Bushfires, Coronavirus and the Climate Emergency in Gippsland

There are no figures on cancellations caused by our recent unprecedented bushfires but there can be little doubt that local businesses have suffered severely. Anecdotally there are numerous accounts of holidays cancelled or deferred including that of my daughter, currently overseas, who postponed her visit in February because of smoke problems. In the 2003 fires my tourist dependant business in Swifts Creek took a big hit, as it also did in the 2006/7 fires. Tourists are easily discouraged by severe fire danger days or even in some cases fires in some remote part of the region, let alone monster fires, emergencies, major road closures and evacuation notices.

Now the coronavirus threatens to overwhelm us completely. Whilst it is yet to come to Gippsland a chemist acquaintance assures me it will eventually affect 60-70% of the population.  It is already dampening down economic activity across the country. Its arrival here depends on how effectively the various actions of the authorities slow down the process. But it may well turn the local suffering into a complete disaster.

Locally we have various media organisations calling for a return of tourists to boost our bushfire damaged economy whilst a local medico – Dr Rob Phair – is calling for Gippsland to remain isolated as a means of slowing the spread of the virus (see graph above of how delay is important). As in countries like Italy the population age of Gippsland is skewed towards the elderly – those most vulnerable to the virus.

To further complicate matters there are other factors that may make our economic situation dire. The current collapse of oil prices is ominous but well beyond our control. But the ‘elephant in the room’ may well be economic collapse brought about by climate change factors as outlined recently by Paul Gilding. With pump-priming already commenced by the Morrison government the place to build infrastructure is in the new economy with renewables – in power production, transport, industry and agriculture. 

Which brings us back to the bushfires. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the earth’s climate has been warming all our lives and the current decade is the warmest on record. It follows that extreme weather events including droughts and bushfires are being increasingly influenced by the warming (see the latest Climate Council Bushfire Report here). Perhaps the coronavirus emergency will eventually be replaced by an enduring climate emergency. It is ironic that in this instance the governments (correctly if sometimes belatedly) are following the directions of science, whilst the science of climate change, after 30 years, is still ignored.