Australia: Fire tragedy highlights scale of global warming emergency and need for real action

Socialist Alliance statement

Melbourne, February 11, 2009 -- Like all people across Australia Socialist Alliance members have been devastated by the Victorian bushfire tragedy, the greatest disaster in peace-time Australian history.

We express our condolences to and solidarity with all who have lost family, friends and homes in this shocking holocaust, made worse by the possibility that some of these fires were deliberately lit.

We salute the efforts of Victorian Country Fire Authority workers and all volunteers who have sacrificed time, effort and security and done everything in their power to halt the ravages of the fires. Emergency service workers battled for up to 30 hours without sleep trying to control the infernos, help the injured, and attend to the thousands left homeless.

The Victorian Labor government has called a royal commission into the tragedy. If that commission listens carefully to firefighters, emergency personnel and bush communities it will learn many truths, including that emergency services are severely underfunded, fire breaks and forest access tracks should be better maintained and high-risk areas better patrolled.

The commission must also ask why, in the middle of an unprecedented heat wave, after years of drought and predictions of extreme climate events, little seems to have been done to prepare for a disaster that was waiting to happen.

However, the commission will be a waste of time if it refuses to confront the underlying cause of the Victorian bushfire disaster—accelerating global warming and climate disruption.

The reality of climate emergency, which has been explained for years by eminent scientists, has been denied or downplayed by the mainstream politicians, or “treated” with completely inadequate policies like the Rudd government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

The record temperatures in Melbourne and in many parts of southeastern Australia last Saturday cannot be explained simply by natural variability. The hottest 14 years on record have occurred in the last 20 years.

Far from being a “one-in-a-thousand-years event” claimed by Victorian Premier John Brumby, bushfires like those in Victoria have been multiplying as average temperatures rise across eastern Australia. Extreme fire weather situations of mid-40s heat and strong winds have been increasing in frequency over the last ten years, and will continue to do so as climate change worsens.

In the words of a Bureau of Meteorology colleague quoted by University of Adelaide climate scientist Professor Barry Brook: “Climate change is now becoming such a strong contributor to these hitherto unimaginable events that the language starts to change from one of ‘climate change increased the chances of an event’ to ‘without climate change this event could not have occurred’.''

he Socialist Alliance calls for greater resources for fire fighting and prevention, and appropriate land management, in the wake of this tragedy. However, the best and bravest fire-fighting in the world will be impotent before infernos like those that devastated country Victoria last weekend unless underlying causes are tackled.

Along with a serious effort at all levels of government to assess and mitigate the impact of global warming on our bush and country towns, Australia needs to invest billions of dollars in a “green New Deal” to cut its greenhouse gas emissions and to lead the way internationally by following the lead of programs like Al Gore’s call for 100% renewable energy by 2020.

The dreadful Victorian bushfires—like the disastrous floods in Queensland—are a dire warning that government cannot afford to ignore what the climate scientists tell them or to “balance” their views against those of the fossil fuel lobby. Global warming underlies this awful tragedy and the continued ignoring of scientific opinion about the climate emergency can only contribute to more such disasters.


'At risk' firies want urgent global warming action

By ABC News Online's Cassie White

Posted Thu Feb 12, 2009 3:46pm AEDT
Updated Thu Feb 12, 2009 4:48pm AEDT

Australia is at risk of more tragedies such as the Victorian bushfires if
the Federal Government does not reassess its approach to global warming,
says the peak firefighters union.

United Firefighters Union of Australia national secretary Peter Marshall has
written an open letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Victorian Premier
John Brumby, on behalf of Australia's 13,000 firefighters.

He says the Government's own CSIRO report shows that under a high global
warming scenario "catastrophic events are predicted to occur every year in
Mildura and firefighters have been warned to expect up to a 230 per cent
increase in extreme danger fire days in Bendigo" alone.

It also shows that in Canberra, where there were horrendous fires in 2003,
fire services were being told to prepare for a 221 per cent rise in extreme
fire days by 2050.

Mr Marshall says the Victorian fires are happening in the backdrop of the
Federal Government global warming report that was released in 2007.

"These fires aren't happening by accidents ... it's highly likely we'll have
similar events in other states and territories around Australia in 2010," he

"[The Government's own research shows] by 2020 it's going to be a regular
occurrence. All the current thinking and science behind protecting
communities has not built in the factor of this increase.

With one end of the country drowning in floodwaters and the other end being
devastated by fires, the letter urges the Government to follow scientific
advice and halve Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

"Without a massive turnaround in policies, aside from the tragic loss of
life and property, we will be asking firefighters to put themselves at an
unacceptable risk," says the letter.
Tinderbox conditions

Despite widely-held suspicion many of the fires were started by arsonists,
Mr Marshall says it is the current climate conditions which allowed them to
spread in the first place.

"Those types of fires are going to evolve irrespective of whatever the
ignition source is - whether it be criminal or lightning strike," he said.

"What used to be a fire that could have been contained to a small area,
we're going to see evolve into a wildfire like we've seen in Victoria and
that's going to be a regular occurrence."

He says there needs to be an open and accountable discussion on a national
level to ensure this kind of tragedy is never repeated.

"The Federal Government should take leadership in this matter ... It's a
national problem and there has to be a national approach," he said.

"We're asking the Prime Minister and the Premier to consider our letter. At
the end of the day it's the community that matters most here.

"An unprecedented number of lives have been lost in Victoria and we don't
want it to happen again. If the Government doesn't take notice of our
letter, the public should make sure they take notice, because ultimately
they're the ones whose lives are being placed at risk."

Mr Marshall says that in 25 years of being a firefighter, he has never seen
anything like the devastation Victoria is currently facing.

"Firefighters, volunteers and professional staff have done a fantastic job,
but they'll carry many scars for many years after these fire have long
gone," he said.

"What we're trying to do is make sure moral is kept high. We've set up a
website which allows members of the public to send a message of support or
express their gratitude."


The problem is - nobody is looking to solve the real causes of global warming. its easy to point fingers at cars and industries for CO2 emission, but the fact is there other bigger sources of CO2, livestock for example.

No viable solution of this problem can be found without taking all the factors into consideration.