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Environment

Australia's Bushfire Problem

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorFebruary 10, 2009 11:03 AM

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Several years ago, when Australia was baking from an extended drought and its agricultural economy was near collapse, Australians partly blamed global warming and soon booted their conservative Prime Minister (who advised everyone to pray for rain) out of office. Now, in the wake of southern Australia's  catastrophic fires, which has leveled whole villages and killed up to 200 people, climate change is again being cast as one of the culprits. That's too crude, similar to when some American environmentalists immediately blamed global warming for Hurricane Katrina. For starters, Australia's landscape is pretty damn flammable. Tragic wildfires have struck the country many times before. And, as

The Australian

points out,

The severity of bushfires is determined by a number of key factors: weather, including drought; fuel load; topography; the location of the population: their houses: and householders' preparedness to manage fire.

In this latest case, what's even more awful to consider is that authorities issued dire warnings to the public on the eve of the disaster. And still, many of the victims had no inkling that fire was upon them until the last minute. As for the future, will hotter temperatures from greenhouse gases lead to longer and more frequent dry spells in Australia? Most likely, say scientists. And this, of course, will beget more nasty bushfires.

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