Australia has been on fire for four long months. Since September 2019, bushfires have raged all across the country— burning over 17 million acres, destroying or damaging over 3,000 homes, and killing at least 28 people along with an estimated 1 billion animals. Koalas alone are feared to have lost 30% of their population.

Source: Benjamin Healley, Museums Victoria

In the wake of such a disaster, with states of emergency declared in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, countries such as New Zealand, Canada, and the United States have all offered assistance, sending hundreds of firefighters to help combat the bushfires.

While these fires may not be directly caused by climate change— as Australia has yearly fire seasons and is currently experiencing one of its worst droughts— many scientists believe that global warming could contribute to an overall increase in extreme weather. According to Dr. Richard Thornton, chief executive of the Bushfires & Natural Hazards CRC, “what we do know is that the average temperature in Australia now is running about 1°C above the long-term average.” In fact, on December 17, 2019, Australia recorded its hottest day in history, with an average temperature across the country of 105.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Similarly, the National Wildlife Foundation has asserted that “global warming suggests more is yet to come—continued climate changes will potentially cause both more extremely dry periods and more heavy rainfall events.”

Photo from CSIRO.

Exacerbating the issue of climate change, Australia’s fire season this year alone has pumped over 400 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Added to the world’s fossil fuel emissions, future fires will only become more intense, contributing to a destructive, positive feedback loop.

As University of Sydney ecologist Professor Glenda Wardle says, “It’s not every weather event that is the direct result of climate change. But when you see trends… it becomes undeniably linked to global climate change.” In order to stop climate change, we must take action now, before its disastrous effects are irreversible.

 

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Sophia Xiang

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