The Western Community Action Network (WeCAN) held its first public forum at the Footscray Town Hall on March 19.
PhD student Chris Taylor told the audience that, contrary to some disingenuous claims in the mainstream media, environmentalists were not to blame for the spread of the February 7 Victorian bushfires.
Taylor, who is conducting research on forestry, fire danger and water management issues, said that the bushfires started in grassland areas. He said that it was extreme weather conditions that caused the fire to spread, not poor forest management.
Taylor said that our natural ecosystems have been significantly degraded since European colonisation, through land clearing and logging practices.
This had led to the replacement of old-growth forests with highly disturbed young eco-systems, which are more vulnerable to fire. Pockets of dense, mature forest in gullies in the fire's path were actually unburnt in a few instances, he said.
Land clearing and logging practices have also led to other environmental problems such increased salinity, poor soil quality and increased CO2 emissions.
Young forests use more water than more mature eco-systems and this was contributing to diminishing water supplies, Taylor said.
Dr Penny Whetton, leader of the climate impact and risk stream for CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, also spoke about the impact of climate change on the management of fire danger in the future. She said that the fires have been exacerbated by climate change and that we could expect to see more extreme and dangerous fires in the future.
Whetton pointed out that actual CO2 emissions have now exceeded the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections. She said that urgent action was required now to prevent runaway climate change.
Chris Heislers from the Victorian Water Forum spoke against the proposed desalination plant at Wonthaggi and the North-South pipeline. He said that the desalination plant would not be environmentally sustainable and would increase water rates for consumers.
Heislers said that there were more viable and environmentally friendly alternatives including recycled water, urban stormwater harvesting and household water tanks.
WeCAN is a network of sustainability and social justice activists in Melbourne's Western suburbs.
WeCAN runs food projects, bulk purchasing (of solar panels etc.), sustainability education groups and advocates for public transport and political action.
WeCAN holds regular organisational meetings and invites all socially and environmentally aware people to join the group. For details visit <http://wecan.collectivex.com/>.