Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Tasmanian fires, climate change, and reflections on petitions

The catastrophe of fires and climate change in Tasmania

Richard Flanagan is probably the most famous living Tasmanian, known for his 2014 Booker Prize  and his many essays critical of the abuse of power. He was once called “a traitor to Tasmania” in the Tasmanian parliament, and later told by the then premier that he and his writing were “not welcome in the New Tasmania” after he published an essay critical of the culture of the state Labor government of the day. 

Yesterday (Feb 5, 2019), Richard published a typically eloquent essay; this time about climate change, government apathy (his sub-title was "those in power laugh at us", referring especially to the current Australian prime minister's highly visible support for coal) and, the terrifying, health-damaging fires in Tasmania, which for the third time in six years (2013, 2016, 2019)  are devastating parts of the state. The current one seems the worst, and its health impact will be greatly magnified by smoke inhalation, in an island which already has a high rate of asthma, especially in indigenous children.

My petition and its complications (updated Feb 7)

A few days before Richard's essay was published I started a petition. This calls for the Tasmanian government, led by Liberal premier Will Hodgman, to play a more active role in educating the Tasmanian people about climate change. Although it is now clear, including in Tasmania, that the climate has changed (mainly due to greenhouse gas forcing), there is still time to reduce even worse consequences. In the three decades I have been researching climate change, mainstream politicians, whether socially conservative or left wing, have largely missed the point. Overwhelmingly, they have been indifferent to the arguments made by the environmental movement that adequate environmental resources are necessary for human well-being. We are steadily eroding our environmental buffer, in a process I call "environmental brinkmanship".

I have signed petitions before, but never initiated one. I used a web platform called "". According to their FAQs I was supposed to be notified via email once my petition became "promotable", presumably when it reached a threshold (as far as I can tell, the number is not stated on their website, but an email received Feb 7 advised that the number was 500 - however, when I discovered they were using my petition as a vehicle to raise money for themselves and their allies the number who signed was less than 300). Even now, (i.e. Feb 7) I have not received such notification, and the number who have signed exceeds 500.

When I accidentally discovered that people who signed this petition were being asked for money I felt deeply embarrassed. I now realise, after reading the fine print, that I could have asked for this fund raising option to be disabled, but not by ticking a box (which would have alerted me to its possibility) but instead by writing to their help section. I believe the box option would be more ethical.

I asked if they could contact the donors to offer a refund, but they declined, though they stated that they will make a refund if donors contact them. They suggested that I do this by posting an update. I will also try to contact some of the people who gave money; I think I have identified some by capturing their names, and in some cases facebook pics, as they flash past. I hope this update might reach some of them. is a profit-seeking company, and they provided a service to me for which I did not pay. But if they made this donation feature more transparent many would still agree; would still make money.

I am trying to find out what happens to these funds if the donated sum cannot be returned. At the moment, it seems that the funds raised can only be spent on advertising the petition (i.e. all the donated funds go to the company and its allies with whom ads can be placed). If this is correct then I am in a "lose lose" position. That is, I either spend the money on advertising, or the money is lost (and presumably goes to - I have written to ask them, and will update this blog if I learn more). Either way, I feel the donors have been ripped off and I sincerely apologise.


I have long felt ambivalent about petitions, now I feel distinctly uncomfortable, at least for those on This article also expresses concern, while this one sheds more light on their tactics and profitability. presents itself as an ethical business, and I don't mind if they make a profit. But I don't like the way they currently operate. 

If you have read this far, thank you. Please consider signing the petition, but please do not make a donation unless you want to give money to If you want to use your hard earned money to bring about change in Tasmania (and don't have time to directly contact a politician or use another method that takes time) then you might consider donating to an independent climate change lobby group such as the Climate Council. Or, you could donate to a charity such as the Red Cross that helps people harmed by fires and other emergencies (including in Tasmania), and which is also aware of how climate change is increasing the risks of disasters.

You might also reflect on this plea by firefighters for us all to take climate change far more seriously. It says, in part:
“Having just spent a majority of January supporting firefighting operations in Tasmania and New South Wales, I have seen the exhaustion that firefighters power through to battle increasingly uncontrollable fires, and the fear, anxiety and loss that communities suffer,” he said.

Thank you.

Friday, February 1, 2019

An appeal to the Tasmanian government to better recognise the links between fire and climate change

Tasmania is experiencing terrifying, health-damaging fires for the third time in six years (2013, 2016, 2019). The nature and risk of fires has changed in many countries, due to climate change; in Australia's island state the climate is hotter, drier and there is more dry lightning. The Tasmanian Fire Service website is excellent, yet climate change is barely mentioned. It needs to be a major subject heading, to help educate an uncertain public. The absence of climate change as a prominent theme on this site may reflect ambivalence or even attempted suppression of this issue by the Tasmanian government. This is not good enough. Please help us convince the the Tasmanian government to be part of the solution, not add to the problem.

Some politicians claim that making the link between climate change and tragedy is insensitive, but keeping silent on this issue would be like a doctor ignoring the smoking behaviour of a patient who just had a heart attack.

Climate change also threatens to greatly harm the summer tourism industry in Tasmania. Tasmania, which is already a world leader on carbon neutral electricity, must awaken to the many risks caused by climate change and, led by its democratically elected government, do what it can to reduce those risks.

Please sign and circulate the petition, and also write directly to Premier Will Hodgman at


It was my experience of being awoken by the smell of smoke, in the Tasmanian forest, in the heatwave of January 2103, which made me decide to be arrested for civil disobedience about the collective failure of Australians to do enough to slow climate change. In 2014 I became the first (and so far only) Australian contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to have been arrested for civil disobedience on this issue, and the first (and, also, so far only) contributor to the health chapter of the IPCC.

Unfortunately, mainstream media almost completely ignored this at the time, with one exception.