As bushfire and holiday seasons converge, it may be time to say goodbye to the typical Australian summer holiday

Things that once seemed absurd will now need serious consideration.

caravan being pulled by 4wd

David Bowman, University of Tasmania

For 40 years I have studied bushfires in Australia. It has been my life’s work to try to better understand Australian landscapes and the interaction of humans and landscape fire.

As we contemplate a future where catastrophes like the one currently engulfing Australia become increasingly frequent, there’s an idea to which I keep returning: maybe it’s time to say goodbye to the typical summer Australian holiday.

Perhaps it’s time to rearrange Australian calendar and reschedule the peak holiday period to March or April, instead of December and January.

It’s easy to dismiss this idea as stupid but that’s the nature of adaptation. Things that once seemed absurd will now need serious consideration.

What’s truly absurd is the business-as-usual approach that sees thousands of holidaymakers heading directly into forests and national parks right in the middle of peak bushfire season.


Read more: Friday essay: living with fire and facing our fears


All of the indications are that we are galloping into changing fire regimes. We can certainly see that with what’s occurred in the Australian alps (the snow country in southeastern Australia, near Mount Kosciuszko). There were incredibly intense fires there around the early 2000s and now those areas are re-burning.

To me, as a fire researcher, that’s an astonishing thought.

Yes, there have been very large fires in the past but they weren’t followed up with yet more very large fires a mere 15 years later. Normally, you’d be expecting a gap of 50 or 100 years. So the ecology is telling us that we are seeing the intervals between the fires shrinking. That is a really big warning sign.

And this increasingly frequent fire activity is completely consistent with what climate modelling was suggesting. The whole system is moving to a world that is hotter, drier, and with more frequent fire activity. It’s what was forecast and it’s what is now happening.

Big holidays in peak fire season
One of the great exacerbating factors of this crisis is the fact that it’s occurring in a holiday period. It makes things incredibly difficult for emergency management. The fact is that it would be a lot easier for firefighters to focus on stemming fires if they didn’t also have to manage mass evacuations, and deal with populations that are dispersed and far from home.

Scheduling the major Australian holiday at the same time as bushfire season also makes things extremely difficult for the enterprises that depend on the holiday trade. You need certainty to run a business and timing the major annual Australian holiday period with bushfire season strips certainty away from these business owners.

It’s also really terrible for holidaymakers themselves. People are in desperate need of a break, to spend time with family. Instead of returning to work rested and re-energised, many will be stressed, tired, perhaps even traumatised. (And let’s not forget the firefighters themselves, also denied a break with friends and family over the holidays).

And having the major holiday right in the middle of bushfire season also means that many people are denied a chance to experience national parks, as authorities close them off to reduce risk.

Adaptation means change, and change is hard
The old idea was that we can head off the crisis by reducing our emissions through decarbonisation. We had an opportunity to do that and we didn’t take it. We still have to decarbonise but now we also have to adapt.

And the sort of adaptation needed is not just about infrastructure, it’s also about the way we shape our lifestyle, our culture and traditions.

Climate change adaptation will nearly always be met with political, social and cultural resistance. It is not easy. But something like completely rearranging the Australian calendar around increased risks – it’s not even the biggest change required of us.

Some of the other things we are going to have to do will at first seem absurd, will be unbelievably painful economically and will require major adjustments.


Read more: How to monitor the bushfires raging across Australia


There’s going to need to be a systematic change in behaviour and lifestyle as we adapt.

This crisis occurring in peak holiday time is highlighting the fact that the assumptions of normality we have got are being challenged by climate change.

It is confronting, but adaptation also brings with it great benefits – less loss of life, greater certainty and opportunity for businesses and holidaymakers, and smoother handling of fire crises as they emerge.

We need to put some serious thought into what future life will be like under climate change. Perhaps shifting peak holiday season to the cooler months is the place to start.The Conversation

David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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    COMMENTS

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    Hasbeen
    11th Jan 2020
    9:54am
    "All of the indications are that we are galloping into changing fire regimes. We can certainly see that with what’s occurred in the Australian alps (the snow country in southeastern Australia, near Mount Kosciuszko). There were incredibly intense fires there around the early 2000s and now those areas are re-burning."

