The Victorian Bushfires
On February 7, 2009, and in the week that followed, bushfires ignited across
Let's compare: in the 1983 "Ash Wednesday" bushfires, seventy-five
people died; in the 1939 "Black Friday" bushfires, seventy-one died;
in all previous bushfires in
While the immediate causes of the various bushfires are thought to include
arson, discarded cigarette butts, faulty power lines, or lightning strikes,
these initial fires transformed into huge infernos and spread uncontrollably
In the case of land management, environmentalists have invoked the alleged
intrinsic value of nature to oppose the controlled burning of bushland, the
clearing of vegetation and the prevention of excessive fire hazards in
government-controlled land and adjacent private property. They have lobbied
governments to prohibit the clearing of trees and shrubs and have been
eternally hostile to all attempts to reduce the "bounty of nature"
that has stoked the deadly fires that have spread across
How Environmentalism Contributed to the Bushfires
Under the influence of the philosophy of environmentalism, as well as political pressure from environmentalist groups and an "environmentally conscious" electorate, local councils have refused for years to clear the vegetation that has now served as fuel for lethal infernos. The modus operandi of these bureaucrats and their ecosupporters has been to insist on "rigorous" environmental assessments, which in envirospeak means, assessments that continue until reasons have been found to prevent any interference with the natural state of public land. In addition to perpetually stalling any clearing of trees or vegetation, government councils have also prohibited people from clearing trees and vegetation from their own property, aggressively pursuing those who break environmental-protection laws that place the "welfare" of trees above the property rights and safety of people.
In 2002, Liam Sheahan, a resident of Reedy Creek in
Warwick Spooner was not so lucky. His mother and brother were killed as the
bushfires consumed their home in Strathewen in
In 2003, bushfire experts Rod Incoll and David Packham argued against planning regulations proposed to the council by environmentalist groups. These regulations, which were passed by the council, included restrictions against the removal of vegetation "and worse still, the requirement for planting vegetation around and almost over houses, as part of any planning permit to build a house in the shire of Nillumbik, so it gave the appearance from the outside of being a forest."
Two weeks before the bushfires, Mr. Packham alerted Victorian residents to the critical fire conditions in the Victorian bush, warning them that bushfires could destroy between 1,000 and 2,000 homes and kill 100 people. This frightening prediction may have sounded alarmist until hundreds were burned to death weeks later. During the fires, Mr. Packham followed up his predictions with an explanation of the carnage. He explained that fuel levels in public land had been allowed to reach dangerous levels due to environmentalist hostility to vegetation removal and controlled burning.
“It has been a difficult lesson for me
to accept that despite the severe damage to our forests and even a fatal fire
in our nation's capital [the
Mr. Packham later branded environmentalists as "eco-terrorists waging a jihad" against prescribed burning, explaining that "[t]he green movement is directly responsible for the severity of these fires through their opposition to prescribed burning."
As these incidents make clear, the negligent and authoritarian actions of
local councils have contributed substantially to the severity of the Victorian
bushfires. But they are the predictable consequence of a political atmosphere
saturated with environmentalist philosophy, environmentalist lobby groups, and
an electorate that views the Greens party (
Response to The Bushfires by Government and Environmentalist Groups
Having failed to achieve damage control in the bushfires through proper land
management, the response from government officials has been a predictable game
of public-relations damage control. Councils have responded to fierce criticism
of their aversion to land clearance and controlled burning with promises that
they will reassess their planning and environmental policies. Such promises
would sound more genuine if not for the fact that problems of insufficient fuel
reduction and controlled burning on public land have been well known for
decades. These problems having been highlighted extensively in previous
bushfire inquiries, which are a recurring event in a country as prone to
Any attempts to increase land clearing and controlled burning to prevent bushfire damage may also face greater constraints from federal environmental laws in the near future. The Department of Environment confirmed that they have received a public submission calling for controlled burning to be listed under federal law as a "key threatening process," defined as a process that "threatens, or may threaten, the survival, abundance or evolutionary development of a native species or ecological community." Listing would require the minister to consider a threat-abatement plan for controlled burning, to find the most "feasible, effective and efficient way to abate the process." Already listed as a key threatening process is land clearance, including "clearance of native vegetation for crops, improved, [sic] pasture, plantations, gardens, houses, mines, buildings and roads."
Meanwhile, there is no sign of any self-examination by environmentalist groups. Rather than reconsider their cherished environmental-preservation laws, which have helped fuel the fires, environmentalists have taken the bushfires as an opportunity to selectively find evidence of human-induced global warming.
Proponents of this theory have been eagerly pointing out that the bushfires
occurred during a heat wave across southeast
Referring to Australia's especially hot weather in the last twelve years, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong assured the public that "[a]ll of this is consistent with climate change, and all of this is consistent with what scientists told us would happen." For obvious reasons, she did not comment on whether the simultaneous record low temperatures in other parts of the world — such as the United States,, Canada, England, France, Italy, Germany, and India — are also "what scientists told us would happen."
