Season of purgatory: the “new Australian summer” revealed in Victoria’s current bushfire emergency

Almost five years to the day after Black Saturday, Victoria finds itself in the grip of another bushfire emergency.

Thankfully there are no reported deaths, however at least 20 homes have been destroyed. The fires have caused major disruption, skirting the northern suburbs and putting the Hazelwood power station at risk.

The Age is providing excellent coverage on their website.

We must now come to terms with the fact that each summer is now a season of purgatory.

Summer is not merely the season to catch the Boxing Day test or escape to the beach. It is now a time to anxiously watch the weather and scan the horizon for the tell-tale signs of a fire.

This is the “New Australian Summer”.

Sure, some summers will be less extreme than others.

But as global temperatures continue to rise (in response to increasing quantities of CO2 in the atmosphere) we can expect the fires to come with greater frequency and ferocity.

As I have noted it is time we began discussions adapting to these changed conditions.

Several strategies come to mind:

  • a phased strategic retreat from at risk areas in the state (or country)
  • a greater investment in emergency services and management
  • changes to planning and development
  • changes to infrastructure.

With little doubt, by the middle of this century our hands will be forced.

Now is the time to start the conversation.

[Image source: The Age]

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10 thoughts on “Season of purgatory: the “new Australian summer” revealed in Victoria’s current bushfire emergency

  1. jasonblog says:

    Purgatory? That’s a very Catholic outlook! I’m not that familiar with Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’, but I found ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy rendered a believable future world-scenario of a cataclysm that could be associated to climate-change. And I presently find myself wavering between concern for the mass of humanity that I share the planet with, and a more selfish outlook that is resigned to a crude scenario of “every-man-for-himself”.

    I recently had correspondence from an acquaintance who is about 60 & has spent a working life as a farm labourer. He stated “I must admit that Summer is not as much fun as it used to be. I have done bugger all work at the […] because of Total Fire Bans and just plain nasty weather.” And the weather is only getting nastier.

    Where I live, we are on a roller-coaster of heat-waves & the days are mostly to excruciating to be outside unless you have to be. And yet development rolls on. Housing sub-divisions extend the urban sprawl to the grassy / weedy fringes of remnant vegetation and a fiery shit-storm lurks ominously in every catastrophic fire danger day.

    I agree with your suggested strategies, but where is the political will for this? That is the bit I am perplexed by. Where is the insistence on these necessary precautions to properly transition society / civilization?

    – a phased strategic retreat from at risk areas in the state (or country)
    Makes sense to me but this would require the government buying out property owners. I suspect the insurance industry will play apart. They will either refuse to insure land-owners in particular areas or the premiums will be astronomical.

    – a greater investment in emergency services and management
    I’m not sure why this isn’t happening already. On a personal note, but with events over the last few years involving massive drought, massive fire, massive flood, massive heatwave etc, I have become a devotee of BoM & have a reasonable Disaster Plan assembled. I wouldn’t call myself a survivalist, per se, but I now give serious thought to being prepared for the worst and having to be self-reliant for a period of time.

    – changes to planning and development
    I have feeling this does occur at a statutory level at local, state, & federal government but there won’t be significant changes to this until a seriously awful human tragedy has unfolded in Australia. The challenge for humanity in the 21st century will be how it responds to the suffering of populations crashing. Australia certainly is not immune to that. Parts of Australia may become uninhabitable – a breakdown in civil society is possible.

    – changes to infrastructure.
    As I reflect on my responses to all of these points I find the overwhelming sense that I am left with is – there won’t be change until it is too late. ‘Government’ will only take steps to change if there is votes in it for them or – much more likely – after something incontrovertible has happened that forces them to change.

    I think the question I am left with is, how do you engage people now to be concerned with alleviating future horrors?

  2. Steve says:

    The new normal: I was relieved this morning to find that the forecast temperature in Mount Barker in the Adelaide Hills was only 40 degrees C for today and tomorrow. Based on the summer so far I was afraid it would be hotter.
    One fire in South Australia has been burning for 29 days.

  3. Bernard J. says:

    I’m pretty much left on the spectrum, but I’m a bit anti-nanny state in that I feel that people should be permitted to live in forested areas if such is their wish. However

    If people choose to live in the bush (or on the coast, for that matter) they should be prepared to wear the cost and the responsibility of living in those areas. To that end, if one lives (as I do) in an area that will inevitably face wildfire, one should build fire-resistant buildings (underground, bermed or otherwise resistant) and/or accept that your home is going to go up in flames, with the attendant costs that that entails. I get cranky with people I know who blame councils or state governments for some perceived failing in terms of fire risk management – we cannot raze the whole bush, or torch it every few years in a fallacious attempt to prevent wildfire (indeed, excessive burning can seriously promote pyrophilic vegetation).

    Having said that, there are some locations that are just too stupid for words in terms of the conventional suburban housing and I fully believe that residents and councils should share responsibility for transitioning away from the area, or for rebuilding with fire safety properly accounted for.

    There are a number of reasons why I am generally against “retreat” as a strategy. Firstly, it would probably be impractical in terms of rehousing the population in “safe” areas, and such a relocation would generate its own hazards, including more high-density resulting in crime and ill-health. It’s also a way of avoiding the consequences of our actions in emitting carbon – if we keep trying to adapt rather than to mitigate, then the underlying problems will continue to grow – and I think we well and truly need to confront the fact that we’re changing the world so much that our environment is becoming ever more hostile to our living within it. Further, separating all people even more from the forest environment would only serve to increase the disconnect from the natural world from which our society already suffers. And finally, as I mentioned at the top of my post I have a streak of independence and libertarian that says that a person should have a choice to decide where to live, as long as they don’t adversely affect others or the environment to an ‘unacceptable’ degree.

    Perhaps I am callous, but I remain completely perplexed at those who seem unduly surprised and aggrieved that they lost their homes to fire (or to coastal inundation). Open your eyes, people. Accept the responsibility of your choices, insure your property if you can, and understand the implications of living in a high risk area. Don’t expect or demand help if you don’t do your part in protecting yourself.

    I fully expect to one day have my bush property burned to cinders. I am preparing my infrastructure to cope as well as I can manage it, and I am prepared to wear any damage that occurs. I don’t expect anyone to come and rescue me if I am caught by fire, and I’ve made that known to those around me. I expect the worst, I expect no help, and I will be happy with any outcome that is more positive than my expectations.

    It’s about time our society woke up and took collective responsibility for its safety and its circumstances. Most especially its about time that the somnambulent majority of Australians woke up to the fact that if we don’t drastically change the way we live, and particularly the way we live with fossil energy, we will bequeath to future generations a social structure that is likely impossible to maintain as we currently recognise it.

  4. Steve says:

    According to the forecast today (Wednesday) will be the last day over 40 degrees C in the present heat wave.
    Perhaps we will have flooding on Thursday which may put a few fires out here.
    Maybe the rain will move into Victoria soon.

  5. Trish Hunt says:

    I agree with the above. The problem is not “tomorrow” or “in the future as my fellow bloggers above say. It’s now. The former “Garden State” Victoria has become an arid, acrid dust bowl. It’s high time we abandoned Victoria. We need to beat the wave of climate refugees before our homes become valueless .

  6. jasonblog says:

    Some in America are thinking about the consequences and what should be done

    The senate Homeland Security committee has some interesting stuff on it

    ‘Extreme Weather and the Cost of Not Being Prepared’ –

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