Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Apocalypse Tours – A new growth industry?

Image by Terri Sharp from Pixabay

Are the weather Gods trying to send a message directly to Canberra? Last week the nation’s capital sweltered in 40+ temperatures and looked like it was about to be engulfed by flames.  Yesterday it was slammed by hail stones the size of golf balls, which caused considerable damage and loss of power to 1000 homes. Meanwhile the Gold Coast had flash flooding due to super storms, but according to the Rural Fire Service, the rain has been so patchy that 46 fires in NSW are still burning and 16 have still not been contained. Drought continues in many parts of the country with huge dust storms enveloping places such as Dubbo and Parkes. Severe weather warnings continue for much of Australia, with the main bushfire season only just beginning. Some people have suggested that we should ease up on the prayers a bit and actually do something about preventing further climate change, rather than generating more hot air. There is no economy on a dead planet and farmers, tourism operators and small shopkeepers deserve to keep their jobs just as much as coal miners, assuming they are still being used as an excuse.

Of course we still want you to come and visit our other attractions, but with Disaster Tourism trending perhaps we could capitalise on that. My initial target market would be well -heeled Climate Change Deniers so that they can see the results at first hand. However, we don’t want them adding to emissions, so my first challenge to them is to get here without contributing further to greenhouse gases. That means no coming in their own private jets*  -  there were 1500 of them at last year's Climate Summit, or even by commercial airlines. They must come by balloon, dirigible or by sea.  If they don’t happen to have their own luxury yacht, they could perhaps get together with a few friends and charter one. That way, assuming they are leaving from their tax havens in the Caymans, they could also take in additional wonders of the modern world such the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the sinking villages of Kiribati and a glimpse of vanishing glaciers on New Zealand’s West Coast.  Within Australia we have very few trains and the ones we do have don’t connect with each other very well since they, like fire management are a state matter. Wonder why weneeded Federation? Perhaps we could deploy some of those camels, so they won’t all have to be put down. 

What will it Cost?  Not sure of the final costs yet. According to Paul Read and Richard Dennis writing in The Conversation, our disaster bill to date  - tangible costs only  i.e. lives lost, homes lost, livelihoods lost, stock losses, tourism etc are currently estimated to be $100 billion, and that’s not counting the human cost or the toll on wildlife and habitat. This amount will be split among tour guests withanadditional surcharge for wasting time, opposing the carbon tax and evading
er minimising their taxes, so that we can establish some new industries, so that even our coalminers can look forward to a future, rather than being cast aside when the coal runs out.  Nostalgically looking back to the past is not an option, nor is adaptation.  We need forward planning now, so please think hard at Davos folks.

*Don't at least some of you own laptops so you can teleconference each other?

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Day in the Green - and why you shouldn't put off that trip to Australia!

After the gloom and doom, it's lovely to see a bit of green

Thank Goodness it’s raining today! Let’s hope it puts all the fires out and clears some of the smoke plaguing our towns and cities. Even Hobart has had a haze for days, although it was nowhere near the fires. What I really wanted to tell you about was the fantastic day we had at Mt. Field National Park on Tuesday – clear skies, perfect weather,  live music and some great activities. Highlights included  learning to twine and a bit about Tasmanian Aboriginal history from Tash, one of the rangers, and the song - writing workshop with folk/pop group the Belle Miners.*

Ranger Ingrid tells us devilish tales

It was a salutory reminder that although some parts of Australia have been severely damaged – yes, our Alpine ski fields may be out for a time, also Kangaroo Island, most of the country’s other popular tourist destinations are still looking good.  In fact, if you really want to help Australia beyond short term relief, then please come and visit. This is really important, not the least because before the fires, tourism was contributing almost as much as coal to our economy ($47 billion vs $48 billion) and it provided employment for over 924,600 people directly and indirectly (2016 -2017), whereas coal mining only employs around 38,100 people (ABS 2017 -2018) contrary to the 54,000 or 200,000)  claimed by some.  Furthermore, like mining, much of this employment occurs in rural and regional Australia which needed help even before the fires.

