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Tragedy and Profit

Every time something goes wrong there will be someone who tries to take advantage of the situation. The recent bushfires in Australia that have killed hundreds of people (the count is not known yet) are a good example. Pastor Nalliah of Catch the Fire Ministries [1] claims that it is due to legalising abortion. This is astoundingly wrong.

In a more extreme example representatives of the Westboro Baptist Church were planning to visit Australia to launch a protest in support of the bushfires [2]. I have not yet found any news reports about whether they actually visited Australia or protested – it’s most likely that they decided not to visit due to the Australian laws being very different to US laws regarding the relative importance of freedom of speech and incitement to violence. Apparently the insane Westboro Baptist Church people (who are best known for GodHatesFags.com and GodHatesAmerica.com) believe that God hates Australia and caused the fires (presumably due to Australia not persecuting homosexuals). Danny Nalliah has permanently damaged his own reputation by acting in a similar way to the Westboro Baptist Church. The reputation of Catch The Fire now depends on how quickly they get a new pastor…

Please note well that the vast majority of Christians have nothing in common with Westboro or Catch The Fire. I don’t recall the last time I met an Australian Christian who was strongly opposed to homosexuality or abortion.

Now we do have to try and investigate ways of avoiding future tragedies, and the work to do this needs to begin immediately. John Brumby (the Premier of Victoria) has announced that Victoria will get new strict building codes for fire resistant buildings [3]. There have been many anecdotes of people who claim to have been saved by attaching sprinkler systems to their homes, by building concrete bunkers to hide in while the fire passes, and using other techniques to save their home or save themselves. Some more research on the most effective ways of achieving such goals would be worthwhile, an increase in funding for the CSIRO to investigate the related issues would be a good thing. The article also has an interesting quote “As the fallout from the disaster widened, the union representing the nation’s 13,000 firefighters warned both the federal and state governments to take global warming seriously to prevent a repeat of last weekend’s lethal firestorm“. However given that traditionally Australia and the US have been the two nations most opposed to any efforts to mitigate global warming it seems unlikely that anything will change in this regard in a hurry.

The attempts to link bushfires to abortion and homosexuality are offensive, but can be ignored in any remotely serious debate about politics. However there are some other groups trying to profit from the tragedy that make claims which are not as ridiculous.

On the 9th of February the Australian Green party was compelled to release an official statement from Spokesperson Scott Ludlam, Sarah Hanson-Young, Rachel Siewert, Christine Milne, and Bob Brown following some political discussion about Greens policies [4]. There have been attempts to blame the Greens for the tragedy which were politically motivated, some of which came from groups that traditionally oppose the Greens for other reasons (I’m not going to provide the detail – anyone who is really interested can do google searches on the people in question). On the 16th of February Bob Brown (the leader of the Green party) felt obliged to make another media release reiterating the fact that the Greens support prescribed burn-offs to limit the scope of wild fires [5], he also decried the hate mongering that has been occurring in the wake of the disaster.

One of the strange memes that seems to be spread by opponents to the Greens is that the Greens are all supposedly from the city and know nothing about the country. To avoid being subject to such attack I feel obliged to note that on one of the bad fire days I visited my parents. I spent the morning with my father and some friends at a park that was not far from the fire area, my friends then returned to their home which was not far from the fire area. I then had lunch with my parents and watched the smoke through the dining room window. After that my friends didn’t respond to email for a while and I was concerned that they may have lost their house or maybe suffered injury or death. I didn’t know them well enough to feel it appropriate to try a dozen different ways of contacting them (I’m sure that many other people were doing so), but I was rather concerned until my wife received an email from them.

But I don’t base my political beliefs on what I personally observe or my connections to people on the edge of the fire zone. I believe in the Green principles of “Peace and Non Violence, Grassroots Democracy, Social and Economic Justice, Ecological Sustainability” and the use of science and statistics to determine the best ways of achieving those goals.

1 comment to Tragedy and Profit

  • M. GrĂ©goire

    Investigating fire-resistant construction is an excellent idea. It’s a common mistake to blindly copy building technologies and styles from place to place, even where the environment is dramatically different. Although it may not be feasible to build houses in Australia that are immune to fires, it should be possible to have bunkers or root cellars that provide short-term shelter.