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Incinerating Logic: Bushfires and Climate Change

Despite the Internet, connectivity, and linking technologies, distance has not shrunk the Australian sense of self, an often provincial appraisal of the world seen in slow motion and stills. Whether it’s the “flower revolution” or Michel Foucault, trends and ideas are often delayed, and seem almost cutely anachronistic by the time they make landfall down under. Wedded to the insatiable urge to reap, rent and remove from the earth, and you have the ultimate myopic: Australia, the exceptional country, outside the stream of history and, dare it be said, the inconveniences of science.

With some 11,000 scientists warning that planet Earth “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency”, some sense of it was registered on the Australian political scene, if only barely. The “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency” published in BioScience does not shy away from the language of catastrophe and emergency. “Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations… we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address this predicament.” Climate change had not merely arrived but bulldozed itself into recognition, “accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”

The authors and signatories suggest that, “An immense increase of scale in endeavours to conserve our biosphere is needed to avoid untold suffering due to the climate crisis.” Public debates on the subject of climate change had mostly focused on global surface temperature, a clearly inadequate approach that avoids “the breath of human activities and the real dangers stemming from a warming planet.”

Areas of urgent redress were also suggested. Energy efficiency and a reduction in the use of fossil fuels are high on the list. “We need a carbon-free economy that explicitly addresses human dependence on the biosphere and policies that guide economic decisions accordingly.” The call for a change of language is encouraged: rhetoric of GDP growth and affluence needs to be replaced by sustainability “and improving human well-being by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality.” Not exactly music for the muscular fossil fuel lobby.

Another song sheet that would not have impressed the fossil fuel industries was an event that barely disturbed the press releases. This month, the National Electricity Market in Australia received a contribution from wind, solar and hydro energy amounting to half of the total energy production. Rooftop solar contributions came in at 23.7 per cent, with wind (15.7 per cent), large-scale solar (8.8 per cent) and hydro (1.9 per cent) bringing up the rear.

With the release of the report, Australia braced itself for the incinerating fury of bush fires that have arrived earlier this season. The state of New South Wales is anticipating what the Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons describes as “the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen.”

The warnings were already pressing through the policy pipeline in the last decade. The National Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management’s 2004 report to the Council of Australian Government warned that, “Fires’ frequency, intensity and size are expected to increase under climate change as temperatures rise, rainfall variability increases, droughts become more severe and ecosystem dynamics alter, resulting in changed biomass fuel loads and types.”

The authors of the report go on to suggest that “projected hotter, drier and windier conditions associated with climate change caused by greenhouse warming would extend the period of fuel drying and increase rates of fire spread.”

Earlier this year, former NSW Fires Chief Greg Mullins and 22 other emergency honchos warned Prime Minister Morrison of the dangers that would face Australia this summer, suggesting that the government meet to discuss some form of action against risks of conflagration. The meeting has yet to take place, leaving such politicians as Adam Bandt, the Greens MP for Melbourne, certain that Morrison “bears some responsibility and must apologise to the communities impacted.”

Various Australian politicians, as then, were having none of it. Charged with the task of keeping a plunderer’s lifestyle in perpetuity, the well-fed pigs in clover, the following words of the BioScience report sit uncomfortably with members of the Morrison government. “The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle. The most affluent countries are mainly responsible for the historical GHG emissions and generally have the greatest per capita emissions.”

The Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack preferred some tea and sympathy in responding to the victims of the fires, not policy and prognosis. “They don’t need the ravings of some pure enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time when they are trying to save their homes.”

McCormack’s primary target was the Green party itself, which he accused of fiddling politically while Australia burned. “That’s what Adam Bandt, and the Greens, and Richard Di Natale, and all those other inner-city raving lunatics – and quite frankly, that’s how he was carrying on yesterday – that’s what they want, we’re not going to go down that path.”

Other politicians have adopted a similar approach: the now is what matters, and never mind previous failings and future disasters. NSW Premier Gladys Berejikilian provided the stellar example. “For any of us on the ground, speaking to people traumatised, speaking to people fighting fires for weeks… know exactly what the priorities should be, and that is saving life and property.” Climate change, in other words, was something for another day, another slot in the packed meeting schedule.

Morrison reiterated the position. He was “focused on the needs of the people.” He spoke of having “firefighters out there saving someone else’s house while their own house is burning down, and when we are in that sort of situation, that is where attention must be.”

Mayors from the areas most affected by the recent conflagration have been crankily unimpressed by the platitudes. Climate change literature, they surmise, is being assiduously avoided by the government. The unfortunately named Carol Sparks, Mayor of Glen Innes, site of two deaths over the weekend, suggested that McCormack needed “to read the science, and that is what I am going by, is the science.” Forget, suggested the mayor, the politics here. Science had imposed its cold, objective hand on the matter. Mid Coast Mayor Claire Pontin was similarly riled, notably by suggestions that fires were the staple of Australian life and landscape. “We’ve not had situations like that. Fifty years ago, this would never happen.”

There are few incentives for humanity to adapt than through the infliction of catastrophic conditions. Pandemics, world wars and existential risk have done their bit in propelling change. But luxury produces complacency; well fed bellies induce sloth. Come the writing of humanity’s extensive biography of preying on the planet, Australia and its political classes will have much to answer for.

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  1. New England Cocky

    “The Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack preferred some tea and sympathy in responding to the victims of the fires, not policy and prognosis. ‘They don’t need the ravings of some pure enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time when they are trying to save their homes.’”

