The future is now, and it's hot, dry and undeniably real

By Denis Moriarty, group managing director, Our Community

Burning off between bushfire seasons can help reduce bushfire intensity, but as climate change bites, the length of time between bushfire seasons is getting shorter every year.

This is a problem when it comes to discussion and debates about bushfires, too. While the fires are spreading, nobody wants to pull back and take a detached overview of the situation, because to do so would seem to be disregarding the anguish and terrible suffering of the people directly affected. But that leaves us hardly any time between the fires to talk.

Even in normal times, if one can use that term any more, Australians are reluctant to consider making major changes to their institutions, however much they mistrust and despise them. Politicians have to take account of this reluctance. Reality doesn't.

When I say 'major changes', I'm not talking about things like climate change or carbon taxes or squashing Adani. Yes, there are a lot of people blocking progress, and no, I'm not optimistic, but that's not what I'm talking about now. I'm talking about changes that have nothing to do with leaders, if one can use that term any more, or parliaments or policies or editorials or marketing. I'm talking about things that have already happened and can't be reversed. I'm talking about anvils dropping from the sky.

If we lived in a world where anvils started dropping from the sky without warning, as they do in Road Runner cartoons, there'd be all kinds of arguments about what was causing it, but you'd have a hard time finding people who carried their anvil denial to the point of having sunroofs in their cars. There are some things that just undeniably are.

Country areas have historically had demographic problems. The number of jobs has been falling as agriculture has changed, only partially balanced by a rise in tourist services and tree-change migrants. These problems have now been made much, much worse by this season's bushfires. Farming, forestry and tourism have all been decimated, and unless we undertake titanic nation-building initiatives to reverse those impacts, they're going to stay decimated.

imageOur Community's Denis Moriarty

One of the few encouraging elements in a season of tragedies has been the unbelievable achievements of Australia's volunteer firefighters. I admire them, but I'm not one of them, because I live in the city, and the only people we expect to risk their lives for free are the 10% of Australians who are country folk - who, as we've just noticed, have now been given an anvil-shaped incentive to lay down their burden and come and join me.

The anvil season is getting longer, too: half the year now, at least. If you're on call 24/7 for anvil duty for six months, in what sense are you not a professional, other than that you're going broke doing your duty? Saving lives is not a lifestyle choice. Volunteerism is the core of our current model of anvil defence, and its flexibility and passion and local knowledge and freedom from bureaucratic hassles are treasures that must be preserved at all costs. But if things are going to stay the same, things have to change.

The government's proposing several billion dollars in rehabilitative measures, and that figure will rise. But it's not going to make the nation whole, and it's not going to stop it all happening again. It won't come anywhere near the amount of money that's going to drift now away from losses in the country to profits somewhere else. This is bigger than any deficit, outside the scope of any budget. What's been broken can't be fixed with just money.

Coming to terms with the new normal isn't just going to involve rebuilding what's been destroyed. We didn't know last May that anvils could fall from the sky. Now we do. All our established institutions have anvil-shaped holes in the roof and would be letting in the rain if it rained any more.

And we haven't yet counted the cost of days, months and years of life lost to smoke pollution in Australia's villages, towns and cities. Back in the fifties we used to draw the cities of the future as crystal skyscrapers under glass domes. Now we know what the domes were for. Soon we may know what they'll cost.

Australians may not be interested in change, but change is interested in us.

What Our Community thinks about other big issues

This commentary also appeared as part of a monthly column that's published in 160 rural and regional titles across Australia, from daily newspapers such as the Bendigo Advertiser and the Illwawarra Mercury, to weekly publications such as the Goulburn Post, the Cootamundra Herald and the Jimboomba Times.

We're proud to take a stand on progressive issues, which we're able to do as a social enterprise that's not tied to the purse strings of any government or corporate organisation.

Here's a taste of some other recent commentaries as they've appeared in some of those publications, as well as our own.

January 2020: Why it's time to rethink our MP numbers

December 2019: It's time for less spending and more giving

November 2019: The Joy of Giving - on Tuesday

October 2019: Ignoring the data is an invitation to disaster

September 2019: What is the Catholic Church teaching us about love?

August 2019: The Uluru statement: Why it’s time for the Commonwealth to show some heart

July 2019: Why homelessness is worth this gamble

June 2019: After election, life and advocacy must go on

May 2019: Pokies reliance is a risk to RSLs

April 2019: Kids are teaching us the power of protest

March 2019: Work-life balance pulls us in three directions

Feb 2019: Australia Day honours: Why being rewarded for doing your job is un-Australian

Jan 2019: Why 2019 gives me reason for optimism

December 2018: It’s time to stop blaming pollies and start getting active

November 2018: Community connection is an antidote to loneliness

September 2018: Good culture is the key to good communities

August 2018: Drought sees groups suffering in a sunburnt country

July 2018: Thai cave rescue shows that community bonds are our best insurance