The insightful blogger who goes by the moniker Spotted Toad has created a series of charts explaining the 2016 Electoral College results as a result of average home price in each state.
The pattern is much the same as it has been in every election since 2000: In states where younger white people can better afford to buy a home, they are more likely to be married, have more children, and vote more Republican. In states where whites are less able to afford a home, they marry later, have fewer children, and vote more Democratic.
For example, the state with the most expensive homes on average is Hawaii, at a self-estimated mean during 2010–14 of $505,400 (according to Census Bureau data). Not coincidentally, Donald Trump did worse in Hawaii than in any other state, garnering only 30.0 percent of the vote.
In contrast, in the state with the cheapest housing—West Virginia, with its mean home value of just $100,200—Trump enjoyed his biggest majority: 68.5 percent.
These aren’t fluke outliers, either.
Trump won the 22 states with the cheapest homes, and 26 of the 27 least costly states. Conversely, Hillary Clinton carried 15 of the 16 states with the most expensive housing. (The most expensive red state was No. 9 Alaska and the least expensive blue state was No. 28 New Mexico.)
Here is Spotted Toad’s graph showing the fifty states, with Trump’s share of the vote on the vertical axis and home values on the horizontal axis. The correlation coefficient for the relationship between Trump’s share of the vote and home values in each state was –0.76, a very strong negative correlation.
The next most expensive homes after Hawaii are in California at a mean of $371,000, where Trump won only 31.6 percent.
California had voted Republican in nine of ten presidential elections from 1952 through 1988, but has now gone Democrat in the past seven elections, beginning with 1992.
“The country will increasingly tend to divide itself up into family-oriented red states with low housing costs and amenity-oriented blue states with high housing costs.”
This reversal is usually blamed by the media on Republican governor Pete Wilson coming from behind in his 1994 reelection bid by endorsing the popular immigration restrictionist Proposition 187. And this explanation that the California GOP was done in by the subsequent anti-187 anger of the Latino electoral tsunami is widely assumed to be true by GOP “strategists” too dumb to notice that 1994 followed, rather than preceded, the turning-point election of 1992 when George H.W. Bush lost California to Bill Clinton by a historic 13.4 percentage points.
In reality, the bigger problem dooming the California GOP was that it stopped routinely carrying white voters by comfortable margins. And this shift was likely related to the massive surge in California home prices. The state’s homes were no more expensive than the national average until 1975, but have since become increasingly expensive as California homeowners have figured out how to manipulate environmental regulations to slow the construction of new homes and roads.
Growing up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, I had a front-row seat since the watershed year of 1969 to watch the celebrities of Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Malibu learn how to exploit environmentalism to drive up their property values and keep out deplorables from the Valley, such as me. (Simultaneously, the Westsiders denounced Americans who didn’t want to let in more illegal aliens as vicious racist xenophobes raising the wages they’d have to pay their servants.)
Why have richer U.S. states become more Democratic and poorer states more Republican? I find that this phenomenon actually reflects cost of living, driven by residential building restrictions…. By making housing supply less responsive to price, land-use regulation increases house prices in locations that are highly desirable for either amenities or production.
For example, Malibu’s most famous amenity is 21 miles of beaches. But an even better amenity than a public beach is a de facto private beach, so Malibuites such as Rob Reiner have managed to keep its population below 13,000 by severely restricting housing development.
Malibu voters don’t even want you paying to vacation on their turf. By my count, Malibu has only 184 hotel or motel rooms. “Stay out of Malibu, Lebowski!” would make a truthful civic slogan.
Meanwhile, billionaire producer David Geffen waged a 24-year-long legal battle to ignore the state law mandating he provide public access to the beach in front of his house (which he recently sold for $85 million).
One reason that Malibu beach houses like Geffen’s are so expensive is that Southern California housing development can only grow eastward into the hot desert. While an inland Republican metropolis like Dallas can expand 360 degrees, a Democratic waterfront redoubt like Los Angeles can spread only 180 degrees. Blue-state metropolises like Boston and Chicago generally find their suburban expansion hemmed in by oceans or Great Lakes, so their supply of land is much more limited than inland red-state cities like Phoenix and Atlanta.
But, of course, the bigger reason that merely 0.1 percent of the population of Southern California can afford to live in Malibu is because the One-Tenth of One Percent likes it that way. While they may advocate open borders for their country, they understand the advantages of extreme exclusivity for their quiet beach community.
