergency relief is the
health of the state.)))
Dr. Joseph Hope
Dept. of Physics, Faculty of Science,
Australian National University,
Canberra, ACT 0200, AUSTRALIA
From: Scott McPhee <scot*autonomous.org>
Date: Sun Jan 19, 2003 10:15:31 PM US/Central
To: Bruce Sterling <bruces*well.com>
Subject: Re: Viridian Note 00358: Canberra in Flames
"I must take issue with your wholesale description of
this as a 'Greenhouse event'.
(((Quite a few Australian Viridians took surprising
issue with this description. Not one person from
any other country did, though. And no Australians
protested about any Greenhouse unlikeliness when I
cataloged giant monsoons in Houston and ferocious tempests
in Paris. Everybody worldwide knows that the Greenhouse
Effect is hurting other people. You know, them.)))
"Regardless of Prime Minister Howard's culpability in
failing to approve even the fig-leaf of Kyoto treaty, the
fires are not caused by Greenhouse. They are perfectly
natural events that are turned into human tragedy because
of where we place our cities."
(((Look, cities are supposed to be placed where the
vegetation grows. Those are the places on Earth where
humans can survive. It won't be very practical to place
new Australian cities on those climate-dead Great Barrier
coral reefs where the flames can't reach them.)))
"The Australian bush has had fires ever since human
settlement tens of thousands of years ago, at least. Many
native plant species cannot reproduce without fire.
Eucalyptus burns especially well; it has evolved
to do that. The same thing applies to the El Nino drought
that we are having. Evidence suggests this has been going
on for thousands of years. (((Yes indeed it has. But
it's getting worse. More trees burn much faster and
"Recent human agricultural activity (NB pine forests
are not natural in Australia, plantation is a more
accurate term) has exacerbated the drought, but did not
cause the drought. The drought is a natural cycle.
(((No it isn't. It is a formerly natural cycle being
driven to killer extremes.)))
"Far closer to home than the Greenhouse effect, are
the inappropriate farming and land management techniques
which are only now changing, and slowly at that.
(((There is nothing "closer to home" than the Greenhouse
effect. Everyone and everything on the planet is
breathing it, everywhere, all the time.)))
"While these techniques certainly contribute to
Greenhouse, they directly cause the severe land
salination and environmental degradation that comes with
the drought. Next year there will be massive floods. No
change from 1000 years ago; except that by clearing
forest, the floods are worse than they would be.
(((Australians want to reform their local land practices.
They are used to that, because it's practical, patriotic
and politically feasible. When it comes to stopping the
global Greenhouse though, Australians aren't helping much,
least of all helping themselves. Australia's national
government is worse than useless here.)))
"The same with the fires. Much more prescient to look
at Australians' love of building big, sprawling suburban
cities which extend right into the bush."
(((Well, as I remarked in the inaugural Viridian
speech back in 1998, the longer it takes you to catch on
to this, the more prescient I get.)))
"Then we go and re-plant as much of the bush as
possible into our suburbs. While Canberra was designed
that way, most of our other cities have been extensively
'greened' over the past three decades and have ended up
that way by default.
(((So what's the practical alternative to "greened"
cities? Browner and blacker cities? Those are on the
"On the fringes of the city, you'll find many houses
with backyard fences right up against national park or
nature reserves. Put into context with the natural
cyclical drought, a forest environment that has evolved to
be dependant on fire, the removal indigenous 'firestick
farming' practices which kept fires numerous and small
instead of infrequent and huge, and you get the picture of
Australian summer bushfires which occur, to some extent,
"In terms of stupid human behaviour, I'd like to know
why in Sydney we still get building approvals on ridge-
tops in steep hilly forested areas with eucalyptus forest
in the valley below. A few years later the places get
burnt and people want to blame the National Parks service,
instead of the town planners, or themselves.
(((These are penetrating remarks and of obvious relevance
to the fire crisis, but they are local solutions to local
problems with global origins. "Fail to think globally,
have to act locally.")))
From: Peter Miller (peter*perpetualocean.com)
"Australia is having a major weather freakout at the
moment. One of the worst droughts in recorded history,
duststorms that rage from the west over into Sydney on the
east coast (all the topsoil from farms that have practised
decades of poor land management and have no natural
vegetation to hold the soil together any more) and yes,
bushfires. The only reason that you're not reading about
bushfires around Sydney (Australia's other national
capital) is that it all got burnt out last September.
"Here's a flavour of how the Man on the Land sees the
(read it with appropriate Australian drawl where
"Never mind the fact that this country was never
suitable for grazing cattle. And the biggest concern? How
much it will effect the economy...
"(Aside: as a result of the drought, insect numbers
are way down. This is held to be a Good Thing by farmers
and politicians but for some reason the words 'Food Chain'
keep popping into my head).
