The risk with the multiple enquiries into these catastrophic fires is that they will focus on the small picture: mitigation by changed controlled burning, land management practices, fire services staffing issues, equipment etc. These are all, of course important and with the increases in fires as the planet warms, we will need to invest significant capital into these on-ground measures. Unfortunately, wildfires are going to become more frequent and widespread with increased global warming, and once started will be, like the fires we had this summer, unstoppable. We will often have to hunker down and protect as much as we can till they burn themselves out.
The only way that we can manage the fires in future is to attempt to halt climate change at less than 1.5ºC warming. As the slogan used by climate change activists in Bairnsdale, Sale and Melbourne says ‘If this is 1ºC warming what will 3 degrees look like?’ We may have missed the boat to stop global temperatures at less than 1.5°C. We are rapidly running out of time to stay below 2°C. This state of affairs means that the type of fire season we have just experienced will happen more often. With the further drying of the driest continent, more areas will burn repeatedly… The cost of ongoing inaction will be more than can be imagined – environment destruction, economic collapse, social upheaval, fear, and incredible personal loss.
We cannot afford to countenance any more developments that will release carbon into the atmosphere. New coal mines such as in the Galilee basin must not go ahead. The Victorian State governments opening up of land based gas exploration is the last thing we need. New research shows that rather than being less environmentally destructive than coal, gas exploration and production is at least as bad. In fact, fossil fuels will be a bad investment in any case and new fossil fuel start-ups are almost certain to become stranded assets with negative impacts on our economy as it recovers from the dual hit of immense fires and COVID19.
The current federal government response to climate change with 25-28% emissions reduction by 2030 is actually a plan for global warming of 3-4 degrees. Climate change has been significantly affecting the length of the fire season, the severity of the fires and their range. This last fire season has been uniquely destructive and unmanageable. Unfortunately the science is showing us that this is only going to get worse. The only action that will stop this worsening by many orders of magnitude will be urgent action on reducing global CO2 emissions.
Numerous recommendations will be made by impacted stakeholders; individuals, communities, various vested interests, emergency services, scientists, in fact all parts of the communities affected. Many of these will make a difference and may increase our preparedness to deal with increasingly worse fires in future.
For all the words that will be written to the Royal Commission, there is however, only one recommendation that can prevent the risk and intensity of fire increasing year after year. The only measure that will matter will be for every level of government and society to take urgent, effective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If this is not done we will be pouring more and more money and resources, lives and infrastructure into a losing battle.
Footnotes and full submission.