Professor Sorens continues:
High house prices are the most important component of general cost of living. High cost of living deters in-migration of lower-income households, especially those that do not highly value amenities. Holding median household income constant, higher-cost locations will tend over time to attract and keep households that highly value amenities. It is hypothesized that these households will be more Democratic. Accordingly, raising residential building requirements in high-amenity areas should cause those areas to move gradually to the left.
To put this another way, people who value being able to afford the space needed to raise their families more highly than they value amenities will be less willing to pay inflated housing costs. So they will tend to move out of places like California.
And those whose preferences are on the knife-edge between children or amenities will tend to go with whatever their locale makes more available.
For instance, those couples who stay in California will more likely need both man and woman to work full-time to afford the rent, which makes it harder to raise children. And if you are not having children, is it all that important to marry? And if you aren’t married, isn’t the GOP’s family-values rhetoric kind of offensive?
Republican candidates do much better with married voters than single voters. In most presidential elections, the marriage gap is bigger than the famed gender gap. A higher likelihood of being married in states with affordable housing appears to be the prime driver by which low home prices get translated into Republican votes.
This means that the country will increasingly tend to divide itself up into family-oriented red states with low housing costs and amenity-oriented blue states with high housing costs. Not surprisingly, the GOP, as the family-values party, does better in states more appealing to family-focused voters.
What about the country as a whole? If the Republican Party wants to thrive in the long run, it needs to adjust supply and demand to make housing more affordable in order to grow more of the kind of married-with-kids white people who vote Republican. How? The most obvious way is by making it easier to build housing and harder to immigrate.
Real environmental problems are being neglected: picking through the detritus left behind by Cyclone Haima at Manila Bay on Thursday.
Matt Ridley 22 Oct 2016 The Australian
After covering global warming debates as a journalist on and off for almost 30 years, with initial credulity, then growing scepticism, I have come to the conclusion that the risk of dangerous global warming, now and in the future, has been greatly exaggerated while the policies enacted to mitigate the risk have done more harm than good, both economically and environmentally, and will continue to do so. And I am treated as some kind of pariah for coming to this conclusion. Increasingly, many people would like to outlaw, suppress, prosecute and censor all discussion of what they call “the science” rather than engage in debate. We’re told that it’s impertinent to question “the science” and that we must think as we are told. But arguments from authority are the refuge of priests.
These days there is a legion of climate spin doctors. Their job is to keep the debate binary: either you believe climate change is real and dangerous or you’re a denier who thinks it’s a hoax. But there’s a third possibility they refuse to acknowledge: that it’s real but not dangerous. That’s what I mean by lukewarming, and I think it is by far the most likely prognosis.
I am not claiming that carbon dioxide is not a greenhouse gas; it is. I am not saying that its concentration in the atmosphere is not increasing; it is. I am not saying the main cause of that increase is not the burning of fossil fuels; it is. I am not saying the climate does not change; it does. I am not saying that the atmosphere is not warmer today than it was 50 or 100 years ago; it is. And I am not saying that carbon dioxide emissions are not likely to have caused some (probably more than half) of the warming since 1950. I agree with the consensus on all these points.
Some of my scientific friends accuse me of inconsistently agreeing with the scientific consensus that genetic modification of crops is safe and beneficial, but refusing to agree with the scientific consensus that climate change is dangerous. I agree with the scientific consensus on GM crops not because it is a consensus but because I’ve looked at sufficient evidence. There is no consensus that climate change is going to be dangerous. Even the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there is a range of possible outcomes, from harmless to catastrophic. I’m in that range: I think the top of that range is very unlikely. But the IPCC also thinks the top of its range is very unlikely.
Besides, consensus is a reasonable guide to data about the past but is no guide to the future and never has been. In non-linear systems with feedbacks, like economies or atmospheres, experts are notoriously bad at forecasting events. There is no such thing as an expert on the future.
It is undeniable that the climate models have failed to get global warming right. As the IPCC has confirmed, for the period since 1998, “111 of the 114 available climate-model simulations show a surface warming trend larger than the observations”. That is to say there is a consensus that the models are exaggerating the rate of global warming.
The warming has so far resulted in no significant or consistent change in the frequency or intensity of storms, tornadoes, floods, droughts or winter snow cover. The death toll from droughts, floods and storms has been going down dramatically. Not because weather has got safer, but because of technology and prosperity.
As two climate scientists, Richard McNider and John Christy, have put it, “We might forgive these modellers if their forecasts had not been so consistently and spectacularly wrong. From the beginning of climate modelling in the 1980s, these forecasts have, on average, always overstated the degree to which the Earth is warming compared with what we see in the real climate.”
