Climate crisis: Former fire chief 'deeply worried' for grandkids' future

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The “creeping catastrophe” of climate change is increasing the danger our firefighters face, former NSW Fire Commissioner Greg Mullins warns.

Framing his life through the lens of bushfires, Mr Mullins details first-hand experiences from the frontline as conditions become more severe and dangerous, in his new book Firestorm.

Choosing to dedicate the autobiography to his grandsons, Eamon and Oli, Mr Mullins told Yahoo News Australia he wanted to highlight the “very unsafe future” they will face as the federal government continues “mouthing the words, but doing nothing" to tackle the climate crisis.

In his 50 years fighting fires, Mr Mullins said climate change has been consistently worsening conditions. Source: Supplied
In his 50 years of fighting fires, Mr Mullins said climate change has been consistently worsening conditions. Source: Supplied

“I’m really deeply worried about what they're going to inherit, and I feel a deep responsibility to do everything and anything I can to draw attention to it and to try to get action,” he said.

While both of his grandchildren say they want to “fight fires with pop”, and continue in the family tradition of keeping the nation safe, Mr Mullins said he fears for their safety.

“It’s a great, noble thing to do, and you feel like to make a difference, but it's going to be so bloody dangerous. It already is,” he said.

“I’m not sure that I really want my grandkids to be out there amongst it, but then again, my family history is one of taking responsibility and not dodging the hard stuff.

“If they want to do it, I'll do my best to help them learn the tricks of the trade like my dad did with me.”

'We're paying the cost' as leaders stall action on climate change

While worsening drought, heatwaves and floods have rocked many of Australia’s regions over the last decade, it took the devastation of Black Summer for much of the wider community to finally become convinced full effect of its impact.

Ahead of Black Summer over 2019-20, as conditions worsened and extreme fire looked unavoidable, Mr Mullins was left frustrated when Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to meet with him.

Once the country began to burn, politicians including then Nationals leader Michael McCormack and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian dismissed the need to talk about climate change, while NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro was even more forthright, adding that anyone who raised the subject during the catastrophe was a “bloody disgrace”.

With firefighters across the country putting their lives on the line to keep the community safe, Mr Mullins said the ongoing lack of political will to tackle the causes of climate change is “infuriating”.

As firefighters tackled severe blazes during Black Summer, many politicians said it wasn't the time to discuss climate change. Source: Getty
As firefighters tackled severe blazes during Black Summer, many politicians said it wasn't the time to discuss climate change. Source: Getty

“[The government have] abrogated their responsibilities on climate, and we're paying the cost in lives and homes lost, and they can't dodge that,” he said.

“They weren't responsible for black summer, that's 200 years of history and the growing prosperity of the human race and a hugely growing population, but they’re in the hot seat now.

“They know the evidence and can't deny it, even though they've tried to, aided and abetted by a section of the media.

“It's time for action, not more mealy-mouth words.’

Grandchildren will never experience abundance of wildlife

Looking through the smoke, across Batemans Bay’s charred landscape on New Years Eve, Mr Mullins couldn’t see a green leaf, and even the tallest 40 metre-high trees had been charred up to their crowns.

Such was the ruin of the forest, it dawned on him that parts of Australia would not be the same again.

“There were dead kangaroos on the side of the road. It was silent. There was no birdsong. There was nothing, it was just sterile,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“(Now), there's green shoots everywhere, plants are coming back, but the bird life, the animal life, it's not there.

“There's not lizards scurrying around, there’s less insects, and it’s just tragic that we’ve caused this.”

Birdsong has not returned to parts of the NSW South Coast after Black Summer. Source: Getty
Birdsong has not returned to parts of the NSW South Coast after Black Summer. Source: Getty

Mr Mullins realised that future generations would never experience the abundance of wildlife he did growing up, leading to one of the most heartbreaking passages in the book.

“As the months passed I became more, rather than less, upset by what I’d seen," he writes.

“I had a dawning realisation about the connections between: the widespread devastation of the natural environment, both flora and fauna; my efforts to get facts about climate and fires through the cloud of disinformation; and my feelings of impotence against the massive forces of nature being unleashed as a result of our continuing addiction to fossil fuels.

“I later realised that I would probably never again in my lifetime see the teeming wildlife I had seen as a child when camping with my parents, and that my grandchildren would never experience the wonders of nature that I did as a child.

‘It will take decades or even centuries for the environment to recover from the Black Summer fires, if a full recovery is even possible given the increasing frequency and intensity of fires.”

Greg Mullins’ Firestorm, published by Penguin Random House, will be released on September 28 and can be ordered online at Booktopia, Amazon AU and bookstores including Angus & Robertson.

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