    Why would anyone, particularly a researcher, be surprised that 20 years of non management, allowing a huge growth of forest litter to accumulate would set the scene for a repeat of a major fire?

    This bull dust of global warming is not the story. The removal of cattle grazing & forestry from these areas, & a huge increase of the area designated "national park" without any increase of staff to manage them was/is a recipe for disastrous fires, & that is exactly what unmanaged national parks have become.

    Experienced foresters, & bushman have been warning that the ridiculous greening of policy, & penny pinching in management of forests is the reason foe what we are now getting, nothing to do with pie in the sky global warming.
    Tanker
    11th Jan 2020
    11:45am
    Has been your claims of non-management of National Parks and a denial of climate change is not borne out by those responsible for fighting the fires.
    Your claims are probably part of the current drive to divert attention away from the facts. There are multiple aspects of a bushfire and the weather is a major factor which is affected by climate change.
    Politics is also playing a part in this with the Murdoch media playing a role as evidenced by the recent resignation of a senior executive of Newscorp who could no longer support the misinformation being peddled in Murdoch owned newspapers.
    Tanker
    11th Jan 2020
    11:45am
    Has been your claims of non-management of National Parks and a denial of climate change is not borne out by those responsible for fighting the fires.
    Your claims are probably part of the current drive to divert attention away from the facts. There are multiple aspects of a bushfire and the weather is a major factor which is affected by climate change.
    Politics is also playing a part in this with the Murdoch media playing a role as evidenced by the recent resignation of a senior executive of Newscorp who could no longer support the misinformation being peddled in Murdoch owned newspapers.
    Rae
    11th Jan 2020
    12:59pm
    We have land bordering National Park which appears to have been abandoned from ant management around 15 years ago now. It is overgrown with lantana and other ground cover and has had firebreaks and fence lines neglected. A fire zone just waiting for a spark in this drier climate. No way could you fight fire or even get into this National Park now.

    Possibly cheap to just ignore any management but not sensible.

    The weather is a feature as is the moving of people into the bush for tree change as people move into the cities. If these tree changers decide to move back to the cities it's going to get very squashy quickly.

    I wouldn't recommend visiting camping spots right now. We are not even visiting the property as it is not safe. Not safe to leave home over Summer. What a mismanagement the past couple of decades has produced.
    David
    11th Jan 2020
    4:29pm
    I agree with your points Tanker.
    NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons recently rejected Barnaby Joyce’s claim that the Greens were impeding the capacity of the RFS and others to fight fires by limiting hazard reduction during the winter months. Shane said that “…the environmental clearances are invariably not our problem with hazard reduction burning. Our biggest challenge with hazard reduction is the weather and the windows available to do it safely and effectively and the more complicated ways are the resourcing to deliver on them. Sure there are environmental checks to go through but we streamline those and there is special legislation to give us clearance to cut through what would otherwise be a complex environment.
    Shane also said in a media interview on the ABC that the NSW RFS had met all their targets for backburning.
    Former NSW Fire and Rescue NSW Commissioner Greg Mullins said "Blaming 'greenies' for stopping these important measures is a familiar, populist, but basically untrue claim."
    It is a myth for people to claim that the Greens are against planned burns, as they have supported hazard reduction burns for a long time. For example, on 11/1/2013 Senator Nick McKim said “The Greens strongly support fuel reduction burns as a vital tool for protecting lives and property. This includes all land tenures, from private land to National Parks and other reserves."
    Mariner
    11th Jan 2020
    4:40pm
    Hasbeen - you are absolutely on the money with your comment, wilderness has to be managed not left alone as the Greenies want us to do. Well, I suppose they got what they wanted, albeit a bit different. Just listen to wailers like that Greta Thunberg and follow instructions.
    We just have to wait till all that climate change thing runs its course, 20 years ago it was Y2K, remember? OH wey, the world is ending!!
    Incognito
    11th Jan 2020
    4:45pm
    Thanks David for clearing that up, makes a lot of sense, so much false accusations are flooding the internet, media, and social media, it is terrible. This will most likey go on until the next election too.
    miker
    12th Jan 2020
    10:41am
    Agree with Has been, dense forests need correct management irrespective of what the climate is doing. If there is a heavy fuel load it will burn with intensity
    Greg
    12th Jan 2020
    5:37pm
    miker - and how do you think we can do hazard reductions in dense forests mate. How do we go about burning off over 8 million ha of land that has happened with these fires?

