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Bushfire blamestorming

It only takes a short time before the spectre of disaster capitalism appears in relation to the devastating Australian bush fires. In this case, it is attempting to scapegoat environmentalists as the cause of the bush fires. The claim is that the blazes are due to not clearing undergrowth and that was prevented by lobbying from environmentalists.

From my personal experience, when I lived in Darlington in the hills of the suburbs of Perth, in Western Australia, I served in the town voluntary bush fire brigade along with many other residents. As anyone with experience in bush fire management will tell you, it is not the undergrowth which creates fire situations which result in houses being burnt and therefore people being killed. It is the lack of adequately maintained firebreaks around properties which leads to the fires coming too close to the buildings. In the suburbs of Western Australia, there is a rigourous and enforced requirement of firebreak maintenance which property owners are required to observe and pay for. Since home owners want the experience of trees near their house (for shade as well as aesthetics), it is then incumbent on them to create major firebreaks on their property between the trees near their houses and the rest of the bush at the edge of their property.

It is noticeable that there is a less stringent fire break requirement in Victoria for people living in the bush, than in Western Australia and this contributed to the Ash Wednesday catastrophe, and probably, the new inferno. It is a combination of homeowners desire to live surrounded by bushland, inadequate fire prevention methods (e.g. trying to use electric powered water pumps), less stringent firebreak management by local authorities, extreme conditions, and possible arsonists which are the greatest contributing factors to this catastrophe.

Distraught people look for someone else to blame, so they become the apparatus by which corporate interests (particularly timber logging companies) attack the ideas of environmentalism. That the ABC should mouth such unsubstantiated claims is a sad reflection on the quality of reporting the ABC has stooped to. The irony of this tragedy is that ABC Radio itself was reporting in the prior week the extreme likelihood of major bush fires on Saturday due to climate change.

Climate change is in no small part due to the massive deforestation that Australia is particularly guilty of. The lives lost are just another measurable cost of a lack of resolve of successive governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting rise in average temperature. In that sense, this is Australia's Hurricane Katrina. There is a political context in which this disaster has occurred, a ridiculously small commitment to 5% reduction in carbon emissions. It is the Rudd, and especially the previous Howard, governments who deserve to take the blame for this inferno because of their purposeful reluctance to do what is required to reduce greenhouse emissions.

While the Howard government spent millions commiting crimes against humanity pursuing a small lunatic fringe of terrorists, more Australians have now died in a environmental catastrophe than terrorist bombings. Australian governments need to become realistic to the increasing number of human disasters we will face from climate change. We will continue to sustain the problems unless we fundamentally change our methods of consumption of resources.

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