It seemed only natural, after hearing and reading about the terrible conflagration in Australia, to reach out to our friends and acquaintances there to ask how they were faring. Most sent back fairly optimistic replies, reassuring us that their lives and homes were not in danger, though the ever-present smoke made daily life less pleasant.
But one more politically aware friend sent a reply that made me realise that the situation is not quite what it seems. Yes, climate change has played a role, but it would seem that there is growing awareness that there has been negligence on the part of the leadership there.
After stating that she and her family were safe because they live in the inner cities, our friend wrote ‘Smoke is not our only problem. What is happening here is appalling but to those who listened, not unexpected.’
Thirty years ago, it transpires, there were warnings that the continued mining and use of coal constituted a danger to the country. But the profit to be gained from its export apparently outweighed all other considerations.
In addition, our friend noted, ‘we failed to have enough water bombers available and there is no central national disaster management. It’s appalling and shameful.’
She goes on to mention that in her State they have had good leadership, and that appropriate measures had been put in place in the wake of the lessons that were learnt in 2009 when, presumably, there were extensive bush fires.
From the news today I gather that Australians are organizing to demonstrate against the negligence displayed by the government. Obviously, the fact that the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was on holiday with his family in Hawaii while the fires were raging hasn’t helped matters or inspired confidence in his leadership, even though he did return to Australia earlier than planned.
The situation brings to mind the devastating fire that raged on Israel’s Mount Carmel region just a few years ago, causing considerable loss of life and extensive damage to the area’s natural beauty. As the years have passed Nature has taken its course and the natural vegetation has resurged. In the meantime, however, steps have hopefully been taken to ensure that fire will not be able to destroy large swathes of land unchecked in the future.
Bush and forest fires are a feature of nature in Australia and elsewhere in the world. I personally can still remember being shocked and terrified when I was taken to see the film Bambi as a child (Bambi’s mother is killed in a forest fire). In the last year there have been fires in many parts of the world, destroying huge tracts of forests in the USA, Spain and the Amazon, for example. Farmers in France were complaining about the drout there only last summer, whereas now they are struggling to cope with the incessant rain.
Natural disasters are only…natural. Climate change may be instrumental in exacerbating them, but it’s high time we humans set about finding ways of mitigating their effects.