Australian bushfire disaster survivor interviewed

Suzanne Davies, bushfire survivor in East Gippsland, Australia

By Margaret Rees in Australia:

Australia: Victim of East Gippsland bushfire voices anger over government negligence

10 January 2020

Over the past months, broad swathes of Australia have been hit by bushfires unprecedented in their duration and intensity. Millions of hectares have been destroyed, 25 lives have been lost and over 2,130 homes destroyed.

The crisis has highlighted the refusal of successive governments at every level to heed warnings by experts that fire seasons will continue to worsen. It has underscored the failure of the entire political establishment to take any action on climate change, which is a contributing factor to the blazes, and the dire consequences of the gutting of essential services.

The devastation has demonstrated the immense growth of social inequality and the chasm between big business politicians … and millions of ordinary people.

East Gippsland, in regional Victoria, has been among the hardest-hit parts of the country.

Mallacoota, a seaside town in the area, was surrounded by fires on all sides last month, trapping thousands. Scenes of hundreds of residents sheltering on the town’s main beach shocked people around the world. After weeks of being unable to leave, most of Mallacoota’s population was evacuated by naval ships and aircraft over the New Year period.

This week the WSWS spoke with Suzanne Davies, who lives with her husband at the Point Hicks lighthouse in the greater East Gippsland region.

Davies, who lives with her husband at the Point Hicks lighthouse in the greater East Gippsland region. The lighthouse is and about 95 kilometres from Mallacoota and adjacent to Croajingalong National Park, famous for its diverse wildlife.

Three-hundred-and-forty holidaymakers were staying at Point Hicks when a fire warning was issued on December 30, calling for residents to immediately evacuate. The only departure route is a poorly maintained dirt road that spans 45 kilometres to Cann River.

The Davies had to ensure that all those staying at the site, including campers in the sand dunes, left in time. After the road was cut off by fire, the Davies were rescued by helicopter.

Suzanne explained: “With the fire between Point Hicks and Mallacoota, in the morning they were shutting down all the national parks in East Gippsland, but we were told we would be fine. But twenty minutes before 5pm, I was told that I had to evacuate over 340 people, whether in the accommodation at the light station or in camps. The fire wasn’t impacting then, but there was a potential.

“So we had to tell everyone—most of whom had only arrived the day before—that they had to leave. We had people who were upset, some who were angry and others who were refusing to go. We had to be very calm and advise them. They did all go, and we stayed that night in the head light-keeper’s home.

“The next morning, at about 4 a.m., my husband woke me. Usually one of us gets up at 5.30 a.m. to monitor the weather for the government bureau. He told me to look towards Mallacoota along the ocean. Even though we were in the dark, we said: ‘Oh my god, we’re in trouble, and so is Mallacoota.’

“They choppered us out to Orbost. I couldn’t get back to Buchan, the community that I am from. I’ve done a lot of recovery following fires over the years, but nothing as big as this one. This is our whole country, New South Wales, everywhere. It was lucky we got all those people out. After the fire came, the access bridge was just twisted metal. There was no way out. The light station hasn’t been affected, but all the animals have been.

“We got to Lakes Entrance, where we have two grown-up children. Then we had to evacuate from Lakes Entrance. My husband stayed. The others came in a convoy, we’ve all come down to the Mornington Peninsula. I have to go back to Buchan.

Remains of house in Holloways Road, Buchan South

“But there were no communications. No landline, no mobile phones, no internet. So I have been here, writing offers of support. When I go back, I’ll be coordinating some of that.

“Everywhere that I’ve gone, they ask me how I am. Everywhere that I’ve gone, everyone—men, women, young people and the elderly—all say: ‘This government has to go.’

“The timber industry blames the greenies. We greenies—people who want this planet and the environment for our children, and our grandchildren and beyond—they can call us whatever they like.

“This fire has shown that it has come to a tipping point. Now people are starting to realise about Rupert Murdoch’s papers and all those Liberal-National Party idiots for coal.”

