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Are we fiddling while Australia (and Derbyshire) burns?

January 16, 2020 4:22 PM
By Catherine Wilson in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by High Peak Liberal Democrats
The good news for Australia is that temperatures have fallen and rain is forecast.

I was born and brought up in Australia, so can imagine all too vividly what it is like to live through the horror of out of control bushfires. I've seen one from a distance, and even though I was safe it was frightening. Having to flee to the nearest beach in order to save yourself from burning to death is terrible to contemplate.

Although bushfires have always been part of the Australian experience, the number and intensity of the fires has increased. In the 1950s and 60s we had bush fires, but no 'bush fire season', as there is now.

In the latest fires thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed, individuals have died, native species are in danger of extinction. Forests that have never before caught fire have burned. Thousands of Australians are packed ready for evacuation, if necessary. This bushfire season started early, and we are now into January and February - the two hottest months when fires are most likely to occur. If rain doesn't come, the nightmare will continue.

Australia is the climate change canary in the mine. Temperatures will continue to rise, droughts and bush fires will continue to get worse. Australians are wondering how long it will be before their country is unliveable.

These unprecedented bushfires are due to a long drought, and the highest temperatures ever recorded. Both are a result of climate change due to human activity. They are a warning that we must halt our use of fossil fuels if we want to avoid climate catastrophe.

It is not just Australians whose lives are being destroyed by climate change. People all over the world are losing their homes through flooding, starving to death due to drought, grappling with cyclones and hurricanes, or contemplating a future when their country is submerged by the sea.

Where are the Liberal Democrats in all this? The press releases and emails members receive describe worthy aims and sensible policies.

Nonetheless, reading these communications over the last couple of months, the saying 'Nero fiddled while Rome burned' came to mind. Although they often relate to things happening in the news, there has been nothing about the Australian fires and the climate crisis they are pointing to. Does this mean that addressing the issue is not high on the Liberal Democrat agenda?

The Liberal Democrat environmental policies are good, as far as it goes. But we need to be doing more. It is clear that if we continue on as normal the next generation will be engaged in a struggle for basic survival in the face of ever increasing extreme weather events.

Liberal Democrats can't continue relegating the issue to just one policy among many, ignoring the signs that climate change is happening even faster than expected.

This is an emergency; it requires immediate and radical action.

* Catherine Wilson is a Liberal Democrat member in Wales