    Mick Muck is standing with his legs apart, his head between his knees and looking up to see the future! Perhaps he might explain why his NSW comrades slashed 75% from the NSW RFS Budget in 2019/2020 if he has time from repelling the political ambitions of the nat$ Adulterer-In-Chief.

    Thanks Kaye Lee for this link:

    tamworth women supporting adultery support nat$ and we all get screwed

  2. Zathras

    I don’t know if it’s willful ignorance or just plain stupidity that keeps this so-called “debate” alive.
    Climate change obviously isn’t responsible for the bush fires but it is indicating that they are growing in intensity and frequency, just as predicted. If the denialists are happy with this “new normal” and prepared to see it worsening as some sort of natural event then fair enough. You can’t logic your way out of something you didn’t logic your way into in the first place.

    The traditional game of blaming the Greenies is well under way but the existing Federal and State Government – who have been in power for many years – are trying to, also traditionally, absolve themselves of any blame or responsibility.

    McCormack happily blames woke capital city Greenies for alarmism but ignores his own constituents who recently protested about 100 metres from his electoral office.

    Now the argument is that “now is not the time to be talking about climate change”.
    Why not?
    It’s the typical rural argument about fixing a leaky roof. When it’s raining it’s too wet to climb up there but when it’s fine it’s as good as any other roof, so nothing will ever happen.
    Does anybody say that when you start coughing up blood “Now is not the time to talk about the dangers of smoking. Also officially the science isn’t settled”?

    Clowns! We deserve so much better than this.

  3. Yes Minister

    One of the most pressing issues is that SCUMMO et al have taken leave of any intelligence they might once have had. Not that the ALP, the Greens or any rats & mice rabble are any more enlightened. As far as I’m concerned, claims that climate change could not possibly cause widespread drought and record temperatures are so ludicrous that those using them must be at the very least ignored, and maybe silenced before they can delude the gullible.

    The questions now must be how much longer we are going to ignore the blatantly and glaringly obvious, and in default of enlightment, just how catastrophic it will get before we say enough is enough. Personally I believe things will need to get immeasurably worse with hundreds of inland towns abandoned, scores of people dying from the heat, major rivers drying up etc etc before the legendary apathy of the Australian sheeple is overcome.

  4. wam

    The sound of ‘climate change and the greens’ is today’s equivalent of pig-iron bob’s commos and the lying rat’s illegals. The most toxic of slogans with labor and the unions, running a close second. Those and the debt lies are albo’s millstones. Ignore them and scummo’s 2nd and 3rd term is probable or certain if senile booby goes wangering again.

  5. Susan Wilson

    Climate change is another name for ‘Mother Nature/Earth’ is in charge, yes we are having a return to another era of warmer temperatures but what is causing these severe and more frequent weather extremes is our resistance to living who we are as divine and equal beings who have to understand that true intelligence comes from our body by impulses of commonsense and intuition. We need to ‘fix’ ourselves from the harm we do to ourselves because until we do that we will continue with our wayward ideals and beliefs that are harming us and therefore we put harm out to the environment. To heal this harm to the environment weather will continue to haunt us, earthquakes will shake us, volcanoes will spew on us, the environment will burn, become drier and extremes of temperatures will persist. Heal thyself first and the rest takes care of itself because when we heal the harm then harm can not exist.

  6. Cath

    I just can’t believe that the discussion is still “Does climate change exist?” and “Is it causing these weather events?”. People are waking up but not fast enough. The people in power are not ignorant they are willingly doing this for their paymasters in the fossil fuel industry. And the PM probably believes it’s the book of revelations and those “worthy” will be saved.

    I believe at some point people will wake up en masse and who knows maybe the greens will be in government when they do (or perhaps by then there will be no civilised society) but it will all be too late. I try to stay positive and I talk to many young people who are way more hopeful than me but at times like this I really wonder if our species is going to make it. Are we really collectively no better than a newer version of the dinosaurs.

    The science is clear. We need to do something right now.

  7. corvus boreus

    I have one friend whose property was recently subjected to holocaust, another who has lost all the infrastructure on her property bar the residential shed, and yet another who has spent the last 2 nights evacuated from her home in the hills, hoping that it will still be standing when she returns .
    For myself, yesterday was a day of frantic preparation amidst dense acrid smoke and falling ash, as multiple firefronts came within a few kilometers of my own place, driven by 35+ nor-nor-easterly gusts, until the winds shifted and the afternoon southerly abated the immediate dange,, but I know that multiple fires still are still blazing and smouldering away to the northwest, awaiting another shift in conditions to resume their infernal march .
    Still, today it does not actually hurt to breathe and I am unlikely to lose my house in the next 24, for which I am deeply grateful.
    The daily occurance of ‘unprecedented catastrophic’, offering further conditions to hasten mass extinctions as the holocene transitions into the anthropocene.
    Life in the new normal.

    Ps, how good are budget ‘surpluses’ at the expense of emergency services?

  8. Vikingduk

    Yes, Corvus, l have been following you’re progress from previous posts, pleased to hear you are still safe. Our recent journey — cunninghams gap, Warwick, Glen Innes, Inverell — shows an apocalyptic scene. Worsening, if that is possible, to the south and west. Yes, welcome to the new normal. A land of devastation and devastated people. Whilst we were fortunate we left when we did to arrive back here in time to be evacuated, how those people living this apocalyptic nightmare cope amazes me. This horrorshow will not end when the rains come and we’ll still be ruled by this traitorous fascist lying scum.

    On a brighter? note, the acceptance of climate change is growing among the various relatives and strangers I spoke to during our journey.

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