Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What is the carbon footprint of a massive forest fire?

Today's episode of Green Machine is a tribute to the inhabitants of the town of Geelong Australia. Geelong is in the State of Victoria some fifty miles to the south-west of Melbourne. As of the time that I wrote this article more than two hundred people had perished in the worst fires in the recorded history of the State of Victoria in Australia. Witnesses reported walls of flames that were four storeys high and an area of some 115 square miles has been burnt. The previous most devastating fire in Victoria occurred in 1983 when seventy five people died in what is now referred to as Ash Wednesday. The summer weather in Australia and in particular Victoria has been far warmer than normal. The northern part of Australia is flooded while the southern part is under a massive drought. In fact certain northern towns in the country are so flooded that crocodiles are now a common site slinking around in the streets.

Many Australian politicians and citizens are blaming carbon emission and the perceived effect of global warming for the weather conditions that have lead to the drought and these resulting massive fires. I cannot draw any definitive conclusion that these fires are the result of the almost billion motor vehicles on the planet. What I can conclude is that suburban sprawl has certainly put many families in harms way as their homes are now built in localities that are prone to bush and forest fires. Many of the victims simply could not drive away from these fires and choking smoke fast enough to escape. Numerous deaths occurred due to blocked roads from all the traffic and many folks were suffocated in their vehicles by the sheer amount of smoke from these fires. Had these folks lived in medium or high rise apartments in Melbourne they would not have had to endure this terrible ordeal.

Suburban living places an enormous burden on the environment and we only focus on these issues when an enormous fire or some other natural or manmade disaster is part of the news. Another item reported in today's news is that President Obama has requested fifteen billion dollars of funds to perform research into energy efficiency and alternates to fossil fuels. This is music to the Green Machine's ears. If I were in charge I would spend fourteen and a half billion dollars on energy efficiency and half a billion dollars on alternate fuels. Given the pork barrel way we achieve political compromise, the amount that will be spent on subsidizing and researching alternate bio-fuels will likely far eclipse the amount that will be spent on energy efficiency and conservation.

The crocodiles of Northern Australia are cold blooded creatures that use the sunlight during the day to warm their bodies. That is why they have come to town so they can sun themselves given that all the river banks are now "downunder" several feet of water. If only an enterprising Australian could build a canal from Queensland to Victoria, the law of averages would then combine a flood with a drought and all of Australia would enjoy fine weather to allow them to put another shrimp on the barbie.