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Thus Spake Mungo: more to come

For the last three months the headlines have been dominated by bushfires, and the grim prospect is that this will continue for at least another three months to come.

Unprecedented, obviously – to all but the deliberately perverse. The latest line from the deniers and refuseniks is that sure, the bushfires are less than desirable, but hey, we’ve always had bushfires and we always will.

We can rely on no greater authority than Dorothea Mackellar, who has now been resurrected as a climate scientist – she called Australia a sunburnt country of droughts and flooding rains, so just suck it up, cupcakes.

And her droughts (forget about the flooding rains for the moment) were worse than our droughts – they led to more fires, more damage, more loss of life. Why, the Victorian Black Saturday holocaust of 1939 killed 71 people and burnt some 2 million hectares.

Then even our Queen, sheltered safely in her fastnesses on the other side of the world, sent a telegram of commiseration – a courtesy she had not extended at the time of writing. So this time we have got out relatively lightly – some deaths to date, although far less than the scores that were feared, and lots of destruction, but even that not on the scale the pessimists predicted.

We should be relieved and grateful. Well, sure, and we are. But the comparison is utterly misleading.

Communications, technology and fire fighting innovations have changed a bit over the last 80 years

Communications, technology and fire fighting innovations have changed a bit over the last 80 years. We have been forced to become both faster and more efficient in our responses, and it’s this, not some irrational claim that the fires have somehow become less severe, that has saved us from worse losses.

In fact the fires have become longer, hotter, more widespread and far more regular – just as the scientists have always told us they would. However, after bitter experience we have become more prepared. The internet, for all its drawbacks, has proved an unparalleled method of issuing instant and near-universal warnings of danger, the need to get ready for the worst and evacuate when necessary. And our irreplaceable ABC has been constantly on the job updating information and providing succour and advice.

Fire fighting remains a mix of professionals and volunteers, but both teams are now far better trained and resourced than they used to be. Water bombing, once considered a rare, expensive and often risky last resort, is now, if not quite routine, certainly a normal and effective part of the job.

Obviously we are neither fireproof nor foolproof, and probably will never become either. But as the disasters increase – as they will – we are holding back the worst of the onslaught

Cooperation between all tiers of government – federal, state and local – has been vastly improved. And, somewhat belatedly and reluctantly, the armed forces have become involved in logistics at least, if not on the front line. Obviously we are neither fireproof nor foolproof, and probably will never become either. But as the disasters increase – as they will – we are holding back the worst of the onslaught.

The problem remains that we will have to keep doing better, year after dreadful year. It’s not a solution – it’s a palliative, one which may offer some comfort, but will not heal the afflictions, let alone offer hope that they might be alleviated altogether.

The best Scott Morrison and his climate sceptics can offer is a form of stoicism – last week we were repeatedly adjured to remain calm and steadfast, to look after each other and trust the authorities – meaning, basically, him. And, of course, pray for rain – the flooding rains, the drumming of the army Mackellar remembered.

But, as events have shown, that drumming is becoming far more of an exception than a rule. Drought is pretty much the norm in large parts of Australia, and while there will be areas which will escape – and even prosper – as a result of climate change, vast tracts on which we relied for providing our food, both locally produced and for export, are going to be all but unviable.

The government’s solution, as demanded by the beleaguered Nationals, is to try and buy itself out of trouble – more compensation, more subsidies

The government’s solution, as demanded by the beleaguered Nationals, is to try and buy itself out of trouble – more compensation, more subsidies. And obviously the farmers and graziers, having been assured for a couple of centuries that successive governments would look after them, have every right to expect help. But they would also like something like a plan, some hope that somewhere, somehow, someone is in charge and, if not ready with a silver bullet, can at least show an ability to find his arse with both hands.

