Mining magnate Andrew Forrest rejected the assertion climate change is behind Australia’s bushfire crisis, instead pointing to arsonists Thursday as the biggest factor as he dipped into his own pocket to donate millions to recovery efforts.
“I think there’s a multitude of reasons why the fire extent has been so devastating. I think a warming planet would be part of that — [but] the biggest part of that is arsonists,” he said in the Western Australia state capital, Perth.
Forrest made the comments during an announcement of $70 million in aid to the bushfire recovery effort through his family’s philanthropic Minderoo Foundation.
Today we launch the Minderoo Fire Fund. A comprehensive $70 million relief package designed to not only respond to the ongoing crisis and rebuild communities, but to establish long-term resilience by funding research into and applying new techniques in fire and disaster relief. pic.twitter.com/OQBQJ0JkBp
— Minderoo Foundation (@minderoo) January 9, 2020
Forrest’s pledge dwarfs the personal contributions from a host of celebrities such as reality TV star Kylie Jenner and actor Chris Hemsworth who have donated $1 million each.
The Fortescue Metals chairman said he wanted to avoid politicising the issue of the fire recovery, but told reporters arson was the single major cause of Australia’s bushfire crisis not anthropogenic climate change.
“A warming planet is but a small part of what’s happening out there in Australia as you know a large proportion of these fires have been lit by arsonists but it all comes together,” he said.
“The opportunity to take advantage of drought, to take advantage of an incredibly dry season and very warm summers by anybody to cause devastation is absolutely tragic.”
The announcement by Forrest came just 24-hours after the Australian newspaper reported more than 180 alleged arsonists have been arrested since the start of 2019, with 29 blazes deliberately lit in the Shoalhaven region of southeast NSW in just three months.
Police arrests also came for those allegedly caught lighting bushfires across Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, the newspaper reports, although NSW leads the way.
Police have taken legal action against 183 people for more than 200 bushfire-related offences since November last year.https://t.co/WzoxRigKPL
— NSW Police Force (@nswpolice) January 6, 2020
Police note of the arrests:
- 24 people have been charged over alleged deliberately-lit bushfires
- 53 people have had legal actions for allegedly failing to comply with a total fire ban, and
- 47 people have had legal actions for allegedly discarding a lighted cigarette or match on land.
NSW Police warn numerous bush and grass fires have severely impacted Australia’s most populous state, claiming the lives of 18 people and destroying hundreds of millions of animals and livestock, thousands of homes, and more than 4.9 million hectares of land, so far this bushfire season.
University of Sydney scientists estimate one billion animals have been killed in the fires. The figure includes mammals, birds and reptiles, but not frogs, insects or invertebrates.