Bushfires have continued to ravage the Australian landscape into the New Year, with predictions for further escalations in the coming days. 300 troops have been called in to tackle the fires; a 7-day state of emergency has been called in New South Wales, and a disaster has also been declared in the state of Victoria. Since September, the fires have killed at least 24 people, with dozens still missing and over 1500 homes lost. Millions of acres of bushland have been destroyed, and according to the BBC, the economic costs are predicted to be enormous. Tens of thousands of residents and tourists have been told to evacuate coastal areas in New South Wales. Around 3000 firefighters are battling blazes as big as small countries, and approximately 30,000 people have lost power.
The Australian Met Office stated that the increasing frequency and severity of dangerous bushfires are due to climate change and the increase in greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere. Despite this acknowledgement and these extreme weather conditions, which are predicted to increase in the next few years, the Australian Prime Minister has continued to deny that climate change is a critical cause of these fires. He has refused to see or recognize the link between the bushfires and his polices and says that he will not make ‘reckless’ cuts to the coal industry. The Prime Minister has come under intense criticism, primarily in his own country, for taking a relaxed stance on these fires. Specifically, he has been criticized for recently taking a holiday to Hawaii and for not doing enough to tackle climate change. Many Australians have also stated the need for the government to adequately fund firefighting services, which have severely limited resources and are reliant on volunteers.
Scientists have been warning for decades with vast rigorous evidence that unless drastic changes are made to tackle global warming, the severity and catastrophes from extreme weather events will only escalate. These warnings have increased, particularly in recent years, as there have been exponentially increasing visible outcomes of climate change. On the social, environmental, and economic scale, the impacts of extreme events, such as bushfires, are being seen to be monumental and are affecting all citizens, particularly those who are disadvantaged and have fewer coping resources.
Bushfires are common in the Australian summertime, but record-breaking droughts and temperatures have seen them escalate rapidly this year. The country’s Prime Minister has been infamous for continuing to deny the existence of climate change, and his party has even labelled it as ‘a metropolitan fad for urban professionals.’ His surprise election victory in 2017 led to a massive expansion of the Australian coal industry; Australia is the world’s biggest coal value exporter. In its Emission Gap Report 2018, the UN said that Australia is not meeting its climate commitments, and the Climate Change Performance Index ranked Australia last out of the 57 countries responsible for more than 90% of greenhouse gas emissions.
A better-funded fire service means that firefighters have the resources to effectively tackle these fires and that less disruption to lives is caused. To reduce the vulnerability of Australia to bushfires, the government must start reducing its carbon emissions. This can start with meeting its UN climate change commitments. Long term environmental sustainability, such as planning for a world with zero net emissions, must be prioritized over short term economic growth, such as growing the coal sector. The Australian bushfires serve as a dire warning that this needs to be done, as the quality of life for future generations is drastically at stake.
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