    We do hazard reductions (HRs) when we can, NOT when we are allowed by someone. Time and time again we plan HRs but have had to put them off due to the conditions not being right - too hot, dry, low humidity, too wet, too windy, the conditions have not been good for HRs.

    We did do numerous HRs, also plenty we had started and called off as the winds picked up and it became dangerous. Some areas we did HRs on had the recent fires go through like the HR wasn't done at all, it made no difference.

    You, like many others, just don't get it - it's been extremely dry, very hot and low humidity, throw in some winds at the wrong time and bam, massive fires that can't be stopped.

    Once these fires take hold the personnel on the ground really aren't doing much to stop them, they can't, all they can do is protect buildings/life.
    Farside
    16th Jan 2020
    11:11pm
    well said Greg, so many uninformed opinions. I wonder if they might reconsider if they read the research or could talk to someone like Bob who lost his house despite extensive hazard reduction burns in the past few years.
    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-14/nsw-bushfires-leave-many-without-home-insurance-struggling/11863094
    floss
    11th Jan 2020
    11:22am
    With climate change we have no other choice all we have to do is convince our P.M.it is a good move.It would also alleviate a lot of congestion.
    Rae
    11th Jan 2020
    1:01pm
    Giving up holidays all together might be a great idea. It always seems very expensive and everywhere is overcrowded now. Infrastructure isn't keeping up with numbers.
    Anonymous
    15th Jan 2020
    11:30am
    Fires have nothing to do with climate change.
    Chris B T
    11th Jan 2020
    1:06pm
    There are Other Events that impact Holiday/Travel besides Bushfires.
    Cyclones, Storms, Extreme Hot/Cold, Flooding all without a "Bushfire"
    Listen to forecasts and flip a coin, off you go.
    Incognito
    11th Jan 2020
    1:45pm
    I think it would be in the hands of business to encourage their workers to take leave throughout the year, and maybe change the school holidays, make them shorter over January and extend them at Easter. I do not see this current Government doing anything they are all about tradition and sticking to the old and worn out policies. We cannot wait for Government action anymore, people have to get together and make things happen, in each community they can work together and make their own fire breaks, build more fire resistant housing (see hempcrete) and prepare more. Holiday makers also have to be educated a lot more too. 2019 was the hottest and driest on record, we are seeing more frequent fires and longer fire danger periods, but if the Government does not provide more funding to the land management and fire departments nothing will improve, it has nothing to do with greenies or lack of wanting to do land management, it is about funding, a drier climate, lack of rain and possibly logging which clears the wet undergrowth like ferns etc..
    David
    11th Jan 2020
    3:58pm
    I’ve never liked travelling in summer because of the heat. When I worked, I took leave outside of summer, or travelled to cooler regions like Tasmania or the South Island.
    I was fortunate to take leave during periods of my choosing, but if I’d worked in job where you had to take leave during the peak holiday period, the proposed March-April period would have suited me better than the current December-January period.
    aussiecarer
    11th Jan 2020
    9:15pm
    Changing the main holiday season to Easter might help a little. But what would help a lot is if Australia’s policy makers had the courage to learn from history.

    Eighty years ago, almost every Australian knew what happened in Australia on 6th February, 1851. Today, you’d be lucky if one in 10 Australians can tell you what happened.
    For the record, back on that day, a series of bushfires burnt out ¼ of the state of Victoria – The recorded temperature in Melbourne was 47 degrees Celsius in the shade.

