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Sunday, 05 January 2020 23:47

On Australia's Bushfires

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The attention of much of the world is now on the deadly firestorms ravaging so many parts of Australia. I was not planning on writing about this, and that for two reasons: plenty of good articles are already out there detailing our seemingly failed policies concerning the bush and fire management; and I have already penned a number of pieces looking at the spiritual and theological considerations of such things.

Indeed, just moments ago someone sent in a comment to my site, asking if I had written on these fires. I replied by saying what I just did above. However – and at the risk of repeating myself – it may be worth once again to look at these matters.

As I just told the fellow who asked me, I would respond by saying two things. One, I would criticise the various government policies – often promoted by the left and the Greens – that have been mainly responsible for this. Two, I would again address the biblical and theological concerns.

As to government failures in this area, such policies would include the refusal to take seriously the need to deal in proper fuel reduction, including the refusal to do prescribed-burning – or enough of it. Many have long complained about this, but it seems these concerns keep falling on deaf ears.

Plenty of experts can be drawn upon here. One group of specialists have plenty of important findings on their site:

There is enough material there to keep you busy reading for quite a while. Let me refer to one article, penned back in 2008: “Bushfires, Prescribed Burning and Global Warming.” And just one snippet from the piece should encourage you to read the entire article:

Decades of research and experience has demonstrated that fuel reduction by prescribed burning under mild conditions is the only proven, practical method to enable safe and efficient control of high-intensity forest fires. Two myths have emerged about climate change and bushfire management and are beginning to circulate in the media and to be adopted as fact by some scientists:

-Because of global warming, Australia will be increasingly subject to uncontrollable holocaust-like “megafires”.

-Fuel reduction by prescribed burning must cease because it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thus exacerbating global warming and the occurrence of megafires.

Both statements are incorrect. However they represent the sort of plausible-sounding assertions which, if repeated often enough, can take on a life of their own and lead eventually to damaging policy change.

Numerous commentators have also sought to share such truths, but they have too often been ignored – or vilified. For example, seven years ago Miranda Devine sought to make this case. Here is part of what she had to say:

Now is the time for people who understand the bush to tell the rest of Australia what fools we are. “Fuel reduction burns make it possible to fight and control a fire; what happened here was uncontrollable,” Dunalley farmer Leigh Arnold told The Australian.

Greenies who oppose such burnoffs, “care more about birds and wildlife than they do about people and farms,” he said. “But what’s the point of that now when the hills and trees they told me I couldn’t burn off, because there were protected eagles and swift parrots there, are now all burned and the fire it created was so hot we had dead swans dropping out of the sky?”

No, the only permissible comment on a bushfire catastrophe is to say it was caused by “climate change” – that convenient get-out-of-jail free card for greenies, governments and the obstructive bureaucracies they jointly create. But we’ve heard it all before, and we’re not buying it.

“It’s really simple,” says Brian Williams, captain of the Kurrajong Heights bushfire brigade, a veteran of 44 years of firefighting, in one of the most extreme fire risk areas of Australia, on a ridge surrounded by 0.75 million hectares of overgrown national park between the Blue Mountains and Wollemi. “Fires run on fuel. Limited fuel means limited fire.”

Green tape and heavy-handed bureaucracy has made his job harder today than in 28 years as captain. Rather than needing six people to perform a controlled burn in the cooler months, now 40 are involved, to oversee biodiversity and so on.

And late last year Alan Jones also had an important piece on this which is worth quoting from:

The propaganda in relation to climate change, from the classroom to the university to politicians and to most of the media, has to give cause for concern. As The Australian newspaper editorialised at the weekend, “It is time for a dose of icy water. Climate change did not cause the fires.

