Don’t blame the koalas!

The Australian bushfires have been shocking, just shocking. And as we would expect the media coverage has been half parts sensationalism and half human tragedy. Even though the embers are still burning and people’s homes are still at risk, the political blame game has begun.

Sam the KoalaI heard Wilson Tuckey, outspoken conservative MP, on the BBC saying that the fires were caused by locking up the forests in reserves. Nevermind that southeastern Australia has had severe drought conditions for much of the last decade. And forget that temperatures have been in the 114 degree range. And don’t consider that Australia has some of the best fire managers in the world. No, Tuckey knows better than the experts.

Professor Peter Kanowski, from the Australian National University, explains that the fuel loads of these tall, wet eucalypt forests aren’t easy to manage. Usually, they are too damp for fuel reduction burns. But, when extremely hot, dry weather comes along (as it did this weekend) it is too risky to burn-off. And it doesn’t matter whether the forests are in a park, a tree farm, or a managed forest.

So, as is the case here in Western Montana, it would seem that blowhard politicians ignore science and reality (and Tuckey should know better because he was once a wildland firefighter) only to pursue their favorite agenda. Amidst the emotional tenor of the media coverage, though, you can almost forgive them because they know it is not a time for reasoned, considered argument. The public is traumatized and vulnerable and many will cling to whatever kneejerk reaction gives most relief.

My favorite comment, though, is this one:

“I would compare this current bushfire event to one of the ghosts in Dickens’ Christmas Carol that visits Scrooge and showed him what his future would be like if he didn’t change his ways,” said professor Barry Brook, director of the Research Institute for Climate Change and Sustainability at the University of Adelaide.

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