Drought, fires and ScoMo…
I own 1,500 acres of land at Bindi, in East Gippsland, Victoria on which I’m planting a large carbon sink forest; a multi million dollar investment towards helping the environment – air, soil, water and animals.
At the time of writing there is a large bush fire about 300m from my northern fence line, but thankfully it is heading away from my property. That said, a small wind change and everything is on the line. It is a scary, anxious time.
Normally a catastrophe such as humongous deadly bush fires would bring the whole country together. In some respects it has… generous donations of clothing, food and water, and money. Yet reading social media posts, there is also a worrying amount of division about the cause of these fires, and what we should do once they’ve been extinguished.
Here’s what I know….
What Caused The Fires?
These fires were started as a result of nature (e.g. lightning strikes), and/or human intervention (e.g. cigarettes tossed out of windows, arsonists, back burning gone wrong, power line failures, etc.).
Why Are These Fires Particularly Bad?
Bush fires are a part of life in Australia. Our forests even depend on fire for survival. So why are these fires even worse than normal? Despite what some people claim, the answer is not singularly a lack of back burning (i.e. fuel reduction). The land around my property has been substantially cleared for grazing, yet there is a threat to my property without trees, or built up fuel.
The answer is a combination of the following: extremely dry conditions (we had 2mm of rain in Omeo in Dec 19, compared with 40mm in Dec 2018), extremely low air humidity, and under-resourcing of key staff and boots on the ground workers by successive state and federal governments over many years.
It’s a simple fact that starting with Jeff Kennett in the 1990s, in Victoria there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of staff overseeing and managing the state forests. In 2019 Daniel Andrews made a budget conscious decision to delay the arrival of fire fighting aircraft. The federal government under funded fire fighting equipment, blaming it as a state issue. And on it goes… Governments were too worried about surpluses, and not worried enough about safety.
Are We To Blame?
What’s caused the climate to change? A shift in the earth’s tilt? Solar flares? ScoMo? Trump?
Why is it so hard for us to wholeheartedly agree that cutting down a few trees will cause soil erosion, raise problems with salinity and destroy habitat and environment for wildlife, yet believe we can cut down a billion trees and it won’t impact our planet, or our homes?
Or how can we know that burning plastic in backyard incinerators (as was customary in the 1970’s, but now outlawed!) and releasing clouds of toxic black smoke was a bad outcome, but we look away at the trillions of tonnes of black smoke we happily emit by burning fossil fuels under the name of progress?
Hello! It’s cause and effect. Not effect and cause.
The chemistry is undisputed and pretty straightforward. The carbon that is stored in trees, coal (i.e. fossil fuels), etc. changes from a solid to a gas when it is burned. This chemical reaction will result in change. Enough change, and the consequences become bigger and more evident.
Think CFCs… back in the 1980s, when the ozone layer was wasting away, we identified CFCs as the problem and eventually banned them worldwide. In the beginning though, there were deniers, sceptics, industry with vested interest because it was cheaper to use CFCs than alternatives, etc. etc. In the end though, we finally got moving on a global scale and a few decades later the ozone layer is regenerating.
History repeats, this time its carbon dioxide…
Now I don’t know for certain if the way we use and manage our natural resources has been the entire cause, but surely 200 years of systemic human induced chemical reactions will impact our environment.
Yes, yes, yes… it has been hotter, colder, wetter, drier, etc. in ages past. But the rate of change was previously over eons, not decades, years or months. In NSW, there was snow in early December, and devastating fires too. Think of it this way… we’ve hit the ‘environmental’ beehive with a stick, and are now wondering why the buzzing has increased.
What about the argument that what we do in Australia doesn’t matter? True! It probably doesn’t on a world scale, but just because all your friends are high on emitting carbon doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to get clean and sober. Maybe our actions can encourage them to lift their game too.
So, What Should We Do?
It won’t be easy. Or simple. And it will take time because we’re used to our convenient standard of living in Australia, but can we afford to do nothing? Is this a risk we’re willing to take? Have your say by leaving a comment below.