Logging burns conceal industrial pollution in the name of ‘community safety’



File 20180516 104311 1sl5vdo.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
High intensity logging burns and the resulting smoke plume near Mount Baw Baw, April 2018
Photo Chris Taylor., Author provided

Chris Taylor, University of Melbourne and David Lindenmayer, Australian National University

Earlier this year, Melbourne and large areas of Central Victoria, experienced days of smoke haze and poor air quality warnings as a result of planned burns. It’s a regular event occurring every autumn.

This smoke has been reported by both government and media outlets as largely the result of planned burns to reduce bushfire risk, along with agricultural burn-offs and increased use of wood heaters.




Read more:
Firestorms: the bushfire/thunderstorm hybrids we urgently need to understand


But this is only part of the story. A good proportion of the smoke this autumn has actually come from the intensive burning of debris left behind after clearfell logging. This is essentially industrial pollution.

Smoke Haze over Mooroolbark and Melbourne’s eastern suburbs on Tuesday 1 May 2018, shortly after the time when the Poor Air Quality Index reached 901.
Photo: Chris Taylor, Author provided

Industrial clearfell logging vs fuel reduction

To understand why clearfell logging burns are different compared with planned burns to reduce bushfire risk, we need to understand clearfell logging, which involves cutting most or all of the commercially valued trees in one single operation across a designated area (called a “coupe”).

Large volumes of forest biomass are left on the ground following clearfell logging in the Mount Disappointment State Forest with the Melbourne City Skyline in the background, August 2010.
Photo. Chris Taylor., Author provided

In the process of clearfell logging, understorey vegetation is usually pushed over. Along with tree heads and branches left behind after logging, large volumes of debris – known as “slash” – are created. This is partially removed by applying a high intensity burn across the coupe, which in turn establishes an ash seed bed for the next crop of trees to be established. Generally, around 90-100% of the coupe is burnt.

In contrast, planned burns to reduce bushfire risk (otherwise referred to as fuel reduction burns) are less intense. They mostly target “fine fuels” (vegetation less than 6mm in diameter) on the forest floor and in the understorey, which may average around 15 tonnes per hectare (t/ha). Burn coverage is usually 50-70% of the site.

Surface and understorey ‘fine fuels’ targeted in a recent low intensity burn near Mt Dandenong in April 2018.
Photo: Chris Taylor, Author provided

Clearfell logging burns consume much larger volumes of vegetation biomass in the form of tree heads, branches, bark and downed understorey vegetation. According to a report completed for the National Carbon Accounting System, clearfell logging burns consume, on average, 130 t/ha of slash in mixed-species forest and 140 t/ha of slash in Mountain Ash forests. This means that, while clearfell logging burns cover much less ground than fuel reduction burns, they burn far more biomass per hectare – generating far more smoke.

The list of planned burns on Forest Fire Management Victoria’s website showed that, at the beginning of May, 77 of the 119 burns either lit or planned to be lit across the Central Highlands of Victoria and surrounding areas were on logging coupes.




Read more:
After the firestorm: the health implications of returning to a bushfire zone


These burns were individually lit over a period of weeks, with some days predominantly logging burns, others fuel reduction burns. An example when logging burns were prominent occurred on April 20 this year, where 10 out of 12 planned burns were observed as occurring on logging coupes. Using a simple calculation based on average biomass consumption, fuel loads and burn coverage for logging and fuel reduction burns, we estimate that up to 99% of biomass burnt most likely occurred on logging coupes. The following day, the Environmental Protection Authority observed “poor” air quality at multiple air monitoring stations across Melbourne due to smoke.

MODIS Rapid Response Terra Satellite image taken 20 April 2018 showing the smoke intensity of the logging burns.
NASA 2018

Even on days when the majority of burns lit were for fuel reduction, planned logging burns still contributed a proportion of biomass burned. For example, on April 30, only three out of 12 planned burns were observed as occurring on logging coupes, but they may have contributed to around one-third of the total biomass burned.




Read more:
Future bushfires will be worse: we need to adapt now


Likewise, on the following day, the Environmental Protection Authority observed “very poor” air quality across multiple air monitoring stations. While multiple planned burns contributed to this pollution event, we contend that logging burns increased the levels of pollution in addition to the smoke originating from fuel reduction burns.

MODIS Rapid Response Terra Satellite image taken 30 April 2018 showing the smoke intensity of the planned burns.
NASA 2018

The key issue here is that not all “planned burns” are equivalent. Fuel reduction burns are intended to reduce the bushfire risk to lives and property. Indeed, work led by The Australian National University shows that regular fuel reduction burns can reduce risk to properties if carried out within close proximity.

In contrast, clearfell logging burns are part of an industrial process that extracts pulp logs and sawlogs for commercial sale to private enterprise. They play no part in reducing bushfire risk to life and property. Actually, the reverse is true: logging makes forests more prone to subsequent high-severity crown-consuming fires with associated risks to communities.




