Sat, Feb 15, 2020 - Page 9 News List

Climate change not a concern in small, fire-hit Australian town

By Kate Lamb  /  Reuters, BUCHAN, Australia

Returning from a morning feeding his sheep, Jeff McCole, a 70-year-old farmer, paused to take in the bittersweet scene — a few droplets of rain falling onto the remains of his fire-ravaged home.

“Nothing like the sound of rain on a tin roof,” he said, as he scanned the residue of a lifetime of memories scattered before him.

By the old front door was a charred metal toy truck his grandchildren once raced down the verandah. Under the remains of the tin roof, a collection of books, his wife’s “pride and joy,” had been reduced to layers of feathery ash. Out back, the skeleton of a Valencia orange tree, planted by his mother 65 years ago, was now laden with baubles of charcoaled fruit.

Seasonal bushfires have struck Australia in a way like never before, making for months of monster blazes and toxic haze, and fueling a polarizing debate over climate change.

However, in Buchan, a conservative-voting farming town in Victoria state that is home to the McCole farm, most locals said they believed the catastrophic fires had nothing to do with global warming.

Climate change was “a load of crap,” said McCole, an idea pushed by city folk with “no experience in the bush” and no understanding of Australia’s punishing, cyclical climate.

“We’ve had severe droughts and everything like that, 70 years ago,” said McCole, a Vietnam war veteran with sky-blue eyes. “It just keeps going around in circles. If you wait, it’s going to change.”

For decades scientists have warned that climate change would increase the risk of extreme bushfires in Australia. This year, there was the perfect storm — record-breaking drought and heat coalescing on tinderbox land.

Before rains slowed their spread this week, the fires had burned through almost 12 million hectares, destroyed more than 2,800 homes and claimed the lives of 33 people. An estimated 1 billion animals are also believed to have died.

Australia has one of the world’s highest carbon footprints per capita and is one of the largest exporters of coal and gas, making successive governments reluctant to adopt climate policies they say could undermine the economy.

However, with these unprecedented bushfires, the government has come under increased pressure from environmental groups, scientists and broader swathes of the Australian public to address the issue.

“People are more fearful of the future because they glimpsed the future this summer,” said Lesley Hughes, a professor and climate scientist at Macquarie University.

“I think it has been really wounding of the Australian psyche,” Hughes said.

Polling by the Australia Institute, a Canberra think tank, last month found that 79 percent of Australians said they were concerned about climate change, up 5 percentage points from July last year, with 47 percent “very concerned,” a jump of 10 points.

However, there remains widespread skepticism that the severity of the fires is due to climate change, with many conservative politicians and media suggesting that factors such as arson, the length of cyclical droughts or poor management of flammable vegetation are more responsible.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who had previously declined to discuss the link between climate change and the fires, was acknowledged the connection, but said his priority was managing the economic impact.

Morrison last week cited “hazard reduction” — which includes the practice of controlled burns to reduce the amount of flammable vegetation in the bush — as a key to mitigating fires, saying it was just as important as reducing emissions.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top