A wandering Platypus comes by and so does a real wallaby just to prove that the wildlife is still OK here

Unfortunately tourism alone can't be a complete panacea while it depends so heavily on fossil fuels, but it is on the whole more sustainable than mining, particularly if those tourists were largely domestic and used trains or other mass transit (Tesla buses?) that ran on renewables. Perhaps some of the $29 billion currently being given to prop up coal mining could be diverted to this end or even some of the $100 million given away to wealthy sports clubs in marginal seats just before the 2019 election. 

It was a great day for shut -ins too with elderly folk and people in wheelchairs enjoying the music and a barbecue

So far it's been estimated that tourist operators have lost around one billion in forward bookings, so what I am saying is, don’t cancel your holiday, but be prepared to go a little further than Sydney or Canberra. You can still visit places like Uluru, Kakadu and almost anywhere north of Brisbane such as Cairns or the Daintree Rainforest. You could take a leisurely trip from one end of Australia to the other on the Ghan, or travel across the Nullarbor with the Indian – Pacific. You can still cruise the Kimberley or Sail the Whitsundays. A paddle -steamer cruise on the Murray River would be nice, especially as they are currently offering 40% off. Or you could visit Alice Springs, listen to Aboriginal Dreamtime stories or, if you prefer city lights, go for multicultural Melbourne with its lively Art scene, Casino and historic Victoria Market. If you didn’t want go far from town, you could visit delightful Daylesford with its spas and hot springs or rip  -roaring gold mining towns like Ballarat, Bendigo or Castlemaine. The scenic drive along the Great Ocean Road is another perennial favourite.  For other places in Australia you might not have heard about, check out Atlas Obscura’s pages.

Most places in Tasmania are fine, except perhaps parts of the East Coast and it’s a good chance to discover some of the less well –known attractions like Stanley in the state’s North West, or Mt. Field with its beautiful waterfalls and wildlife. What a shame we have let the fabulous train line to it fall into rack and ruin.  If I had the money to invest, I would resurrect that right now, and speaking of resurrection, the Tahune Airwalk which was burnt out last summer, reopened three days ago.

Ranger Tash demonstrating the Aboriginal art of twining and telling us about Aboriginal culture in Tasmania

Meanwhile, let’s not forget those places which have been burnt out this year. As soon as it’s safe to do so, they will need all the help they can get. Not only should you visit if you can, but perhaps you could join a group like BlazeAid and play an active role in their recovery.  Conservation Volunteers Australia will no doubt welcome help with replanting too as soon as the immediate emergency is over.

Should there still be any doubters among you, who think that the recent fires have nothing to do with climate change or human activity, you will be pleased to know that I am working on a special tour itinerary for you.
* The Belle Miners are holding a number of similar workshops around the state and the country including some for voice development. The next one will be at Mole Creek on the 18th of January and there will be another one at Maria Island on the 22nd. Please see their Facebook Page for other dates and more details.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Helping Creatures Great and Small - It's not just about Koalas

Is this the face of Australia? Koalas - as emblematic as Kangaroos and Vegemite, were in trouble even before the fires, but have now been  especially hard hit
-Image courtesy of John Vossen and Pixabay

Before I go on about things which we can do to help the animals, I just want to say firstly a big thank you for the terrific response to the bushfires still raging in Australia. Secondly, I want to dispel any notion that they are attributable to (a) Arsonists  or (b) the Greens, for not allowing more controlled burns, as some Newspapers and troglodytes have claimed. I assure you that this is not the view of most Australians, the Police, most firemen and the vast majority of scientists who have been warning about this for over thirty years. The two biggest blazes were in fact caused by lightning strikes, particularly dry lightning. If there has been any hindrance to better fire management, it is the cutting of funds to Parks and Wildlife Management and to research into fire prevention, by successive conservative governments and the failure to heed repeated warnings by Fire Services that more resources would be needed this summer under conditions of severe drought and higher temperatures. Thanks to the Germans too, for taking the fight against another huge coal mine (Adani) straight to Siemens, as we may soon be denied the right to protest in this way

