20 November 2019

Australia needs to go on war footing in changing bushfire climate

| Ian Bushnell
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ACT Rural Fire Service

An outdated approach? ACT Rural Fire Service members deployed to NSW Rural Fire Service for the continuing bushfire threats in the Port Macquarie region. Photo: ESA.

This week, eastern Australia faced a heatwave that threatened yet another bushfire calamity, with not a skerrick of real rain on the horizon.

The ACT and Southern NSW have escaped the blowtorch so far but by the middle of the week it was 37ºC, and that damn wind just won’t let up.

On everybody’s lips who matter – farmers, scientists, firies – were the words that our Prime Minister and his Government dare not speak, climate change.

The howls of confected outrage from the National Party bovver boys such as Barnaby and Barilaro, and even the usually restrained Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack when the bleeding obvious was mentioned did the nation, and the volunteers sent into battle the flames, a disservice.

The false argument that the Greens were to blame for the fires was ludicrous but even Shane Rattenbury was forced to tweet the Greens did, in fact, support backburning.

It was plain for all to see just who were the “raving lunatics”.

Anybody who has been working the land and compiling weather records, those researching bushfires, the fire chiefs who have had to protect the community and anybody who has noticed will tell you that the bushfire seasons are longer, it’s drier, the summers are hotter and that these changes have occurred over the last few decades and are accelerating.

I’ve been taking the road north to Queensland to see family of and on for 25 years, driving through the NSW and south-east Queensland fire grounds. The forests of northern NSW, the Border Ranges and the Scenic Rim are drying out.

The spring drive across the New England Tableland, usually one of the prettiest, was despairing this year. Blanketed in smoke, the parched and destocked land was lifeless. The venerable trees in Armidale’s central park are dying.

The cycle of drought has gotten tighter and is squeezing the life out of the land while our leaders bury their heads further into the sand and pray for rain like the good old days.

The bushfire crisis reflects what the science has been telling the world about global warming, what the fire researchers had warned the Government was coming and what the fire chiefs have been dealing with on the ground year on year.

ACT fire chief Joe Murphy

ACT fire chief Joe Murphy is in no doubt that climate change is behind the worsening bushfire situation in Australia. Photo: Region Media.

ACT fire chief Joe Murphy was one of many who contradicted the climate deniers in Government, saying firefighters are seeing a change in the weather patterns and the amount of water they have access to.

He says the average temperatures and average rainfall are now changing quite dynamically and quickly, making situations more unpredictable.

It doesn’t matter how often the PM turns up to put an arm around a grieving fire victim and offers a few dollars to see them right for a few days, or tells the exhausted volunteers the nation is grateful.

He needs to square up, face the nation and start getting serious about a proper climate strategy, curbing emissions and mitigating the impacts now upon us and likely to get worse before lessening.

It’s time to throw the politics out and form a war cabinet.

One of the first things to think about is that the days of the local volunteer brigade are limited. It’s only November and they are exhausted. They leave their jobs, their own homes and get by on adrenalin and cups of tea, and the goodwill of employers and families.

It is a great tradition but it has become unsustainable.

They are ordinary folk doing extraordinary things in extreme conditions and when they go home and back to work, God only knows what memories will haunt them, with little support to ward off the demons.

The length and intensity of the bushfire season requires a rapid response professional fighting force equipped with all the modern resources available, augmented by volunteers, who should be paid in one way or another.

And the resources should be available for debriefing and counselling.

Those arguing for more backburning and preventative work may like to also see the cuts to rangers and staff in national parks reversed, a short-sighted case of false economy if ever there was one, so more land management can happen.

It’s going to cost but the alternative price is higher.

The Government is right – it can’t make it rain tomorrow and it can’t stop the wind blowing. But by accepting the awful truth, taking the right advice and starting to put in place the measures to de-carbonise and mitigate the effects of climate change we will now have to live with, it can win our trust and offer us hope.

The “raving lunatic” approach is not an option.

Original Article published by Ian Bushnell on The RiotACT.

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Chris Laursen10:16 am 24 Nov 19

Let’s spend some money on lots of big desalination plants around the coast and pipe the water to where it’s needed. The UAE have greened the desert by doing just that.

Amanda Midlam8:35 am 23 Nov 19

Our government is obsessed with border security and has ignored threats within those borders. Yes we need a better approach and it is unfair to expect so much from volunteers

Phil Bramley7:34 am 23 Nov 19

Absolutely! A paid workforce fully equipped and resourced is the way forward. Taxpayers will have to get used to paying more for this essential ervice.

Thanks Ian and About Regional for this piece. Thankfully it is becoming more common to read experienced campaigners pointing out the immediate need to get serious about what we are doing to our environment and what we need to do to support survival; for us, for the animals and forests, for the rivers and sometimes entire ecosystems.
It’s happening fast now, almost unbelievably fast; but this has been predicted for decades. The drying out of south and eastern Australia, the worsening fire conditions, the need to switch from fossil fuels to renewables … no matter how surprised we act, we have to also slow down and listen to the experts on the land, the climate scientists and the Traditional Owners of the Country upon which this tragedy is unfolding. As the evidence mounts, the effects become exponential and the need becomes even more immediate. We need leaders who are capable of listening to sense on this, or we need to give them the flick, asap.
It’s not just that we are a joke on the international stage anymore – now, we’re also compromising the entire future of the places we live, some of which have gone from being beautiful to being horrific overnight. We need everyone capable of being part of the change to mobilise if we are to have any chance of adapting to the ‘new normal’ that is reality right now in Australia.

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