In the late 1950s my family and I were trapped for three days in a remote part of East Gippsland while a huge bushfire raged around us. The forest was a towering inferno and the sky did go black. We and other refugees were huddled together on a small spit of sand. The nearby motel burnt down and we were told to cover ourselves with blankets if the fire came closer and walk out into the inlet. Our lives were certainly at risk. It was terrifying. Yes. Australia has had terrible bushfires before but make no mistake about it, the fires we are experiencing now are of unprecedented scale, ferocity and duration and whether they are caused by lightning strikes or humans, there is no doubt that climate change has provided the conditions which allows them to become catastrophic and unstoppable. Weather varies from year to year due to things like La Nina but we can expect this trend of more catastrophic fire conditions to continue. Anyone who says otherwise is at the best misinformed or at the worst happy to propagate falsehoods for reasons of their own. Climate change isn’t a political game, it is a horrible fact of life that no one wants to happen. It is putting people’s livelihoods and their lives in jeopardy right now. We all need to do what we can to reduce its impact, especially our reluctant politicians. The volunteer bushfire community looks after its own. Where there is hardship it is supported and assistance is provided. Scott Morrison should not have interfered in a state-based and admirable Australian community tradition. Payments will attract persons who would not have otherwise volunteered and who are not necessarily skilled in bushfire control. When money is provided, I can foresee numerous problems being created and further funding being sought. It will not be possible to turn back the clock. Australians love our koalas and are distressed that so many are being incinerated in the bushfires and dying of thirst due to their natural source of water, eucalypt leaves, drying out due to the drought. According to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital vet, Dr Michael Pine, when well-meaning people give koalas water from drink bottles or hoses the animals can inadvertently breathe the water into their lungs, which risks them contracting pneumonia and dying. Therefore it is far better to pour water into a cupped hand or even a shoe if nothing else is available. The thirsty animal will lap at its own pace. The Canberra region is engulfed with smoke, but (so far) spared by the devastating bushfires that have destroyed lives and property elsewhere. What we are facing is the result of neglecting environmental opportunity costs, the externality impacts that kept building as we nurtured our prosperity: extensive land clearing, excessive water withdrawals, or extensive exports of coal and mineral resources at prices that did not incorporate the true economic cost. Events of the past weeks have proven that despite our foolish view of political control, nature calls its shots. As a hobby beekeeper watching bees as they adapt to abrupt changes in weather and the evolving climate fascinates me. Bees work hard, are smart and adaptable. Bees learn from new experiences and live for the benefit of their colony- through cooperation and coordination inspired by a commitment to survival – the true purpose of being a social animal. Australia will come out of the ashes and live a more harmonious life with nature. It is not up to our politicians to lead us to that reality. They are the followers of our weaknesses, our inability to take control, like bees do and work for our mutual benefit. I woke up on New Year’s Day and looked out of my window where a few shadowy trees and houses were visible through a brown haze. On the radio the Minister for Emergency Services was saying: “It’s unrealistic to expect that we can do it (fight climate change) by ourselves, we are leading by example and we expect the rest of the world to come with us.” Indeed, Australia is leading by example. At the recent UN climate change conference Australia, the USA and Brazil obstructed key parts of the negotiations, prevented progress and undermined the Paris accord. It is not in our national interest for Australia to impede international action on climate change. This is political negligence. The Royal Commissions on banking, aged care and disability have exposed many more examples of political negligence. Clearly our political system needs renewal. The major Australian political parties are not representative. They have a very small number of members (40,000 to 50,000 each). Politicians from these parties are at the forefront of a political “industry” that cannot be trusted to look after our interests. So what can we do? We make our voices heard, in the media and on the streets. We can take individual and collective action to promote sustainable lifestyles. And we can form new political groups and parties that revive our democratic political system. This summer’s fire crisis, clearly driven by climate change, demands a more proactive approach to civil defence than the increasing reliance on rural fire services and the SES. As a nation we have made and continue to make investments of billions of dollars in defence services which are used principally to fight losing battles, on foreign shores. Always, when our troops return we refuse to compensate them and treat them like pariahs and second-class citizens. A proactive approach to Australia’s defence