“Drought and even deadlier blazes have been part of Australian life for more than a century … even if Australians eliminated all of the nation’s greenhouse gases, about 1.3 per cent of the global total, and pandered to extremists who want meat consumption, grazing and flying reduced markedly, nothing, virtually nothing, would be achieved …”

He continues:

You can’t have a fire without fuel. Two factors above all else come into play here. In NSW, when Bob Carr was the minister, and later premier, he ratified moves to have fire trails abandoned. Carr’s moves prevented access to those fire trails by the Rural Fire Service, under the pretext he was keeping four 4WDs and campers out.

The government (and how many problems that we face today are created by government?) put locked gates on these national parks and planted big rocks at the entry to the fire trails. Understandably, the fire trails are now overgrown with regrowth forest, impenetrable to everybody except native and feral animals….

When you think there are seven million hectares of national parks in NSW alone, 200 of them in Sydney, and yet hazard reduction burns have occurred on less than 1 per cent of fire-prone land, then we are staring at a potential inferno. This has nothing to do with climate change.

Dr Paul Read, co-director of Australia’s National Centre for Research in Bushfire and Arson, puts the number of bushfires in Australia per year at, on average, “62,000 and increasing”. Of those, 13 per cent are started deliberately and 37 per cent are suspicious. That means 31,000 Australian bushfires are either the product of arson or suspected arson, every year. That means that up to 85 bushfires begin every day because someone leaves their home and decides to start one.

While I do not claim to be an expert on such matters, there are those who are, and it seems we need to start listening to them – and real soon. It seems clear that many of our current policies are not helping matters, but actually making things worse.

Spiritual considerations

And for the Christian at least, there is of course a second way to look at these fires. That is to examine the biblical and theological angle: What does the Bible have to say about things like God and natural disasters? As mentioned, I have often written about these things, eg:

Or here:

And I did also speak about Israel Folau’s recent remarks about God and bush fires. See here:

So I will not now repeat all that I said earlier. I encourage you to have a look at those articles for much more information on this. But let me offer a bit of a summary on what was said there. First, Christians are not deists, who believe that God has no direct involvement in this present world. Instead, he is actively involved in it.

Second, the Bible throughout makes it clear that God can and does use natural means to get our attention, to bring about judgment, or to discipline a people. That is not to say that every flood or firestorm is the direct move of God. But certainly he can do such things if he so chooses.

While almost all Christians love to quote a passage like 2 Chronicles 7:14, not as many would be aware of what is said in the previous verse. There we read about what God himself does: “When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people…” There are so many more similar passages like this found in Scripture.

God is sovereign, so his control also extends to the weather and to what we call natural disasters – or what insurance companies used to refer to as “acts of God.” Again, not everything that happens in the physical world around us is necessarily some judgment of God. But it can be. For more details on all this, refer to the articles above.

And for the Christian, prayer can be a big part of these things. We are not saying we can necessarily control the weather when we pray. But we are asking God for help and grace – and he does control the weather. God generally rules the physical world by the laws of nature that he has set up, but he can also act by means of special intervention in those laws.

To tie this in with our current round of fires, consider the place of prayer as mentioned in this short video. It comes from just a few days ago in NSW, and is linked to at the end of this article. In it a Mallacoota resident and Christian talks about the fires, miracles, and the power of prayer:

In sum, it goes without saying that whatever your particular views are on these matters, we all should pray for those directly and indirectly impacted by these fires.

Bill Muehlenberg

Author, Blogger and Speaker 

Bill Muehlenberg, who was born in America, lives in Melbourne. He is married to an Australian, Averil, and has three sons. He has a BA with honours in philosophy (Wheaton College, Chicago), a MA with highest honours in theology (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Boston), and is working on a PhD in theology. He is Secretary of the Family Council of Victoria. He was formerly the National Vice President of the Australian Family Association. He was formerly the National Research Coordinator at Focus on the Family.

He currently continues an independent ministry in pro-faith and pro-family activism. He is head of an apologetics/ethics ministry called CultureWatch, started in January 2006. This interactive blogsite features over 3,300 articles and 52,000 comments.