[permaculture] Bushfires: Don’t mention the c word

Nicholas Roberts nicholas at themediasociety.org
Mon Feb 9 04:36:13 EST 2009

Bushfires: Don't mention the c word

Monday, 9 February 2009

Clive Hamilton writes:

Climate scientists have been predicting more frequent and severe
bushfires due to climate change for some years. A 2007 report for the
Climate Institute by the Bushfire CRC concluded that we could expect a
two to four-fold increase in the number of extreme fire danger days by
2050 under a high global warming scenario, the path we are now on. It
identified northern Victoria, the site of the most deadly fires over
the weekend, as one of the areas most prone to catastrophic fires.

The bushfires and the extreme heatwave, whose death toll when tallied
will probably be in the hundreds and exceed that of the fires, are
global warming made manifest in the daily lives of ordinary people.
Over the last ten days we have seen the future. The question is: will
we face up to it or pretend they are one-off events?

The climate change debate is usually carried out at a high level of
abstraction, which makes it easier for ordinary people and political
leaders to treat it as a vague and distant threat. The heatwave and
the fires should turn abstraction into reality, just as 9/11 did for
the threat of Islamic terrorism.

If we were rational beings the events of the last 10 days would cause
a massive reassessment of our whole approach to climate change. Yet it
is a safe bet that over the next days and weeks the link between the
bushfires and global warming will be avoided and downplayed.

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It is almost as if it is bad taste or callousness to raise the spectre
of climate change at the time when the terrible forecasts become a
reality. But by the time the coronial inquest eventually reports the
words of the experts will have lost much of their force.

Certainly, the major political parties will not want to acknowledge
the association between global warming and the fires because they will
immediately be asked to explain why they are not doing more about it,
why Australia will go to Copenhagen with a five per cent target when
the scientists say it must be at least 25 per cent.

The Prime Minister has not hesitated to accuse the Opposition of
harbouring climate change denialists. But there is more than one form
of denialism, including pretending to take warming more seriously than
you do and claiming that the science must be "balanced" against the
claims of fossil fuel lobbyists.

In all likelihood his media advisers are today urging on him a third
form: "Don't talk about the warming".

For weeks the political system has been consumed by the global
financial crisis and bickering over how best to respond to it. Yet
serious as the economic slowdown is, no one has died from it.

Clive Hamilton is the author of Scorcher: The dirty politics of
climate change (Black Inc.)

Nicholas Roberts
[im] skype:niccolor

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