Opinion Australia

One man’s view of how the world might be.

Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

What does it mean to be "British"?

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Some statistics have been released which, if correct, maye you wonder what’s happening over in ‘dear old blighty’.  The figures released imply that 1 in 9 people living in Britain were born ‘overseas’.

Globalisation, cheap travel, easy migration and wide differences in living standards have encouraged people to move in ever greater numbers from place to place, and especially from less developed areas to those perceived as ‘better off’. There are now nearly 7 million people resident in the UK who weren’t born there.

As the recession starts to bite, unemployment rates are increasing and large numbers of non-uk born residents are qualifying for, and receiving the dole.

I suppose this is an issue countries around the world have to deal with, especially Australia which relies on immigration to keep the economy growing. The question to ask is are we going down a similar path to the UK and if so… is it really such a good idea?

It also makes you reevaluate what exactly it means to be “British”!

Source: One in nine people living in Britain now born overseas

Written by welshdog

February 25, 2009 at 6:44 am

Posted in Environment, Society

From bad to worse.

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The fires are not yet out… the death toll not finalised… and Melbourne suffers another blow as projections of some of the long term issues become clearer.

This time the problem is water supply. Rainfall in the catchment area for Melbourne is already at its lowest on record, and the dams are currently only at 30% capacity. Now, with much of the catchment burned and blanketed in ash, when the rains come it’s likely that the water collected will be far too dirty for use. Eventually it will clear of course as sediment settles, but it might take years in order for that to happen because each time it rains… if it rains… the dams will be again polluted by turgid ash filled water.

Despite the problems this will cause, it is nonetheless a short term problem and can be fixed. The issue is far more serious than that and projections have been mooted that suggest the *minimum* period affected will be fifty years, and the situation may not revert to ‘normal’ for up to 300 years!! 

So what *is* this problem that is so serious? Basically it’s the possible, actually probable death of hundreds of thousands of Mountain Ash trees. The Mountain Ash is the dominant species throughout the affected catchment area and there are grave fears that the crowns of these trees have been destroyed by the intense heat of the fires.

Whilst it is a Eucalyptus, the evolution of the tree has produced one that *requires* fire in order for seeds to sprout. It is of course, no more fire resistant than others, and these fires were so severe they may not have survived over immense areas. What’s worse is that this variety they won’t shoot new growth from the sides, or the base of the tree. These trees regenerate from seed alone.

This may not sound that serious… until you learn that new growth can use up to 50% more water than a mature tree, and as the growth period of these trees is very extended, the total water supply from the catchment could drop by that amount for the foreseeable future.

What sort of effect this massively reduced water supply will have on Melbourne in the short and long terms is open to discussion, but serious questions are already being asked about the city’s ability to function with water supply so critically threatened. Something will obviously have to be done… the question is, just *what*.

One thing is certain however, the decision of ex-NSW Premier Morris Iemma to push through the building of our desalination plant may well turn out to be a life-saver for Sydney. If similar disastrous fires were to scour the Blue Mountains our water supply, already a bit shaky, would be stretched to the limits and beyond. If that happened, then the plant could be put quickly into full production.

Written by welshdog

February 18, 2009 at 9:31 am

Death toll etc.

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The death toll currently still stands at 181 but there are areas yet to be accessed by police and there are known dead waiting to be moved and counted amongst those lost. The end total is still estimated at ‘300’ but it will be some time before anything like a final ‘exact official figure’ can be issued.

There are still 120 people unaccounted for and there is still the possibile loss of tourists and the like who are as yet included in the total who might (or may never) be included in the total.

The damage bill is estimated at @ billion, over 1800 homes have been destroyed with 7,500 made homeless. 

Donations and pledges are now running close to $100 million but this is clearly nowhere near the amount needed to help those who can, rebuild their lives.

We’ve been very lucky in the Sydney basin not to have had something similar happen… so I’m hoping lessons are being learned that will prevent *us* from becoming statistics in the future.

Written by welshdog

February 14, 2009 at 4:55 pm

Posted in Environment

Tagged with , , ,

The first arrest.

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Police have arrested a 39 year old man in connection with the blaze that killed 21 people and wiped out 36,000 hectares of South Gippsland. The man’s solicitor said his client was “in a fragile state” and needed immediate psychological support.

Police consider the cause of fires started at Marysville, Murrindindi, Buxton and Narbethong to be ‘suspicious’. If convicted of arson, he faces up to 25 years in jail. If convicted of the bushfire charge, he could face 15 years. 

