An age of fire
Friday the 13th brings all its fascincation with horror, the macabre to the fore, and taps into all our superstitions. If you're superstitious. My father insists that 13 is not an unlucky number for him, and therefore in our family - him being the thirteenth child in his family. So, I usually miss such signficant markers of time and lore.
I can't help but wonder, however, if this Friday 13 is different. And what it hints at for the future. Today has been marked by raging bushfires burning in four states of Australia – Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and New South Wales. Each year now, Australia's bushfire season seems to start sooner and sooner. And with greater intensity. Today, the Country Fire Authority (CFA) (a volunteer fire brigade that fights fires in areas country and has authority over fire emergencies in rural areas), has been battling a massive fire at the face of an open-cut coal mine in country Victoria that spreads across something like 2 kms!
It is no coincidence that the increased incidence and threat of bushfires comes with some of the worst impacts of global warming in Australia to date. Only yesterday, the Howard government declared the drought we're experiencing to be the worst on record since 1914 (or 1912, depending on which reports you hear). The Victorian government continues to shell-out drought relief to rural communities hardest hit – the Mallee.
The hot dry weather has gone on for too long, water levels in the dams have dropped too low, and communities are coming close to conflict over how we share the precious water resources we have available, or figure out how to stop companies profiteering from natural water resources as they struggle to maintain self-sufficiency.
The CSIRO predicts that the warming and its worsening bushfire threat will continue. Dr Penny Whetton, the leader of the climate change and risk group for the CSIRO, says:
"We've undertaken research looking at how projected changes in temperature and precipitation can affect fire occurrence and we've found the risk of fire danger increases significantly as the decades go by," she said.
"The frequency of days of very high fire danger are increasing 20 to 30 per cent over the next few decades."
…"I'd expect these sort of occurrences will become more frequent as the years go by because we are expecting quite significant changes in our climate but that has implications for things such as fire frequency,"
We appear to live in an age of fire. It surrounds us in all its forms – bushfire, heat, drought, war, and the testing of nuclear weapons.
North Korea's nuclear weapon test is truly testing the international community, and our commitment to peace. The war of words continues as governments wrangle over how to deal with the North Korean regime. For a while there, judging from its propoganda, I was truly afraid that the US would push us into another Iraq – this time in East Asia. And this time, with a despotic, authoritarian, militarist regime that has demonstrated to have nuclear weapons capabilities. Now, they will fight over how to force North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons programme, and we will wonder if we're being dragged deeper into a conflict we can't get out of.
This age of fire is of our making. My hope is that we can un-make it quickly and peacefully.