OpinionBuilding Community29 Jan 2020

Why we must find unity through the smoke

Minderoo Foundation Chairman Andrew Forrest shares his thoughts on the current landscape and the possible future of Australia’s bushfire response.

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Andrew Forrest (second from left) with community members in Wytaliba. Photo Credit: Fire Fund Team.

Brave men and women are working around the clock to fight the fires ravaging our country. Courageous families are picking up the pieces of their lives from ashen blocks and looking ahead to rebuild. Selfless community champions are expending time, energy and resources caring for livestock, wildlife and new friends they have made amid this crisis.

And elsewhere, out of the fire zone, divisive commentary about the role of climate change in these fires rages on and it is hurting us almost as much as the flames.

Climate change is real. The scale and severity of these bushfires are clear examples of how climate change is intensifying natural disasters. We are reckoning with extreme weather events, like pyrocumulonimbus fire storms. There is no doubt climate change is presenting us with a huge new challenge and, as these bushfires have demonstrated, we are not yet equipped to handle it.

Earlier this month, Minderoo Foundation launched a Fire Fund with $70 million to focus on response, recovery and resilience. Across the east coast and down to South Australia, we are on the ground supporting affected communities and preparing the framework for our Wildfire Resilience program.

This effort will be led by Adrian Turner, an experienced international executive and former CEO of CSIRO’s Data61, the data and digital specialist arm of Australia’s national science agency. The aim of this collaborative investment is to produce an Australian blueprint for fire resilience to be shared with the rest of the world.

To create this blueprint, we are working with governments and partners globally to scale up existing research and expertise and accelerate innovation to prevent, mitigate and defeat bushfires. We are convening experts, universities and research organisations to test innovations, apply cutting-edge research, demonstrate strategies and pilot new technology, including the most sophisticated emerging predictive technology to help us map exactly where fires are likely to start and when they are most likely to occur. Let’s explore ideas like mega drones, with several tonnes of retardant, that can target the exact position of a fire and extinguish it within minutes of it starting. This is the brave new world Australia must come to terms with to avoid this devastation again.

In recent media interviews about our Fire Fund I observed that we need to continue to invest in scientific research. This investment is not to confirm the reality of climate change but to build our knowledge as to how we create more resilient communities to cope with the reality of a changed climate.

We must acknowledge the reality we face, use our common sense and get into dealing with it in every way we can. For my part, I am stepping up with my family and our Minderoo Foundation to help fire affected communities now and convene experts to help develop a plan for the future. I am championing the transition to a zero-carbon footprint in my businesses, including Fortescue Metals Group, where we are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to transition from diesel and oil to solar and hydrogen.

After completing a four-year PhD in marine ecology, I am also alive to the devastating impact climate change is having on our oceans. Tomorrow, I will join fellow Patrons of Nature for the International Union for Conservation of Nature at a meeting to discuss our environment, the climate challenge and the Australian bushfires.

Just as we know we have to better manage our oceans, I believe Australia needs to rethink how we manage our land and our water, how we ensure the survival of our endangered species and even where and how we build our communities, given an increasingly hot and dry climate.

Building resilience against bushfires is a complex, multifaceted issue. Minderoo Foundation’s Wildfire Resilience program will reflect this and I urge all Australians to remain conscious of it as well.

Now is the time to bring our country together to begin the process of recovery and restoration.

There can be no two sides in a warming planet, we are all in this together. Let’s put the blame and community division aside and discover the solutions we urgently need.

I am asking purposeful, caring and knowledgeable institutions and individuals in Australia and around the world to join us in this vital work, for the sake of people who are frightened, vulnerable and determined this never occur again.

We don’t need to turn the heat up on each other, the challenge we are facing is intense enough. We must face this together.

Andrew Forrest
by Andrew Forrest
Andrew Forrest grew up on a remote Australian cattle station before graduating from university and building a career in investment banking, mining and agriculture. Andrew is Chairman of Fortescue Metals Group and Chairman of Minderoo Foundation.
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