Rather than simply removing coercive restrictions that have prevented private landowners from clearing trees on their own property, the government is set to respond to the bushfires by imposing new coercive restrictions. This time, private landowners will be prevented from having trees too close to their property. Thus, having already seized sole power to remove trees and vegetation on private property (on the assumption that property owners are too evil or stupid to be trusted with these decisions) and having thereby forced Victorian residents into a disastrous inferno through their previous regulations, the government is convinced that it is the proper decision-making body to decide when property owners can plant trees.
While this kind of thinking demonstrates the government's boundless
arrogance and insatiable desire for control, the danger posed to human life
from public-land mismanagement runs much deeper than the specific environmental
laws and policies currently in place, or even the laws to come. The root of the
problem is the philosophy of environmentalism, which permeates all
land-management decisions, guaranteeing hostility to any attempts to interfere
with "the balance of nature." Despite having the legal power to
undertake controlled burning on its land, the Yarra Ranges Shire in
Because private ownership entails the right to control one's own property,
and because some people may not wish to sacrifice their lives to prevent
interference with local possums, environmentalists seek to achieve their goals
through government ownership of land — land socialism. In this endeavor, they
have been very successful. State forests, national parks, and other Crown land
As mere caretakers of public land, bureaucrats and local politicians are not liable for any loss caused by their mismanagement. Nor do they have any personal stake in its capital value. When property is destroyed due to their ineptitude and their enslavement to the philosophy of environmentalism, their savings are not in danger. If anyone is required to pay for compensation, it is taxpayers who have had nothing to do with the whole mess. For the local councilor or the state or federal politician, what matters is getting the green vote, showing how "environmentally conscious" they are, and placating all those green lobby groups and media darlings that might say nasty things about them if they don't toe the line.
Had the bushland areas in
Had these bushland areas been regarded as unowned land, ripe for homesteading, then adjacent property owners would have been able to clear fire breaks to their hearts' content, homesteading as much land as necessary for a safe buffer between themselves and the bushlands beyond.
Had the areas of private property adjacent to these bushlands been treated as genuine private property — unconstrained by coercive regulation — then adjacent property owners would have been able to clear trees and vegetation on their own land, and build facilities to cope with bushfires, without groveling for permission from their political masters. They would not have been inhibited by mountains of regulations and armies of bureaucrats who frustrated their attempts at safety. They certainly would not have been prohibited from clearing vegetation before the fire has burned them out and then prohibited from planting trees after the damage had already been done.
The danger of bushfires and other natural disasters is ever present, but it
is not a danger that we must accept passively as an immutable act of nature. It
is a danger that can be managed or exacerbated. And it is a danger that is
currently exacerbated by the philosophy of environmentalism and the land
socialism that is used to implement this philosophy. In describing the
“What went wrong? The problem is in the theory of environmentalism. Under it, ownership is the enemy. Nature is an end in itself. So it must be owned publicly, that is, by the state. The state, in its management of this land, must not do anything to it. There must not be controlled burning, brush clearing, clear cutting, or even tourism. We can admire it from afar, but the work of human hands must never intervene.”
“Then the brush begins to gather. It piles higher and higher. Old growth rots. Uncontrolled growing leads to crowding. When the weather gets hot the stuff combusts. Then the winds blow and the fires spread. It's been the same story for several decades now, ever since the loony theory that nature should be left alone took hold.”
So long as governments remain under the sway of environmentalist philosophy and arrogate massive tracts of land to their own inept control, no amount of legal tinkering will prevent the next bushfire. How many more will die then?
Ben O'Neill is a lecturer in statistics at the
University of New South Wales (ADFA) in Canberra,
 The temperature in
 Ibid, Huxley (2009)
 Baker, R. and McKensie, M. "Fined for illegal clearing, family now feel vindicated," The Age, February 12, 2009.
 Ibid, Petrie (2009).
 "Council ignored warning over trees before Victoria bushfires," The Australian, February 11, 2009
 Ibid, Packham (2009).
 Ibid, Ryan (2009).
 Less than six years prior to the Victoria bushfires, the McLeod Inquiry, which investigated the 2003 bushfires in Canberra, Australia, found that management of fuel loads in public forests was lacking. This finding was echoed in the subsequent coroner's report on the fires in 2006, which found that the ACT government had failed to follow recommendations for a rigorous back-burning process, and this resulted in heavy fuel loads, which fueled the fires. See Doogan, M. The Canberra Firestorm. ACT Coroner's Report, December 19, 2006, pp. 65–70.
 Ibid, Petrie (2009).
 Ryan, S. "Burnoffs following Victoria bushfires a 'threat to biodiversity'," The Australian, February 12, 2009.
 This is a familiar pattern. For discussion
of global-warming claims during the 2007
 Gunter, L. "Forget global warming: Welcome to the new Ice Age," National Post, February 25, 2008.
 Cold weather records shattered in 6 Manitoba towns. CBC News, January 13, 2009.
 Record cold weather payouts triggered as temperature hits -11C. Times Online, January 6, 2009.
 Donahue, P. and Viscusi, G. "Central Europe, France, U.K., Italy Hit by Cold Air," Bloomberg, January 6, 2009.
 "Poor burn books to stay warm in chilly India, 55 dead," Reuters India, January 5, 2009.
 Ibid, Ryan (2009).
 Ibid, Ryan (2009).
Statement of Policy.
Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.