Comments on the recent bushfire Royal Commission

The Centre of Urban Research (CUR) at RMIT has just released some commentary on the recent Royal Commission into the 2019 bushfire emergency.

Along with commentary from my colleagues Emeritus Professor Environment and Planning, Michael Buxton and Dr Mittul Vahanvati, I really enjoyed the chance to make some comments on the findings of the Royal Commission.

My comments, reflecting my research interests and PhD thesis, were with regard to community education around resilience and the crucial importance of a secure liquid fuel supply for Australia:

Community education

Researcher in the Sustainable Planning Program Dr Anthony Richardson has welcomed the Commission’s call for community education around disaster risk and preparation.

But he says the focus must include “a realistic understanding of what ‘resilience’ in such a context means.

”Too often the common understanding of resilience involves the idea of an environment or community bouncing back,” he notes, but “our vulnerability is rising, and not every aspect of the Australian environment or lifestyle can ‘bounce back’.”

We only have to consider houses built in flood zones along the Brisbane River, or in zones of high bushfire vulnerability, he points out.

“Managing stakeholder expectations, including those of the general public, will be a key element in the process of community education.

“As the report clearly states: ‘In some disasters, it is impossible to protect everyone’. Promoting this more realistic understanding of resilience is where community education will be crucial.”

Essential services

The report’s focus on essential services is commendable, Richardson says, adding “it acknowledges the importance of energy to the interconnected systems that make the Australian lifestyle possible.  

“But, while there is a focus on the global scale in terms of our national supply chains, there still needs to be a clear and central focus on liquid fuel insecurity in this country,” he says.

“Liquid fuels, including petrol and diesel, make possible all the other systems discussed in the report but despite this we are rapidly approaching 100% reliance on imported fuel.”

He points to disruptions to the fuel supply within Gippsland that led to food and fuel shortages, and stranded thousands of holiday makers in a bushfire zone with empty tanks.

“This was serious enough at a regional level, but a fuel supply chain disruption at the national level would have catastrophic consequences.

“Australia is increasingly reliant on uninterrupted supplies of imported liquid fuel.  It’s long past the time we recognise this vulnerability as a risk to the maintenance of all the complex systems that make life in Australia possible.”

An online panel on the implications of the pandemic…

Back in May I participated in an online panel (for the Melbourne PC Users Group) on the implications of the Coronavirus pandemic.

A fascinating discussion – three ‘take aways’ for me:

  • the gender implications of the pandemic – it is most clearly (and negatively) impacting women, and in particular single mothers
  • how good would a Universal Basic Income be about now!
  • after 40 years of trying we still don’t have a vaccine for AIDS – we should not assume the situation will be any different for Covid19

The permanent Youtube link.

Back to the blog…

Things have been a little crazy, what with the collapse of our complex global systems and all, and I’ve been unable to do much writing recently.

But actually a lot has been happening in the meantime, including having this piece on the bushfires (as an example of systems collapse) published in The Conversation.

The response has been pretty amazing, TBH:

  • it’s been the third most read article published by an RMIT academic since Xmas last year
  • it was published by The Canberra Times, amongst other outlets
  • It has apparently been translated into Arabic
  • and most fun of all – it was picked up by a wonderful blog Informed Comment (by the US academic Juan Cole) which I used to read avidly back at the turn of the century…

I had a couple of radio interviews – the links coming soon…

Finally, I was invited to do a fascinating podcast with Bart Womack from Houston Texas. His company, Eden Grow Systems, is doing some really interesting things in terms of a modular food production system, and I will be talking more about both this model, and his podcasts, in a later post.