The Viridian Design Movement

From: Bruce Sterling []

Sent: Sunday, January 19, 2003 9:03 PM

Viridian Note 00358: Canberra in Flames

Key concepts
massive wildfires, climate change, capital of Australia, Khaki Green, Kyoto Treaty, John Howard
Attention Conservation Notice:
You'd think it would be a big "national security issue" if your capital city was on fire, but, oddly, nobody seems to spin it that way.


A whole lot of people are hitting this furniture page. It's outdoing the Viridian Contests, even.

Little Vibes

I love this Sparenberg gizmo. Got one in the office. A perennial Viridian darling.

Had to have this one, too.

Why don't I own this? Somebody find me a commercially available one.

What the heck is this thing? How does it work?

For a gizmo this size, the entertainment value is staggering. Drives the household cats nuts with its rushing fragments of rainbows.

(((Well, war and rumors of war dominate the headlines, while the business pages wilt under staggering debts and deficits. Meanwhile, a Greenhouse event is roasting the capital of Australia, a nation that mines a lot of coal and was kind of iffy about Kyoto. This is a wondrously unpleasant topic, but from a Viridian perspective, Canberra on fire is the most significant thing going on right now. How many other capitals will burn from unnatural events (as we try to make up our minds to bomb one)? Just look at the untoward events here. Try to imagine explaining this freakiness to someone in 1975.)))


Canberra in panic as four die in 'worst bushfires ever'

By Kathy Marks in Melbourne

20 January 2003

"Thick smoke blanketed the Australian capital, Canberra, yesterday and a layer of ash coated the white Parliament building after forest fires raced into the city, killing four people and destroying 400 homes. (((Alternate headline: "Brutal Evidence of Greenhouse Effect Literally Coats Parliament Building.")))

"Emergency services remained on high alert as authorities warned that hot, windy weather forecast for today could whip up flames that are still burning in bushland around the city. More than 1,000 people remained in evacuation centres, while others were allowed to return to the wreckage of their suburban homes.

"The firestorms that hit Canberra on Saturday, laying waste to suburban streets and overwhelming firefighters, were the capital's worst. 'This is certainly the most devastating bushfire experience that any community in Australia has ever suffered,' said John Stanhope, Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory.

"Mr Stanhope defended emergency services against criticism that they were unprepared for the scale of the disaster, ((As if Australian firemen invented climate change. Try defending ExxonMobil))) with hundreds of householders left to fight the flames alone with buckets and garden hoses. ((("Failed to Think Globally, Have to Act Locally'. "At least I can afford this handy garden hose after getting those carbon taxes off my back.")))

'It was a one-in-100 or 200 years' experience, an event of such enormity, of such force and such devastating power that it simply ran over the top of us,' he said. ((('One in a hundred.' Why do they keep saying that? Go talk to some weather insurance people.)))


"The bushfires that swept into the suburbs, (((The "Bush" Fires. It's almost too easy))) driven by hot, strong winds and fuelled by tinder-dry pine forests and grasslands, had been burning in mountains west of the capital for weeks. Most were started by lightning strikes.

"Don Horan, a resident of the worst-affected neighbourhood, Duffy, saw the wall of fire approaching. 'It knocked me off my feet,' he said. 'I ran inside. When the fireball had passed, the sky rained burning embers.

"'It was horrendous. The whole area just blew up. Then the fire got underneath my house and I knew I had to get out. I just grabbed the two cats and ran for it.' The victims, including a 61-year-old man and an 83-year-old woman, died of smoke inhalation in Duffy.

"A total of 260 Canberra residents were injured and 50 remained in hospital yesterday including three who were in a critical condition with severe burns. As well as politicians and diplomats, Canberra is home to 350,000 ordinary Australians, many of them attracted by the beautiful bushland that rings the city. One of the worst droughts in a century has turned the vegetation == which is fire-prone at the best of times == into a tinder-box.

"John Howard, the Prime Minister, cut short his annual holiday to tour fire-ravaged areas and comfort residents. 'I have been to a lot of bushfire scenes in Australia, but this is by far the worst,' he said. 'A man, a veteran of World War Two, showed me his charred medals. One lady, clearly traumatised, said that she had lost everything.'