There have been calls for calm from authorities concerned people might try to take revenge on people accused of starting the fires.

Written by welshdog

February 14, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Posted in Environment

Tagged with , ,

Firebugs or Natural Disasters or… ?

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Theories are beginning to be mooted about the causes of the Victorian Bushfire Disaster, and whilst they are many and varied it appears nearly all contain an element of ‘truth’ about them that could explain just what went so horribly wrong.

To make it a little simplet. it’s useful to look at the situation in several section; what started the fires; what fed the fires; what allowed them to grown out of control; and why did so many people die?

To begin with, there had been a warning of desperately hot weather for a week before the fires started. The eventual temperature rose to 46.6ºC – the hottest day in Melbourne on record. We’ve heared reports of ‘static electricity storms’ with strikes that might have started spot fires. There were claims that abandoned and broken glass bottles might have started one or more. Also that cigarette butts were involved. The rapid spread of the fies in the area surrounding Maryville and elsewhere suggested deliberate arson.

So far there is no confirmation of any of those theories. One man has been arrested on suspicion of causing the fires surrounding Maryville, but until we hear full details nobody can be sure what happened. He has been moved out of state to protect him until he is brought to trial.

Regardless of how the fires started, once lit there was a chain of events that made the resultant disaster inevitable.

Australian trees such as Eucalypts are oily by nature. The reason the Blue Mountains were given their name was because of the faint haze the oil produces in the sky as it evaporates. In the USA they are known as ‘Gasoline Trees’ because of the way they ‘explode’  when alight. This oily nature ensures that despite being ‘evergreen’, when their leaves drop as they do periodically they don’t immediately rot as happens with deciduous trees. As with pine trees, they form a thick layer around the base of the trees which serves to prevent any other tree growing in competition. In addition they normally grow by shedding their outer layer of bark. The result is that a thick volatile layer builds up rapidy under the trees.

That this is a ready source of fuel for fires has been well known for a long time and disaster mitigation programs established that a maximum ‘safe’ level of this type of litter is roughly 3 – 5 tonnes per acre. Ideally, in order to control the increase, regular ‘back-burning’ of forest areas is carried out under controlled conditions.

In Victoria, the ‘Green Lobby’ has successfully managed to control the agenda regarding ‘backburing in and around state forests such that the activity has been drastically curtailed. The result was that litter in those areas increased from a ‘moderate’ 3 – 5 tonnes per acre… to 20 – 30 tonnes per acre!!

Now add other environmental ‘lifestyle policies’ that serve to prohibit housholders from removing trees further away from their homes than 6 metres… whereas 150 metres in considered to be ‘reasonable in other states… and imagine houses sitting *under* eucalypts, which as we’ve already can be virtual timebombs waiting to go off.  Now add to this the Australian penchant for growing large eucalypts along the edges of roads in order to help shield pedestrians from sunburn, and drivers et al from the sun’s glare.

Finally, there were gale force winds blowing through the area. The wind was obviously to be a large factor in spreading the flames, embers and the thick black choking smoke.

The scene is set. All that was needed was for the sparks to be set and hell exploded.

Regardless how the fires started their spread, once alight, was irresistable. The heat had dried out the litter to tinder and thousands of tonnes of this tinder dry inflammable material began to be devoured.

Initially this seemed no worse than any other bush fire, bad yes, possibly dangerous… but there was no suggestion it might have been worse for the loss of human life than any ‘normal’ year. Instructions were sent out to the residents of the area telling them to follow ‘normal procedure’ for bushfires, i.e. to stay home, prepare for the fire to arrive, ‘flare over them, and move on leaving them with the task of rushing back out with houses, mops and buckets to douse any spot fires thus saving their peroprty from destruction.

However the conditions these fires began under was *not* normal. People who took every precaution suggested were still overwhelmed and died in their homes. Those who realised the scale of the impending disaster and fled found smoke filled roads littered with burning trees blocking their escape. Fires raging with temperatures in excess of 2000ºC overtook them at speeds above 150 kph and there was no escape.

People died in their homes, people died on foot trying to run to safety, people died in cars, in dams, in water filled baths… there was nothing anyone could do in the face of a fire of this magnitude. Whole towns were burned to the ground taking with them the residents who had bravely stayed to fight the blaze.

With the scale of the death and destruction still being assessed the reality still overawes. Day by day stories are emerging of the horrors some people went through. In one home nine people were found huddled over the body of a baby. All had died in their futile attempt to save its life. 

