Australia Fire Crisis: PM Morrison Cuts Vacation Short After Two Firefighters Die
Two firefighters died Thursday battling wildfires fueled by a record-breaking heat wave in Australia, prompting Prime Minister Scott Morrison to return home from a Hawaiian vacation he had been much criticized for taking.
The firefighters were 32-year-old Geoffrey Keaton and 36-year-old Andrew O'Dwyer, and both of them had young children, The New York Times reported. They had been battling blazes southwest of Sydney when their truck struck a tree and rolled off the road, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) said in a statement. Three other firefighters traveling in the truck were also injured.
"Our hearts are breaking," NSW RFS association president Brian McDonough said in a statement reported by The New York Times.
The 2 firefighters killed in a vehicle accident last night are Deputy Captain Geoffrey Keaton 32yrs & Firefighter A… https://t.co/lJwU9BXEed— NSW RFS (@NSW RFS)1576793235.0
The two men were the first firefighters to die during this Australian spring's historic fire season, according to The New York Times, but their deaths bring the total fire death toll in New South Wales up to eight since October, Reuters reported. Ten firefighters were also seriously injured Thursday.
The news prompted Morrison to announce he would return from a family vacation in Hawaii.
Morrison's absence sparked protests outside his residence in Sydney Thursday. One protester carried a sign reading, "ScoMo, where the bloody hell are you?" borrowing a slogan from a popular Tourism Australia ad campaign. #wherethebloodyhellareya also trended on Twitter, according to The New York Times.
Let’s face it. This is what @ScottMorrisonMP really thinks!! #Nero #NotMyPM #bullshitboy #wherethebloodyhellareya https://t.co/xTsgnWYDtM— bmac (@bmac)1576805532.0
Morrison announced he would return soon after the firefighters' deaths were made public.
"Over the course of the past week I have been taking leave with my family. Our leave was brought forward due to the need to cancel our scheduled leave in January because of our official government visit to India and Japan at the invitation of PMs Modi and Abe," Morrison said in a statement reported by The New Daily. "I deeply regret any offence caused to any of the many Australians affected by the terrible bushfires by my taking leave with family at this time."
But it isn't just Morrison's absence that has some Australians upset. It's also his lack of action on the climate crisis that makes extreme temperatures and fire seasons more likely.
"We're not offended. We're terrified and we're furious," Greenpeace Australia Pacific wrote in a Facebook post responding to Morrison's return. "The country is on fire, the sky is poison, it's the hottest day we've ever recorded and you're failing us. This is climate change. Do something about it."
Australia is one of the top greenhouse gas emitters per capita because of its reliance on coal, and the government approved a new coal mine in the state of Queensland in June that will be built by Adani Enterprises, Reuters reported.
Fires have been burning in Australia for months and have consumed more than 700 homes and millions of hectares since September, BBC News reported.
But this week's blazes have been made worse by record-breaking heat. The country broke its record for hottest day on Tuesday when it recorded an average temperature of 40.9 degrees Celsius. It then broke that record the next day, recording an average temperature of 41.9 degrees Celsius, The Guardian reported.
Based on preliminary analysis, yesterday, Australia recorded its hottest day on record. The nationally-averaged max… https://t.co/MmlIFhFY0u— Bureau of Meteorology, Australia (@Bureau of Meteorology, Australia)1576734744.0
"It is frightening and a little frustrating, but this is what climate scientists have been saying for decades," University of New South Wales climate scientist Dr. Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick told The Guardian of the extreme heat. "I'm bordering on saying 'I told you so' but I don't think anyone really wants to hear that."
New South Wales is the state most impacted by the fires, according to BBC News, and a state of emergency has been declared there as around 100 blazes burn. Fires also ignited in Victoria and South Australia Friday when temperatures reached higher than 47 degrees Celsius in some places. In South Australia, asphalt on roads even began to melt, The New York Times reported.
Also on Friday, smoke from the New South Wales fires reached Melbourne in Victoria for the first time, according to BBC News.
Smoke is extending over #Victoria this morning from the #nswfires and the Gippsland fires, reducing visibility to a… https://t.co/1BOtEjDR09— Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria (@Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria)1576800617.0
"It's come a very long way to get here," a Bureau of Meteorology spokesman told The Australian of the smoke.
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Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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