Suzanne has been a community worker in Buchan, a small town in the forest, 285 kilometres from Melbourne, since the catastrophic fires there in 2003.

“We had no communication in 2003 except landline, so we could have phone trees out to the areas. It played with everybody’s psyche in 2003 in Buchan. The recovery process was very protracted. Some people are still having counselling from 2003. This time will be way more protracted.

“One man, Mick Roberts, perished when the recent fires swept through Buchan. Two friends were helping him paint his house. They left for the river, but Mick went back for something from the shed. There was a pyrocumulonimbus cloud—like an atom bomb—the fires create their own weather. That cloud collapsed and then rained fire down on everything. People don’t stand a chance.”

WSWS reporters noted that the 2003 fires were a warning of what was to come, which went unheeded by the authorities.

Davis replied: “I reckon that’s true. In 2003, I had Country Fire Authority incident control teams from Queensland and South Australia here. They said: ‘We have never seen fires like that.’ We then had fires in 2006, 2007 and 2009.

“And the ex-fire chiefs wanted to meet with [Prime Minister] Scott Morrison earlier this year but he didn’t have time! Instead he flew to Rupert Murdoch’s party and then went to Hawaii!

“The scientists have been telling us for 35 years of the risks. We could have been the leading country for renewables. Every country has to step up. There have to be some leading countries. The US and Australia should be. The way the politics are—it is impacting totally on this climate crisis. It is all the multinationals, big business, money and greed.”

The WSWS commented that despite power lines being a leading cause of fire ignition, in most areas no attempt has been made to move them underground.

Davies commented: “My father was a local electrician in the Dandenong Ranges before the SEC [State Electricity Commission] was privatised. After the 1968 fires there, that’s when dad started to think about it.

“He went to the SEC and asked them to put all the lines underground. They didn’t listen. They never listen. He said: ‘This will cost money, but it won’t cost money in the end.’ My dad was bloody well right. I don’t usually swear but I’m angry.

“People are really hurting—communities, forests, wildlife, and water. Our country is in crisis. The trauma and the stress. In Mallacoota 5,000 people stranded on the beach. We might be able to get this government out. …

Intense smoke haze

“What gets me about the Murdoch press, the Liberals and the Nationals is that they try and instill fear in people about ‘overseas threats’. The amount of money they spend on submarines and fighter planes, and Scomo’s personal plane that costs $250 million. That is taxpayers’ money, it should be spent on internal water bombers and resources. We have an internal threat, we don’t have an external threat.”

XR activists target Australia’s London embassy demanding urgent action on the climate crisis: here.

The catastrophic fires that have engulfed large areas of Australia starkly demonstrate the failure of capitalism and its political servants at every level of government. The indifference and complacency of political leaders, towards the disaster affecting ordinary working people, is a lesson that will not be forgotten. The political establishment defends a social order in which every aspect of life is subordinated to corporate profit and the interests of a wealthy elite, regardless of the consequences: here.

In November of last year, the wildfire that started in California, U.S.A burned areas that amount about the size of Seoul and destructed over 500 buildings for two weeks. In 2018, six fires started simultaneously in southern California and spread out to the neighboring areas, burning total of 405 km2 with 86 fatalities and 200,000 victims for three days. Also, large-scale wildfires often occur in the northern inland of Russia. The forest fire occurred in July 2018 burned the total area of 3,211 km2 which is 5.3 times bigger than the city of Seoul and, the wildfire, in May 2019, started to spread out and burned down even greater land. So far, extensive wildfires such as the mentioned events are believed to be mostly caused by dry wind, however, the recent study explains that global warming is the kindling that starts such fires: here.

Bermuda petrels take turns on newly-laid egg

This video says about itself:

The female Cahow returned to the nest burrow around 2AM on January 10th, and nearly an hour later settled in to lay her egg. The male was waiting for her when she arrived and the pair spent that hour preening and making adjustments to the nest prior to the egg’s arrival.