John Howard refuses Kyoto Treaty; 'it will hurt the country'

"Power and communications were severely affected by the fires, with an estimated one-quarter of homes without electricity yesterday and raw sewage threatening to spill into a river system that supplies water for a large area of south-eastern Australia. (((Nice 'Wexelblat Disaster' angles here.)))

"Authorities warned of an extreme danger of fire over the next two days.

"'You've got just about every tree, the whole root system, still smoking,' said Mike Castle, director of emergency services. There are fears that nine fires could merge to form an unstoppable wall of flames. (((My, that would be very remarkable.)))

"As firefighters strengthened defences around the capital, (((note Khaki Green paramilitary rhetoric here))) residents of Duffy sifted the charred remains of their homes. Melted garden hoses lay strewn like snakes across blackened lawns and the streets were full of wildlife including birds, kangaroos and dogs, some dead, some alive.

"Ross White, a psychologist in Duffy, who lost his house and all his client files to the flames, said: 'All I have is the clothes I'm wearing and a garden gnome.' (((With a wit like that, Dr White won't lack for clients.)))


Fires: four dead, 400 homes burned

By James Grubel and Sandra O'Malley

January 20, 2003


  • Kambah - 39
  • Rivett - 6
  • Cotter area - 14
  • Chapman - 75
  • Duffy - 185
  • Holder - 33
  • Lyons - 3
  • Curtin - 3
  • Weston - 10


  • Death toll rises to four
  • Authorities say all fires under control by 4pm
  • $20 million damage at Mt Stromlo observatory
  • Parts of RSPCA animal shelter destroyed, three kittens and native birds killed
  • $10,000 emergency funding for families who lost uninsured homes
  • Prime Minister, Governor-General and Opposition leader visit worst hit areas
  • Federal Government promises financial help
  • A fire protection line established to protect Canberra's northern suburbs
  • Fears of a sewage spill into the Murrumbidgee River
  • Some parts of Canberra without power for the next week
  • Most of Canberra's pine plantations, which support the city's softwoods industry, destroyed
  • Hotter weather, with stronger winds, expected for coming days
  • ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope warns Canberrans to prepare for continuing fire danger for the next seven days
  • Batteries and bottled water in some southern suburbs sold out
  • Man arrested for looting
  • About 240 people treated for injuries at Canberra and Calvary hospitals. 60 people admitted to Canberra hospital
  • Three people transferred to Sydney with serious burns


"Authorities admitted they were helpless to prevent the firestorm which engulfed parts of the city's western and southern suburbs, overwhelming the national capital's meagre firefighting resources. ((("Authorities admitted they were idiots to knuckle under to fossil fuel companies, promised immediate climate policy changes for survival of the national capital." No, no, they'd much rather be helpless, actually. Enjoy breathing that smoke, lawmakers.)))


"Cooler and calm weather gave firefighters some respite today and enabled authorities to declare all fires under control by 4pm. But the state of emergency remained, with higher temperatures over the coming two days threatening a repeat of Saturday's disaster. (((What if most of the firefighters had died inside some skyscraper?)))

"Among the casualties was the historic Mt Stromlo astronomical observatory, where fire largely destroyed the 79-year-old facility, causing an estimated $20 million damage. (((The burning observatory. What a Ballardian image.)))


"Prime Minister John Howard cut short his holidays for a briefing on the disaster and to visit those who lost their homes. (((Does this Prime Minister have any idea what is really happening to himself and his people, do you suppose? And its direct relevance to his own behavior? "Gosh, climate change has ruined my vacation, as well as threatening to consume my capital wholesale. Could this problem get really serious? No, no, too farfetched!")))

"He held talks with Mr Stanhope and promised federal disaster relief funds would be made available. (((There are infinite supplies of disaster relief funds; they come right out of the deficits. Taxing coal, on the other hand, man, that could hurt the economy.)))

"'I have been to a lot of bushfire scenes in Australia... and this was by far the worst,' Mr Howard told reporters.

"The ACT government has pledged $10,000 assistance for people who lost uninsured homes. ((("The world is becoming uninsurable." Good luck insuring the house if you dare to rebuild, mate.)))

"As people returned to their burned homes today, many expressed anger at the lack of support from ACT fire crews, who were overwhelmed by the blaze as it raced into suburban areas. (((Maybe someday they'll point a finger at the actual malefactors: the fossil fuel industries. "No firefighter blood for oil.")))


