There was an interesting feature article in the glossy magazine section of the latest Weekend Australian (not online), detailing the recollections of some of the people of Marysville in Victoria in the hours leading up to the horrendous bushfire which all but wiped out the town.

The story reconstructs the last 24 hours of Marysville’s life as a tourist mecca, up until the very last moment before the fire struck, when restaurants and businesses were pampering visitors in the leisurely spirit that has defined the place since the 1920s.

Resort operators were amazed so few guests cancelled their plans. They came to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or to seek relief from the rat race.

One plucky bed-and-breakfast operator assured an anxious caller that the odds of being killed on the road driving up from the city were higher than the threat of bushfire.

The common thread through so many of the recollections was that there was barely any awareness of the extreme risk and danger they were facing until the fire was literally almost on top of them, by which time of course it was too late for many people.  No doubt the Royal Commission being held into the fires will pull out a lot more detail about what could or should have happened before and on the day, but I expect that will take some years to unfold.

It’s easy to be wise in hindsight, and no doubt few Australians will be so blase about fire risk until some years down the track when the enormity of this tragedy starts to really fade.  I expect many of us in the same situation would have had similar approaches, which seemed to be a combination of ‘it won’t happen to me’ and ‘someone will let us know in plenty of time if there’s serious danger’.

It struck me as being very similar to the attitudes many people display, particularly in the political arena, to the issue of climate change.  There is still a feeling of ‘someone will sort out how to fix it before it’s too late’ and ‘it couldn’t really be as bad as all those scientists are saying’.
Unfortunately, the evidence on the impact of growing global greenhouse emissions is getting clearer that it may already be very close to too late, and we’ve barely started to look at how we should respond to the threat.

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