What’s the deal with Australia’s bushfires?

Understanding this tragic natural disaster and its impacts

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Bushfires aren’t uncommon in Australia—in fact, the country experiences a natural “fire season” every year during the Australian summer. However, the past few months have been much worse than normal, as the intense fires have burned millions of hectares of land and destroyed thousands of homes.

Scientists and experts point to the climate crisis as a contributing factor to the disaster.

Increasing carbon dioxide levels are warming the planet through a process known as the greenhouse effect. As a result, Australia has been getting alarmingly hotter and drier over the past few decades. This has led to record-breaking temperatures and months of droughts—even before the beginning of fire season.

The bushfires began in September 2019 and are still blazing today. Though every Australian state and territory has been affected, the largest fires have taken place along the highly-populated eastern and southern coasts of the country.

Bushfires are usually initiated by lightning strikes or accidental sparks, and often have to be contained rather than extinguished. They spread rapidly due to the creation of pyrocumulonimbus clouds, which develop from smoke plumes and can cause thunderstorms, adding to the risk of further lightning strikes.

Bushfires also spread much faster than forest fires, at an average speed of 22.5 kilometers per hour, as opposed to 10.8 kilometers per hour during forest fires.

More than 6.3 million hectares of land have been ravaged since the start of the fires. This is equivalent to 11 times the land area of Prince Edward Island.

As a result, nearly 2,000 homes have been destroyed, thousands of locals have been evacuated, and the damages have been estimated in the billions of dollars. There have been 27 human deaths so far, not to mention the toll on Australia’s wildlife.

Australia is home to thousands of native animal species, such as koalas, wallabies, and kangaroos. Experts estimate that millions of those animals have perished in the fires.

Not only have the fires taken the lives of countless animals, but they’ve also ravaged their natural ecosystems. This makes surviving creatures highly vulnerable. According to Australia’s environment minister, Sussan Ley, as of the end of December, nearly 30 per cent of koalas’ habitats had been destroyed in the fires so far.

In the meantime, Australians fleeing the fires have heroically stepped in to help local wildlife. In November, a video went viral after a woman was filmed saving a koala from the bushfires. She can be seen wrapping the wounded marsupial in her own shirt before dousing it with water and wrapping it in a blanket.

According to the World Meteorological Organization, smoke from the bushfires reached Chile and Argentina in early January. This smoke, which spread over 11,000 kilometres between South America and Australia, carries “black carbon,” which is said to be detrimental both to human health and the environment, as it contributes to the climate crisis.

Firefighters from across the globe have travelled to Australia to help control the fires. Thousands of professional and volunteer firefighters are working together to prevent the fires from spreading. The Australian navy, police, and military are evacuating locals and organizing rescue missions.

However, not every Australian official seems to be taking this disaster as seriously as others.

Many have criticized Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to take a family vacation to Hawaii in the midst of the national emergency. The political figure is also receiving backlash for failing to take adequate measures against the broader climate crisis.

In the face of this disheartening news, you may be wondering how you could possibly help from Kingston, Ontario. However, while it may seem like all we can do is watch the news and cross our fingers for change, there are some steps you can take from a distance.

Many organizations are actively raising funds for the cause. Donations are used to buy food and clothes for those affected, fund firefighting efforts and care for rescued animals. Find out how to help and where to donate, if you have any money to spare.

Most importantly, if you want to ensure these kinds of natural disasters stop getting worse each year, educate yourself on our climate crisis. Learn how you can pressure our local and federal officials to make positive changes meant to heal our dying planet, so people don’t have to lose their homes—or even die—because of the worsening climate.

 

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