In 1990, the first IPCC assessment predicted a temperature increase of 0.3C per decade (with an uncertainty range of 0.2C to 0.5C). In fact in the 2½ decades since, even though emissions have risen faster than in the business-as-usual scenario, the temperature has risen at an average rate of about 0.15C per decade based on surface measurements, or 0.12C per decade based on satellite data; that is, less than half as fast as expected and below the bottom of the uncertainty range!
What about 2015 and 2016 both being record hot years? Well, because of the massive El Nino, the HADCRUT4 surface temperature line just about inched up briefly in early 2016 into respectable territory in among the lower half of the model runs for a few months before dropping back out again. That’s all.
So why is the atmosphere not doing what it is told? Actually it is. These results are precisely in line with the physics of the greenhouse effect. A doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere cannot on its own produce dangerous warming. The sensitivity of the atmosphere to CO2 is about 1.2C per doubling. That is the consensus, spelled out clearly (if obscurely) by the IPCC several times over the years. And that’s what we are on course for at the moment.
So what is the problem? Well, the theory of dangerous climate change depends on a whole extra step in the argument — the supposed threefold amplification of carbon dioxide’s warming potential, principally by extra water vapour released into the atmosphere by a warming ocean, and accumulating at high altitudes. And the evidence for that is much more shaky.
Recent attempts to measure the sensitivity of the climate system to carbon dioxide using real data nearly all find that it is much lower than the models assume. So, if it’s consensus that floats your boat, there is an emerging consensus from observational estimates that climate sensitivity is low.
What’s more, all the high estimates of warming are based on an economic and demographic scenario called RCP 8.5, which is a very unrealistic one. It assumes that population growth stops decelerating and speeds up again.
It assumes that trade and innovation largely cease. It assumes that the ability of the oceans to absorb CO2 fails. It assumes that despite all this the income of the average person trebles. And most absurd of all, it assumes that we go back to using coal for almost everything, including to make motor fuel, so that by 2100 we are using 10 times as much coal as we are today. In short, it is a barking mad scenario.
It is beyond question that global warming has generated enormous research funds, measured in many billions, that this has stimulated all sorts of scientists, from botany to psychiatry, to link their work to climate change, and that almost none of this money flows to those with sceptical views.
As the distinguished NASA climate scientist Roy Spencer has written, “If you fund scientists to find evidence of something, they will be happy to find it for you. For over 20 years we have been funding them to find evidence of the human influence on climate. And they dutifully found it everywhere, hiding under every rock, glacier, ocean, and in every cloud, hurricane, tornado, raindrop, and snowflake. So, just tell scientists 20 per cent of their funds will be targeted for studying natural sources of climate change. They will find those, too.”
Suppose I am right and our grandchildren find that we were greatly exaggerating the risks, and underestimating the benefits of CO2. Suppose they do indeed experience carbon dioxide levels of 600 parts per million or more, but do not experience dangerous global warming, or more extreme weather, just a mild and decelerating increase in global average temperatures, especially at high latitudes, at night and in winter, accompanied by spectacular global greening and less water stress for both people and crops.
Does it matter that our politicians panicked in the early 2000s? Surely better safe than sorry? Here’s why it matters. Our current policy carries not just huge economic costs, which hit the poorest people hardest, but huge environmental costs too. We are encouraging forest destruction by burning wood, ethanol and biodiesel. We are denying poor people the cheapest forms of electricity, which forces them to continue relying on wood for fuel, at great cost to their health.
We are using the landscape, the rivers, the estuaries, the hills, the fields for making energy, when we could be handing land back to nature, and relying on forms of energy that nature does not compete for — fossil and nuclear.
But there is a further reason why it matters. Real environmental problems are being neglected. The emphasis on climate change as the pre-eminent environmental threat means that we pay too little attention to the genuine environmental problems in the world, things like overfishing and invasive species.
And here is the maddest thing of all. Current policy is not even achieving decarbonisation. In 2012 Bjorn Lomborg calculated that 20 years of climate policy had reduced global emissions by less than 1 per cent. During that time the world had spent more than a trillion dollars to subsidise wind and solar power, yet between them they had still not achieved 1 per cent of world energy provision, and had cut emissions by even less.
Gradually, the masses are realising something is wrong
Maurice Newman 27 September 2016 The Australian
When your news and views come from a tightly controlled, left-wing media echo chamber, it may come as a bit of a shock to learn that in the July election almost 600,000 voters gave their first preference to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party.