The adults will take turns incubating for the next 53-55 days till the egg hatches in late February/early March.

This 10 January 2020 video says about itself:

Bermuda Petrel Adults Switch Off Newly-laid Egg | Nonsuch Expeditions | Cornell Lab

Everything happens quickly at the start of the Bermuda Cahow‘s nesting season! The female returned around 2AM and about an hour later had laid an egg! This clip is from later in the night, as they switch off incubation duties around 5:20 AM.

Australians demonstrate against bushfire prime minister

Anti-climate change demonstrators in Australia, EPA photo

This photo shows anti-climate change demonstrators in Sydney, Australia. The banner on the left says that right-wing Prime Minister Scott Morrison was bad at science at school.

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

Climate protests in Australia under the smoke of blazing forest fires

In Australian cities, tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets to demand that the government do more against climate change. They are particularly opposed to Liberal Party Prime Minister Scott Morrison, simply called ScoMo, who at the most reluctantly recognizes that there is a possible link between climate change and the devastating forest fires in the country.

An area of ​​100,000 square kilometers (about 2.5 times the Netherlands) has since been destroyed by the fires. There are 158 fires in the state of New South Wales, 39 of which are not yet under control. Nearly 2000 homes in New South Wales have gone up in flames.

There are 21 fires in the state of Victoria, which are currently more threatening than those in New South Wales. In Victoria, 240,000 people have been ordered to flee from the fire.

“Sack ScoMo”

The biggest climate protest today was in Sydney, where about 30,000 people took to the streets. In other cities, such as Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane, thousands of demonstrators took part in the Sack ScoMo protest.

“The world is on fire and the future is at stake because our worthless Prime Minister does not know how to solve the problems,” a young woman in Sydney told reporter Roel Pauw. An older woman said: “We have drought, we have forest fires and our coral is dying. We have not done anything for thirty years. You must first accept that climate change is a fact and that action should be taken.”

“You don’t get that concern about the future out of your mind, especially if you have someone like this on your shoulders,” said a young father pointing to his little son.

The protesters chanted slogans such as Our future is burning and The liar from the shire, the country is on fire. By ‘the shire’ the demonstrators mean Sutherland Shire, the part of Sydney where Prime Minister Morrison comes from. Among other things, they blame him for the Australian government’s refusal to tackle CO2 emissions from the coal industry.

The demonstrators in Melbourne wore umbrellas because of the pouring rain. The wet weather is good news for fighting forest fires, but it is not raining everywhere.

“Even with this rain in Melbourne, we still have a long way to go to fight these unprecedented fires,” state prime minister Andrews of Victoria said in a television speech. “The coming hours will be very, very challenging. And we know that the forest fire season will last for many weeks.”

This 8 January 2019 video is called Australia’s wildlife decimated by wildfires.

Stop Trump-Iran war, 11 January Amsterdam

No war on Iran, 11 January Amsterdam

On Saturday 11 January, there will be a demonstration in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, against the danger of war on Iran by United States President Donald Trump.

There will be speeches by Sadet Karabulut (MP of the Socialist Party), Femke Roosma (Green Left party), the Amsterdam peace committee and Stop the Arms Trade.

The organisers write (translated):

Due to the US American attack on General Soleimani of Iran, the tensions between the US and Iran are increasing and a war is threatening that would have consequences for the entire world.

The US wants to expel the Iranian regime and determine who has access to oil and other resources in the Middle East.

Since the US American invasion of Iraq (2003), many wars have been waged in the Middle East, resulting in great human suffering. But democracy, security and stability are not brought with bombs.

The current crisis began with the cancellation by the US of the international atomic agreement with Iran – an agreement which Iran observed, according to observers.

The people in Iraq and Iran have been protesting for months against their authoritarian leaders. Again, war machines deprive them of the opportunity to build up demonstrations.

