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7 Jan, 2020 19:51

For liberals, it’s more fun to blame climate change than arsonists for Australian fires – but arrests show it’s not so simple

For liberals, it’s more fun to blame climate change than arsonists for Australian fires – but arrests show it’s not so simple

As Australia burns, Hollywood luvvies jump on the climate bandwagon. But in reality, it is the twin factors of recklessness and arson that play a decisive role in the scale of continent-wide fires.

Nearly 200 people, who have been arrested by police in five of Australia’s seven states since September, are to blame for many of these killer blazes, while the tinder-dry undergrowth and long-term drought have created the perfect conditions which allow the fires to rage.

As a journalist in rural Victoria earlier in my career – decades before climate crisis became a term - I often saw bushfires flare up in the drier months, racing up and down grasslands with incredible speed and sending balls of fire from treetop to treetop. It was a frightening but impressive sight and made for startling photography, even in a black and white newspaper.

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So sleepy was the town that my colleagues and I used to joke it could be the firemen starting these fires, just to have something to do.

Incidentally, in November a volunteer firefighter was arrested and charged with seven counts of arson in one Australian state, just as this fire season started.

So maybe there was more truth to that claim than we thought. But troubled souls in that profession are just a small part of what is actually a genuine problem.

Deliberate or suspected arson is to blame for nearly 50 per cent of the blazes (and lightning strikes for another 10), with nearly half of those lit by adolescents. And school holidays are a bad time for bushfires.

Back in late-1980s Australia, farmers and landholders would periodically burn off the undergrowth of dry vegetation in the cooler months, which would reduce the amount of fuel an uncontrolled blaze could access. It was considered the lesser of two evils.

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As climate issues came onto the agenda, this type of controlled burning became frowned upon by environmentalists.

The argument goes back and forth over the benefits of prescribed burning, with the green lobby having the upper hand in recent years – arguing in favor of deliberately setting fires makes for poor PR.

And you can’t help but laugh imagining for a second that, instead of blathering valiantly about climate change, Cate Blanchett or Jennifer Aniston would give an impassioned speech about the benefits of controlled burning, or the importance of harsher sentences for arsonists.

Even if those measures could save millions of acres of bush, and thousands of their beloved koalas.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.