With the people more or less taken care of, I have been thinking about our wildlife. A lot of people around the world are making pouches for orphaned and injured injured animals. I shall list some patterns and links at the end of the post for this and if you do make some, the best place to send them is probably WIRES* since they are big enough to handle the influx and distribute them as needed. I am also contributing in a small way to one or two places, especially Kangaroo Island which has been severely damaged and was previously home to the only disease -free koala population and was also a sort of Noah's Ark for other endangered and endemic species. With emergency needs now most likely being met, I am very concerned about their future. Koalas are highly specific in the type of Eucalypts which they can eat, so I have made small donations to the Port Macquarie Koala Sanctuary, which has a program for replanting and restoring their habitat which was already greatly depleted due to land clearing and development. The Koala Sanctuary's water station project which supplies water to animals still in fire zones has exceeded expectations and additional funds are being be used to fund a breeding program as well.
Both the Port Macquarie Koala Sanctuary and the Australian Koala Foundation enable people to adopt a specific koala and follow its progress which could be a nice idea for a child's birthday. I know it's just another way of raising funds, but it's a rather nice one and way better than a plastic pen and pencil set.

Cute as they are, koalas – and they are not bears! (see below) are by no means the only animals which need our help. The World Wildlife Fund  says that the fires have claimed an estimated 1.25 billion animals. All kinds of small mammals such as bandicoots, possums, bats, wombats, birds, even lizards and echidnas and many kinds of kangaroos need pouches too. I know many people in Europe are very shocked to learn that many animals are having to be put down. The hard truth is that not only do injured and orphaned animals require enormous investments of time – the wombat we rescued many years ago needed feeding with an eye dropper every hour and could not be deprived of body warmth for more than a few minutes before becoming severely distressed, but even if they survive their injuries, which is difficult at the best of times, there is no feed for them in the bush and they can rarely be re -released into the wild. By the time they are fit and well and the bush has recovered enough, there is a good chance that they will have grown overly dependent upon humans and will never survive in the wild. We gave ours to a wildlife park when she was big enough, but she went into a deep decline without her 'parents' and had to be returned to us. 

 Many of the animals rescued after the Tasmanian fires last year also ended up being killed on the roads because they had become used to well -meaning folk leaving food there for them. Wildlife sanctuaries and rescue centres are taking as many as possible, but they and the vets are probably in a far better position to assess which animals are likely to survive and have a good chance, rather than prolonging the suffering of those which aren’t. [Farmers are also having to kill large numbers of animals because they are injured  or there is simply not enough feed and water to go around. In South Australia, tens of thousands of camels are being shot too because they are competing for water, though I am sure everyone would would prefer it if something more intelligent and humane could be done with them]. These things will only get worse if climatic conditions continue to deteriorate.

When the bushfires are over, I will contribute to the WWF's Two Billion Trees Program which will not only provide for the animals but will help to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. Between New Zealand's volcano and the one in the Philippines, our bush fires and what's going on in the Amazon, we are going to need a lot more!

About Koalas

PS Scammer Alert!: You will notice that I have recommended donating directly to the Red Cross, as it is not only a well –established,  reputable and international agency, but they keep zero for administration and pass everything on.  I am pretty sure too that with so many celebrities contributing to the Celeste Barber Fund, and the whole world watching, there won’t be any problems there either, nor with the various Country Fire Authorities, though there are rumours of people going door -to -door pretending to be from there or setting up Go –Fund – Me sites whose funds may or may not reach the people in need. Not that there aren't a lot of smaller organisations doing a fantastic job, but it's harder to keep track of who's doing what and what their situation is, given that the fires are still raging, so I'll just mention the bigger ones for now.

Making Pouches
* See Factsheet from Wires for the address - has sewing and knitting for wildlife. Simple and fast patterns
Macedon Ranges Wildlife Network -simple sewing and good advice
The patterns from Piccolo Studios are particularly nice but more complex. However, they also include a tutorial and more detailed dimensions.
I'm sure the wildlife won't care what yours look like.