The Netherlands supplies weapons for these wars. The Reaper drone with which the attack on the Iranian general was committed is partly produced by Fokker in the Netherlands. The Netherlands wants to send the warship De Ruyter to a European military mission in the Persian Gulf. The ship has not yet departed. The Amsterdam Peace Initiative and Stop the Arms Trade call on the Dutch government to refrain from participating in this mission.

The risk that we are unintentionally drawn into a war that Europe does not want is huge. The Netherlands must take diplomatic steps and not deploy military means.

The Amsterdam Peace Initiative and Stop Arms Trade once again point to the role of letterbox companies established in Amsterdam, which allow international arms producers to evade taxes. These include the arms corporations Lockheed Martin, United Technologies and Boeing; their stock prices shot up immediately after the attack. We call on the Amsterdam city council to initiate the initiative council proposal. The Amsterdam Peace Initiative and Stop Arms Trade once again point to the role of letterbox companies established in Amsterdam, which allow international weapon producers to evade taxes here. These include the arms companies Lockheed Martin, United Technologies and Boeing; their stock prices shot up immediately after the attack. We call on the municipality of Amsterdam to urgently implement the council initiative proposal for tackling letterbox constructions.

Peace activists from Zaanstad are going on 11 January.

HOUSE VOTES TO LIMIT IRAN WAR By a vote of 224 to 194, with three Republicans and one independent in support and eight Democrats against, the House approved the war powers resolution forbidding President Donald Trump from attacking Iran unless there’s an imminent threat or Congress declares war. [HuffPost]

AT TRUMP’S FIRST 2020 RALLY, HE DEFENDS SOLEIMANI KILLING  Trump defended his order to assassinate a top Iranian military leader, painting his decisions as commander in chief as a prime reason to reelect him. “By subsidizing Iran’s maligned conduct, the last administration was leading the world down the path of war,” Trump said. [HuffPost]

US, Canada blame [Boeing] plane crash on Iran as causes remain unclear: here.

The German government is preparing to support a possible US war against Iran. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD—Social Democratic Party) and Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU—Christian Democratic Union) made this clear once again on Wednesday. Having previously defended the US assassination of Iran’s leading general Qassim Suleimani—an illegal act of state terrorism—they condemned the Iranian retaliatory strike against US targets in Iraq: here.

Canadian flying squirrel flies to bird feeder

This 9 January 2020 video from Canada says about itself:

Incredible Flight and Landing by Flying Squirrel on the #OntarioFeederWatch Cam | Cornell Lab

In this short clip, a flying squirrel perches some distance from the feeder and is viewable in the background before making an impressive leap onto the feeding platform. After foraging on the platform for a few minutes, the squirrel departs, jumping off onto the ground and out of sight.

Puerto Ricans without electricty, water after earthquake

This 9 January 2020 video is called What’s Happening in Puerto Rico After The 6.4 Magnitude Earthquake.

By Matthew Taylor:

Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans still without electricty, water days after earthquake

10 January 2020

All across Puerto Rico, residents continued to reel from the damage inflicted by the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that struck the impoverished US territory on Tuesday. At least two thirds of the island’s population remained without electricity as of Thursday, and 250,000 without clean water. Everywhere, residents could be seen sleeping outside, fearful of aftershocks.

One death has been attributed to the earthquake so far, a figure likely to rise as officials continue to assess the damage. As many as 40 aftershocks with a magnitude of 3.0 or higher have occurred since the quake on Tuesday, further damaging structures and slowing relief efforts.

Thousands of homes and other structures have already collapsed, with many more fatally compromised by the tremors. Most of the island’s infrastructure was constructed before new building codes were enacted in 1987 to require modern seismic safety standards. This includes as many as 95 percent of the island’s schools, according to a statement made by Eligio Hernandez, Puerto Rico’s education secretary.

