Sometimes an important article passes ‘under the radar’ in the 24 hour news cycle. Such was the fate of Scott Hamilton’s article last year on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Black Saturday bushfires published in the Conversation under the headline ‘Climate change is poised to deliver more Black Saturdays in decades to come’. The article begins with an account of his involvement with relatives in Churchill and Boolarra during the fires and other details of the damage caused on Black Saturday. Scott then relates some of his experience advising governments on climate change* and aside from advising the Victorian government, noted his own work on the 2008 Garnaut Climate Change Review, and reports from the CSIRO in 2015 and the Climate Council in 2017.
On the consequences of a warming planet and our unique fire-prone locality Scott noted that:“The climate is changing due to human induced greenhouse gas emissions, and this means more bushfire danger days in what is already one of the most fire-prone countries in the world. Unfortunately, we have not done enough to curb climate change and the situation is getting worse…” and “Climate change means more days of extreme heat, longer heatwaves and more frequent droughts. Droughts now occur further south than in the past and have been increasing in Australia’s southeast, including Tasmania. The records continue to tumble, and the evidence of dangerous climate change continues to mount.”
In his conclusion Scott warned of the possibility of major disruptions to our water supply with future fires. “Our grandfathers and grandmothers had the wisdom to build amazing water infrastructure, protected by the “closed catchments” that give Melbourne and Victoria some of the best water in the world. Bushfires are a major risk to these water supplies – particularly in the catchments of major dams such as the Thomson. A bushfire followed by a downpour that washes ash into the dam could potentially force the closure of the trillion-litre capacity Thomson reservoir, making it unusable for months.”
Fortunately that has not yet come to pass. However almost all of the predictions of Scott and the others have been seen in our 2019/20 bushfires – some, like East Gippsland, still burning. Their work has built on, and expanded, the pioneering work of Tom Beer and others at the CSIRO when they predicted that with 3 degrees of warming “the fire danger every year on average would be larger than the fire danger during the year (1983) in which Ash Wednesday occurred.” As the work of Hamilton, Garnaut, the CSIRO and the Climate Council has shown we are well on the way there. To repeat a phrase I have already overused ‘Welcome to the pyrocene.’
* Scott still “advises governments, businesses and communities on climate change, water and renewable energy