Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Emergency Wombat AirBNB Experiment



I've been putting water out for the birds. The inlet is salty now, too salty to drink and so this enamelled cauldron of water sits on a directors chair. I've put a stick in, so the insects can drink without drowning. The water becomes browner every day with tannins from the marri tree leaves that fall all around us. The water carrier is directly opposite where I sit on my days off, reading or writing in my notebook. Birds of many feathers seem delighted. That brief rain a fortnight ago was the first in a long time. I'm delighted too. Sit still long enough and nature will always throw on an event for me. It's better than watching the royals on TV. A few days ago, I saw a kingfisher, fisher of men, hunter of fish, his wings so so blue and his beak so sharp. I saw a white breasted robin smash a centipede against the cast iron cauldron. I see the quail family every day, popcorn babies spinning as they forage for bugs in the leaf litter.

The author Jackie French is a legend in Australia. She's written more than two hundred books for adults and children. Basically she writes about whatever takes her fancy; cooking, wildlife, gardening. Her mainstay is wombats. She's also created a wombat sanctuary where she lives and in an article for the Sydney Morning Herald about the bush fires she reports this incredible observation:

I have seen wombats share their holes with snakes, quolls, possums and a nervous swamp wallaby

French has been in and out of evacuation for the last six weeks during the fires. Yes, she knows wombats. She has Wombat Street Cred and she's seen these critters share their underground burrows with creatures desperate to survive during the terrible fires. I don't know if I could share my home with a needy tiger snake. I just can't even. But a burrow? Gah!

It's been quiet work at the fire tower. I could see the smoke from the Stirlings fire but apart from that one, the only excitement has come from a local renegade who let his permit burn carry on into the prohibited season. I come down the mountain tired, sore of eyes and happy spending my day on a granite mountain peak. 

But the anxiety of our nation is palpable and I believe we all now carry it in our bodies. We can't ignore it. This is climate change. This is what climate scientist Ross Garnaut warned us about twelve years ago. He got the exact year and conditions right. We can bitch and whinge about looters and arsonists but we all know that such human blights are ones that arrive after the catastrophe, not preceding it.

DO NOT FORGET. (Writes Jackie French) 
Because those who make vast sums of money from businesses that, as a side effect, destroy our planet, put vast sums into PR or political campaigns so that laws are never made to hinder their actions. The politicians who denied climate change, the need for disaster planning and firefighting equipment, and who cut fire budgets by 30-40 per cent this year alone – despite warnings from their own experts that we faced catastrophes this year – will use political spin ... let’s just call it lying … to try to make you forget before the next election.

 Please read her article here: There is a lot of good writing coming from our crisis of country, confidence and climate and this article is one of the best. We've been lucky in the west, so far, and I repeat ... lucky. Nothing more than that. There are many months to go yet.

In the mean time, my son tries not to look at the dams. He knows they will empty whether he watches them or not. I save water from my showers in the mornings. We put water out for the birds and insects. This small effort is laughable, incomparable to the day my son has to call the water truckers in to fill dams, but we do it anyway. Still, we watch for smoke. Every day, we watch for smoke.

15 comments:

  1. Re the Wombat putting up erstwhile predators, I saw a video of a flood (in France maybe?) and a chicken was sharing a very small bit of floating wood in a torrent of water with a fox.

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  2. There's some footage in Oz of animals doing the same thing.

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  3. Was management of forestry and bush and controlled fires a thing of uselessness in the past?

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    1. Hi Rachel I'm going to jump in here because I have been very aware of and engaged in this debate. The issue of controlled burns and their efficacy in reducing risk is so much more complex now. Many Australians, who get their info from media grabs and don't engage deeply, don't really understand the issues - hence the emotive blaming of environmentalists and other scapegoating.

      Basically - controlled burns (assuming they were useful in the past) are now less useful, maybe even counter-productive, for 3 reasons:
      1. The fire season has now extended out both ends and there is much less time to burn safely.
      2. It has been stated by very experienced fire commissioners that controlled burns don't have much, if any, impact on wildfires, which are now more common due to global warming and the ensuing drought in the east of Australia. Fire commissioners have also stated that recent wildfires ran right across areas that were control-burned only 2 years ago.
      3. Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, stated recently on the ABC that he has had to answer to angry residents whose houses have been burnt down because controlled burns have got out of control - a bit counter-productive if you are trying to protect property. In WA many residents are suspicious of government environment management authorites because this happens regularly.

      The reality is: Australia has a hell of a lot of highly inflammable bush. The landscape was designed to burn. Humans have encroached further into the bush areas and there is simply not enough time or resources to do what needs to be done, and benefits are questionable.

      Chuck in the discussion around the current silver bullet - Aboriginal burning practices - and things get even more complex. An article I read yesterday by a local who has been arguing against burns for decades - Tony Pedro - spoke to one of the Aboriginal elders who said, yes, traditionally they did carry out controlled burns BUT they were cool slow burns in very restricted grassland areas to make it easier to grow/catch food. They didn't do hot burns in forests or dense bush like managemnet authorities do now. It has been suggested by Pedro (with historical photographic evidence) that Western burning practices have actually contributed to the current problem because they have changed the type of vegetation in forest understoreys.