I think the point of this post was to explain that the reasons for the disaster were many and varied… but simply blaming ‘a firebug’, or ‘ alightening strike’ or ‘green policies’ is too simplistic. It was perhaps a combination of all these factors that resulted in the worst known peacetime disaster ever to hit Australia but it probably brings home once and for all that we are going to have to face a decision between life… and lifestyle. We simply *cannot* ‘trust’ the bush and as global warming takes a firmer hold, conditions can only worsen. Decision need to be taken now to encourage people to clear far more trees from around their properties and forgo the pleasure inherent in living close to nature.

Written by welshdog

February 14, 2009 at 4:43 pm

The environmentalist.

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The kids went out in the garden a weeks or so ago and found an old bowl we’d been using under a tap as an extra water source for our dogs. Over the months it managed to develop a hole a few cms from the bottom so was pushed to one side. Still, it does hold a little water and some frogs found it and left a load of eggs in it. A few days later there were a load of tadpoles swimming aground.

Moving the story along… we have a goldfish in a tank, along with a yabbie. The goldfish has grown too large for the tank it was in so having seen a cheapish 70 litre one [i]($129 in a local cheapo shop)[/i], went off to buy one. While I was there I saw a 20 litre tank on sale for half price… so bought one of those as well.

Then off to the pet store for those ‘extras’ like gravel and plants. I also picked up something that looked suspiciously like those ‘sea monkey’ things but are called ‘Billabong Bugs’. More on that later.

After an hour of washing gravel, planting water weed, water conditioning and mopping up, we now have a tank with a happy fish, a tank with an irate yabbie who spent an hour ripping into it’s weeds [i](to be fair it was eating a lot of it)[/i] and generally storming about, and a tank containing some of the tadpoles. I only added a few to make sure the water was safe. If I’d killed the lot I’d have been quite upset… as no doubt would they. We also seem to have mossie larvae in the water as well. Obviously I’d not been careful enough when I scooped the tadpoles out… I’m hoping the tadpoles will eat them when they get large enough, but that remains to be seen. 

Later today I’ll get out in the garden and bring in a lot more of the remaining tadpoles. The whole point of this after all was being concerned that leaving them where they are would just result in them drying out or being eaten by the lizards or Kookaburra’s. While at the pet store I picked up some ‘frozen bloodworm’ which I was assured they’d scarf down like there was no tomorrow… which of course they didn’t. Ah well… live and learn I suppose.

If they mature to frogs we’ll let them all go again and with some luck, and if some survive, we might get more for next year!

Written by welshdog

February 13, 2009 at 5:48 am

Posted in Environment

Tagged with , ,

The wheel turns.

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The fires in Victoria are still burning though some overnight rain has given the firefighters some chance of finally gaining a measure of control over the course of the twenty-one blazes they are currently dealing with. Currently no more homes are under threat, as far as we’re aware but of course the clean-up has yet to be properly begun and that will be when the true death toll will start be assessed.

We’re expecting that the human death toll might reach 300, whilst the deaths amongst animal life runs into millions. It will be many years before the environment fully recovers, in fact there are suggestions that it might take fifty years for the animal life to recolonise the burned areas, despite the fact that within a few years there will be little sign it was ever ablaze.

The scale of the disaster has affected people around the world and so far there has been some $48 million in donations to help with the recovery. Of course this will be of little use to those whose entire families have been wiped out, but for the survivors it might at least relieve the immediate pressure of how to cope without home or belongings.

The ‘shock and awe’ of the disaster has begun to recede as the horrible reality of the situation has finally settled and people are beginning to look around trying to isolate reasons for the destruction to have been on so massive a scale. After all, people were living in Australia for 40,000 years before Europeans arrived and they seemed to co-exist with the land fairly comfortably. It’s 200+ years since Europeans arrived and even after that length of time you’d think we would have arrived at some sort of accommodation with the environment such that we understand the dangers and take real  measures to protect ourselves from them. So what went wrong?

This is a question I’ll address in another post, but here I’ll just say that recriminations and infighting have already begun as those who might share in the responsibility try to shift the focus for ‘blame’ from themselves onto others. It’s an unedifying spectacle and in the long term counter productive. We really need these people to forget the shortcomings of themselves and their organisations and sit down together to establish what might have been been done better and set in place action plans that ensure this never happens again.

I admit that with human nature being what it is, this is likely to be a futile hope. Nearly 90 people died on ‘Ash Wednesday‘ in February 1983 and from reading the histories of that disaster it seems few lessons were learned. No doubt history will repeat itself again before real action is taken.

