National

Bushfires start of climate crisis: expert

By AAP Newswire

The bushfire crisis sweeping across Australia is only the beginning of what's to come, a former firefighting boss has warned.

It comes after the World Meteorological Organisation found 2019 was the earth's second-hottest on record, and temperatures are creeping towards a globally agreed limit after which major changes to the earth are expected.

Former Fire and Rescue NSW deputy commissioner Ken Thompson says the developments are a terrifying sign of increasing catastrophe, especially after fires have laid waste to vast swathes of the country.

"We're on a stepping stone to a different kind of normal, and that normal is going to be more catastrophe," he said.

"All we can do now is reduce our emissions to the point where we can put a cap on it."

Mr Thompson says he has witnessed a significant shift in the Australian people's support for climate science at the same time as those denying it dig in their heels.

But he says the federal government's position on climate change and its undermining of scientists is putting people in danger.

"You've got people who are very influenced by what politicians say, and what the media says, and if they're being told things are okay and then they suddenly find themselves in the catastrophic conditions that we're in no," he said.

"That's a very stressful situation for people to be in."

Mr Thompson predicts a surge in frontline services personnel like police, firefighters and paramedics developing post-traumatic stress disorder due to increasingly confronting scenes.

The average global temperature in 2019 was only 1.1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but its implications are massive both on the land and in the ocean.

Since arriving on the shores of the Whitsundays in 1980, diver Tony Fontes has watched the Great Barrier Reef's health decline.

He runs a diving business and says pristine patches of the world's largest coral reef system are becoming harder to find as water becomes cloudy and colourful coral turn to a ghostly white.

The tourism industry, Mr Fontes explained, is wedged between trying to attract the government's attention to the reality being faced by a reef that contributes $6.5 billion a year to the national economy, and scaring off tourists.

"The bushfires, as tragic as they were, seems to be the wakeup call that everybody is talking about, and maybe the government will now move to combat climate change," he said.

"But we had our underwater bushfires years ago, we've seen this all happen."

Back on dry land in north-west New South Wales, coal trains pass crop farmer John Hamparsum's 1500-hectare Liverpool Plains property every 20 minutes.

Water was abundant when he was growing up, but drought has turned the farm into a dust bowl, pushed growers to constantly change their practices and driven others to suicide.

"I just wish our political leaders would get out here, talk to some farmers and see how we're handling this, and that people have changed their attitude, and we're expecting our leaders to provide leadership," he said.