      I'm in agreement with Pedro. I used to live on what was locally known as 'fire hill' and when firies tried to burn the western side of the hill, they couldn't get it going because of the thick layer of forest mulch. Unfortunately, with a warming and drying climate, these dense mulched layers are starting to dry out and burn - like the Amazon rainforest did recently for the first time in recorded history.

      It's quite possible humans were never meant to live in some areas of Australia - which is now something authoriteis are looking at. Good luck with that I reckon - a lot of people will still want to live there and the cities aren't necessarily safe. Fires came very close to the wealthy suburb of Penrith in Sydney a few weeks ago. We can't all live on the coast and we need to produce food....

      Article link if you are interested:
      https://thewinnower.com/papers/6681-a-farmer-and-volunteer-firefighter-s-personal-perspective-on-fire-management-practices-in-south-west-western-australian-forests?fbclid=IwAR0BbfQpu5VEVlCnXS_VHU9sQbUhJ2DUCfiP5WJqh_YNOvRldePPRxgDi3E

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  4. I've been trying to get my thoughts together and blog about this too Sarah. But it's so overwhelming I give up before I start. I'm worried, like Jackie French, that government spin and media lies will make the memory of these current fires fade - and we will end up with another Liberal government in 2 years and the same impasse. I am hoping that THIS fire season, and the very distressing iconic images of koalas with burnt paws flashing across our various screen devices, WILL BE THE TURNING POINT. I really really hope this suffering hasn't been in vain. Many people are feeling despair but I wonder if it is getting through to the cities. It is encouraging to see international pressure being brought to bear on the Australian government. We are a 'laughing stock' - except it's not funny.

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    1. You are not a laughing stock over here. We know you export millions of tonnes of coal to India but that doesn't make us laugh, more like think about what you do at home before you say too much about climate change. Thanks for your reply above too.

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    2. Rachel I think about climate change ALL THE TIME. I didn't vote for the conservatives - I can't stand them but many Australians did because they were more interested in maintaining their comfortable lifestyles instead of making the hard changes necessary which included giving up their government provided 'money-for-jam' franking credits btw (I'll explain that to you if you don't have a similar policy in Britain).

      I personally do not export millions of tons of coal and I wish my government would stop doing it. I am doing what I can to change that as a pretty powerless citizen precariously under-employed as a casual in education without a share portfolio living a very modest life. I am a member of Extinction Rebellion, have been to 2 rallies and donate my graphic design skills to the organisation. I sign every petition against my government that crosses my path. If I could with-hold my meagre tax contribution in protest I would.

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    3. Maybe when the El Nino breaks it will rain in a few years time. It has happened before. Mining exports are vital to your country's economy. You don't want to stop your country prospering. Trade winds bring your weather and from decade to decade the world gets shifts in patterns. You are in a bad drought at the moment. I remember films of burning all around Sydney and smoke over Sydney on our news bulletins from many years gone by, and homes destroyed. More homes built, more homes to destroy this time round.

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    4. Rachel I agree the El Nino is having an affect, as well as some 'Indian Ocean oscillation' thing is going on atm, and what you say holds some truth. But I take note of the science and the temperature graphs - climate change is happening and I'm not the only one who thinks humans are responsible. I'd happily see my country go broke because we really can't keep ripping stuff out of the ground and treating the planet the way we are without some adverse consequences. Australia is going to feel it hard - we already struggle to exist on this continent. We mostly live on the coast and the interior is pretty dry. Towns and cities are running out of water for the first time since we put decent systems in place. Experienced fire chiefs are saying they have never seen such ferocity in wildfires before. What we are experiencing right now is unprecedented. Now you can argue that humans didn't contribute to it and it's just part of a natural cycle but even if you take that line - these fire events are going to continue to be catastrophic because whatever the cause - the planet is heating up.

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    5. Thank you Michelle. A nice reply which I respect. I was expecting you to start yelling at me. We have to be willing to take on board a little bit of each other's input.

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  5. Yes, always put a stick in the water. I learnt that from keeping bees.
    I’m thinking that debating and discussing and trying to hold the govt to account is wasting time now. We have to do it ourselves now. I urge everyone to pull out of banks and super accounts that have a dodge track record with enabling coal and other fossil fuel companies. Money talks and that’s the reason why our PM wants to outlaw secondary boycotts.

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    1. Totally agree Sarah. People are making ethical choices about their investments and things like rooftop solar are making an impact - no thanks to our current government. I predicted this would end up in the hands of the citizens - the problem is so mammoth governments all over the world don't really know what to do in any realistic sense. Sure they can come up with policies and targets but then what? The other thing I predicted was that nature would motivate people in the end - when it confronted us with the consequences of an unsustainable lifestyle and climate change. I am very happy to see the bushfires will affect the GDP and economic bottom line because that is the only way the cities will take note, and maybe vote accordingly.

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