If not now, when?

Will there ever be a time we can discuss climate and natural disasters? Or will that discussion be forever delayed?

When is the right time to talk about bushfires and climate change? About the effect of global warming on natural disasters?

Is it in the aftermath of blazes described by veteran firefighters as “unprecedented”? Apparently not, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. “Not today, not today,” she scolded, as a journalist tried to ask that question on Sunday, after Morrison had already played a straight bat to it on Saturday.

Is it as the entirety of NSW is placed in a state of emergency, with the Greater Sydney area plunged into “catastrophic” fire conditions for the first time since that rating was created? Or as 42 areas in QLD get the same dire classification? Apparently not, according to deputy PM Michael McCormack, who blasted such questions as the “ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies”.

Is it after one of the country’s most experienced fire experts, former Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner Greg Mullins, warned “the numbers don’t lie, and the science is clear”, saying “this is not normal”? Still no, according to McCormack, who claimed Mullins and his Emergency Leaders for Climate Action group could be “a front for something else”. What “else” that could be, wasn’t clear.

Is it after at least 200 homes were destroyed and at least three people died in NSW alone?

If not now, when?

It wasn’t after firefighters battled 100 fires at once in NSW last week, with the state’s Rural Fire Service calling it an “unprecedented” catastrophe.

Will it be tomorrow, when 350 schools will simply close their doors, the fire risk to students deemed too great to even have them come to class?

(Maybe all those School Strike For Climate kids were onto something when they politely asked politicians to address the issue)

Will it be the right time to talk about climate and disasters later this week, when something as small as a carelessly discarded cigarette butt or errant lightning strike could ignite some poor lonely town?

Will it be as brave firefighters are stretched to the limit once more, with emergency chiefs bluntly warning “there are simply not enough fire trucks for every house…Do not expect a fire truck. Do not expect a knock on the door.”

Will it be when NSW hits the unwanted milestone of one million hectares of land lost to fires? We’re not far away from that right now, with the mark at around 850,000 hectares by Monday.

It sure wasn’t last week, when 11,000 scientists around the world put their names to a document outlining, once again, the urgent need for radical political and economic overhaul to address the looming climate catastrophe.

Like most sticking their noses into this debate, I’m no expert - but one would hazard a guess that the entirety of most populous area in the country being classed as a state of emergency would be along the lines of what the climate boffins were picturing when they said “climate catastrophe”.

So when can we talk about climate change and disasters?

The time also apparently wasn’t right in April, when Mullins and his Emergency Leaders for Climate Action group — 23 former fire and emergency services chiefs — wrote to the government, expressing their “concern over climate change and the increasingly catastrophic extreme weather events putting lives, properties and livelihoods at greater risk". They pleaded for a meeting "within three months to discuss how the federal government can help Australia better respond to climate change and prepare for growing natural disaster risks".

It also wasn’t the time in September, when the group wrote again just days after the PM himself toured bushfire-ravaged parts of Queensland. This time, they again urged Morrison to meet them urgently, claiming emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor “appears at best to be disinterested in what the emergency leaders might have to say”.

When can we talk about climate change and disasters, when we have government senators in the federal parliament accusing the Bureau of Meteorology of some kind of mathematical trickery on national TV?

The time apparently wasn’t right after fires ripped through rainforests and the Lamington National Park in Queensland in September.

It also wasn’t the right time, apparently, after suburbs at Casino in NSW and Lockyer Valley in QLD were reduced to cinders in October.

When climate activists shut down streets, parks, public transport, beaches and city squares across the nation? Despite the best efforts of Extinction Rebellion, that too was apparently not the right time to talk about climate change. Instead, the answer apparently was to clamp down on protest itself.

So as NSW braces for potentially the worst fire danger day in the recorded history of the state; as QLD and Western Australia bunker down and hope for the best; as firefighters, the soot-covered heroes in fluoro, rub their blistered faces and try to wash the smell of smoke from their hair, preparing for another day of battling the ferocity of nature itself; a lot of us are still left wondering:

When will be the right time to talk about this?

We’re waiting.


For more information, see the Rural Fire Service websites in NSW and QLD, and Emergency WA.

The Red Cross is collecting disaster relief donations. To contribute, click here.

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