Melted metal from the alloy wheel of a car caught in the Victorian bush fires
The Black Saturday Victorian bush fires last summer were horrific. Should we start thinking about big fires in SE NSW? It has been very dry in SE NSW lately, so does that increase our risk of extreme bush fire conditions?
The Victorian fires were preceded by high risk weather conditions. Leading up to the fires, three weather records were broken. Record temperatures for three days proceeding the fires, a record number of “no rainfall” days prior to the disaster, and record low humidity, were all significant factors during the Victorian summer.
An important question to consider is whether or not the Victorian fires were related to climate change.
I don’t think you can blame any single weather disaster on climate change. Victoria and South Australia have certainly had bad fires throughout the ages. However, I think you can say with some certainty that the sorts of extreme bush fire weather conditions leading up to the Victorian fires are likely to occur more frequently, due to the impact of climate change. Climate change will lead to an increasing number of hot days in SE NSW. When the ongoing drought is added into the equation, I think we need to look carefully at the potential threat of bush fires in SE NSW.
As individuals, we need to look at household fire strategies. I’m no expert, but I’m going to clear gutters, and buy a water pump to hook up to my water tank. I’m also going to do some reading about fire bunkers.
As a community, we need to look at ways to support the local Rural Fire Service.
As a region, we need to meet a 50/50 by 2020 target
Scared of Tigers?
The Lowy Institute poll published last week showed that the proportion of Australians who think global warming is a serious and pressing problem that needs to be addressed, even at significant cost, dropped from 68% in 2006 to 48% this year. It dropped!
The Lowy Poll was pulished in the same week as findings from the Catlin Arctic Survey team. The University of Cambridge’s Professor Wahhams said the survey data supports the new consensus that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within 20 years, and that much of it will happen within 10 years. It wasn’t long ago that scientists were telling us it would take 1000 years for the Arctic to become ice-free in summer. Now we are being told it will take a decade or two.
The Lowy Poll talks about “significant cost” but does not talk about the economic stimulus of climate change solutions. However, I suspect the percentage of people worried about the cost of climate change action has dropped for other reasons.
Climate change is in the news every day, it is a big political issue, and Copenhagen is coming up. I think a growing number of people feel that it is the responsibility of politicians to sort out the problem. It remains to be seen whether or not politicians can sort out climate change, and we will know after the Copenhagen meeting in December, but individual action remains vital.
The main reason that the Lowy Poll suggests a lower proportion of people concerned about climate change is more about human psychology.
Humans have a wonderful array of mechanisms that allow us to defend ourselves against an immediate threat. When confronted with a tiger in the wild, a human will instantly recognise danger and take immediate action. That action may involve running, hiding, throwing, yelling, incontinence, or climbing a tree. That action may or may not be successful, but for 10 minutes the human will be focused entirely on the situation at hand.
If the threat is more distant, and lacks compelling visual cues, then the human response seems to be more lethargic, no matter how serious the problem is. Images of rising sea levels or melting ice caps don’t conjure up the same sense of urgency or personal responsibility as a tiger charging through the bush
Around our place we frequently hear the referee bird calling: fifth tackle – fifth tackle. He is actually a wattle bird who likes to feed on the variety of native shrubs in our garden and surrounding area. Imagine for a moment the disappearance of the bird chorus. Would we also be diminished? Of course we would. For the wattle bird to survive, its habitat must be preserved, a truism for every living thing on this planet, including humans. We know that many animal and plant species are on the move, either somewhere else, or into extinction, because they can no longer survive where they are. This sad truth also applies to many human beings, for there are now more people on the move world wide than there have been at any other point of human history. One of the most immediate effects of climate change has been the movement of species into areas where they crowd others, or their total loss into extinction
We have always known that every species on this planet, plant and animal, depend upon the existence of a multitude of others for their survival, let alone their flourishing; nothing can live in isolation.
I have been amazed at the influence ‘climate sceptics’ have upon many who live on the South Coast, lulling us into a business as usual mind set. We live on the continent that is arguably the most vulnerable to climate change. Of course there are cycles that happen over millennia, the earth has warmed and cooled many times, but what is now indisputable is the rapid spike of change that is occurring as a result of the pressure that approximately 7 billion, to a greater or lesser extent, industrialised human beings are making on the planet. Adaptation can occur, given time. However, the current speed of change is almost unprecedented and unless slowed it is potentially catastrophic. We are at a point where we expect the earth to deliver more than it can for its own health’s sake in any given year. Very few things are pollutants in themselves. What makes a substance a pollutant is the volume and speed with which it gathers and the ease by which it can be dispersed. Butter is not a pollutant unless it clogs your arteries. Amongst a raft of other problems we face, we are releasing gases into the atmosphere in a twinkling, which had been stored in another form in the earth over millions of years. Of course it makes a difference. We have to change the way we live
The change that is necessary is not essentially about politics or economics it is about a state of mind, it is about the power of imagination, the values we hold, the priorities we are prepared to change, our willingness to live in harmony with all other living things. The changes necessary will enhance and not detract from our human happiness and fulfilment, new and more fulfilling jobs will be created. The message being conveyed is that the changes required are good news not bad: they will create a more sustainable, harmonious world.
Our life span is comparatively short, many will come after us, as they have before us, and it is not too much to hope that we will strive to leave the world in a better state than we found it. This is a challenge worth getting up in the morning to embrace!
Bishop George Browning
Convener Anglican Communion Environment Network