February 11, 2009
Like all people across Australia Socialist Alliance members have been devastated by the Victorian bushfire tragedy, the greatest disaster in peace-time Australian history.
We express our condolences to and solidarity with all who have lost family, friends and homes in this shocking holocaust, made worse by the possibility that some of these fires were deliberately lit.
We salute the efforts of Victorian Country Fire Authority workers and all volunteers who have sacrificed time, effort and security and done everything in their power to halt the ravages of the fires. Emergency service workers battled for up to 30 hours without sleep trying to control the infernos, help the injured, and attend to the thousands left homeless.
The Victorian Labor government has called a Royal Commission into the tragedy. If that commission listens carefully to firefighters, emergency personnel and bush communities it will learn many truths, including that emergency services are severely underfunded, fire breaks and forest access tracks should be better maintained and high-risk areas better patrolled.
The commission must also ask why, in the middle of an unprecedented heat wave, after years of drought and predictions of extreme climate events, little seems to have been done to prepare for a disaster that was waiting to happen.
However, the commission will be a waste of time if it refuses to confront the underlying cause of the Victorian bushfire disaster—accelerating global warming and climate disruption.
The reality of climate emergency, which has been explained for years by eminent scientists, has been denied or downplayed by the mainstream politicians, or “treated” with completely inadequate policies like the Rudd government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.
The record temperatures in Melbourne and in many parts of southeastern Australia last Saturday cannot be explained simply by natural variability. The hottest 14 years on record have occurred in the last 20 years.
Far from being a “one-in-a-thousand-years event” claimed by Victorian premier John Brumby, bushfires like those in Victoria have been multiplying as average temperatures rise across eastern Australia. Extreme fire weather situations of mid-40s heat and strong winds have been increasing in frequency over the last ten years, and will continue to do so as climate change worsens.
In the words of a Bureau of Meteorology colleague quoted by University of Adelaide climate scientist Professor Barry Brook: “Climate change is now becoming such a strong contributor to these hitherto unimaginable events that the language starts to change from one of ‘climate change increased the chances of an event’ to ‘without climate change this event could not have occurred’.
The Socialist Alliance calls for greater resources for fire fighting and prevention, and appropriate land management, in the wake of this tragedy. However, the best and bravest fire-fighting in the world will be impotent before infernos like those that devastated country Victoria last weekend unless underlying causes are tackled.
Along with a serious effort at all levels of government to assess and mitigate the impact of global warming on our bush and country towns, Australia needs to invest billions of dollars in a “green New Deal” to cut its greenhouse gas emissions and to lead the way internationally by following the lead of programs like Al Gore’s call for 100% renewable energy by 2020.
The dreadful Victorian bushfires—like the disastrous floods in Queensland—are a dire warning that government cannot afford to ignore what the climate scientists tell them or to “balance” their views against those of the fossil fuel lobby. Global warming underlies this awful tragedy and the continued ignoring of scientific opinion about the climate emergency can only contribute to more such disasters.
Information: Sue Bolton 0413 377 978