You may also be surprised to know that still deluded conservatives remain disenchanted with the media’s favourite Liberal, Malcolm Turnbull, for his epic fail as Prime Minister, especially when compared with the increasingly respected leader he deposed.
Perhaps when media outlets saturate us with “appropriate” thoughts and “acceptable” speech, and nonconformists are banished from television, radio and print, it’s easy to miss what is happening on the uneducated side of the tracks.
After all, members of the better educated and morally superior political class use a compliant media to shelter us from the dangerous, racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, sexist, welfare-reforming, climate-change denying bigots who inhabit the outer suburbs and countryside — the people whom Hillary Clinton calls “the deplorables”.
They must be vilified without debate, lest too many of us waver on the virtues of bigger governments, central planning, more bloated bureaucracies, higher taxes, unaffordable welfare, a “carbon-free” economy, more regulations, open borders, gender-free and values-free schools and same-sex marriage; the sort of agenda that finds favour at the UN.
Yet history is solid with evidence that this agenda will never deliver the promised human dignity, prosperity and liberty. Only free and open societies with small governments can do that.
Gradually, the masses are realising something is wrong. Their wealth and income growth is stagnating and their living standards are threatened. They see their taxes wasted on expensive, ill-conceived social programs. They live with migrants who refuse to integrate. They resent having government in their lives on everything from home renovations to recreational fishing, from penalty rates to free speech.
Thomas Jefferson’s warning that “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground” is now a stark reality.
The terms “people’s representative” and “public servant” have become a parody. In today’s world we are the servants and, if it suits, we are brushed aside with callous indifference.
Like the Labor government’s disregard for the enormous emotional and financial hurt suffered when, overnight, it shut down live cattle exports on the strength of a television show.
Or like the NSW parliament passing laws banning greyhound racing in the state. There was no remorse for the ruined lives of thousands of innocent people, many of whom won’t recover. Talk of compensation is a travesty.
Or like the victims neighbouring Williamtown and Oakey air force bases, made ill from toxic contamination of groundwater. Around the world it’s known chemical agents used in airport fire drills cause cancer, neurological disease and reproductive disorders, yet the Australian Department of Defence simply denies responsibility. The powerless are hopelessly trapped between health risks and valueless properties.
Similar disdain is shown for those living near coal-seam gas fields and wind turbines. The authorities know of the health and financial impacts but defend operators by bending rules and ignoring guidelines.
If governments believe the ends justify the means, people don’t matter.
When Ernst & Young research finds one in eight Australians can’t meet their electricity bills, rather than show compassion for the poor and the elderly, governments push ruthlessly ahead with inefficient and expensive renewable energy projects.
This newspaper’s former editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell reveals in his book, Making Headlines, how Kevin Rudd, when prime minister, brazenly attempted to use state power to investigate “the relationship between my paper and him”. Rudd’s successor, Julia Gillard, wanted to establish a media watchdog to effectively gag journalists.
None of this is fantasy and it explains why people are losing confidence in the democratic system. Australians feel increasingly marginalised and unrepresented. They are tired of spin and being lied to. They know that data is often withheld or manipulated.
As they struggle to make ends meet, they watch helplessly as the established political class shamelessly abuses its many privileges.
It appears its sole purpose in life is to rule, not to govern. This adds weight to the insightful contention by the Business Council of Australia’s Jennifer Westacott that Australia is in desperate need of a national purpose.
It’s no wonder, to paraphrase American author Don Fredrick, that a growing number of Australians no longer want a tune-up at the same old garage. They want a new engine installed by experts — and they are increasingly of the view that the current crop of state and federal mechanics lacks the skills and experience to do the job.
One Nation may not be the answer, but its garage does offer a new engine.
This is Australia’s version of the Trump phenomenon. Like Donald Trump, Hanson is a non-establishment political disrupter. However, unlike Trump, who may soon occupy the White House, Hanson won’t inhabit the Lodge.
This leaves Australia’s establishment and the central planners very much in control. It means we will remain firmly on our current bigger-government path, financed by higher taxes and creative accounting.
Nobel laureate economist FA Hayek observes in his book The Road to Serfdom: “The more planners improvise, the greater the disturbance to normal business. Everyone suffers. People feel rightly that ‘planners’ can’t get things done.”
But he argues that, ironically, in a crisis the risk is that rather than wind back the role of government, people automatically turn to someone strong who demands obedience and uses coercion to achieve objectives.
