After what I thought was a fairly mild Summer, with only a few hot spells (20+/-C to 40C and back to 20+/-C in successive days), the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) once again declared it the hottest on record, as they always do. Despite the BOM’s usual prestidigitation, the bushfires only started in Gippsland with a vengeance come Autumn. For many days we lived in the smoke palls from numerous fires burning in our north and east, but fared much better than many who lost their homes in the Bunyip fires that raged north-west of our township. Any thoughts of going camping before the weather started to change were rapidly quashed as more areas to our north and east began to burn and eventually the High Country was ostensibly closed off to all visitors. Even locations in the south at Wilson’s Promontory were evacuated due to fires.
And right on queue, the usual warming worriers started to blame climate change, with the BOM once again producing supporting figures for the worriers to pounce on as solid evidence and which was subsequently plastered all over news sites; well certainly the warming worriers publications of choice, the Age and Their ABC. Incidentally, the raw data that forms the BOM’s published figures are never made available for independent analysis, funny about that. However, it was the usual breathless exhortations that the world was in imminent danger unless all efficient and reliable electricity generation in Australia was not halted immediately. Never are these bushfires discussed in a sensible manner and the real causes pointed out. The real causes are once again what I would suggest are close to criminal negligence of forest management. No matter how many Bushfire Royal Commissions are held, with the outcomes clearly indicating that lack of proper forest management ie culling of fuel loads is the root cause of these devastating fires, no matter how they flare up, nothing changes. As Roger Underwood* points out:
The catastrophic bushfires of 2009 in Victoria, and the other great fires of recent years in that state, New South Wales, the ACT and South Australia are dramatic expressions not just of killing forces unleashed, but of human folly. No less than the foolish strategies of the World War 1 generals, these bushfires and their outcomes speak of incompetent leadership and of failed imaginations. Most unforgivable of all, they demonstrate the inability of people in powerful and influential positions to profit from the lessons of history and to heed the wisdom of experience.
But just a minute, I can hear some of you thinking. Is old Underwood going too far here? What about the malignant influence of global warming on bushfire conditions, making things impossible for firefighters? What about the “unprecedented” weather conditions on the day, making the fires of February 2009 “unstoppable”. What about the years of drought making the bush super-ready to burn? Does he not realise that conditions beyond human understanding have now arisen in Victoria, making killer bushfires inevitable? And what about the promises of technology, the super-aerial tankers and so forth, that will give the initiative to our firefighters for once and for all?
I have thought about all these issues. I am well aware of the drought, of the conditions on the days of the fires, and of the view from some quarters that all of this is a result of global warming. I accept that drought and bad fire weather increase the risk of serious bushfires. What I do not accept is that “unstoppable” bushfires are inevitable. And while I will always welcome improved firefighting technology, I know from experience and from an understanding of the simple physics of bushfire behaviour, that technology can never be a substitute for good land management. The serious bushfire is like a disease that is incubated over many years; good land management is the preventative medicine that ensures the disease does not become a killer epidemic.
The issues of leadership and of good governance are central to my position. What these killer bushfires point to is that the leaders of our society, Victoria’s politicians and senior bureaucrats, have palpably failed to do the most fundamental thing expected of them: to safeguard Victorian lives and the Victorian environment in the face of an obvious threat. They have failed to discharge their duty of care. Just as we now look back with incredulity at the amateurish strategies of the generals in The Great War, so will future Australians look back on the work of those responsible for land and bushfire management in this country — our bushfire generals.
*Roger Underwood is a forester with fifty years experience in bushfire management and bushfire science. He has worked as a firefighter, a district and regional manager, a research manager and senior government administrator. He is Chairman of The Bushfire Front, an independent professional group promoting best practice in bushfire management.
The warming worriers such as the Greens and their supporters in Parks Victoria firmly believe that you can’t reduce fuel loads and that the only solution is to shut down coal fired power stations and install more windmills and solar panels. This is also fully supported and heavily promoted by the renewables industry, which profits immensely from government (aka taxpayer) subsidies to build more and more ineffective and inefficient electricity sources. I travel the Victorian High Country regularly each year and witness first hand the ever increasing fuel loads in the bush and see it even in our local area where ‘Preserve Our Forests’ groups fight tooth and nail to ostensibly prevent any logging that inherently creates less fire prone forests. Loggers put in roads (which aids access in case of fire), they have fire prevention policies in place and have a vested interest in ensuring that their source of income is protected. And by the way, trees are the most renewable of all resources.
Sadly, Bunyip has exactly the same sort of ‘Preserve Our Forests’ group, supported by the likes of Friends of the Earth, that protested the approval of logging in their area and I guess their wishes have now suffered the usual unintended consequences. Those areas that they wanted to ‘preserve’ have now been turned to ash and who knows how much wildlife has been killed in the process. When controlled burns used to be conducted, they were low intensity and slow burning fires that allowed wildlife to escape to safe areas and then return when the fires had passed and regrowth resumed. With these high intensity and fast burning fires, wildlife has little chance to escape and they are ostensibly wiped out. All the well-meaning in the world will not address the real dangers inherent with the Australian bush and the increasing lack of understanding and unwillingness to address the issue, in a meaningful manner, exacerbates the entire situation. Strangely, Australia’s indigenous people seemed to know more about forest management than our latter-day ‘experts’.
Why is it so easy to sell climate change as the culprit? Perhaps it’s because the majority of people do not remember the hots days of the 60s and 70s, being born much later. So it’s easy to make up figures and fool people into believing the world is becoming increasingly hotter. And who believes old people nowadays? So why do politicians do nothing about ensuring proper forest management? Because it costs money, which they don’t want to spend, and the outcomes are usually invisible to the public (no bridges, roads or train overpasses to open), and it’s all too easy to blame the situation on climate change. It’s a win-win for politicians. And what do vested interests then suggest as a solution, spend more taxpayer money as was recently illustrated, ‘‘We need our own Elvis’: Former fire chiefs warn Australia is unprepared for bushfire peril’:
Australia’s firefighting capacity will fall short unless it buys its own fleet of water-bombing aircraft rather than borrowing them from overseas because monster blazes burning simultaneously across the globe are becoming the norm, two respected former fire chiefs have warned.
Former NSW Fire and Rescue commissioner Greg Mullins and former Tasmanian Fire Service chief Mike Brown – who together have 90 years’ firefighting experience – say increasingly overlapping fire seasons in the southern and northern hemispheres, driven by climate change, mean Australia must procure its own fleet of large air tankers and other craft – some possibly operated by the military.
This is exactly what’s being done in the US, relying on technology to try and fight fires, rather than working on better ways of preventing them in the first place. This is akin to doing no scheduled servicing of your car, but always fixing things when the car breaks down. And it’s very interesting that one of the proponents of all of this, and who constantly cries ‘climate change’, just happens to have become a member of the Climate Council, an organisation whose sole mission is to spread fear about global warming. If you note in the link, one of it’s most infamous members (or should I say ‘experts’) is none other than Tim Flannery, the same person that predicted that Perth would become ‘the first ghost metropolis in the 21st century‘, amongst many other failed predictions. But let’s just keep doing the same things over and over again, hoping for a different outcome. There’s a term for that. Seriously, for how long will people, especially politicians, continue to listen to so-called experts before they start doing what’s right, instead of what’s easy?
‘A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.’ – G,K, Chesterton