By Emma Diamond
There have recently been devastating wildfires in Australia. The fires have burned more than 16 million acres of land, killing 28 people and one billion animals. The state of New South Wales has been hit extremely hard by these fires, destroying and damaging more than 3000 homes. Sydney and Melbourne, two of Australia’s largest cities have also been affected by the fires. Thick smoke has covered the cities’ centers. The smoke was so dangerous that in December, the air quality in Sydney was 11 times greater than the hazardous level.
There are many causes of these destructive wildfires. Many of the fires were started by lightning strikes in forest areas with particularly dry climates. In December, numerous fires in the state of Victoria were ignited because of lightning. These fires then rapidly spread 12.4 miles in five hours. Other fires began when people deliberately started them. Police officers in New South Wales have reported charging more than 24 people with purposefully starting fires. They also reported taking legal action against almost 200 people for crimes related to the wildfires.
Fires are not unusual during Australia’s hot and dry summers, but scientists say that because of climate change, this fire season has been more severe than usual. From 1961 to 1990, Australia had a steady average temperature. In 2019, the average was almost three degrees hotter than the long-term average. 2019 was also the driest year recorded in Australia, with rainfall about 40% less than average. As the climate in Australia continues to become hotter and drier, the fire season will continue to become more severe, enabling wildfires to burn more landscape quicker and with more intensity.
Although it is clear that these wildfires can be linked to climate change, the Australian government is refusing to take action. Climate change is very controversial in Australia because the country is susceptible to climate change, but is also the top coal exporter in the world. Coal is the most important export to Australia’s economy and powers 75% of the country’s electricity. Because coal is so crucial to Australia’s economy, it is unlikely that the country will embrace sustainable alternatives to coal, especially with the current Prime Minister in government. The current Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, and U.S. President Donald Trump hold similar beliefs about climate change and lack thereof. Morrison believes Australia should not switch to coal alternatives because it would cripple the economy and leave many citizens unemployed.
Although Morrison is against action to combat climate change, the majority of Australian citizens are in support of it. According to a Lowey Institute poll in 2019, 64% of Australians said they believe climate change is a “critical threat” and 61% said they would be in support of the government taking more action even if it led to significant economic costs. These percentages have increased by about 20 percentage points since 2014.
These deadly wildfires have been burning since September 2019, and are still continue today, January 21st, 2020. Many fires are still burning in the states of New South Wales and Victoria. Some of these fires are still not under control with people still attempting to stop them.
Image source: https://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/australia-wildfires-unleash-millions-tons-carbon-dioxide-n1120186