As Australia’s fires rage on, deniers are (of course) pushing back on the idea that this is what the climate crisis looks like. This opposition to the reality that climate change created these fire-primed conditions takes two main shapes. One is wrong but at least realistic, while the other is pure fantasy. Both, however, have found fertile ground in Reddit’s hub for climate denial.
The particularly unhinged take can be seen in a screenshot of what appears to be a now-deleted tweet pointing out that around 200 people in Australia are being investigated for arson. “That’s a couple hundred people lighting fires & blaming climate change. Climate Terrorism perhaps? It seems way too coordinated to be 200 random decisions.”
To be fair, some in the Reddit comments are skeptical of this claim, seeing as how there’s zero supporting evidence. Yes, arson exists. No, no one anywhere has anything even remotely resembling evidence that anyone started a fire with the intent to blame it on climate change.
The utter lack of evidence didn’t stop the @ClimateRealists Twitter account from tweeting a survey of its followers asking “are climate activists behind the deliberate arson attacks taking place on the Australian Bushfires to try and promote ‘Man Made Climate Change’”. Of the 1,251 respondents, 73.9% answered “Yes.” Clearly, this idea isn’t as insane to deniers as it should be.
The second track deniers are taking is slightly more sophisticated, but no more true, and is summed up by an image contrasting a handful of anti-controlled-burn protestors with the fires raging in their town.
This theory holds that by preventing proper forest management policies like controlled burns, it’s environmentalists who are responsible for these out-of-control fires. The argument can be found across the deniersphere, from Aussie local JoNova to Russia’s Sputnik propaganda.
While there is ostensibly more evidence for this conspiracy than the deliberate arson one, as the Guardian’s Graham Readfern explained in a fact check back in November, it’s still far from credible. Similar to the arguments centered on forest clearing in California, blaming environmentalists for wildfires is a totally baseless and politically-motivated line of attack.
Blaming environmentalist policies for preventing prescribed burns is “without foundation,” according to Professor Ross Bradstock, who has studied these fires for 40 years. “It’s simply conspiracy stuff,” he told Readfern, “an obvious attempt to deflect the conversation away from climate change.”
Readfern also points to a November op-ed by Greg Mullins, former fire and rescue commissioner, who explained the unprecedented and climate-driven nature of the fires, and stated clearly that “blaming ‘greenies’ for stopping these important [hazard reduction] measures is a familiar, populist, but basically untrue claim.” In fact, Mullins pointed out that it's often the hot and dry conditions, which are exacerbated by climate change, that stop them from doing hazard reduction burning in the first place.
Unfortunately, the November piece didn’t put the conspiracy theory to rest, so Readfern returned over the weekend for another debunking. According to University of Tasmania’s fire research centre director Professor David Bowman, these attacks are “ridiculous. To frame this as an issue of hazard reduction in national parks is just lazy political rhetoric.”
So denier’s argument that environmentalists are to blame for the fires is “basically untrue” “conspiracy stuff,” that is “without foundation” and “just lazy political rhetoric.”
And remember, that’s how experts describe the more sophisticated of the two arguments!
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