Fires of unprecedented number and ferocity are raging in New South Wales and Queensland. Residents in some regions are aware that the fire danger is “catastrophic”. Rural fire chief Shane Fitzsimmons was blunt when he explained what that means: “It’s where people die.”
I lost my home in Victoria’s 1983 Macedon bushfires. I know sympathy and financial assistance for those in the midst of the crisis is important. However, when political leaders such as Prime Minister Scott Morrison offer their “thoughts and prayers”, it’s hard to read this as anything but disingenuous.
Scientists and meteorologists have for years warned of more frequent and extreme bushfires as climate change worsens. Their messages have been met by policy inertia. Nationals leader Michael McCormack on Monday went so far as to dismiss those who link bushfires to global warming as “raving inner-city lunatics”.
If the Morrison government seriously wanted fewer Australians to experience a bushfire crisis, it would use the current situation to galvanise public sentiment, shift the political agenda, and make meaningful inroads into emissions reduction.
— david rowe (@roweafr) November 10, 2019
A growing danger
Catastrophic fire danger has been forecast for Greater Sydney, Hunter and Illawarra-Shoalhaven residents. These are the worst possible conditions, under which officials have warned fires are almost impossible to control and homes will burn.
The World Meteorological Organisation said in February that the four years to 2018 were the hottest on record, in a clear sign of climate change “associated with record atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases”.
Bushfires are not directly attributable to climate change. However, the fast-warming climate is making bushfires more frequent and intense.