Hope, despair and resilience

Hope, despair and resilience

It has been a hard summer for communities across Australia. Floods in Queensland, a relentless hot season across the southern states that saw dozens of people die, and now almost 200 people have perished and thousands left homeless from the bushfires in Victoria. March 2009.

Extreme weather across Australia

Hope, despair and resilience

It has been a hard summer for communities across Australia. Floods in Queensland, a relentless hot season across the southern states that saw dozens of people die, and now almost 200 people have perished and thousands left homeless from the bushfires in Victoria.

Like everyone else in the state we have been in a state of shock and sadness after the fires. A number of friends and members have been hit badly, some have lost their homes or had their properties burnt. There have been deaths amongst the environmental community. A number of others had close calls and days of tension as they waited for the fires to move through their area.

We extend our thoughts, our empathy and our solidarity to all those affected by the bushfires. The loss of life, habitat and property is tragic and will impact on our state for years to come.

Given the enormous human costs of the fires it is understandable that media coverage has focused on the loss and heroism of communities in the fire’s path. But, of course, the ecological costs are beyond belief. From the thousands of animals killed and injured to the ecosystems that have been decimated, the costs are huge – and cumulative. Climate science tells us that we can expect more and more of these extreme events in coming years. Some sections of the Alpine region have now been burnt three times in the space of a half decade. From ‘one in a fifty year’ events it seems like major fires have become ‘one in five’ in nature. Incredibly rich (and rare) old growth has been burnt in the Central Highlands and elsewhere in these latest fires – including enclaves of remaining tall forest such as Deep Creek and Camberville. According to some reports, the magnificent and extensive old growth ash forests in the closed Wallaby creek catchment (near Kinglake West) were ‘obliterated’ in the fires. As yet it is not clear how badly all these areas really have been burnt.

When you think about this summers fires, and what the science tells us is coming, it is hard not to to give way to despair. I can see it amongst some who are campaigning against global warming. I see despair when I hear calls by some for geo engineering and nuclear power to deal with climate change. I see others throwing out notions of justice, as the only thing that seems to matter is the quickest way to reduce our emissions. I see it in calls to limit our immigration levels. I feel it when I see places that I love, that have nurtured me since I was a kid, destroyed – like the wonderful alpine ash forests of the Buffalo Plateau, which will never come back to an old growth stage in my lifetime. The natural world seems poorer and barer each summer, as we wait for the rains and sweat out the heatwaves. And then when I consider the services and support we have here amidst calamity – of fire and police and welfare and government departments – I feel keenly aware of others around the world who are suffering equally, yet without the social safety nets we have here.

But crisis can always be a time to re-define and re-affirm what it means to be human. Our ability to care for each other and show real and genuine solidarity and empathy and take the required action can guide us through this. This path is ours, if we choose it. Time is short – climate science tells us this, in ever more detail. We have no more time for business as usual. But action is always a better option than despair, or retreat into private worlds, or hopelessness. As I write these words, a most magical sound has started up, unexpected but welcome in an intense and beautiful way – of raindrops on an iron roof. Long may it pour!

Cam Walker

Some resources on bushfires and climate change

Climate change and its impact on the management of bushfire

Click to access Fire-Note-climate-change_25.pdf

Bushfire Weather in Southeast Australia: Recent Trends and Projected Climate Change Impacts

Click to access fullreport.pdf

C. Lucas, K. Hennessy, G. Mills and J. Bathols,  Bushfire CRC and Australian Bureau of Meteorology

September 2007

Victorian briefing

Click to access CI050_BW_VIC_Brief_Final.pdf

From FoE Melbourne newsletter, autumn 2009

 

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