Read more:
Victoria’s logged landscapes are at increased risk of bushfire


Given that a substantial proportion of the recent smoke over Melbourne and surrounding regional Victoria likely originated from logging burns, could that smoke be deemed industrial pollution? This is a valid question, given the serious health impacts associated with smoke pollution.

The ConversationLogging burns would not be needed (and a substantial amount of associated smoke not generated) if the forest had not been logged in the first place. It is imperative that government departments inform the public about the smoke pollution coming from logging operations, whose purpose is for private commercial gain.

Chris Taylor, Researcher, University of Melbourne and David Lindenmayer, Professor, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Advertisements

To get conservative climate contrarians to really listen, try speaking their language



File 20180515 100722 geswk1.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
People will listen more when they like what they’re hearing.
Shutterstock.com

Jamie Freestone, The University of Queensland

It’s a well-studied fact that facts don’t speak for themselves. This is especially apparent with climate change. Some brilliant studies in the past ten years have shown that people respond to narratives about climate change, not raw facts.

We also know that politics, not scientific knowledge, shapes people’s view of climate change. Hence deniers are generally politically conservative, regardless of scientific literacy. That means a climate change narrative that appeals to conservative values is a high priority.

The effects of climate change are potentially catastrophic. Currently, a minority of conservative contrarians, including politicians in several countries, have an outsized influence on our lack of action. It makes sense that a big chunk of our campaigning efforts should be targeted at them.

But how many climate change campaigns are specifically targeted at people with a conservative worldview? Given what we know from the research, the answer is roughly none. Environmentalists, policy wonks and Brian Cox continue to preach to the choir. Yet more facts, lucidly explained, will actually make people double down on their pre-existing positions.




Read more:
Facts won’t beat the climate deniers – using their tactics will


Climate change holdouts are not necessarily ill-informed. But they naturally – like everyone else – do not welcome information that conflicts with their worldview. Conservatives are likely to disregard or filter out information that threatens economic growth, standards of living, and business interests.

They’re also likely to be unmoved by messages that emphasise the impact of climate change on the world’s poor. Especially ineffective are morally tinged narratives about how climate change is humanity’s fault and that we’re getting our comeuppance.

It doesn’t matter how accurate any of these narratives are; they won’t work with someone who isn’t open to them. Instead, we need to tailor new climate change narratives that appeal specifically to people with a conservative worldview.

Importantly, although politically targeted, these narratives don’t compromise or warp the science of climate change in any way. They simply emphasise different effects.

What might these narratives look like?

The first suggestion is that carbon dioxide emissions could be explained as a disruption to the status quo (of the climate), and thus at odds with conservative values. Climate change is a radical, anarchic experiment with the world’s atmosphere and vital systems.

So, rather than going on with “business as usual”, the sensible thing to do is to stop conducting a foolhardy all-in bet with the world’s water and air. A risk-averse, sane, conservative person should want to adopt the precautionary principle and suspend further greenhouse emissions.

Conservatives are more likely to respond to positive messages that emphasise agency rather than doom and gloom. Promoting geoengineering or market-based solutions like a carbon tax is a good idea. Even if your own political identity is opposed to these specific solutions, it’s at least worth using them to win conservatives round to the idea that climate change is real.

Third, climate change can be framed as a matter of impurity rather than harm. Harm to marginalised people and the environment is how many liberal-minded people conceive of climate change. But conservatives think more in terms of purity or sanctity. No worries. The effects of climate change can be no less accurately framed as being a violation of the purity or sanctity of the planet. Instead of harm to ecosystems, it’s a contamination of God’s green Earth.

Finally, we come to a difficult but potentially powerful narrative. It involves turning big industries in general against parts of the energy industry in particular. The more severe effects of climate change threaten the interests of everyone, including those of most large corporations.

We need to compose a narrative about the biggest emitters among fossil fuel companies not pulling their weight, and spoiling things for other industries. It might mobilise traditionally conservative business interests to support action on climate change.




Read more:
A brief history of fossil-fuelled climate denial


Whatever narratives we use, we need to test them to make sure that they are effective.

Selling the truth

For some, even the word “narrative” carries connotations of marketing spin, PR, propaganda, or lies. The bitter joke is that as science communicators, armed with mountains of facts, real stakes and endorsements from the best-looking celebrities, we have nonetheless failed to sell the truth.

But it’s not spin if it’s true. All I’m advocating is that we package the facts in a way that will appeal to an audience that has so far remained unmoved. It’s a matter of strategy.

Fossil fuel companies have savvy communications strategies and obvious material incentives to lie. They have donated millions of dollars to climate denial.

We don’t have to lie about climate change. It’s sadly all too real.

The ConversationIt’s time to play smart and win by engaging conservatives. Climate change shouldn’t be a political issue. But combating it has to take people’s political identities into account. Ignoring this fact is almost as naïve as believing that humans are not changing the climate.

Jamie Freestone, PhD student in literature, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.