It’s broadly accepted that climate change is the greatest threat facing mankind, although those responsible for addressing the challenge don’t appear to appreciate the urgency.
While most of us perceive climate change to be a matter of higher temperatures, easily addressed by better home insulation and the use of air-conditioners, fire is by far the greatest climate related threat, not only to humans, but to all other life forms.
We had a taste of that in 2019–20, and with temperature rises locked in for generations to come, the bushfire threat simply must be addressed.
Following the bushfire crisis, we had an Independent Bushfire Inquiry established by the NSW Government and a Federal Royal Commission which, we had hoped, would have identified effective actions to respond to wildfire during periods of extreme fire danger. (For the inquiry reports check report of the NSW Inquiry and the Royal Commission report .)
The Bushfire Royal Commission recommended the establishment of an authoritative disaster advisory body (R 3.2), seemingly needed to manage disasters generally, rather than a focus on bushfires alone.
That is effectively what the NSW government did when setting up the $770 million Resilience NSW under bushfire hero Shane Fitzsimmons, whose first test was the Lismore flood catastrophe. The emergency services’ response to that catastrophe was so appalling, that within weeks, Fitzsimmons was fired and Resilience NSW shut down.
Now it seems that last year’s catastrophic floods may have taken a lot of the focus off bushfires and, three years on from the last fire catastrophe, we have grass fires raging out of control in the NSW Central West near Hill End and Sofala, with firefighters able to do little more than protect homes. For the first time in three years our firies have had to face a major bushfire fire threat and it seems little has changed.
Claims that the SES (State Emergency Services) lacked enough volunteers and they were poorly trained, merely points to poor government planning. With the climate emergency well and truly upon us, governments at all levels need to get serious about dealing with these emergencies and reduce reliance on volunteers.
They also need to spend more on resources to prevent these catastrophes, rather than focussing on recovery.
- John EdwardsAdapted from the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Clarence Valley Independent 15th March 2023.