We are in the midst of an unmitigated natural disaster here in Oregon and on the West Coast. I struggle to find the words to express what’s happening and the toll it’s taking – on our natural treasures, on homes and businesses, and on our collective psyches.
In 2019, intense fires sprung up on every inhabited continent on the planet. In just one year, 250,000 fires across the world resulted in almost 40 million hectares of land being burnt.
As the smoke continues to blanket our state, we call on insurers and other institutional investors to be a powerful force for good, and to end the madness of continued extraction. Our ability to thrive on this, our only planet, demands it of them.
Cultural burning is far more than a new method in the spectrum of hazard reduction burning; it is a recognized official Australian wildfire prevention technique. Cultural burning sets focus on re-establishing the kinship between the species in a certain ecosystem; it pays full attention to fire relationships of the area.
We live in fire country as taught through fire lore, this is how I understand what is happening across country. These times are hard for us first peoples, so often we are ignored.
We still have time to learn the lessons and get this right, but many strongly held beliefs (yes they are beliefs, not science) have to go out of the window, and we need much more science focus on this issue, rather than the ever burgeoning clamour for “saving” threatened species, which takes oxygen and energy for the real questions that need answers at landscape scale.
All species are embedded in complex networks of interactions where they are directly and indirectly dependent on each other. A food web is a good example of such networks. The simultaneous loss of such large numbers of plants and animals could have cascading impacts on the ways species interact – and hence the ability of ecosystems to bounce back and properly function following high-severity wildfires.
At this crucial moment for Australia and the world, it is pertinent to take a step back from reactions to the ongoing flames and proactively revisit what happened in the Amazon—and why—before fires reignite in the dry season.
Many of those commenting on the current bushfire crisis in Australia argue about fuel reduction, hazard reduction, use of aerial incendiaries, drip torches, ancient Indigenous techniques and western forms of fire management.
But to me, these fires suggest we urgently need a new dialogue and paradigm for living in a rapidly changing world.
What we are seeing now is – in part – the result of wilful negligence, wilful blindness and casual greed. A total failure of leadership by political leaders from the major parties that stretches back not three weeks, or three months, but three decades, when Australians were first warned of the dangers in what was then known as ‘the Greenhouse Effect’.*
I lost my home in Victoria’s 1983 Macedon bushfires. I know sympathy and financial assistance for those in the midst of the crisis is important. However, when political leaders such as Prime Minister Scott Morrison offer their “thoughts and prayers”, it’s hard to read this as anything but disingenuous.
The new normal requires new strategies, new technologies and new partnerships with America’s caregivers to ensure the sick, the elderly and the most vulnerable are climate and energy resilient. Let’s be clear: power shutoffs without energy resilience strategies is still playing with fire.