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Beyond extreme

The government is cynically trying to ‘sell’ climate change via the bushfires

19 January 2013

9:00 AM

19 January 2013

9:00 AM

Scaremongering used to be the stock in trade of the tabloids and trashy commercial ‘current affairs’ programs. Got a new crime statistic? Cue terrifying story warning little old ladies they’ll be pack-raped in their retirement villas. A boatload of Vietnamese refugees washes up on a Darwin beach? Cue apocalyptic yarn of red-brick Aussie suburbs being swamped by hordes of yellow people. A cane toad gets squashed on a Sydney driveway? Cue end of the world.

But no longer. The 2013 prize for Sensationalist Scaremongering without a Skerrick of Proof goes to the intellectuals’ TV station of choice — our very own ABC. Over the past week, our national broadcaster has sunk to previously unimaginable depths of vacuous, inane and wholly misleading reporting on the issue of climate change. Tossing aside any pretence of being an objective commentator on the subject, this taxpayer-funded behemoth has become the simpering, toadying transmitter of government propaganda.

Timing its ‘special reports’ to coincide with the bushfires, er, sorry, I mean the IPCC conference in Hobart, ABC News has become a captive of left-wing hysteria, government spin and UN bureau-waffle.

Replayed with alarming (in both senses of the word) regularity, viewers have been treated — during the national news, no less — to a trailer for what purports to be an investigative series, yet turns out to be rehashed claims (yes, we know the IPCC is ‘nearly’ certain that climate change is ‘human-induced’) graphically dramatised with endless Gore-esque clips of eroded beaches, bushfires, ice floes and so on. Stock-shot libraries must get on their knees each morning and thank the Lord for our variable climate. How else would they ever flog those hours of useless footage of waves crashing against crumbling beaches?

The ABC News website currently resembles a Department of Climate Change schools brochure, with childish graphs showing ‘how the carbon tax works’. On air, news pieces effortlessly slide from bushfire horror stories to extreme climate change hypotheses, hysterical predictions and unsubstantiated claims courtesy of the ‘closed doors’ Hobart IPCC conflab. Most disgraceful of all is the shot in the trailer of a serious-looking, grey-haired gentleman who warns us that homebuyers are fleeing in droves from soon-to-be deluged and massively devalued coastal homes.

This is pure balderdash. The report in question, according to the Australian, relies on ‘advice from a non-climate scientist based on speculation from a Byron Bay real estate agent’. Yes, a couple of beach houses have recently sold well below market value in Byron Bay, including one which was featured on Lifestyle’s Grand Designs show. A weekender with $5 million-plus expectations on the notorious (and stunningly beautiful) Belongil Beach was practically given away. To the buyers of these Atlantis-bound death traps I can only say one thing: you lucky bastards.

Without a doubt, the price reductions were either due to over-capitalisation or, more likely, wariness of high-end buyers to spend their money in Byron Bay shire, historically the home of any number of loony left council initiatives.

Yet to listen to the ABC, you’d think an exodus of panicked hordes is going on up and down the coast, with bankrupt retirees fleeing from rising tides, their family photos and precious belongings hastily thrown together in a blanket. ‘That’ll teach those despicable climate change deniers,’ you can’t help but think to yourself. (If you happen to be living in a flat in Marrickville, that is.) And even if such an evacuation isn’t actually occurring, well, thank God the ABC is doing its utmost to ensure it will. Whew!

Does it bother anyone else that Juanita Phillips, the popular news anchor who is spending the week neatly conflating the national news with what is little more than government spin, is apparently in a relationship with the Climate Change minister, Greg Combet? I thought that sort of cosy partnership only existed in France. In the UK, Rebekah Brooks was flayed alive for her proximity to PM David Cameron.

Best of all is the timing of the ‘special reports’, allowing excited ABC producers to juxtapose archival climate change footage with current news clips of the bushfires.

Advertising people study such synergistic imagery under the trendy name of semiotics: the way pictures, signs and language embed themselves into our subconscious.

Speaking of signs… The federal government, not content with relying on the ABC to scare the bejesus out of us all, has ramped up the scaremongering by sneakily flogging climate change on bushfire warning signs.

Two years ago, with little fanfare, a new category of bushfire risk was introduced: ‘catastrophic’. At great cost to taxpayers (nearly $200,000 just for the NSW sign changes) this new category has been quietly rolled out, obligingly popping up in news reports via politicians’ and firefighters’ soundbites. Catastrophic is the new black. Literally. Apparently, ‘extreme’ was not extreme enough to warn people about the extremity of bushfire risks.

These new bushfires ‘have the potential to be catastrophic, to develop very, very quickly, be fast moving, spotting well ahead of the main fire front and be very, very dangerous’. Just like every other bushfire, in other words.

As one wag noted, it’s like Spinal Tap’s 11 on the volume dial. It sounds significant — but is utterly devoid of meaning. The term ‘catastrophic’ can only be a measure of the aftermath of an event, not the risk or likelihood of the event occurring. Our warning signs are now clairvoyant.

So why spend millions (I suspect) of taxpayer dollars nationally to change the warning description?

The definitions of ‘extreme’ and ‘catastrophic’ bushfires on the Bureau of Meteorology’s website are identical, save one tiny difference. In the former category, you may stay or leave, whereas in the latter category, you must pick up your belongings and run hell for leather (much like those Byron Bay coastal-dwellers).

Of course, it is purely coincidental that the term ‘catastrophic’ is the adjective always used to describe the supposed effects of climate change.

There is no need in a country such as ours for bushfires to be described with scary adjectives; they are an intrinsic part of our ecosystem and always have been, something visiting overpaid UN delegates are clearly unaware of. The only thing that is catastrophic is when we refuse to control or manage them with sufficient winter burnings, bushfire trails and land clearings. The Greens deny they have hindered bushfire fuel reduction strategies, but the anecdotal evidence from Tasmania and Victoria clearly has them in the dock for the severity of many of our bushfires, and the accompanying loss of property, livestock and possibly even lives.

Nearly all bushfires start in national parks. So let’s privatise our national parks. Allow owners to develop a tiny percentage of the acreage for tourism (under environmental regulation) but make them responsible for bushfire management, including paying all damages that result from any fires that originate on their land.

That, and locking up convicted arsonists whenever the climatic risk is extreme, would be far more effective than any amount of ideological fear-mongering.

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