Australia is now on that road to tyranny and, with another global recession in prospect and nearly 50 per cent of voters already dependent on government, the incentive is to vote for more government, not less.
The left-wing media echo-chamber will be an enthusiastic cheerleader.
Business blows up as turbines suck more power than they generate
THE AUSTRALIAN JULY 20, 2016 By Michael Owen, SA Bureau Chief
Farmer Peter Ebsary hosts four turbines from the Snowtown wind farm in South Australia’s mid north. ‘We get a financial return and don’t have to do anything.’ Picture: Kelly Barnes
Wind turbines in South Australia were using more power than they generated during the state’s electricity crisis, which has prompted major businesses to threaten shutdowns and smaller firms to consider moving interstate.
The sapping of power by the turbines during calm weather on July 7 at the height of the crisis, which has caused a price surge, shows just how unreliable and intermittent wind power is for a state with a renewable energy mix of more than 40 per cent. Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox yesterday said the rise in prices, already the highest in the country, had disrupted industry and served as a warning for the rest of the nation. “That is a serious blow to energy users across SA and has disrupted supply chains upon which thousands of jobs depend,” he said.
“The real risk is if this volatility becomes the norm across the National Electricity Market.
“In June, electricity cost South Australia $133 per megawatt hour on average — already a high price. But since July 1, electricity prices have spiked above $10,000 per MWh at times.”
Mr Willox echoed warnings of the South Australian government on the weekend, saying “We will see similar episodes again, and not just in SA”, and backing calls for major reform of the NEM.
“Changes in the pattern of energy demand and the ongoing build-up of wind and solar make life increasingly difficult for ‘baseload’ electricity generators across the country,” he said.
The power crisis comes amid growing pressure from independent senator Nick Xenophon to invest hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into struggling South Australian businesses to save jobs, and as the Turnbull government attempts to establish a hi-tech submarine manufacturing industry in the state.
An analysis of data from the Australian Energy Market Operator, responsible for the administration and operation of the wholesale NEM, shows the turbines’ down time on July 7 coincided with NEM prices for South Australia reaching almost $14,000 per MWh
NEM prices in other markets have been as low as $40 per MWh with the AI Group estimating this month’s power surge in South Australian electricity prices had cost $155 million.
While all wind farms in South Australia were producing about 5780MW between 6am and 7am, by 1pm the energy generation was in deficit as the turbines consumed more power than they created. By mid-afternoon, energy generation by all wind farms was minus-50MW. The situation forced several major companies, including BHP Billiton and Arrium, to warn the state government of possible shutdowns because of higher energy prices, forcing Treasurer and Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis to intervene by asking a private operator of a mothballed gas-fired plant in Adelaide for a temporary power spike.
BHP, which employs about 3000 people at its Olympic Dam mine in the state’s far north, said its operations in South Australia were under a cloud.
“The security and reliability of power have been a significant concern for BHP Billiton and the sustainability of Olympic Dam,” the miner’s head of corporate affairs, Simon Corrigan, said.
Opposition energy spokesman Dan van Holst Pellekaan said the snapshot of wind power operations in the state showed the Labor government’s energy policies had created an oversupply of cheap wind energy at times but that forced it to import from interstate when prices shot up.
“This wouldn’t be a problem if we still had a reasonable amount of base load generation but we don’t,” he said.
Mr Koutsantonis yesterday said improved interconnection for a “truly national electricity market” would drive prices down immediately. Federal Energy Minster Josh Frydenberg declined to be interviewed yesterday, but said he would convene a Council of Australian Governments meeting as soon as possible.
Not everyone is unhappy — farmer Peter Ebsary hosts four turbines from the Snowtown wind farm in South Australia’s mid north. The wind farm, owned by TrustPower, is the state’s largest.
“We get a financial return and don’t have to do anything … we just sit back and collect the money as long as the wind blows,” he said.
Waroona Farmer Peter Stacey with the damaged front end loader that he used to fight the fire along Coronation Rd. Picture: Michael Wilson, The West Australian.
By Tim Clarke 13 January, 2016, West Australian
The Battle of Coronation Road raged for five days, led by Waroona farmer Peter Stacey and his battered front-end loader.
Joined by his son Dave and neighbours, the volunteer bushfire veteran used old-school methods to try to stop the raging Waroona bushfire from jumping the road — which Mr Stacey said represented a “line in the sand” in the fight to contain the big blaze.
With the fight now apparently won — which the Wheatbelt farmer said was at times a one-in-10 chance — he is concerned about red tape and methods he believes prevented the fire being tackled earlier, and with more resources.