    To quote the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia, published in 1886.
    “The year 1850 had been one of exceptional heat and drought. Pastures had withered; creeks had become fissured clay-pans; water-holes had disappeared; sheep and cattle had perished in great numbers, and the sun-burnt plains were strewn with their bleached skeletons; the very leaves upon the trees crackled in the heat, and appeared to be as inflammable as tinder… the temperature became torrid, and on the morning of the 6th of February 1851, the air which blew down from the north resembled the breath of a furnace. A fierce wind arose, gathering strength and velocity from hour to hour, until about noon it blew with the violence of a tornado. By some inexplicable means it wrapped the whole country in a sheet of flame – fierce, awful, and irresistible”

    Does that description of the February 1851 fires sound eerily familiar to you? The writer could be writing about our current 2020 fires with one major difference - no one's blaming the fires on climate change!!

    Feb 6, 1851 ended up being called Black Thursday. It etched an indelible lesson into the hearts and minds of every living Australian. The lesson can be expressed as a motto - “The country will burn uncontrollably if you don’t control burn the country.”

    My dad was born in Queensland in 1924. Even though 73 years had passed, everyone still recalled Black Thursday. It was like a national day of mourning. Children were taught about it at school. Artists like William Strutt had depicted it in paintings to remind people. Writers like Mitchell Beveridge had penned poems about the horror and loss.

    My father’s first paid job as a 12 year old school-leaver was to clear the scrub around his community. Scrub-clearing gave school-leavers an income and a purpose – they were employed to protect their local community and open up the land for new settlers. Selective clearing and cool burning was a proven method of protecting people’s lives and properties. It was not seen as environmentally unfriendly.

    Our present day fire-fighters are all too aware of the dangers of the policy of not reducing the fuel load. Their rule of thumb is -“If you quadruple the ground fuel, you get a 13-fold increase in the heat generated by a fire.” The fires they are fighting at the moment are a direct result of excessive ground fuel.

    Whether climate change is real or a hoax is irrelevant. Either way, climate change has become a convenient excuse for government at all levels to avoid the cost of maintaining millions of hectares of precious urban bushland, national parks and state forests. I am appalled that people who call themselves green would rather see our country burn uncontrollably than consider the time tested solution of control burning.

    Backing onto our property is a parcel of state “managed” bushland. If the year was 1920, people would be walking freely through it, collecting leaves, twigs and firewood to cook and heat their homes. And out of work teenagers would be employed to prevent this valuable resource so everyone could use it.

    But the year is 2020 - 100 years later - People are fined if they make use of the fuel load. And unemployed blame the bushfires that consume the fuel load on climate change. One teenage climate activist has recently claimed that Australia's tragic bushfires are causing the glaciers in distant New Zealand to melt. I have a solution – let’s implement the solution our forefather's implemented in response to the Black Thursday fires in 1851 - let's stop blaming climate change and give our unemployed Australian teenagers the chance to earn a living as scrub-clearers.
    Incognito
    11th Jan 2020
    9:32pm
    Yes it may have happened before but the experts are predicting that it will be happening more often, we may even see fires every summer, many of the areas that have burnt started in inaccessible areas, the fire chiefs have already said nothing could have prevented it. When you do not get enough rain in winter and spring the land dries out too much, scrub clearer's might be good around towns but not the big areas that have been burning.
    No point blaming those who are green in thinking, the green's have never been against back burning or anything that helps to protect homes. I agree that we should be allowed to collect firewood but the reason why it was stopped is because the lack of care of most people who started cutting tree's and trampling all over the place. I am not sure who can get permits to get firewood on public land only on private I think.
    And why unemployed teenagers, they are already having to work for the dole (slave labor) and the current Government stopped the funding for the Green Army that was doing land care.
    David
    11th Jan 2020
    10:39pm
    Aussiecarer, yes, many are not aware of how bad the 1851 fires were, which is not surprising given that this tragic event happened 169 years ago. However, what I find much more surprising is that when many people quote the hectares burnt from the 1851 fires, they are not aware how bad the current fires are! The 2019/2020 fires have so far burnt 10.5 million hectares. Our current fires have burnt more than double that of the 1851 fires, which were 5m hectares!
    Just to put in perspective how bad our 2019/2020 fires (10.5m and still counting), our current bushfires have burnt more hectares than the combined hectares burnt from our 4 other major fires (Black Thursday, Black Friday, Ash Wednesday and Black Saturday!
    Musicveg, I agree with all the points you have raised.
    Farside
    16th Jan 2020
    11:29pm
    Not wanting to nitpick over the details of the 1851 fire but it is scarcely comparable to the 2009 or 2019/20 fires. There is no argument they were severe however Victoria then was much more densely forested, no flood mitigation to rob sub-soil moisture, fewer firefighting resources and in the grip of an el-ninõ weather pattern. And for what it's worth the anecdotal 47ºC (117ºF) temp reported was more likely less than 44ºC.

