The Bushfire-Industrial Complex

The Bushfire-Industrial Complex, by Roger Underwood.

Bushfire fighting in Australia has become horrendously expensive. Unbelievable sums are spent on aircraft, and to a large extent this is wasted. Water bombing is futile against a crown fire in eucalypt forest; you might just as well shovel $100 notes out of the plane.

(Underlying image from the Country Fire Authority via Fire Aviation).

If no more than the sums spent hiring aircraft from overseas was saved, it could be channelled into re-creating the permanent force of land management staff who once occupied the nation’s forest districts and were responsible for the fuel-reduction burning programs. We would not only be financially better off, we would have a superior fire management system. Study after study has demonstrated that a dollar spent on preparedness and damage mitigation saves (at least) $50 to be spent on suppression and recovery.

Cost effectiveness is being ignored, which is a sure sign that self-interested parties are pursuing other agendas or are helping themselves to the public purse.

It is not hard to find people to whom ghastly bushfires bring political or financial advantage.

The classic example is the environmentalists who portray bushfires as a direct consequence of global warming, which is itself is said to be a consequence of our Western lifestyle. The Greens quite unambiguously assert that the bushfire threat can only be averted if we unquestioningly adopt their political agenda, specifically their agenda to “decarbonise” Australia. …

The media is also a beneficiary. … Bushfires are the TV journalist’s dream. Donning a yellow jacket and hard hat, she can stand against a backdrop of houses and forests going up in flames, swooping waterbombers, farmers shooting burnt sheep, people raking through the charred remnants of their houses picking up twisted trinkets, hillsides of blackened forest. To the media (and of course to viewers and readers), destructive bushfires arouse intense interest and excitement; few things outside war provide more opportunities to exploit the gamut of human emotions or to vicariously experience them.

Then there are the fire chiefs, resplendent in their glamorous uniforms. … This is war, and war is hell. But war is also the General’s Big Moment, his hour to strut and fret upon the stage. Moreover, big fires call for big budgets, and “worse is to come” can be translated into bigger budgets to come. …

Bushfire research also benefits. … We see academics in Australian universities who are actively undermining effective bushfire management and who are lavishly funded by the federal government either directly, or via the Bushfire CRC. These “bushfire academics”, nearly all of them opposed to fuel reduction, know that large, horrible bushfires will underpin the security of their research grants, guarantee future funding and ensure all those desirable academic side-effects such as overseas conferences, publishable papers, and graduate students. …

Finally, there are the politicians who have learned how to make a name for themselves from a bushfire. They do this by the generous authorisation of huge sums of money for suppression at the very height of the fire, turning up at the control point and shaking the hands of smoke-grimed firefighters, commiserating with people who have lost everything, and looking grave but intelligent in media briefings.

Read it all.