Climate change: fighting fire with fire

Germaine Greer has lost the piece of rainforest in Queensland, Australia she helped to restore – and asks how it might have been saved:

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File:Bush fire at Captain Creek central Queensland Australia..JPG …

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Germaine Greer’s Diary: The unlucky town of Eden, Australia’s fatuous blame game – and how to fight fire with fire

I woke up on Sunday to the realisation that the huge bushfire that enveloped the town of Mallacoota in the far south-east of Victoria had indeed crossed the border and descended on the town of Eden. I knew that there was only one way for it to get there and that Khandallah, a place very dear to me, was almost certainly lost. I have crawled all over it, botanising, photographing rare plants, drifting off to sleep listening to the mullets plopping in the river. I knew there was no defence against the fires, only faint hope…

…the problem remains. There is no consensus. Instead, there is a fatuous blame game.

The Australian Greens leapt in first, accusing the coalition government of worsening the bushfires by failing to combat climate change. Their opponents responded by blaming the Greens for opposing back-burning, the process of fighting fire with fire. Provided it is carried out in the cool season and doesn’t break free as wildfire, backburning is necessary; the first settlers in NSW burned the native grasses because their animals would not graze on them once they had become hard. Aboriginal peoples also used fire farming not only to control the movement of game but as a defence against wildfire. Twenty years ago Marcia Langton published an essay on the uses of fire in Australia and how firefighters had to learn Aboriginal methods. But instead of professionals trained in fire management we have volunteers, one of whom was buried on Tuesday. And Langton’s essay is out of print.

When I was out hunting with Aboriginal women in the Northern Territory I learned first hand how terrified they were of wildfire and how the cooking fire would not be left until every last ember was dead.

After hours of telephoning, when I found someone who would know, I hardly dared to ask, “How is Khandallah?”

She answered with one word, “Gone.”

Germaine Greer’s Diary: The unlucky town of Eden, Australia’s fatuous blame game – and how to fight fire with fire | newstatesman.com

In need of pruning: Germaine Greer’s tale of rainforest rebirth | irishtimes.com

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Tim Blair writing in the Spectator is also critical of the ‘green’ approach – and in praise of the indigenous way to tackle fire:

 

Fight fire with fire: controlled burning could have protected Australia

A kind of ecological fundamentalism has taken the place of common sense

By modern standards, my grandfather would probably be considered an environmental criminal. To clear land for his farmhouse in north-eastern Victoria — and for his milking sheds, pig pens, chicken sheds, blacksmith shop and other outbuildings — he cleared hundreds of trees. And he cleared thousands more for his wheat fields, cattle paddocks and shearing sheds.

Old man Hobbs would probably be found guilty of cultural appropriation, too, because he adopted the Aboriginal method of land-clearing. He burned all of those trees. He also established fire-delaying dirt paths through surrounding bushland.

This was once standard practice throughout rural Australia, where the pre-settlement indigenous population had long conducted controlled burns of overgrown flora — known as ‘fuel’ in current fire-management talk. They knew an absence of controlled burns would invite uncontrolled burns — such as the gigantic wildfires that have ravaged much of this drought-hit nation since September.

As those fires roared through Australia’s eastern coast, killing residents and volunteer firefighters and destroying hundreds of houses, a not-unrelated court report appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. It told the story of 71-year-old John David Chia, who in 2014 paid contractors to cut down and remove 74 trees on and around his property…

Fight fire with fire: controlled burning could have protected Australia | spectator.co.uk

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And this seems to be the consensus worldwide:

Australia fires: Aboriginal planners say the bush ‘needs to burn’ | bbc.co.uk

How Australia’s Indigenous people can help the country fight fire | aljazeera.com

Want to Stop Australia’s Fires? Listen to Aboriginal People | nytimes.com

Australia’s indigenous people have a solution for the country’s bushfires. And it’s been around for 50,000 years | cnn.com

Indigenous cultural burn a factor in helping save home from bushfire, as fire experts call for more investment | abc.net.au

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And so other parts of the world – including the UK and Devon’s national parks and forests – can learn from traditional practice in Australia:

Indigenous fire knowledge the latest Australian export in an emerging global wildfire crisis | abc.net.au

   
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