There is nothing like a calamity to clear the mind and it may well be that Australia may be reaching the bushfire tipping point. But don’t hold your breath (although you may need to if you have been in smoky Melbourne this week)!
The bushfire emergency, disaster, crisis, whatever you call it, is one of those occasions where there is a clear wake up call. Whether you want to say you ‘believe’ in climate change or not, the fact is there is something going drastically wrong and we need to do something about, both in the short term and the long term.
The Australian economy cannot cope with hit after hit of bushfire seasons like we have had. The trucking industry cannot cope with the current situation, everything is stretched to the limit. Shutting down major inter-capital highways for over ten days causes no end of strife.
The bushfire calamity has affected rural areas most of all, although the media does tend to concentrate on people in Sydney or Melbourne wearing face masks in iconic locations to illustrate our problems. If there is one sector which the rural areas depend on more than the massive urban sprawls, it’s the trucking industry.
The bushfire emergency is going to give everyone a shock and wake them up to the idea this might be the new normal. The appalling health outcomes likely to result in the terrible air quality should only serve to further concentrate the mind.
A similar situation developed in California in the eighties and nineties. Los Angeles was under a permanent smog. The smog was starting to have seriously adverse effects on the health statistics in the city. Air quality is a big issue in California, where a massive population is concentrated in the main centres of population.
The first culprit to be identified by the Californian Air Resources Board was particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. The authorities understood that if they didn’t control the emission of these noxious fumes into the atmosphere, the population’s health crisis would get worse.
The CARB pushed hard to get exhaust gas emission controls in the US fast tracked, and when the Feds weren’t quick enough, they pushed through legislation in California, which truckies all over the country had to adhere to, or be unable to deliver into the country’s richest economy.
One of the worst offenders in the emissions stakes was found to be the thousands of trucks going in and out of the LA and Long Beach ports every day, supplying the vibrant economy. The ports stand quite close to the main areas of population and helped to concentrate the smog over the city.
The answer was a program to wean the trucks running so close to the city off diesel and its resulting PM and NOx. Firstly, the rules went to Euro 3 or better and then government money came in to subsidise the operators who were even more responsible and were using low emission trucks, like natural gas power and hybrids. At the same time ‘dirty’ trucks were banned completely.;
Later, as carbon emissions became a bigger issue, zero emissions solutions came to the fore and subsidies helped stimulate the demand for zero emission solutions like semi-electric trucks using overhead power lines and, later, fully electric prime movers.
As a direct result of this crisis in LA, California is the most vibrant market for electric trucks in the world, and real improvements in air quality have been achieved.
It is a shame that there needs to be a genuine crisis before really effective action takes place, but if the events of the last month or so stimulate a similar response in Australia, we, but more importantly our children and their children, can look forward to a brighter and breathable future.