Staff Editorial 1/9/20
In a city called Eden, the skies overhead have turned red. Empty streets and vacated houses stand in stark opposition to the flames pushing residents toward the coast, where they hope to seek refuge on a crowded beach. Children wearing respirators pile into boats, and by the town’s wharf, families wait out the blaze on dinghies and harbors, watching as smoke blots out the sun and night comes early.
It might sound like the establishing shot of a dystopian movie set sometime in the distant future, but for many Australians, a life cast in flames has been a harsh reality since Sept. 2019, when more than 100 wildfires began ravaging the southeastern portion of the continent, killing at least 25 people and more than one billion animals, according to USA Today.
The smoke is visible from space, and its haze reaches as far as New Zealand, situated more than 2,500 miles away.
Australia usually experiences a wildfire season ranging from December to March, but experts say human-caused climate change has contributed to a longer, more catastrophic fire season, which is quickly shaping up to be the worst in the country’s history.
This year, a natural weather phenomenon called the Indian Ocean Dipole has brought record-breaking heat (an average maximum of about 107 degrees Fahrenheit) and drought to the states most affected, according to the BBC. But “the overwhelming scientific consensus is that rising levels of CO2 are warming the planet,” and with Australia’s average temperatures running roughly 1C above the long-term average, the country’s fires are set to become more frequent and more intense.
Climate change has lengthened the wildfire season, decreased rainfall across the continent and brought temperatures to new and dangerous highs. According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, last year was both the hottest and driest year in the nation’s history, and December was one of the top two hottest months ever recorded in Australia.
The devastation brought on by human-caused climate change has contributed to a long-term alteration to Australia’s natural environment. Out of the more than one billion animals that are estimated to have perished, some of those are found on no other continent. Estimates say that up to 30% of koalas may have already perished, pushing the species closer to the brink of extinction, according to a USA Today interview with Stuart Blanch, an environmental scientist with the World Wildlife Fund in Australia.
Other species, including Australia natives such as kangaroos, wallabies, cockatoos and honeyeaters, have suffered devastating losses during the recent fires, and some subspecies are estimated to have been wiped out entirely.
Besides the losses being reported currently, the devastation of the Australian fires will continue to contribute to animal deaths and habitat loss. Suffocation from the leftover smoke and starvation due to the death and displacement of various species of animals will result in continued declines of Australian wildlife populations. The destruction and long-term alteration of Australia’s ecosystems will continue to disrupt natural patterns and processes within Australia’s natural areas far into the future.
All this comes with a series of disparaging comments targeted at teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg; the 72-year-old singer Meatloaf said she was “brainwashed” into thinking climate change is real, and Salem Radio Host and Ex-Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka referred to her as “Thunder Thighs” in a Jan. 7 interview. It seems like the more the world tries to prove to us that climate change is killing the planet, the stronger the denialists bunker down and insult the work of scientists and activists alike.
We can’t keep denying the catastrophic impact that climate change is having on our world, and we can’t stand idly by as people in positions of social power spread misinformation. It’s easy to feel as though we’re individually helpless in the face of global warming, since its biggest contributors are the industries and corporations that produce oil, carbon and natural gas, but we can still help. We can pressure our governments and institutions to divest from fossil fuel industries, and we can donate to the organizations working hard to put out the fires in Australia.
To directly assist members of the country’s First Nations or Indigenous population, Yorta-Yorta musician and community rights activist Neil Morris has started a GoFundMe page: au.gofundme.com.
In both South Wales and Victoria — the two states most affected by the flames — you can donate directly to the fire departments. The Australian Red Cross has also helped more than 18,000 displaced or otherwise impacted people, and are accepting donations at redcross.org.au.
Organizations such as Airbnb are offering free temporary housing for the displaced, and individuals around the world are doing their part by stitching mittens for koalas and sewing bat wraps and joey patches for kangaroos.