"Australia 'iffy about Kyoto,' you say? Sorry chaps,
we're right up there with you Americans. This from
Australia, the country that puts out more CO2 per capita
than any nation on the planet (I'm afraid you can't be
tops at everything):
"Meanwhile, the banks are putting a positive spin on
the Canberra situation, this from the Sydney Morning
Herald this morning:
"The Canberra bushfires would have a positive effect
on the local ACT economy as homes are rebuilt and
household goods replaced, according to ANZ chief economist
"You gotta love the caring sharing attitudes of the
(((Absolutely. That's a great New Terror Economy pitch.
Perhaps a massive San Francisco earthquake would redress
the problems in California's drooping information
"The enormity of damage around Canberra depends on your
frame of reference. Sure it burnt more houses down, but
it's peanuts compared to the amount of bushland that's
been destroyed == the September NSW fires torched 1.9
million hectares of the (new) World Heritage Listed Blue
Mountains, but only 109 houses got crisped there.
Liberated carbon? Make mine a double!
"The firefighters, of course, are 'responsible' for
whatever happens. Otherwise, who can you blame if your
house burns down? And their response is to concrete-over
the whole flammable area. The fire department guys spend
all this time making fire breaks... But in last year's
Sydney fires, the firestorms were jumping a kilometer and
a half over the Hawkesbury River.
"Note that the flaming 'pine plantations' mentioned
in reports are radiata pine. It's displacing all the
eucalyptus forest all over Australia because it grows
fast, grows anywhere, and logging companies can claim it
as reforesting, while manufacturers can claim it as carbon
remediation credits. (((Greenhouse remediation forest
catches fire. Really nice Wexelblat angle here.)))
"More trees = more fires. Chop down the trees! That's
the policy they have up in Queensland, where land clearing
proceeds apace thanks to the excellent tax incentives and
sky-rocketing real estate developments.
"We might be a tiny country, but you can't say we're
not pulling our weight when it comes to booting the planet
down the dusty lane to oblivion."
Signing out from Downunder
From: "Michael Jennings" <mjj12*mjj12.freeserve.co.uk>
Date: Mon Jan 20, 2003 07:05:05 AM US/Central
To: "Bruce Sterling" <bruces*well.com>
Subject: Mt Stromlo Observatory photos (was Re: Viridian
Note 00358: Canberra in Flames)
"Mt Stromlo observatory was largely a training and
historical site at this point. The lights of Canberra have
in recent decades become too bright for much useful
astronomy to occur there. Most of Australia's actively
important astronomical telescopes are at Siding Spring,
near the town of Coonabarabran about 600km North.
"Of course, that observatory is on the top of a hill
in the middle of the forest also."
From: R Michael Harman <rmharman*auros.org>
Date: Sun Jan 19, 2003 11:33:33 PM US/Central
To: Bruce Sterling <email@example.com>
Subject: Mt Stromlo Observatory
"The Observatory's website is down. Presumably their
web-server has become a hunk of melted plastic, metal, and
semiconductors. Now, just think of the great infospace
Wexelblat disasters that could happen if a major node
along a backbone were consumed by fires."
Auros, who had a bunch of stars and chevrons before the
Viridian ranking system went away. Sigh.
R Michael Harman / Auros Symtheos
rmharman*auros.org ............ http://www.auros.org/
Linguist and Software Engineer, Lexicus, Motorola
New Media Reviews Editor, Strange Horizons Speculative
(((We concluded this extensive report with some extremely
painful speculations from an interested climate expert.)))
From: "Patrick Mazza" <patrick*climatesolutions.org>
"As you indicate, this looks to be Australia's future.
Proximate reason is that the Pacific will increasingly be
in El Nino conditions, which brings drought to Australia.
The fact Australia has been in the worst drought of a
century during what is regarded as a moderate El Nino is
one more piece of evidence that the global impacts of El
Nino are being magnified by the effects of global warming.
"The floods earlier this year in Europe, the drastic
swings from unusually dry to monsoon rains in California,
are other pieces of this picture. The drum I think we all
need to be banging loudly == Earth systems are inclined to
disproportionate responses to small changes in
temperature. So all this after just 1 deg. F rise...
"What does 2-3-5-10 degrees do? Global catastrophe
from extreme climate change piling on top of a world of 10
billion people living on depleted resources and frayed
natural systems, and all the wars and ugliness of which we
humans are capable when we're hungry.
"On top of my regular Climate Solutions work, I've
been funded by MacArthur Foundation to do a critical
analysis of the hydrogen economy, to sort out the hype
from the reality. Might turn into a book."
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O
WELL, AT LEAST THE FIRE'S OUT
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O