Bushfires in early October – Why won’t government name the elephant in the room? Hint: it’s called “climate change”
Bushfires have been raging in many parts of Australia over the last week, with Victoria particularly affected. As we write, there is an out-of-control bushfire near Lancefield.
Australia regularly experiences such bushfires – in summer. But this is the first week of October. Indeed both Victoria and South Australia set a temperature record for the start of October.
Interestingly in 2013, the Climate Council put out a report Be Prepared: Climate Change and the Australian Bushfire Threat, where they noted: “In southeast Australia the fire season is becoming longer, reducing the opportunities for hazard reduction burning. These changes have been most marked in spring, with fire weather extending into October and March.”
CAM member John Englart has put together a series of tweets on the heat wave, bushfires and climate change. Check it out here.
Terrible as these fires are, these events provide an important opportunity to educate the public about the impacts of climate change. They are called “teachable moments”. Researcher Peter Howe noted “First-hand experience of extreme weather often makes people change their minds about the realities of climate change.”
Who is going to make the link between these early bushfires and climate change? Whether the Turnbull government will show leadership on climate change is still a mystery to us. But we expect a better response from the state government. Despite Labor’s reluctance to talk about climate change prior to the Victorian election, Premier Daniel Andrews has made it clear that he wants Victoria to be a leader in climate action.
Leaders need to use these “teachable moments” to educate the public about climate change.
But we have checked recent media releases, tweets and Facebook posts for the Premier and the relevant state ministers, and have not found any instance of them making the link between early bushfires and climate change. (If you do find one, let us know!) The Premier has warned that Victoria faces a “long, hot and dangerous” summer, and “we have got a much earlier fire season”. In early September the Minster for Emergency Services noted that Victoria was getting new equipment because of an expected hot and dry fire season. But neither of them is talking about the elephant in the room. (Hint: it’s climate change.)
Instead, we have the federal and Victorian government engaged in an unedifying squabble about why a controlled burn got out of control near Lancefield. Perhaps they are distracting us by targetting someone local to blame so we don’t have to focus on the big culprits – the governments who are failing to act on climate change.
In mid October 2013, the Blue Mountains also experienced a terrible bushfire – again much earlier than expected. At the time, the federal government was refusing to link this event to climate change. When Greens MP Adam Bandt made the link, he was widely condemned. For example, the News accused him of making “political mileage” out of the bushfires and “ignoring the unfolding human tragedy”.
This time Greens MPs Ellen Sandell and Adam Bandt have again made the link with the bushfires and climate change.
After the 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires, David Spratt spoke at a forum on “10 days that changed the climate debate in Australia by connecting the dots”. His presentation is available here and is well worth revisiting.
Another likely impact of climate change is reduced rainfall. During the millennium drought, public concern about climate change was very high. When the drought broke in 2010, concern declined. However, drought has returned, with 15-month rainfall deficiencies in western Victoria being the worst on record, and severe deficiencies affecting 47% of Victoria.
Fairfax Media citing a leaked report note that rivers in the Wimmera Mallee area may stop flowing this summer. Victoria’s desalination plant is likely to be used for the first time.
Orginal image of bushfire by Daniel Cleaveley