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Bushfire tragedy shows need for climate leadership

It has descended from the hills towards seaside towns preventing any escape.

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What was supposed to be a summer break has turned into a nightmare. Residents, retirees and holiday makers were forced to take shelter from the smoke and terrible heat, some in homes, others penned up in hastily established evacuation centres and some even forced to retreat to the beach or boats for safety. It must be terrifying.

The members of the Rural Fire Service have again performed magnificently as they have done now for the two long months of this bushfire emergency.

The death of Samuel McPaul on Monday on the Victoria-NSW border provided a shocking example of the conditions which they have braved for weeks.

The furnace-like weather whipped up winds so strong that they flipped over an RFS fire vehicle crushing Mr McPaul.

He left behind a pregnant wife and became the third RFS volunteer to die in the past week.

In these circumstances, the start of the New Year will hardly be happy.

Acknowledging the gravity of the situation, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has appealed to the Australian spirit.

Certainly it will require spirit for many people to put behind them the events of the past weeks and hope for happier times ahead.

One thing weighing on them will be the likelihood that this bushfire season is far from over.

The bush is still tinder dry and getting drier as the summer advances. There could easily be more days like Tuesday.

Many people are also burdened by the fear that the extraordinary conditions which produced Tuesday’s fires are now normal and will recur in future years.

Human-induced climate change is raising temperatures and reducing spring rains in our region, turning the bush into a fire trap every summer. That is what scientists are saying.

It is not a day for cheap politics but it is worth taking issue with former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce who last week said he wanted the government out of his life.

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The Herald argues that in this bushfire crisis, government has an essential role to play.

That includes more funding and resources for fighting fires and assistance for those displaced, whose businesses have been hurt or who have lost their homes.

But Australians increasingly are looking to the government to take national and global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stop the terrifying advance of climate change.  These are problems we can solve together but the government must lead.

Good luck for 2020. May it be prosperous and safe.

The Herald’s editor Lisa Davies writes a weekly newsletter exclusively for subscribers. To have it delivered to your inbox, please sign up here

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