By Jake Sanders
Our planet is on fire. With smoke from fires drenching the skies above Australian cities in a blood-red haze and chocking air conditions blanketing the continent, the world has watched in horror as Australia has burned. Yet these apocalyptic scenes are just one part of a global trend which has seen an increased spread in wildfires from North America to the Artic Circle. Extensive research conducted by the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at the University of California has found that forest fires in western areas of the United States are now five times more frequent than during the 1970s and 1980s. Furthermore, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres has called for an end to de-forestation – a substantial CO2 emitting industry. Noting the power of rainforests such as the Amazon, known as the ‘lungs of the Earth’, Mr Guterres declared that “we cannot afford more damage to such a vital source of oxygen and biodiversity”. Despite these stern warnings from the United Nations, the IPCC Climate Report 2018 and data collected from NASA satellites declaring 2019 to be the second warmest year on record, climate change deniers continue to disregard calls for halting greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of accepting the scientific evidence showing the correlation between the unnaturally intense Australian wildfires and human-induced climate change, many politicians continue to politicise the climate crisis and insist on remaining tied to a fossil fuel-based economy and energy system.
This does not help international efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius – which is crucial to preventing the intensification of future forest fire outbreaks. Urban areas remain at great risk. Unprecedented Californian wildfires in 2018 which devasted communities and threatened several counties in the Los Angeles area have shown just how vulnerable urban communities are to encroaching forest fires. With climate change disrupting rainfall patterns and causing extended draughts, future forest fires are expected to grow in size and speed due to substantially drier flora. This was particularly evident during the height of the Australian bushfire crisis, in which many uncontrollable fires surrounding Sydney were aided by parched vegetation as a result of a historic draught. As a result, from June 2019 until February 2020 an estimated 46 million acres and 186, 000 square kilometres of the Australian continent have been reduced to ash. Although the brunt of the fire season is over, fires are continuing to burn - threatening people, homes and wildlife. As people start to pick up the pieces and try to rebuild after losing 2,779 homes, many are left to ask themselves – “is this a sign of what is to come?”. Despite the regular occurrence of bushfires in many parts of the country, the scale of these most recent fires was on an entirely different level of ferocity. It was simply was not a normal bushfire season.
On ‘Inferno Earth’, disruptions to travel as well as mass evacuations of citizens, tourists and loss of life – with 103 reported deaths during the 2018 California wildfire crisis alone, are becoming the new normal. Further evidence pointing to this conclusion was seen in the tragic images of beloved animals such as Koalas and Kangaroos shown fleeing and in many saddening cases succumbing to the fires. Similar reports of large-scale loss of livestock and the abandoning of species to a fate did they did not deserve has rightfully provoked fury among environmental activists and the global public as a whole. With an estimated loss of 1 billion animals in Australia due to bushfires and potentially irreversible damage done to wildlife habitats across the continent this climate change-induced catastrophe has pushed many native species to extinction.
Naturally, this reaction has provoked many politicians to simply offer “thoughts and prayers” for those affected – but this simply isn’t good enough anymore. The world doesn’t need more empty words and speeches. Now is the time for action. With only nine years remaining for policy makers and world leaders to take dramatic action before our planet’s hastening warming spirals out of control. Mistakes made at COP25 in Madrid cannot be repeated – for we simply don’t time. Similarly, countries can no longer expect international aid and the valiant work of NGOs as a means of disaster relief to make the problem of climate change simply go away. Unless action is taken now, climate change is here to stay. Drastic reductions in global CO2 emissions, ceased deforestation of areas abundant in bio-diversity such as the Amazon and Indonesia and immediate efforts to re-populate and rebuild areas lost to wildfires are all crucial measures that must be taken if we are to right our wrongs. Australia cannot be a lesson which is not learnt. A vision of our dire future has now been revealed to us. The question is, do we have the courage to change the path we are on and thus change our future?