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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Fighting Fires on the Cheap and Ignoring Climate Change by John/Togs Tognolini

Looking at the haze of smoke, covering the Blue Mountains from the bushfires, 700 kilometres away to the south in Gippsland Victoria. I thought of the Country Fire Authority fire fighter I met in the Victorian Alps, when he said, ”This fire isn’t going to stop until it hits the ocean.(The coast was over 120 kilometres from where we were talking.)” I was at those fires in late November, before that the Blue Mountains were on fire for 15 days. The 8,000 hectares that was burnt here, pales in comparison to the 800,000 hectares that has so far been burnt in Victoria. Both fires were started by lightning strikes. Both fires are burning over bush dried out by one of the longest droughts in Australian history. Both the drought and the dry storms that bought the lighting strikes are a result of Climate Change.

While 2006 was recorded as one of the hottest years ever, 2007 has already been predicted to be even hotter. Australia along with United States has not signed the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, reflecting the federal government’s inaction. Prime minister John Howard does say Climate Change exist but puts forward the fantasy of clean coal technology and the nightmare of nuclear power and its waste. He is more concerned about Australia’s markets from coal and uranium mining, than using clean renewable energy sources such wave, wind and solar technology. He along with all the state ALP governments has refused to build key infrastructure such as public transport, railways, tram/light rail and extended ferry services, placing car and trucks with their greenhouse emissions as the major form of transport.

One feature that stood out was the near absence of the Australian Defence Force in helping out both career and volunteer fire fighters control the fires. Howard has them deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Solomon Islands fighting for the cause of oil and empire. Seven and a half million dollars were spent on helicopters alone in the Blue Mountains fire, including the forty year old “Elvis”/sky crane helicopters from the US. Not one ADF helicopter was used in the Blue Mountains. Nor were NSW fire teams and their equipment flown to Victoria by the Air Force, they had to drive their fire tankers and crews were bussed there, some went straight of the bus onto the fire ground.

Also evident in both fires was the reluctance of many experienced volunteer bush fire fighters not to step up and fight the fires. They were and are fearful they won't have a job to come back to when they return from a fire fighting shift. Reflecting how anti-community Howard's Work Choice legislation is. It's reprehensible for Volunteers to be sacked after they have put their life on the line, protecting communities and vital public assets such as our National Parks.

The fires reflect not only Climate Change but also the need for regime change in Canberra. If we take Katrina and its affect on New Orleans and the lack of emergency relief and disaster mismanagement, Australia isn’t that bad, but with these fires and cyclone Larry in North Queensland, there’s vast room for improvement and tackling the root cause of these environmental disasters Climate Change.

[I’m the Socialist Alliance Candidate for First Ward in Blue Mountains City Council elections.]

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