Australia is on fire
I wish that was an exaggeration, but it’s really, really not. Fires have already occurred in every state and territory this season. Australia has been burning for over a month straight now, and has lost over 3 million hectares of forest. For those playing at home, that’s larger than Wales – yes, the country.
The air pollution levels in Sydney are 11 times the level considered hazardous. Schools are closing, and the smoke outside is so pervasive that interior smoke alarms are being triggered. Last Friday, it hit 44°C (111.2°F) in Melbourne. Venturing outside, I could feel the heat of the wind cooking my skin, and my lips split badly enough to bleed. Elsewhere in Australia, they reached a record-breaking 49.9C (121.8°F).
Going… gone pic.twitter.com/GvOSJSmsDj
— James Jeffrey (@James_Jeffrey) December 9, 2019
The science of the fires is undeniable
Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales specialising in extreme events, said climate change had given the natural drivers of Australia’s record -breaking heat “extra sting.”
She said without the extra CO2 in the atmosphere “it would still have been warm”, but, she added:
“I doubt very much we would have seen a record on Tuesday and then another one on Wednesday. And we are still at the beginning of the summer with a long way to go.”
On Thursday, she was driving through thick smoke haze in north-west Sydney with her family. She said:
“It is frightening and a little frustrating, but this is what climate scientists have been saying for decades.
“I’m bordering on saying ‘I told you so’ but I don’t think anyone really wants to hear that.”
David Bowman, a professor of environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania, has been worried about this “nightmare scenario” for a decade.
“In a stable climate it’s like a bank account, where a fire comes along and burns some forest and releases carbon,” he said.
“When the forestry regrows it’s like putting money back into your account. Over the years, your bank balance account is about the same.”
He said intense fires were like “huge transactions”, but the “high mortality rate” of NSW and Queensland forests meant they were not taking back the carbon being withdrawn.
Matt Hope was on a flight from Sydney to Brisbane and captured this image of the fires on the New South Wales Mid North Coast.
Picture credit: @MattHope4.
— Nine News Australia (@9NewsAUS) November 8, 2019
Climate Change isn’t glamorous
There are no flash-donation drives or pictures of starving children. There is just a subtle, insidious change.
Fraction of degree by fraction of degree, our world is warming. We have already seen the earth’s temperature rise by 1 since the 19th Century. Just another 0.5 degrees could see tens of millions of people exposed to heat waves, water shortages, and greatly reduced crop yields.
Climate change has always been ‘tomorrow’s problem’. Well, it finally looks like tomorrow is here.
And the truth is, I don’t know what to do about it.
I’ve always said that one person can make a difference.
Skipping a takeaway coffee cup may not be enough to turn back the tide, but it’s a silent declaration that you’re trying to do your bit. It normalises taking responsibility for our lifestyle, and makes a quiet statement that we will not mindlessly ignore the consequences of our actions.
Voting with our dollars supports sustainable projects, and forces brands to address their business practices if they want to continue to compete. All that, we can do.
What we can’t do, is affect immediate and significant change on an international level. We can’t change policies, or address the behaviors of major carbon producers. We can’t dedicate the millions of dollars necessary to divert industries away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.
What we can’t do is save the planet.
To save the planet, we’re forced to rely on our elected leaders.
The same elected leaders who don’t believe in climate change. The same leaders who are actively trying to reverse progress made against the advance of global warming.
In Venice, council chambers flooded for the first time in history, minutes after the council voted against taking measures to reduce carbon emissions.
Here in Australia, our elected Prime Minister is looking into taking measures that will outlaw the ‘indulgent and selfish’ activism of climate protesters, and calls major banking and insurance businesses boycotting fossil fuel investment a ‘worrying development’. While Australia burns, he took a family holiday to Hawaii.
Australia. This is the road between Canberra and the Coast I think yesterday. The idea that it is somehow not right ‘to talk about #ClimateChange at this difficult time’ is frankly convenient bulllshit. Click on image to see what life is like now for the #firefighters . pic.twitter.com/ckrnf4uocS
— Sam Neill (@TwoPaddocks) December 21, 2019
In the face of such corruption and blatant disregard for our futures, what can we do? How can we scream loud enough to be heard over the complacency, the arrogance, and the fossil-fuel campaign dollars?
I don’t have the answers. I wish I did, but if I’m honest, I’m tired. I’m scared. And I’m running out of positive thoughts (not thoughts and prayers though, there’s plenty of those being thrown around).
So here I am in NZ, watching Australia burn on the news, and I guess this is all I have energy for now. I’m going to rest, spend time with my family, and then regroup. I’ll be back trying to save the world next year, and I hope you’ll join me.
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