Quentin Tarantino won this year's screenplay Golden Globe, for Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood. A worthier winner might have been the script from some of the finest minds in the film industry who chose to blame climate change for Australia's bush fires.

There is absolutely no question that much of Australia is in the grips of a prolonged drought, severe even by Australian standards, or that this summer has seen some blistering temperatures, if not actually unprecedented. But it is a big leap to credit those factors alone, or at all, for the fires that have wrought so much destruction.

That will no doubt inspire claims of climate change denial, but Jim Steele, director emeritus of the Sierra Nevada Field Campus, State University of San Francisco, makes a pretty good case. Regarded by some no doubt as the archetypal denier, he had published a blog in response to social media comment including 'Climate deniers are cooking themselves — and everyone else,' pointing out, a little superfluously perhaps, that fires get worse when conditions are hot, dry and windy.

No real argument there. And he acknowledged that Australia was experiencing a hot, dry summer. Much of the country sweltered in temperatures far above average on December 18, for example, but the east, west and north were experiencing temperatures several degrees lower than 'normal.'


In fact, he said, the warmest regions had the fewest wild fires, and the cooler regions the most. Averaging temperatures to "deceptively" blame global warming for the fires only obscured regional temperature effects.

He noted that according to Australia's Bureau of Meteorology there were much worse droughts than the current one in the 1920s and 30s, and drought conditions caused higher temperatures. This season's fires were concentrated along the New South Wales and Victoria coasts, well recognised as very susceptible to extreme fire danger.

In February 1851, the Black Thursday fires incinerated some 5 million hectares, killing about a dozen people, a million sheep and thousands of cattle. Temperatures then reached about 47 degrees Celsius in the shade, compared with a "misleading" average across the country in December last year of 40.6 degrees.

And, foreign grasses that were easily ignited and produced greater surface fuel continuity were now "invading" tropical and subtropical regions in the north.

Steele argued that bad analyses promoted bad remedies, and blaming rising CO2 concentrations and global warming for the fires was misdirecting efforts to minimise them. The issues that had to be addressed were human ignitions, invasive grasses and fire suppression methods that allowed fuel to accumulate.

The issue of fire suppression has gained traction over recent weeks, but longtime firefighter Andrew Strunk was reported last week as absolving the Greens from responsibility. Word was that the Green Party had persuaded the government to prohibit burning to reduce the potential for wild fires, but he rejected that as part of the misinformation that he said was circulating on social media.

The practice had not ceased at all, he said, although "we should absolutely do more of them," he said. He did not believe that climate change was starting fires, however. He blamed factors including lightning strikes, people and negligence, although he believed that climate change was contributing to increasing temperatures and increasingly severe droughts, which were worsening fire conditions.

Climate change was also contributing to a longer fire season, and should have been acted on long ago, by "everyone. The whole world".


If there is no consensus regarding the fundamental cause of wild fires, doubt has also been cast on the view that Australia's aboriginal people knew how to reduce the risk, if somewhat unwittingly. A wildlife programme on television here recently suggested that the Aboriginals had (and still) used fire as a tool, whether that was to increase soil fertility, to ensure that seeds that needed fire to germinate did so, or to drive out the animals that they depended upon for sustenance.

Those who believe that argue that these ancient peoples burned any given area over a cycle of several years, meaning grasses were consumed so quickly that the flames did not spread to trees, and whether they knew it or not, they were preventing fires on the scale we have this summer.

Others have debunked that as PC rubbish. One response to Steele claimed that such fires had raged for months, eventually allowing eucalypts to dominate a once diverse forest cover. Then the colonisers who turned the land into farms removed the remaining trees, making a late contribution to 60,000 years of human abuse of the land.

Then there is the theory that the fires are God's vengeance, most articulately expressed by Steven Anderson, reportedly recognised far and wide as America's most anti-gay pastor, who has blamed the banning and deporting of preachers of the Gospel.

He has a particular motive for floating that idea. In July last year Australia joined 32 other countries around the world in banning Mr Anderson from entry, the list now comprising Botswana, Jamaica, Ireland, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Canada, and all 26 of Europe's Schengen states, countries that have officially abolished passport and all other types of border control.

Presumably Australia's rejection of the Gospel is more egregious than in those other countries, some of which don't lend themselves to bush fires but could presumably be brought into line some other way. That worked with the recalcitrant pharaoh who got a bit above himself, and refused to free the Israelites, and, according to the Bible, was unfazed by water turning to blood, plagues of frogs, lice, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts and darkness, but finally ceded in response to the killing of firstborn children.

As far as we know, said pharaoh blamed none of those phenomena on climate change.

Whatever, it is less than helpful that Hollywood should strive to give credence to those who seem to think that the fires are the result of Australia's continued exporting of coal to China and the like. Few would argue that it is incumbent upon all of us, from governments to individuals, to clean up our planet and start looking after it a great deal better than some of us have done so far, but there might well be more credible sources of information and inspiration than people who fantasise for a living, and who preach to us but continue to consume Earth's resources at a rate that their audience struggles to comprehend.

These people, after all, sat at the Golden Globe awards, applauding words of wisdom from Russell Crowe and Co, after virtuously tucking into their meat-free repast, surrounded by flowers imported for the occasion from Colombia and Italy. Not much evidence of commitment to change there.

As one social media response to Jim Steele put it, "Never let a perceived crisis go to waste." Precisely.