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Wildfires in Australia
Wildfires in Australia. Image courtesy of NASA.

Climate Change

Social Media Blames Australia’s Inferno On Arsonists

Australia is burning, but many people believe it is the fault of arsonists, not climate change. Others think ISIS is responsible. Few want to acknowledge the truth.

Australia is burning, As forest fires rage across huge swaths of the country, record high temperatures and gale force winds are making the effort to contain them treacherously difficult. Authorities fear that two major fires near the border of New South Wales and Victoria could merge over the weekend and create the biggest conflagration in the history of the Australian continent. With temperatures in the area due to spike above 40º C (104º F), authorities in Victoria are urging residents in the Gippsland area northeast of Melbourne to flee their homes.

According to The Guardian, “The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, who earlier extended the state of disaster declaration for 48 hours, said the “leave now” message on Thursday was the clearest signal the government could send that it was not safe for people in bushfire-affected areas to attempt to stay and defend their homes.”

Silence From National Government

The bushfires have been raging for nearly a month, but the national government has done nothing to help extinguish them. Prime minister Scott  Morrison decamped with his family to Hawai’i in December, provoking a storm of criticism that forced him to return early from his sojourn. Since then, he has done nothing except express his sympathy for those who have lost everything to the fires.

The majority of fire fighters in Australia are volunteers. The government can’t even bestir itself to see that they get paid for their efforts. Instead, it is ramping up the “Nothing to see hear, move along” mantra and encouraging more fossil fuel mining and exports. Australia is the fourth largest coal producer in the world and its largest exporter of coal. The current government would rather see the entire country burn than address the existential threat of an overheating planet and it sure as hell has no intention of doing anything that might lessen its economic dependency on King Coal.

The Blame Game & Trash Talk

Rather than acknowledge the obvious fact that alterations in the climate have led to hotter, drier weather and made fires more probable, social media in Australia is spreading lies suggesting the fires are the result of a determined core of left wing arsonists. The hashtag #arsonemergency has gone viral in recent weeks.

Dr. Timothy Graham, a senior lecturer on social network analysis at the The Queensland University of Technology, has analyzed the many tweets using that hashtag with a bot detection tool. He tells The Guardian there is most likely a “current disinformation campaign” taking place due to the “suspiciously high number of bot-like and troll-like accounts” associated with #arsonemergency. He also found a large number of suspicious accounts posting using the #australiafire and #bushfireaustralia hashtags.

“Australia suddenly appears to be getting swamped by mis/disinformation as a result of this environmental catastrophe, and we are suffering the consequences in terms of hyped up polarization and an increased difficulty and inability for citizens to discern truth,” Graham said.

“Looking at the kinds of accounts that post using the #ArsonEmergency hashtag, you see that these are individuals who are hyper-partisan ideologues, behaving in a way that is not reflective of the average Twitter user.

“The conspiracy theories going around (including arson as the main cause of the fires) reflect an increased distrust in scientific expertise, scepticism of the media, and rejection of liberal democratic authority. These are all major factors in the global fight against disinformation, and based on my preliminary analysis it appears that Australia has for better or worse entered that battlefield, at least for now.”

There are lots of other cockamamie ideas floating around on social media that purport to explain the spate of bushfires this year. Some claim they were set by the government itself to clear a path for new high speed rail lines. Others suggest ISIS is behind it all.

The truth is out there for all to see. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has an excellent explanation of the why the danger of fires is increasing — climate change is a significant cause — but the FUD Patrol funded by the fossil fuel industry has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams in convincing people to ignore science and look upon scientists as provocateurs out to make a quick buck. Bushfires are nothing compared to the hysteria people are capable of creating in their own minds.

Will Our Human Foibles Be The Death Of Us?

Australia should be a warning to the entire world that a warming planet is a danger to us all. But the ease with which people look away and think “Oh, that could never happen here” is precisely the reason why humans will soon cease to exist. (“Soon” in the geological sense, in which 1,000 years is merely a nanosecond in the overall span of galactic time.)

“The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves, ” Shakespeare counseled in Julius Caesar. If we fail to preserve our planet, it will be due to human foibles more than physical factors. We are too easily divided to save ourselves from destruction. Perhaps the next species of humanoids to inhabit the Earth — a few million years from now — will do a better job of preserving their celestial home.

They will explore the geological record and find the evidence that the Earth was suffering from an overabundance of carbon dioxide and other pollutants and ask themselves, “They must have known what was happening. Why did they not do anything to stop the calamity from happening?” And there will be no answers to the enigma.

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we heed his advice.


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