Climate crisis sparks deadly fire season in Australia
Records broken, nation burns
The beginning of Australia’s summer has seen record-breaking wildfires and destruction. As of Jan. 4, 2020, 200 fires rage across the country, having burned over 12 million acres of land. On that same date, the death toll from the fires reached 23 with six individuals unaccounted for in the affected areas. Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes.
Ecologists have estimated that some one billion animals have been killed in the fires, with some, like the glossy black cockatoo and the Mountain Pygmy Possum, possibly gone extinct.
In New Zealand, the effects of the fires are being seen through the newly brown-coloured glaciers. Dust from the fires has stained the ice caps and, should the dust continue to coat the glaciers, will eventually speed up the rate at which they melt.
New South Wales, a province in the south-east corner of Australia, is the site of the highest fire activity. The provinces of Victoria, which lies just south of New South Wales, and Queensland, to the north of it, are also seeing mass disaster.
As of late, Australia has been experiencing drier and hotter conditions than usual due to a phenomenon called a Positive Indian Ocean Dipole in which certain areas that border the Indian Ocean see warmer temperatures with increased precipitation and others undergo cooler, more mild conditions. In Australia, this has manifested as an intense drought, allowing for greater incidents of bushfires. This, coupled with long-term effects of climate change, has created the perfect storm for wildfires.
Many of these dangerous fires are burning in rural areas which possess fewer resources to fight the flames. This means that volunteer firefighting teams are the primary source of aid. While not all of these organizations are small (such as the New South Wales Rural Fire Service which consists of nearly 70,000 members), the personnel involved are largely doing this essential work unpaid. The Chas estimated that close to 3,600 firefighters are working to control the fires in Australia every day.
Canada has had an active role in helping to combat these fires.More than 70 firefighters have been deployed, , helping to fight the blaze in New South Wales and Queensland. These Canadian personnel include representation from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.
Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has been criticized for his lack of action during this time of immense crisis. As well, Morrison’s prioritization of economy over environment has become progressively prominent for many Australians, with climate change being a direct link to the disasters they are now facing.
Australian student Maddie Little said the attitude toward the country’s lead politician is encapsulated in the responses he gets from those most affected.
“The Aussie spirit of ‘she’ll be right’ was taken far too seriously. ScoMo seems to have greatly underestimated the severity of this disaster and I think it’s telling that our firefighters and evacuated Aussies are yelling expletives at him.”
In December, Morrison cut short a vacation in Hawaii upon increasing public pressure as fires raged thousands of miles across the Pacific in Morrison’s home country. The Prime Minister issued an apology, stating, “As a prime minister, you have other responsibilities and I accept that and I accept the criticism.”
Last week, on a trip to Cobargo, a small town in New South Wales, Morrison was met with jeers and resentment. The general sentiment in Cobargo is that the town is often overlooked due to its size, with many residents stating that a lack of resources has affected their ability to endure in times of crisis such as floods or bushfires.
Sydney’s mayor, Clover Moore, was also a subject of criticism for her defense of the annual New Year’s Eve firework display. Many felt that continuing on with the show was in bad taste and that the money should instead be donated to campaigns helping to combat the fires.
According to the BBC, Moore chose to point fingers at the federal government instead, insisting that “the compelling issue here is climate change.” Moore pressed that more measures need to be taken. “Cities around the world are doing their bit to address global warming; it’s our national governments that are failing us,” said Moore.
The fireworks went on as planned, with Moore stating that the event generates a large amount of economic activity which could then be used for fire relief and national aid.
Across social media, many campaigns are underway, urging individuals to donate to the cause. One Australian comedian, Celeste Barber, has helped to collect over $25 million in just over 48 hours. Barber has used her platform on Instagram to attract more attention to the devastation happening, particularly in the rural regions of New South Wales. Celebrities such as Pink and Nicole Kidman have
Barber has said that the funds raised will be spread amongst the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSWRF), the Red Cross in both Victoria and South Australia, and families who have lost loved ones in the fires and that she plans to consult the NSWRF in order to properly do so.
Peak fire season is to hit by midsummer which is not until the end of January.