Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has dismissed those expressing concern about climate change as “inner-city raving lunatics”.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has dismissed those expressing concern about climate change as “inner-city raving lunatics”.

Fire crisis is an urgent wake-up call for all

Long, hot, dry and deadly. A monster fire season is looming, with forecasters predicting the highest threat of death and destruction since Black Saturday 10 years ago.

As lives are lost and homes razed in other states, emergency services in Victoria are preparing for a catastrophic fire season.

Some are even saying it could be worse than last summer, when 4500 fires hit our state.

So why on earth are politicians running scared on the link between the state's fire risks and climate change? Prime Minister Scott Morrison wouldn't even comment when asked what politicians are doing to combat climate change in the context of the NSW fires, which have killed three people so far.

Morrison would only say his thoughts were "with those who have lost their lives and their families, the firefighters who are fighting the fires (and) the response effort that has to be delivered".

Those affected by deadly fires deserve better than that. How are we going to start addressing devastating bushfires if we are blind to their contributing causes?

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack went even further, dismissing those expressing concern about climate change as "inner-city raving lunatics".

People affected by bushfires deserve better than Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s non-answers. Picture: AAP Image/Darren Pateman
People affected by bushfires deserve better than Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s non-answers. Picture: AAP Image/Darren Pateman

"They don't need the ravings of some pure enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time when they're trying to save their homes," he said.

I couldn't disagree more. While the immediate priority has to be the safety and care of people and homes, this is the ideal time to talk about global warming.

While climate change in itself doesn't cause bushfires, it hugely increases their risk. I'd prefer to listen to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which says the "impacts of climate change are being felt in every inhabited continent and in the oceans".

The panel's 2018 special report states with high confidence that "human-induced global warming has already caused multiple observed changes in the climate system".

"The 0.5C rise in global temperatures that we have experienced in the past 50 years has contributed to shifts in the distribution of plant and animal species, decreases in crop yields and more frequent wildfires. Similar changes can be expected with further rises in global temperature," the report says.

Other bodies such as the American Meteorological Society offer clear evidence that extreme weather events - such as fires - are influenced by global warming.

Extreme weather events are influenced by climate change. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled
Extreme weather events are influenced by climate change. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled

The 11,000 signatories of the BioScience petition warning of a climate emergency agree.

Disparaging a handful of the signatories because they're still students doesn't weaken its impact or importance.

Rather than accept Morrison or McCormack at face value, I'd prefer to listen to Victoria's emergency management commissioner Andrew Crisp, who says "the changing climate has an impact on emergency services that we need to plan for".

"We are managing natural hazards all year round with fire seasons starting earlier and finishing later and extreme weather events occurring at times of the year that we haven't necessarily seen before," he says.

I'll also listen to many of the local experts who have written about their views in The Conversation and elsewhere.

They include Dale Dominey-Howes, professor of hazards and disaster risk sciences from the University of Sydney.

He says: "Although these bushfires are not directly attributable to climate change, our rapidly warming climate, driven by human activities, is exacerbating every risk factor for more frequent and intense bushfires."

I'll also listen to Dr Richard Thornton, CEO of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards research centre, who says "climate change alone doesn't create a bad fire season, but can make the weather conditions conducive to very large and destructive fires".

Holly and David Kemp at their fire-ravaged home in Cooroibah, Queensland. Picture: Annette Dew
Holly and David Kemp at their fire-ravaged home in Cooroibah, Queensland. Picture: Annette Dew

 

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Scott Hamilton, a strategic advisory panel member from the Australian-German Energy Transition Hub at the University of Melbourne, adds: "The climate is changing due to human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and this means more bushfire danger days in what is already one of the most fire-prone countries in the world."

Their comments are mirrored by modelling from the Climate Council which shows extreme fire weather has increased in recent decades across Australia.

With the fire season looming, we can't be blind to the certainty of climate science and its link to bushfire risk for ideological and political reasons. Victoria has the fourth-highest forest fire danger rating on record. The past three times it was this high, parts of our state had unprecedented blazes.

We need the federal government to accept climate science and implement policies that will immediately and effectively address the growing risks to our country.

The people of Victoria and elsewhere shouldn't have to pay the price for a lack of strong action on climate change from Canberra.

- Susie O'Brien is a Herald Sun columnist.

susan.obrien@news.com.au

@susieob