2020 Seminar Summary
10:30 am - 4:30 pm
Fires in Australia:
Causes and solutions from a GS
was generously hosted at Gav & Pauline's beautiful Bonnet Bay home -
Thank you both!
Sharing of triumphs
and tragedies and miscellaneous yarns.
In the spirit of "applying general semantics principles" to our lives, as opposed to dwelling in theory, we considered members' accounts of observations and applications relating to the principles and formulations of our discipline.
Celebration of David's 20 Years in
and Gavan "went over the top" in
decorating their AGS Meeting Room with
patriotic ferver, to celebrate David's 20
years in Australia.
from the Land of the Long White Cloud in
1999, specifically to join Laurie
Cox (whom he met via publications of the
General Semantics Institte) and the
Australian GS fraternity. Not only
flags, but a lovely cake, special
drinkies, and inspiring speeches.
Congratulations David, and thank you
Pauline & Gav !
presentation today ...
roundup of the Australian bushfire crisis
(eg RJ's letter, below), its general and
specific aspects, and some
general-semantic guidelines for addressing
The group looked at the recent 2019
bush fires in Australia from a GS
We discussed the history and causes
of the fires and suggested possible short
and long term solutions, i.e. how can GS
help humans cope better with “natural”
GS formulations that can help
Timebinding: learning correct information
from past generations.
assumptions and GS solutions to those
Is of projection
- GS solution using “to me” or
being explicit about viewpoint
Is of identity
- GS solution using indexing and
e.g. either we have solar/wind or
we need nuclear.
a TED talk by Plait on “The Secret to
This talked about the scientific
method and its ability to admit error and
“throw out the garbage” of faulty
We looked at some of the history about
Geographic Nov 1976 (Vol 150 No 5) had an
article on climate change "What's
Happening to Our Climate?" by S Mathews.
This talks about CO2 as a
greenhouse gas and that CO2 levels have
gone up more than 10 percent since 1850
and the 1976 experts then predicted it
would rise 20 percent more by the year
2000, with a rise in global temperatures.
Well - their predictions came true!
In the 80s the evidence was
controversial with some alternative
hypotheses but now, with the trend
its beyond reasonable doubt.
Yet, still we are debating it, much
like the debate over “Is smoking bad for
Climate cynics said that
global warming will make it only a little
hotter, with no really bad effects so we
don’t need to spend any money fixing
But the 2019 bush fires showed up
this prediction as false.
It was statistically worse than the
Most likely predictions
While there are predictions about a
possible runaway greenhouse effect, that
possibility is small.
More likely is that the drought of
2019 and resulting bushfires will become
more often the norm.
There will be fluctuations, with
next year most likely having (as
statisticians say) “regression to the
norm” and so it will not be as bad.
Unfortunately people may start to
forget 2019 so vividly or think that the
new measures by politicians are working,
without thinking of an alternative
hypothesis of statistical variation.
Global temperature averages will
continue to rise on average and
occasionally we will get bush fires
seasons significantly worse than 2019.
How is this possible?
Dr Karl Kruszelnicki AM
gave some talks and suggested some
Here are some points
from his three talks:
in Australia we classify bushfires into
two main types, mostly related to the
The first type of bushfire happens on
flattish open grasslands.
The second type of bushfire happens on
hilly countryside, and this is much more
season, the likelihood of bushfire is
related to four major triggers - these
control where and when a bushfire will
Ignition (Mostly a spark or flame),
Fuel quantity available to be burnt,
Weather conditions that are suitable for
fire to spread -- usually hot, dry and
Dryness of the fuel.
the case of the cataclysmic Australian
bushfires of 2019/2020,
the three previous
years had the lowest winter rainfalls ever
But what about the
intense and unprecedented bushfires in
Australia of 2019/2020?
really unprecedented, and were they
definitely related to global warming? The
answers are "yes", and "yes".
bushfires are unprecedented in several
They are much more fierce
than the bushfires we have seen before.
They also move much more quickly than the
bushfires of the past.
As well as
the increased intensity and speed, they
have a greater range -- never before have
the fires extended from northern NSW to
just outside Melbourne.
Now for the
big one -- are the bushfires related to
Yes. Global Warming
is one of the two major factors driving
the change in our bushfires.
you might say, how can such a tiny change
as the single Celsius degree of
atmospheric warming that we've seen cause
any major effect? After all, surely the
air temperature changes more than one
single degree between midday and midnight?