“If it had got over Coronation Road, it could have burned halfway to Mandurah,” Mr Stacey said.
“But I don’t believe it should have got out of Lane Poole Reserve. Theoretically, we have the equipment now that it shouldn’t ever happen.”
After being called in to assist the firefighting effort late on Wednesday night, Mr Stacey and his team deployed the heavy machinery and a ute used as a makeshift water truck to smother the flames.
“The idea is to get either side of the fire, and bring it in, and bring it in, and bring it in until you can strangle it,” he said.
Mr Stacey was at one stage immobilised in the loader amid dozens of trees on fire, when he was assisted by Department of Fire and Emergency Services units. After the cooler weather helped calm conditions, he and his team stood down yesterday, and like the rest of the community began asking how and why the Waroona fire got so big.
“Forty years ago we did not have mobile phones or water bombers and we did the job, so we are failing somewhere,” Mr Stacey said.
“We can’t go on to crown land and do anything, so if you see smoke you have got to sit and wait or you will end up in court. If I had a fire on my land and refused entry to fight it, and then it grew and it burnt out a town, I would think I would be in a lot of trouble.”
The West Australian – 9 Jan 2016 – Daniel Emerson and Daniel Mercer
Two of WA’s most respected authorities on bushfire management say the State is in no better shape to defend towns from disaster since the far-reaching Keelty reports earlier this decade.
John Iffla, who was awarded an Emergency Services Medal in the 2014 Australia Day honours for co-ordinating volunteer groups’ responses to the reports, said the key recommendation of installing bushfire protection zones around towns had been ignored.
The criticism was echoed by Bushfire Front chairman Roger Underwood, a retired general manager of the former Department of Conservation and Land Management, who said WA had “gone backwards” since Dwellingup was destroyed in 1961.
Former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty carried out painful examinations of fires that destroyed 71 homes in Kelmscott-Roleystone and 32 in the Margaret River region in 2011.
His reports triggered a wholesale restructure of WA’s emergency services, including turning the former fire and emergency services authority into a department controlled by a commissioner.
Mr Iffla said he spent thousands of hours co-ordinating a volunteers’ mitigation working group to implement bushfire protection zones, only for the Department of the Premier and Cabinet to baulk at the cost. “So to get this result is really upsetting,” he said.
“It’s not going to be a magic bullet but it’s going to make communities a damn sight safer.”
Mr Underwood said he couldn’t believe “in this day and age” WA had lost an entire township and key infrastructure such as Samson Brook bridge. “Since the Keelty reports, really nothing good has happened,” he said. “No progress, in fact I think things have got worse.
“Far too little attention on preparedness and far too much on suppression.”
Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis said “everything possible” had been done to save homes.
“I reject that we just let people’s homes burn without doing our absolute very best,” Mr Francis said.
“You just can’t get on top of every single one of them straight away.”
Battling the blaze: Firefighters in action near Northcliffe – DFES pic
11 February 2015 – The West Australian Daniel Mercer
WA’s top firefighter has taken a veiled swipe at the Department of Parks and Wildlife amid complaints that heavy fuel loads contributed to the severity of the blaze in Northcliffe last week [Feb 2015].
Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Wayne Gregson said yesterday he “entirely agreed” with suggestions that reduced fuel loads would have made it easier for firefighters.
On Monday, the captain of the Northcliffe Volunteer Bushfire Brigade, Rod Parkes, said budget cuts and a Perth-centric management approach exacerbated the situation.
Mr Gregson rejected assertions that bureaucracy was standing in the way of controlled burning while declining to be drawn on whether budget cuts were affecting the Department of Parks and Wildlife’s ability to do them.
But he agreed that reducing fuel loads was crucial to mitigating the threat of bushfires.
And in a backhander to DPAW, when asked about the agency’s repeated failure to hit its prescribed burning targets, Mr Gregson said only that they were “interesting questions”.
“My view is if you own the fuel, you own the risk,” Mr Gregson told ABC Radio. “The more you can reduce fuel load, the greater the chance you’ve got of stopping these fires.”
A spokesman said DPAW was committed to prescribed burning and would have liked to have conducted more around Northcliffe but plans were hampered by other fires and the need to accommodate new procedures.
He also pointed out that burning was complicated and had narrow weather windows in which it could be done safely.
The spokesman said the department would continue to work closely with DFES and volunteer fire brigades, noting there had been a high degree of co-operation in the most recent fires.