Written by welshdog

February 12, 2009 at 7:49 am

Soul of a Nation

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We’re relative newcomers to Australia having only been here 15 years or so, but ‘new’ or not we *feel* Australian, which is really strange when you think just how*huge* this country is.

What brought it into perspective was the concern we feel here in Sydney for our fellows down South in Victoria where they are suffering appalling levels of death and destruction, bearing in mind we are not at war on our homeland, though the firestorms still raging through the bush.

Much of the damage has been outside Melbourne, which is nearly 900 kilometres from us. This is much the same distance as London to Berlin. Yet, much as people in the UK might sympathise with the Germans had a similar tragedy happened there, I doubt it would have the same impact – or vice versa. 

I read the papers in the USA when the fires were raging there last summer and it almost seemed as if the papers were reporting events in another country. Here all the papers, national and local, are filled with the fires, the loss of life, and requests for donations etc to help the stricken pull their lives back together. Yet in the USA it seemed as if it was just ‘accepted’ that there were casualties… and then moved on to the next news item.

Maybe this sense of  “Australian-ism” is something unique, it’s hard to say, but there does seem to be a sense of ‘one community’ in people I’ve spoken to that overcomes the tyranny of distance. In fact whilst I was in the Post Office this morning I eavesdropped a conversation between a customer and the assistant trying to work out the best way for the customer to send a donation of goods (actually ‘hair and beauty’ care products) for the women down there to help them regain some dignity. It was such a nice gesture it almost had me in tears but also started me thinking along the lines of how integrated Australian society really is.

In the face of continued immigration and multiculturalism I really hope it continues. There is something special about the “Aussie Spirit” that the world can’t afford to lose.

Written by welshdog

February 11, 2009 at 11:35 am

And… we're back.

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So here we are again after the long summer break raring to go with a load of topics to discuss. Yet what a place to begin. With the possibility of 300 or more people dead in the worst bush-fires Australia has seen hanging over us it’s hard to restart the blog with anything positive.

That we’d suffered a national tragedy is without question a truism. Despite the deaths being limited to a relatively small area, there are few of us who don’t have some personal knowledge or links to those who died, even if there are two or three degrees of separation.

For my part there are people on the Australian Opinion forum who have friends and colleagues missing, and the company the wife is employed by has people still missing. Sadly, the term ‘missing’ is somewhat of a euphemism since all on the list are almost certainly dead. True there may be minor miracles such as Dorothy Barker’s who somehow survived her house burning down by managing to crawl under her stairs into a tiny space just before roof collapsed, but for most… there was no safe place.

One of the worst aspects is that some of the dead may *never* be identified because there is nothing of them left to be found. The fires were so intense they were effectively cremated. If their remains included jewellery etc then circumstantial evidence may be used as identification, but others will have simple disappeared.

Clearly there is far more to write on this subject, but this initial post is simply to say we’re back and writing again.

Before you ask, I live outside Sydney and whilst at one end of the country floods have ravaged and killed, and at the others fires have ravaged and killed… here we are an island of calm. Yes it was hot for a day or two but we’ve had sufficient rain locally to negate any possibility of bush-fires… for now. The trees are lush, the lawns green and there is wildlife everywhere. Sometimes it’s hard to believe we’re in the same country.

Written by welshdog

February 11, 2009 at 7:58 am

They're coming!!

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We’re a scruffy bunch here sometimes. For example, I like a bit of ‘wildness’ in the garden and so apart from throwing handfuls of slug pellets out now and then I tend not to do much in the way of pest control. Likewise I do *very* little pruning in some areas.

Once such area is the far right of the property (as you view from the street). Over the past 9 years the vegetation has grown slowly and now forms what, to my mind at least is quite an attractive little area, as you might agree from the photo.

Naturally it look better in real life, and in a larger photo come to that, but I hope this gives you an idea anyway.

So why am I telling you all this?

Well as you can tell from the photo, the far end of the garden has formed a natural arch which does rather cause difficulties for anyone trying to walk along this side of the road. This state of affairs is soon to be resolved however because the local council has taken it upon them selves to ‘prune’ all the trees on the estate to make it ‘safer for pedestrians and improves vehicular access’.

In other words they are about to hack our beautiful little ‘wild area’ to pieces.

I’ve taken this photo and a few others to remind me what it looked like before the butchers have had their evil way with the vegetation and I’ll publish a few ‘before and after shots’ so you can see if it *is* an improvement… or if it truly *has* ruined what I thought was a very pretty little corner.

Written by welshdog

November 14, 2008 at 5:22 pm