Now Is Not The Time To Talk About Climate Change… Cue The Fireworks!

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If only we could redirect the energy and enthusiasm our nation has for New Year’s Eve fireworks displays into combatting catastrophic climate change, writes Darren Lewin-Hill.

Recent media coverage has literally brought home the catastrophic bushfire risk for Victoria, with evacuation ordered for East Gippsland, Lorne’s Falls Festival cancelled, and questions raised over whether New Year’s Eve fireworks should proceed across the state.

It seems in most cases they will.

Reports have detailed holidays cut short, displaced locals, and well organised evacuees, but also those determined to stay despite the warnings, and those who spoke of the disappointment of foregone entertainment rather than the fundamental risk to their survival.

Yet one report quoted a Gippsland incident controller who considered Monday the most significant day of bushfire risk since Black Saturday. This in the broader context of more than five million hectares burnt across Australia, 1,000 homes lost, and nine deaths so far, amid what can only be described as a holocaust for our native animals.

As Prime Minister Scott Morrison quibbles with the states over the terms of compensation for voluntary firefighters, and as people are reportedly leaving messages on their roofs thanking those who will come to their abandoned properties at the risk of their own lives to fight the flames, what are we to make of our response of disappointment at the loss of our opportunities for leisure?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison fronts the media after returning from a Hawaiian vacation in the midst of Australia’s bushfire emergency. (IMAGE: Screencap, ABC News)

There can be no doubt that those who live with the knowledge and loss of past fires, or the ever-present threat of fires to come, are under no illusions about what fire really means – destroyed homes and bushland, lost lives, the charred corpses of animals, and the voiceless torture of those who are burnt but survive.

But what of the rest of us?

While it’s true that fireworks in our capital cities pose little risk compared to those held in more dangerous locations, there is a hideous symbolism in our pursuit of the enjoyment of fireworks as the state and our nation burn.

To deliberately send fire into the sky – even in strictly regulated circumstances – seems an act of defiance, an obscene analogue for an ember attack among our tinder-dry bush.

That’s to say nothing of the resources that could instead be deployed to support firefighters and communities, or to help mitigate or adapt to climate risk.

The Sydney fireworks alone are estimated to cost $6 million – not an insubstantial proportion of the $50 million so far slated to provide limited support to volunteer firefighters in New South Wales.

Claims of the $130 million of estimated economic benefits from the Sydney display are dwarfed by the human, environmental and economic cost of the fires themselves.

The Sydney skyline, blanketed in a thick layer of smoke amidst the 2019 bushfire crisis. (IMAGE: Dushan Hanuska, Flickr)

And of those who give any voice to concerns about the bushfires, how many focus not on their frustrated holidays, but on the profound existential threat of climate change driving increasingly intense, frequent and large-scale infernos?

Are we vocal only about threats to our perceived entitlements, while staying quiet – as our Prime Minister would seem to prefer – on what threatens those with whom we may share apparently little common interest, those in small communities starved of water, communities at risk of being turned to ash?

Are we a nation that is quiet on what matters, and outspoken on the expectation of selfish privileges that rest on our arrogantly presumed safety?

It’s true that we can go to Twitter and see the thousands of posts that raise genuine concerns about climate change and our sweeping bushfire crisis. Yet beyond this lies a sea of the comfortably silent who, untouched for now, remain untroubled, with no dawning impulse to call for the urgent climate action science unequivocally says we need.

This is a silence in deadly complicity with the reckless climate policies of a federal government whose leader – our prime minister – deserted us in crisis.

As a nation, we must decide a question of life and death – if we can exist as a people who not only fail to speak out, but are quiet even to themselves.

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Darren Lewin-Hill

Darren Lewin-Hill is a Melbourne writer with a strong interest in climate policy, and the communication of climate issues in the media. He is a progressive who has run twice for Parliament as an independent for the State seat of Northcote in Victoria. He is not aligned with any political party. He tweets @Northcoteer. This piece represents his personal views.

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