SES Volunteer Association spokesman John Iffla urged the State Government to implement “bushfire protection zones” around towns to mitigate the risks of major blazes.
COMMENT:It’s time to start rethinking the disbanding of the old WA Forests Department , including the resumption of partial logging of hardwoods, in order to restore proper management of WA forests.
The sheer volume of area of forest burnt & wildlife being fried alive at the hottest time of the year, due to poor forest management, is near criminal.
THE official start to summer is still two days away but already we’ve had nearly a month of what the Department of Fire and Emergency Services call the bushfire “season”.
After Perth’s warmest October on record (since 1897), a hot November and very patchy rain, conditions have been ripe across big swathes of the state for potential fiery disasters.
That’s not a scientific appraisal by any stretch — it’s a back-of-the-matchbox assessment by anyone with a basic awareness of the weather and the Australian bush.
And that’s one of the reasons last week’s tragedy along the south coast, near Esperance, makes such little sense and should prompt a lot more questions and analysis of the lack of early intervention.
It may be that DFES bureaucrats have been too busy launching advertising campaigns asking “are you bushfire ready?” to be truly ready themselves.
Or it could have been a unique convergence of events that nobody could reasonably have made an impact on under any circumstances.
Either way, those with the power to probe, from the Coroner down, owe it to the four souls who perished to find the answers and ensure it’s not repeated.
One thing that is certain is the science that DFES is privy to on a daily basis.
At its state operational centre in Cockburn, a full-time meteorologist is stationed to provide daily briefings on weather conditions and threat potential.
With a high degree of responsibility the Bureau of Meteorology is charged with forecasting all-important wind shifts around specific hot spots and most importantly, predicting an area’s “fire danger index rating”, ahead of any outbreak.
This is a complex measure, which includes temperature, relative humidity and wind speed as well as the dryness of surrounding vegetation and the fuel load, which may be present.
As we know, in Esperance’s situation, most local crops were in the best shape for some 30 years and had just begun to be harvested, making that fuel load especially high.
As it happens, the bureau’s daily briefing to DFES on the Monday, more than 24 hours before anyone died, delivered a fire danger index rating of 250 to 260.
Putting that into perspective, that’s worse than the day of the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria that claimed 173 lives and injured some 5000 people.
It’s also more than double the number that indicates “catastrophic” conditions.
Notably, prior to the Victorian tragedy, this rating system stopped at an upper limit of 100. In the wake of Black Saturday, a more comprehensive gauge was designed for a better, national system that more accurately reflected potential danger.
So, with such a dire reading calculated by real scientists, it was no surprise at all that the Esperance fires were uncontainable.
Again, the question needs to be asked, why weren’t the alarm bells ringing at DFES?
Why was it caught napping? Why wasn’t a lot more done a lot earlier. Remember, parts of these fires were sparked by lightning strikes on the Sunday, two full days before they became uncontrollable.
It’s known that from the Thursday prior to the fires, DFES was being informed in the bureau’s daily briefings about potentially “catastrophic” fire conditions.
Sadly, that was entirely correct.
In an area as big as the Esperance shire, one would suspect that an official warning of that magnitude would prompt a mobilisation of extra resources either into the immediate zone or placed on standby, ready to be dispatched.
But it appears neither occurred.
This columnist has learnt of local farmers making calls to fire authorities as early as 6.30am on Tuesday, worried about the size of flames in inaccessible areas close to their properties and asking for assistance, only to be told there was none.
This was almost nine hours before four people were incinerated.
The reason for the lack of back-up was a fire near Albany, said to be using all available water bombers but if one fire 470km away can paralyse this farming region to such an extent, then DFES must go back to the drawing board.
Questions also need to be answered as to why local crop-dusting pilots who were more than ready to take to the skies were threatened with a loss of licence if they flew near the blaze.
It should be remembered that the farmers who were fighting these fires in the early stages were hardly amateurs.
Sure, they are volunteers but between them they have decades of experience in fire management and they know the local conditions better than any office worker in Cockburn.
When they express such incredulity and disbelief in how these fires were managed, the top brass at DFES should listen very carefully.
Ironically, questions to DFES from this columnist this week went unanswered.
There were other issues at play in this disaster that also need to be examined, including the ongoing problems with telecommunications and the ability to cut firebreaks in national parks and reserves. But the wider community needs to know that DFES is listening to its own briefings and acting on advice.
Recently the department has offered plenty of its own wisdom.
When it asks “are you bushfire ready?” DFES states: “You need to understand your bushfire risk so you can prepare your home, develop a survival plan and know what to do when a bushfire starts”. All eminently sensible, but does the messenger need to heed it’s own clarion call?