    https://ams.confex.com/ams/pdfpapers/158830.pdf
    Boomah52
    12th Jan 2020
    12:40am
    Comments on 1851 fires... doubt if there were a 100 odd firebugs charged or under investigation back then. Perhaps the trip I did with my parents and sister from SA in 1959 around new year when we came to a fire road block in the Blue Mountains and had to make a large detour is an example of what this article is about. Some of these experts mentioned will do anything to...
    Circum
    12th Jan 2020
    9:05pm
    How many Greenies are helping with fire control? All the ones I know are busy breeding or down the beach or both.
    Circum
    12th Jan 2020
    9:05pm
    How many Greenies are helping with fire control? All the ones I know are busy breeding or down the beach or both.
    Incognito
    13th Jan 2020
    7:56pm
    Here are some "greenies" at work:

    https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-priorities/protect-water-and-land/land-and-water-stories/why-we-work-with-fire/
    David
    13th Jan 2020
    9:12pm
    Thanks for providing that link Musicveg.
    I recall reading recently on the Young Greens Facebook page about a story of a female member doing some hazard reduction burning.
    I'm sure if you look hard enough you will find hundreds of examples of Greenies helping with fire control. As I said in an earlier post, I personally know some that do.
    I hope that Circum is open-minded enough to acknowledge that there are plenty of Greenies helping with the bushfires.
    You can provide people who wrongly think that Greenies don’t help fighting bushfires with truckloads of evidence that they do, but most of them will still never acknowledge the truth. It’s a bit like the Moon landing conspiracy theorists. You can provide them with all the scientific evidence in the world that the Moon landing did happen (six times actually), but they will just ignore all the facts and evidence and the statements of the astronauts, scientists and engineers involved.
    David
    13th Jan 2020
    8:07am
    Circum asks how many Greenies are helping with fire control.
    What evidence do you have to say that they are not helping?
    If you can’t provide me evidence or survey results to say that greenies don’t volunteer or help out to substantiate your assertion, your claim has no basis.
    When you sign up to be a volunteer or help out with fire control, you are not asked questions about your political allegiances. Greenies aren’t required to wear markings or badges to identify themselves. They come from all walks of life and from all socio-economic groups.
    Those that claim that greenies don’t volunteer or aren’t helping out are just spreading fake news.
    I know several greenie friends that are volunteers. Are you a volunteer yourself? If you are, have you asked your volunteer friends if they are greenies? Maybe they don’t want to tell you because of your negativity towards them.
    It’s not helpful in times of a crisis to spread such untruths and fake news.
    We should all work together to help one another in this great disaster, rather than being negative towards other groups.
    Incognito
    13th Jan 2020
    12:04pm
    Well said David, so true we need to come together despite our political differences and work for the greater good. I am sick of everyone slagging off one another, we never used to do that before the days of social media and forums.
    David
    13th Jan 2020
    3:06pm
    Thanks for your support musicveg.
    There is too much aggression nowadays towards others that hold different views.
    Most people believe in the right to free speech, but they don't often practice it when someone else's views differ to theirs.
    When you have a different view, there are many trolls on social media and forums like this that get very nasty, negative, cynical, sarcastic and sometimes personal when your world view is different to their world view.
    This forum is called 'Your Life Choices', but many on here don't respect the choices/opinions that others have made.
    Many in this forum can't see, understand or acknowledge the views or opinions where that differs to theirs. There is this saying that I really like: "No matter how thin the pancake is, there is always two sides."
