As the smoke rolled into Canberra on Saturday evening, householders across the city reacted with alarm, and many checked if anything close by was burning. For some of us who lived through the horror of the 2003 fires, the smell of smoke brings back difficult memories.
Thankfully it was not our city that was burning, but the smoke from fires from our NSW neighbours. These NSW fires have seen many Canberra residents pitching in to help with the fire-fighting effort over the last week or so.
Many of us have family members or friends who have been confronted by threats to property in some of Canberra’s favourite holiday destinations. Many Canberra households are wondering if their summer break plans will still be possible. Business groups are expressing their concern about the economic impacts of this unprecedented fire season.
Throughout this week, we will continue to be subject to thick smoke haze, and we are being warned to take care of our health, particularly those of us with asthma and respiratory issues. With the arrival of this smoke haze, Canberra joins a range of cities across the east coast of Australia, including Sydney, that have been living with the smoke for weeks.
Serious fires have been burning across Australia since September. Lives have tragically been lost as well as people’s homes and businesses being lost to the fires. Areas of forests that have never been subject to fire are burning this summer (including rain forests) and there are major concerns for wildlife losing their lives and habitat.
This is not normal.
While there has been debate about whether or not it was appropriate to talk about climate change as a key driver of this unprecedented long and fierce fire season, ex-fire chiefs, survivors of the fires and scientists argue that we must confront these occurrences as one of the consequences of a changing climate. While this is a global phenomenon, it is already impacting our local environment and climate. As analysis has demonstrated, our region is getting drier and hotter and with this, we will need to prepare and respond to more extreme weather events and changing fire patterns.
Concern about climate change is not the sole domain of committed environmentalists or climate scientists but has emerged as a top-level concern across the community more generally. As the recent Australia Talks Survey undertaken by the ABC recently revealed, it is one of the top worries of Australians everywhere. With mass strikes and rallies organised by school students here and across the nation, we know our young people see this as an urgent and pressing issue.
As such, it is not a surprise that all six of the lead candidates selected by the ACT Greens to contest next year’s Territory election cite concern around climate change as one of their key concerns. These are not alarmist calls but ones that mirror many in the community.
I am one of these candidates, and my concern around the climate has strengthened through engaging with the science and watching the climate change throughout my lifetime. This is impossible to ignore. It’s also impossible to separate from my everyday work that centres around social justice, and responding to issues of inequity, poverty, marginalisation and disadvantage. As with extreme weather events and disasters generally, it is clear that those who will be most impacted are the poor, the marginalised and disadvantaged. As such, there is an urgent need to focus on climate and economic justice as we engage in decision making at a local, national and global level to ensure that the inevitable transition to a low carbon future will not leave people behind.
Canberra is rightly proud of the work we have done to respond to climate change – particularly our commitment and achievement of 100 per cent renewable electricity. Action on climate has been a priority of the ACT Greens, and part of parliamentary agreements since 2008, when the ACT Green’s first called for the setting of a timetable for the purchase of 100 per cent renewable electricity by the ACT Government. Subsequent agreements have set the framework for the pathway to achieve this.
However, as highlighted in the new Climate Change Strategy, there is still much work to be done, and we will need to work together to ensure that we do all we can to protect this beautiful place we call home, and look after the people who make up our community.
I think we need to continue to ensure strong action on climate continues to be a key priority of our local Government. What are your ideas about how we ensure Canberra remains liveable in a changing climate?
Rebecca is a lead candidate for the ACT Greens contesting the seat of Kurrajong in the 2020 Territory election.