Which brings us back to the tin-eared ScoMo. Having returned from his family sojourn in Hawaii, the prime minister urged his quiet voters to celebrate, to fling themselves into new year festivities with mammoth fireworks displays, even in places where a total fire ban had been imposed on ordinary mortals. Business as usual – pyrotechnics have proved to be hugely profitable, especially for those in Sydney.

We mustn’t become depressed just because our homes are burning and our friends being killed

Even the state National leader, John Barilaro, found that a touch crass and insensitive, but Morrison was unfazed – we mustn’t become depressed just because our homes are burning and our friends being killed. So watching a couple of tonnes of cordite explode on television is just the fillip needed.

And then, back to the real fire front – not that the exhausted fire fighters and their potential victims had ever left it. And they are unlikely to be assuaged by another distraction emanating from those determined to play down the ongoing catastrophe. This is the sudden realisation that some of the fires were probably deliberately lit – arsonists may have been involved. And a few may have been, although most flare ups are more likely to have been caused by badly extinguished camp fires, lightning strikes, electrical faults, even tossers who still throw their lighted cigarettes out of car windows.

And anyway it hardly matters – they still have to be put out. But the implication is that the fires, like everything else that goes wrong in the best country in the world, can be blamed on greenie lefty latte sippers intent on – well, what? Elevating the great climate change conspiracy to new height of evil?  Very likely – after all, they are the ones who oppose massive burning off in the increasingly rare intervals when nature is not doing it for them.

Presumably this is yet another escalation of the culture wars, a ramping up from the identity politics of the lunar right in which ideology – their ideology – will always be more important than science, logic and common sense. And of course, it provides a few more headline anti-green diatribes for the Murdoch media. And that, perhaps, is the most important thing of all.


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6 responses to “Thus Spake Mungo: more to come”

  1. Len Heggarty says:

    For the past five months bushfires have been ravaging the nation for we have sinned, so it does not need the Brothers Grim to write our flaming future on the hot and wild embered wind.

  2. Len Heggarty says:

    It is written, the future is not good.

  3. Doug says:

    Scomo has Spoken! We will do whatever it costs or Whatever it takes…. (Except if it means we hsve to stop lying that we are really fixing our pollution causing Climate Catastrophe! (Carbon is only one of those pollutants)

    So Slo-Mo How about speeding up & fixing our answer to our pledges!

    On another note, our NBN is awful, & together with Mobile communication, needs to be made ready for catastrophe. The problem now is many rural towers (supplying NBN Wireless, & Mobile services) are powered by the Electricity network, & linked by Microwave radio. So a bushfire can stop communications by either taking out one microwave link, or the Electricity??
    This can be improved by having properly buried Fibre-optic cables (& infrastructure) to the towers, with redundancy, & by having sufficient solar energy & storage to run the tower communication hub for at least 14 days. I have written to Kevin Hogan on this matter after the Wytallabah fire, but the South Coast & Gippsland areas lost even more communication for an extended period. This should not happen in these times: the technology is available, it should be fixed!

  4. Indeed the future’s not good – and it does not matter
    what our so-called Prime Minister is primed for now
    as he sets out to buy votes in order to keep his
    ‘sometime employment’ pay cheque. Forget it.
    The ‘parrot’s’ pieces-of-eight is by far too untrust
    -worthy and late.

  5. Robin Osborne says:

    Wonderful to have Mungo back on deck and boring it up them.

  6. tuatha says:

    Many OZ on the kangaroo route in UK & Euroland often wonder not so much “how” civilisation ever evolved in those drizzly latitudes as “WHY?”.
    It should not be forgotten that Dorothea Mackellar wrote her poem, originally called “Core of My Heart” as a homesick 19yr old in dismal, dreary London in 1904, as shown by the first verse which is mostly ignored –
    The love of field and coppice
    Of green and shaded lanes,
    Of ordered woods and gardens
    Is running in your veins.
    Strong love of grey-blue distance,
    Brown streams and soft, dim skies
    I know, but cannot share it,
    My love is otherwise.
    The second verse is the familiar one, about the sunburnt country

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