Well, it turns out the conditions on
the ground vary hugely depending on the
The way that
Global Warming has acted on Australia is
to cause both drought and heat. Of course,
it's more complicated than this.
our case, we had lots of rain which gave
us lots of potential fuel, and then we had
three years of unprecedented low winter
rainfall on south-eastern Australia and
then we had the hottest year ever measured
for Australia in 2019.
combined to make a huge amount of
potential fuel very dry -- just the
conditions needed for catastrophic
Australia is now both
hotter and drier than it used to be, and
these factors mean than the potential
bushfire season will last longer, and that
the bushfires, when they do happen, will
be harder to control.
climate, and the likelihood of bushfires,
is also affected by weather patterns such
as the El Nino and the Indian Ocean
Global warming from burning
fossil fuels has made the ten years from
2010 to 2019 the hottest years ever
So, putting it all
together, the horrific 2019/2020 bushfires
in Australia were the result of many
factors -- and human activity driving
climate change was a major player.
But - we were actually very lucky. The
bushfires could have been a lot worse.
The Indian Ocean Dipole was the
specific cause of the lower winter
rainfalls across Australia for the last
three years. They were the lowest three
consecutive years of winter rainfall ever
recorded in Australia. But, remember, the
El Nino was not in force. And usually, El
Nino is a bigger and more powerful driver
of drought than the Indian Ocean Dipole.
So here's the scary bit. Seventy per
cent of the time, the El Nino and the
Indian Ocean Dipole happen at the same
time. Imagine how much worse the bushfires
would have been if the El Nino and the
Indian Ocean Dipole had both been in
We don't need to wait for
any major scientific or technological
breakthroughs to cut emissions. We can
already get our energy without pumping
greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
In the past, we've had "wars" on
cancer, drugs and terrorism.
time for a "war" on emissions?
We also discussed a summary
"WHY DO SOME SOCIETIES MAKE DISASTROUS
by Jared Diamond
Here’s an abstract of that summary
Society fails to solve a problem for one
of the following four reasons:
* One may fail to anticipate a
problem before the problem actually
* When the
problem arrives, you may fail to perceive
* After you
perceive the problem, you may fail even to
try to solve the problem.
You may try to solve it but may fail in
your attempts to do so.
has missed the first two and we are now
struggling with the third.
The 2019 bush fires have finally
made us perceive the problem of global
warming and some of its consequences. But
will we put in the required effort to
Some solutions suggested by the group
Educating our leaders in general
The Government should listen to the
predictions by scientific groups on global
warming and not dismiss them as
That our politicians should set adequate
targets for CO2 and methane emission
reduction, with a good plan of how to get
Solutions can make new jobs as well
as making some old jobs redundant.
We should buy our own large and small
aircraft for water bombing as well as
leasing some from other countries.
We could make “fire tanks” that can travel
through a raging fire for 30 minutes or
more with no trouble and strong enough so
that a failing tree won’t crush them and a
turret with a water cannon and the ability
to clear roads.
And “fire Armoured Personnel Carriers”
that can also travel through roads with
fire on both sides, crush proof and the
ability to clear burning trees off the
These “fire APCs” could then get
supplies into communities surrounded by
fire and evacuate people even if all roads
in and out of the communities are in
raging bush fires.
We could convert coal burning power
stations to burning wood.
More trees can be planted and the
CO2 is then kept in a closed loop.
Wood can be stockpiled for the days
with little sun or wind, i.e. this is a
method for storing solar energy.
Other wood sources are the branches
and roots, left to rot, by the timber
industry only interested in the trunks of
We could also harvest wood instead
of back burning it when we try to reduce
the fuel load.
We can challenge the assumption (P1) that
only solar and wind, are clean and green
How about geothermal, sea water
temperature difference, wave power, tidal
power and hydroelectric.
Also look at many power storage
Let’s not limit ourselves to just
batteries but look at raised water
storage, hot rocks, hot high pressure
water, high pressure gas, fly wheels,
capacitors, hydrogen, etc, for storing
So also let us not limit ourselves to just
having electric vehicles running on
batteries as the only replacements for
petrol/diesel powered cars/trucks/buses.
Adding a small amount of seaweed
to cattle’s diet can reduce their methane
emissions by 60%.
We can eat less meat and more TVP
or artificial meat.