"But Mr Stanhope told reporters emergency services did all they could but had no way of stopping the disaster. 'We were faced yesterday with an event that would happen perhaps once every 100 or 200 years, the like of which has never been seen in Canberra,' he said. (((That's right, Mr Chief Minister. It's never been seen before now. And that's no coincidence, either. You can expect to see a lot more of it.)))

"Mr Stanhope said the ACT urban fire service had only 12 tankers at its disposal, which would normally be enough to fight six house fires simultaneously. But they would have needed up to 800 fully staffed fire trucks to have saved all the houses. (((Interesting math here. Presumably, sometime around the 2060s when weather damage costs outpace the global GNP, everybody on Earth becomes a fireman.)))

"'It was a holocaust of an extent that we simply did not and could not possibly have had the capacity to deal with,' Mr Stanhope said. (((That makes a nice epitaph. A little wordy, maybe. The Mayans could have chiselled that into a nice tall plinth just before their civilization collapsed.)))

"'They did everything humanly possible; they risked their lives, they went out of their way, they put their lives on the line in an attempt to save lives and save property and I defend them, I defend them absolutely.' (((How many firemen know that they're fighting the Greenhouse here? Australia is rather known for its Green contingent; there must be at least a few firemen who are aware that the nature of their job is changing just as the climate does, and that they are being flung into a meatgrinder that their grandfathers never faced.)))


Mon, Jan 20 2003 6:05 AM AEDT

"Canberra counts the cost"


"Acting chief health officer Dr Charles Guest says Canberra's hospitals have been inundated with more than 600 people seeking treatment in last 48 hours.

"'A lot of the people presenting have minor emergency problems and then there have been the major issues the burns that have gone Sydney,' Dr Guest said. 'We're seeing people with smoke inhalation, there's been lots of minor burns, fractures.' (...)

"Landmarks lost

"The list of Canberra landmarks lost in the fires includes almost the entire ACT softwood plantations, the Uriara and Mount Stromlo forestry settlements, and all Canberra's public health laboratories. (((Public health labs on fire. Good moment for a biological warfare attack. Or, what the heck, just get two guys from Al Qaeda and start dropping matches in the woods. They could destroy the capital of Australia. Really, they could. Just calling in an Islamic phone claim with terrorist arson threats would be enough to drive people wild.)))

"Australia's oldest active observatory Mt Stomlo, has been extensively damaged in the fires. Helicopter observations have revealed its handful of giant domes are either burnt to the framework or molten masses of metal. Its offices and research facilities are also severely burnt. (((Somebody find me the photo online. A molten observatory. Man oh man, what a 21st-century signifier.)))

"Mr Jon Stanhope says the damage bill is expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. (((Charge it to the former Global Climate Coalition.))) He says families who have lost their homes will receive $10,000 in immediate assistance. (((While their insurance and taxes consequently skyrocket.)))

"Governor-General Peter Hollingworth has issued a plea for people not to lay blame for the devastation. 'We must not go on with recrimination,' he said. 'The fact of the matter is Australia is a high incendiary place.' (((That is not the whole fact of the matter, Mr Governor-General. The fact of the matter is that Australia is a coal- exporting, coal-using country that has taken an unconscionable risk with the biosphere, and now, with almost Biblical accuracy, your political center is reaping an almighty flaming whirlwind. You must go on with recriminations, because your own policies make your own nation pathetically vulnerable to climate extremes.)))

"Meanwhile, Western Australia's acting Health Minister Sheila McHale has offered Canberra the services of medical staff from Royal Perth Hospital, who treated victims of the Bali tragedy. (((Don't even get me started on the nexus of ironies here.)))


"Power cuts

"About 15,000 Canberra residents remain without power after Saturday's devastating fires in the ACT, where blackouts continue to affect more than 30 suburbs. As the fires raged on Saturday there were reports of power poles exploding. (((Fossil fueled power poles, no doubt.)))

"New South Wales

"Weather conditions are likely to worsen today in the Kosciusko National Park and 12 tankers are on standby to cater for the grim forecast. Firefighters were able to resume waterbombing on the large blaze due to calmer weather conditions yesterday. ((("Khaki Green" is the Viridian term for militarization under Greenhouse conditions. "Waterbombing" is a great Khaki Green coinage.)))

O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O

Go back to the Viridian Design home page.