Fires, Politics and The Right Time To Discuss Climate Change

19 October 2013
Terrible, horrible, very sad week as monstrous bushfires swept eastern NSW. The worst damage occurred in the Blue Mountains - hundreds of homes lost there, it seems, the emotional damage incalculable - and there were also dreadful fires ringing Newcastle. We're in a heavily built up area of inner Newcastle with no bushfire danger, but only a short distance to the north and south fires were threatening places I've known most of my life - Nords Wharf where I lived as a child for a few months; Caves Beach, our go-to beach in high school; at one stage fire came close to the fuel tanks at Newcastle airport. The sky was thick with smoke, the sun a creepy red, and we all spent a restless, worried night following Twitter for news of friends who were being evacuated.

And the one thought we all had was "my God, if the bushfires are like this in October, what the hell are they going to be like by February?". For we don't have fires like this in NSW in October, halfway through spring. We simply haven't had the horrific combination of a warm dry winter, high winds and 30 degree plus temperatures that have seen these kinds of fires before. Everyone thought grimly, this is climate change, up close and personal, this is what it does and we can't deny it any more. Australia's only Greens federal lower house MP and my second sexiest politician (after the delightful and effervescent Helen Coonan, of course), Adam Bandt, posted this quite reasonable observation on Twitter:

And brought a slew of criticism from the opportunistic right, declaring that it was "opportunistic" to politicise the fires this way. Mr Bandt has been in politics long enough to foresee such a reaction, so it was a gutsy thing to say. The results of climate change were all around us, yet newly minted PM Tony Abbott is planning to make us the only nation to repeal carbon pricing, because along with 6% of the population and 3% of climate scientists, he believes climate change is "crap". So Abbott's plan to remove us from international efforts to combat climate change is putting us at risk. Blame the Greens for politicising the fires? I blame those who have made climate change a political issue in the first place. It shouldn't be. The future of the planet is at stake here, but the right would rather score points to differentiate themselves from the left, than take steps to secure a future for their grandchildren (this, from the side of politics who say they represent "family values").

When is the right time to discuss the causes of the fires, anyway? How long after a tragic road accident before it's okay to discuss the state of the road? Climate change deniers dismiss the most terrible climate change predictions as "scaremongering", then when the most terrible things happen, they say now is not the time to talk about it. They'd rather wait till months down the track when everyone is lulled back into a sense f security. Or they blame anything else - including The Greens for banning backburning. Here is the Greens official policy on hazard reduction, taken from the NSW Greens website:

[S]trategically planned hazard reduction, including controlled burning, where and when climatic conditions allow it to be done safely and where it is consistent with maintaining the ecosystem.

If anyone says Greens policy is to ban backburning, they are lying. We have always had bush fires in Australia. We always will. But this is a horrific new reality in Australia - 30 degree plus temperatures for six or more months a year is not something we've seen before in eastern NSW. And this will lead to more, more intense and destructive fires. To pretend otherwise is dangerous nonsense, and the hysterical reaction of climate change deniers when fires and climate change are linked brings to mind the gun lobby inv the U.S. following the all too frequent gun massacres there. Obfuscation, denial, counter claim - but soul searching, thought, responsibility - never.

I'm proud of Adam Bandt for saying what he said, proud to be Greens (more now than ever after seeing new Labor leader Bill Shorten join the "now is not the time to discuss this" chorus). We need to talk about this now and I'm proud to be on the right side of this battle.


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