It’s instructive that DFES’ own bushfire bible is called “Prepare. Act. Survive”.
The tragedy of Esperance suggests its head office needs more work on the front end.
Photo gallery: Esperance bushfires
Liam Bartlett is a journalist with Channel Nine and can be seen on 9 News Perth
Wheat and sheep farmers around Esperance are angry. Angry at the loss of four young lives. Angry at the savage destruction of their crops and livestock.
But they reserve a special type of fury for bureaucrats in Perth, 700km away, who tell them what they can and can’t do to prevent bushfires such as this week’s raging inferno that has caused utter heartache and devastation in their community on Western Australia’s south coast.
Local farmer and volunteer firefighter Dave Vandenberghe, whose friend Kym “Freddy” Curnow died in the fire, said “red tape” and environmental laws had prevented him and others from doing anything to stop or contain the blaze before it grew out of control.
The fire started on crown land as a result of lightning strikes last Sunday, but it took until Tuesday afternoon for it to escalate into a firestorm, fuelled by 40C temperatures and extreme winds.
“Until it gets on to our farmland there’s nothing we can do, so we were sitting on our hands,” Mr Vandenberghe said.
“Esperance is surrounded by millions of hectares of mallee scrub; it’s crown land that hadn’t been burnt out for 20-odd years.
“You’re not allowed to go there in case you run over an ant’s nest. The Department of Environment is worried about parrots’ nests; well I can tell you there are no parrots left there anymore.
“When the fire hit we were left to the mercy of Mother Nature without a single government department here to help us.”
Farmers are also angry that the state government has consistently refused their requests to buy the heavy-duty firefighting vehicles that are routinely taken back to Perth and pulled apart when they reach their use-by date.
Local Liberal MP Graeme Jacobs said if the units were allowed to remain, farmers would be better equipped to contain fires.
“It is wasteful and expensive,” said Mr Jacobs, who has tried to convince his Liberal colleagues in the Barnett government to change the policy.
“These vehicles are old in age but they are still in very good condition because they have been very well maintained and they haven’t done a lot of mileage.”
Volunteer Neville Shepherd is angry with the lack of fire trucks in the area. Picture: Chelsea TempletonSource: News Corp Australia
Grain and livestock farmer Neville Shepherd, who has a 1600ha property 68km east of Esperance, said his efforts to help neighbours this week were stalled by a lack of firefighting trucks.
The 61-year-old volunteer firefighter said the Department of Fire and Emergency Services had refused his request to buy a fire truck earlier this year.
“The argument was, they said, farmers in the past had been buying them too cheaply,” Mr Shepherd said. “That’s why they’ve been sending them to Perth to go to auction.
“What annoys me about all this is the fact that we have gladly volunteered and fought fires on their behalf for years, so why shouldn’t we get them a bit cheaper.
“We don’t charge them an hourly rate to go and fight fires. People now have spent days and days at the fires and it’s all for free.”
Mr Shepherd said farmers would be better prepared to protect live and homes in a bushfire emergency if they had their own vehicles, rather than anticipating a response by government agencies.
There are also concerns in Esperance about the adequacy of the fire warnings in place before the tragedy.
Emma Ridgway, an escort driver for an earthmoving business, said authorities did not provide farmers with adequate warning about how much time they had to flee their properties or the potential intensity of the bushfires.
“No one is really happy about the response and warning time,” she said.
“People were not warned about how severe it was going to get.
“Some of our men on the ground who were fighting the fires were told to go into positions where they’d been advised it was safe for them to go in and then when they’ve gotten in, they’ve found out it was not safe.”
Premier Colin Barnett yesterday warned against blaming anyone for the disaster before a full review could be undertaken.
“This was a fire that just simply got out of control,” he said. “There was really nothing that could be done to a fire of that size travelling at 70kmh across wheat fields.
“I don’t think it’s a time to criticise (but) like any fire, things will be learnt from it.”
This whole project has been an amazing experience. The two of us became friends through Vimeo and explored a shared interest in timelapsing Yosemite National Park over an extended period of time. We’d like to expand this idea to other locations and would appreciate any suggestions for a future project.
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Our hearts go out to the families of Markus Praxmarer who lost his life while climbing Half Dome on September 19th, 2011 and Ranger Ryan Hiller, who was crushed by a tree January 22nd 2012. They will be missed. (A photo of Ranger Ryan Hiller can be found to the right, above the statistics counter)