and a constant state of preparedness would mean we could have competent, respected, talented, fully-equipped, well-paid, command ready troops to move to any part of Australia within hours of the inevitable future disasters coming with climate change. There is little point in having billions of dollars invested in talent, equipment, machinery, aircraft, ships and staff if it takes us days or weeks to provide a civil defence service to the people who pay the bills. Such an approach would leave the Rural Fire Services and SES to maintain their proper focus and give true meaning to the concept of a Defence Force. Australia has unbelievably weak climate change policies. When these are challenged, I’m sick of hearing the prime minister and his colleagues assert that “we will meet our Paris Agreement targets in a canter”. This response is not about action, it is essentially an admission that Australia intends to do nothing. To all intents and purposes, Australia’s Paris agreement targets (26-28 per cent below 2005 carbon dioxide levels) represent business as usual. Reductions will happen naturally due to efficiency gains and technological advances. What are we doing over and above “business as usual”? It is ironic that under current policy settings any Australian reductions will primarily arise from the adoption of renewable energy, a path the federal Coalition has vigorously resisted for years. Thankfully, at the state level all sides of politics are pressing forward with renewables despite pressure from the Federal government. At Madrid, Australia was derided for its lack of action. It was singled out as one of only a few countries that actively resisted the world taking proactive steps. We must do more. The owner of the Enotria Winery (“Winemakers get a taste of drought but fear smoke”, December 30, 2019) is reported as blaming the fire risk around his winery on “environmentalists’ fears over obscure animals” and is quoted as saying “the council won’t let us cut down trees because they are scared it will kill some legless lizard or something”. It is because of views like this we are facing such parlous conditions; the view that humans can just use the environment without thought, pumping more and more carbon into the atmosphere and clearing habitats of our life-support systems, using more and more water from the Murray Darling Basin and so on. The fires are terrible, but let’s keep a close eye on America, Iraq and Iran as well. Bloody scary. Attacks on embassies are a serious business, particularly when the local authorities choose to look the other way. We treasure our Gladys. She has been present at the right time with a presence of empathy and genuine concern. She has been fully supporting the directions of the authorities in these dire circumstances. It is heartwarming to read and hear “feelgood” stories as brave people seek to defend us against walls of fire. When these stories come on the backs of people who’ve been labouring long hours in extreme conditions day after day; when these stories come after years of warnings that these conditions were coming and little heed being taken by our policy makers, do they still feel so good? I’m to be alert, not alarmed. Two ACT acting chief ministers and an interim incident controller told me so on Thursday. Where’s Andrew Barr when you don’t need him? Forget ScoMo. The mute button is coming in handy these days when Nero Morrison looms on TV smirking and pontificating. If he can’t be bothered listening to me, there’s no way I’m going to be bothered listening to him. Trump believes Kim Jong-un the ruthless North Korean dictator is “a man of his word”. How many North Koreans living under his tyranny believe that? I suspect many would find Trump’s belief in the dictator’s word something of a Kafkaesque joke. It would be great if letter writers understood how our political system works. The Greens have only “a handful of members” in state and federal parliaments, Suzanne Jedryk (Letters, January 2), not governments. Except, of course, in the ACT, but let’s not start yet another row about the tram. Scott Morrison wants us to be optimistic, confident and grateful to live in Australia. Angus Taylor wants us to be proud of our climate change policies. I will be glad to be optimistic, confident grateful and proud once we see evidence-based governance, policies and practices that justify this. They are not yet apparent. Blaming the Greens and the conservatives, at either end of the spectrum, and an inept Labor in the middle, won’t solve today’s disaster; attributed to climate. Forget divisions and unite to offer Australia at more secure future. Nothing to do with boats and safe borders. All to do with unaddressed issues within our borders. While walking around Lake Tuggeranong, keeping to the left, two cyclists came past us at dangerously high speed. No warning bell. Nothing to indicate they were coming past. This is a shared path not a race track. This is not the first time we have encountered this problem. Email: Send from the message field, not as an attachment. Fax: 6280 2282. Mail: Letters to the Editor, The Canberra Times, PO Box 7155, Canberra Mail Centre, ACT 2610. Keep your letter to 250 or fewer words. References to Canberra Times reports should include date and page number. Letters may be edited. Provide phone number and full home address (suburb only published). To send a letter via the online form, click or touch here.

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