Or just have fewer serves of meat
Less meat consumed means smaller
herds and less methane emissions.
A letter from
Robert James to Milton Dawes,
January 2020, and updated slightly since
Thank you for
your various greetings, and offer of
Yes, we’re all well, and
typically focussed on visits to children
and g’children over Christmas and new
year. We put our eight-year-old
grand-daughter onto an airline flight
Canberra-Melbourne as an “unaccompanied
minor” yesterday, which was very
successful - another rite of passage
milestone! She just got away before the
Airport was closed due to bushfire smoke.
No we’re not happy with the state of
the world and the state of our nation.
President Trump and Iran seem to be
taunting each other with a view to
escalating violence in a never-ending
cycle. And as stewards of our own vast
land, we’re in a dreadful state, ravaged
by unprecedented bushfires that have
consumed around 100,000 sq. km, - similar
to the size of South Korea. Canberra
yesterday had its hottest day on record:
45 deg. C. (=113 deg. F), and some areas
had 48.8 C. (=119 deg F.). Canberra has
been isolated by road, rail and air
because of fires and smoke. The
air-pollution index has been over 3,000
here (200 is listed as “hazardous”).
Dairy farmers in the “high rainfall”
area of Central Highlands say that for
five generations their dams were never
dry, and now they’ve been dry for the last
few years. We’re told not to expect any
real rain until April, and that the fires
will burn until then. Graziers have been
shooting their cattle in advance of the
advancing fire, when they know that
there’s no hope of saving them.
Mallacoota, five thousand people crowded
onto the beach and into the Pacific Ocean
to escape the flames, and are being
rescued by naval ships and fishing boats
etc. (like Dunkirk!).
been killed, and immense property losses:
thousands of houses destroyed, tens of
thousands of livestock, community
facilities, power lines, communication
facilities, bridges, pastures, stock feed,
vineyards, orchards, fencing, commercial
forests etc. And incalculable deaths of
wildlife (more than 3,000,000,000 large
animals burnt, plus incalculable numbers
of small creatures), their food and water
sources destroyed, and the native plants
that normally provide our oxygen. We have
fire-fronts of 6,000 km., and more than
100 separate fires at "Emergency" or
happening exactly as predicted by
scientific warnings, which the Government
dismissed as “alarmist”.
Government has declared a “State of
Emergency”, and called up Army, Navy and
Air Force reserves to assist, and we have
teams of specialists arriving from Canada,
USA, and Europe. One problem is that large
aircraft that we normally lease from
Northern Hemisphere countries have been
unavailable due to the fire season ending
later there and starting earlier here. An
American C-130 Hercules tanker has crashed
in the mountains, killing its three US
crew members. We have about 160
fire-fighting aircraft in operation, which
is grossly inadequate.
fire-fighting operations are greatly
impeded by wind. One crew working was
trying to muster some cattle that were
caught in the corner of the paddock, on
flat ground with a very low fuel level.
Very suddenly, they experienced extreme
winds, and what could only be described as
a fire tornado, lifted the back of the
10-tonne fire truck, fully inverted it and
landed it on its roof, trapping three
people, one of them fatally.
Bushfire risk used to be classified as
“Low”, “Medium”, “High” and “Extreme”.
There’s now a new category “Catastrophic”,
when there is no hope of limiting a fire,
and all effort is to be directed to saving
We now learn that our
fires are depositing black ash onto
glaciers in New Zealand, 2,100 Km to the
East, and expediting their melting. Could
we have any better illustration that this
is indeed a global challenge?
still the Prime Minister says that climate
change is not an issue, that we don’t want
any “alarmist talk”, that our (very
modest) targets for CO2 reduction are
appropriate, and that we should not expect
to be a leader in climate-change
mitigation measures. I wonder what would
be the response if the damage as above was
caused by terrorists or attack from a
foreign power, rather than “acts of God”?
* To all
diligent and honest attempt at the
* And to all the others
who contributed their wisdom and experience to our
Covid-19? We will advise here if we need to
delay this seminar for the virus.
Disclaimer: This "summary" is a collection of notes derived from our discussion by a number of means. It is by no means a scholarly dissertation on the subject as presented. It does not purport to be the "policy of AGS". Comment and criticism (constructive or otherwise) is welcome. If anyone has been misquoted, copyrights infringed or confidences betrayed, please