    What is a 'greenie'? I've always seen it as someone who cares for their environment. Unless you hate the countryside, the bush, the mountains, the beaches, the rivers, the wildlife etc. and you don't care if you trash it or litter it, you are a 'greenie' in some form.
    Incognito
    13th Jan 2020
    4:35pm
    So true about the greenie's I think it has really been taken out of context, we should all be taking care of our environment after all we have to live in it, and do we all want to be breathing in pollution, many are breathing in bush fire particles at the moment and we will see an increase in lung issues. We all need clean water too, and remember the days of swimming in crystal clear rivers and unpolluted beaches, so not just about wildlife but people enjoying what nature offers us and in the world of technology we really do need more time in nature not less. Love the pancake saying.
    Chris B T
    13th Jan 2020
    4:35pm
    When anyone Quotes Bushfires of 1850's early 1900's mid 1900's must realise there wasn't much to fight fires with or knew how to.
    Horse and cart, few pales of water. No protective clothing.
    Post World II old army equipment was used up to early 1970's.
    Most of the fires were let to burn and backburn when needed.
    No Aerial Surveillance, No Control Centres, No communications.
    Who was going to Fight a Bushfire, Cites were lucky to have Volunteer Firemen for house fires.
    David
    13th Jan 2020
    7:52pm
    Great point Chris BT
    You could also add:
    • The wealth of experience in fighting fires that our current fire departments have such as the CFA in Victoria and the RFS in NSW.
    • weather forecasters assisting the fire fighters by giving advanced warning of extreme temperatures/prevailing winds and predicting where the fires are heading.
    • water bombers such as Elvis and our 160-strong national aerial fire-fighting fleet that can dump thousands of litres of water and fire retardant.
    To date, the total hectares burnt in the 2019/2020 bushfires are 10.5 million hectares (compared with 5 million in the 1851 Black Thursday bushfires) and we’re not even half-way through summer yet.
    As bad as they are, imagine how much more devastating the current bushfires would be if we had the limited resources that we had available in the 1850s – mid-1900s.
    Frankly
    13th Jan 2020
    8:46pm
    Again no mention of the reasons behind the hotter and drier conditions in Australia and the increase in forest regrowth. The extra carbon in the air is responsible for the latter, and land clearing for the former. The less tree cover the drier the climate gets and the more extreme the temperatures. It's a good idea to shift our typical summer holiday to maybe another time of year. In India for example the main holidays are in April and May, here with opposite climate that would translate into October and November. Worth considering....
    Frankly
    13th Jan 2020
    8:46pm
    Again no mention of the reasons behind the hotter and drier conditions in Australia and the increase in forest regrowth. The extra carbon in the air is responsible for the latter, and land clearing for the former. The less tree cover the drier the climate gets and the more extreme the temperatures. It's a good idea to shift our typical summer holiday to maybe another time of year. In India for example the main holidays are in April and May, here with opposite climate that would translate into October and November. Worth considering....
    Justsane
    15th Jan 2020
    10:16pm
    This is maybe going to sound silly to some people, and the bit about re-arranging the holiday calendar reminded me about it. But I really think that daylight saving does have an effect. It may not fade the curtains, but it does force people to be out and about at the hottest time of the day. Kids come home from school at the peak of the heat, workers finish not much later and cars are on the roads at that time. All this activity in the peak of the heat makes fires more likely to occur.


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