67-year-old William Mercuchi, center, and his daughter Joan pose for photos in front of their house that collapsed after the previous day's magnitude 6.4 earthquake in Yauco, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. More than 250,000 Puerto Ricans remained without water on Wednesday and another half a million without power, which also affected telecommunications. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Classes for public schools were canceled indefinitely as officials assessed the safety of school buildings across the island. According to the New York Times, an effort to retrofit schools up to modern safety standards was enacted a decade ago but abandoned after only around 100 schools were renovated.

Many of Puerto Rico’s power plants are located along the southern region of the island most affected by the earthquake, including the Costa Sur power plant in Guayanilla that provides power for a quarter of the island and suffered heavy damage. Jose Ortiz, the CEO of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) predicted that it could take up to a year to repair the aging plant, telling CBS This Morning, “To be honest, those plants have over 60 years, basically… Imagine you have a taxi, 60 years old, and you are required to run that 24/7.”

The Trump administration declared an emergency in Puerto Rico after Tuesday’s earthquake, ostensibly allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to release funds for disaster relief. Given FEMA’s record in responding to natural disasters generally, it is unlikely that an adequate amount of funding will ever be provided to the victims of the earthquake.

Tuesday’s quake was the strongest so far in a series of tremors that have affected the island since December 28th. The epicenter of the earthquakes has been located approximately eight miles offshore of the town of Indios on the southern coast of the island. The US Geological Survey has warned that there is an 82 percent chance that another earthquake of 5.0 magnitude or higher will occur in the next week.

The impact of the earthquakes has been compounded by the fact that the island has still not recovered from Hurricane Maria in 2017, which killed 5,000 residents and destroyed much of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure. In the aftermath of that disaster, both local and federal officials sought to minimize the extent of the damage, claiming initially that only 16 people lost their lives.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday that, of the $19.9 billion appropriated by Congress in Housing and Urban Development funds for disaster relief in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, only $1.5 billion has been dispersed so far, with the Trump administration claiming they are withholding funds due to concerns about corruption on the island. This is in spite of the fact that the disaster relief bill passed by Congress mandated that $8.3 billion be made available by September 4th of last year, meaning the current withholding of funds is illegal.

The criminally inadequate response by both federal and local officials has illustrated the fact that nothing has fundamentally changed since the mass protests last year that saw the ouster of Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello and his eventual replacement by current Governor Wanda Vasquez. Both are members of the New Progressive Party, which is politically aligned with the Democratic Party in the US.

Those protests, which were ignited by the release of text messages between government officials demonstrating their corruption and disdain for the victims of Hurricane Maria but ultimately inspired by the squalid living conditions and vast levels of social inequality on the island, saw the participation of up to 1 million Puerto Ricans, or nearly a third of the population.

In the aftermath of the protests, the Vasquez administration has done nothing to improve the living conditions of Puerto Rican workers. Just as with the previous government under Rossello, the primary goal of her administration has been the imposition of austerity measures upon the working class and the privatization of state-owned infrastructure to make the bogus debt payments demanded by Wall Street loan sharks.

The mechanism for enforcing these payments is the Financial Oversight Management Board created under the Obama administration and staffed by a bipartisan group of bankers, corporate lawyers and other parasites appointed by the President. Included among the measures promoted by the board is the privatization of both PREPA, the island’s publicly held electrical utility, as well as the public-school system. In July of 2018, the FOMB released a plan calling for the elimination of thousands of government jobs, the slashing of pension and benefit payments and the elimination of labor protections, among other measures.

Saving Cayman Islands coral reef fish

This 2016 video says about itself:

Join researchers from the Reef Environmental Education Foundation and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment as they study one of the last great reproductive populations of Nassau Grouper. Normally a solitary species, during the winter full moons Nassau Grouper travel, sometimes over great distances, to “group” together and spawn. While most of the known spawning sites in the Caribbean have been fished out over the years, the west end of Little Cayman in the Cayman Islands is home to largest known reproductive spawning aggregation of this endangered species.

From the University of California – San Diego in the USA:

Collaborative conservation approach for endangered reef fish yields dramatic results

January 6, 2020

A new study from researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego has documented a successful recovery effort among Nassau Grouper populations in the Cayman Islands thanks to an approach involving government agencies, academic researchers, and nonprofit organizations.

The study, published January 6, 2020 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used a two-pronged approach including tagging and video census data for monitoring and counting Nassau Grouper populations in an effort to more accurately estimate annual numbers of fish in the population and thus provide insight into the effects of ongoing conservation efforts. While many governments have enacted regional or seasonal fishing closures in an attempt to allow recovery of overfished stocks of aggregating reef fishes, this is one of the first studies to provide evidence that these measures can be successful.

“Normally, Nassau Grouper are relatively solitary, and tend to be hard to catch,” said Lynn Waterhouse, a former PhD student in the Semmens Lab at Scripps Oceanography and research biologist at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. “But at spawning, they come together en masse to form annual spawning aggregations, where historically tens of thousands of fish come together to reproduce, so they’re very easy for fishermen to catch.”

Due to overfishing during spawning, the species has suffered region-wide stock collapse. By the 1980s large aggregations had all but disappeared from the Caribbean region. Of the remaining aggregations, few contained more than 1,000 individuals and the species is currently listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In 2001, an aggregation of around 7,000 Nassau Grouper was discovered near Little Cayman, the smallest of the three islands located south of Cuba in the Caribbean Sea. In 2003, the subsequent rapid overfishing of the aggregation drove the Cayman Islands Government to enact aggressive management policies by banning fishing at aggregation sites during the spawning season. Through the Grouper Moon Project, the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (CI-DOE) partnered with a citizen conservation group called Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and scientists from Scripps Oceanography and Oregon State University to develop a monitoring strategy for the remaining Cayman Island aggregations.

“We developed a unique approach for monitoring these populations over the course of nearly two decades,” said senior author Brice Semmens, an associate professor and ecologist at Scripps Oceanography. “This included a combination of using mark and recapture tagging techniques to track the proportion of tagged fish and video transects to count fish across the aggregation.”

The researchers faced a number of obstacles, including funding challenges and particularly difficult monitoring conditions — the Nassau Grouper has the unfortunate habit of aggregating at inconvenient and often dangerous locations along the reef shelf edge, making it difficult for divers to easily observe and tag the aggregation. But with the support of the CI-DOE, the team has been able to maintain their monitoring efforts for over 15 years.

Importantly, the researchers did not just track the number of fish in the aggregation — they worked together with the CI-DOE and local communities to share results and discuss next steps. After reviewing the data being collected by the Grouper Moon Project, in 2016 the government initiated an even more progressive fishing policy, banning all fishing of Nassau Grouper during the winter spawning season along with limits on the number and size of fish that can be kept.

As a result, the team was astonished at how quickly the Nassau Grouper population recovered — over the last 10 years the aggregation on Little Cayman had nearly tripled in size, going from around 1,200 fish in 2009 to over 7,000 in 2018. This growth was due, at least in part, to a rapid increase in the addition of new, younger fish to the aggregation.

“This really demonstrates the power of this collaborative approach to conservation,” said co-author Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF’s director of science. “We were able to monitor the population and provide information to support management as the data came in, allowing the Cayman government to respond rapidly with policy changes.

“These efforts have been successful because of the strength of the partnerships among the government, academic research groups, and nonprofits,” she added. “CI-DOE also has a long history of working with fishing communities in the islands.”

The team also emphasized that these results show that patience is key.

“Due to the way these fish breed and the timing and location of spawning events, it can take several generations before the right ocean conditions ultimately facilitate young grouper joining an aggregation,” said Pattengill-Semmens. “This means that communities and governments may need to implement protection strategies over the course of years or even decades to meet their management targets.”

“This is an ideal approach for conservation,” said Semmens. “Just doing the science isn’t enough. You need to partner with groups and governments capable of turning science into conservation decisions that support the local community.”