Australia is burning

I received an email a couple of days ago from a friend in Australia who suggested that as a start to the New Year I should focus this week’s blog post on what is happening in his country.

Interactive Map showing fires and burned areas

As you probably know Australia is suffering from the worst start to its annual fight against brush fires in history. You can find extensive coverage in the international news media on the crisis which has eventually led the Australian government to call in the military to help with evacuation and rescue. Over 1,000 homes have been lost so far.

What I have been able to understand is that the situation is due to a combination of record breaking hot weather, a devastating draught and very strong winds.

Not only was last year the hottest year ever in Australia but December 18th was the hottest day ever recorded with temperatures averaging 107 ºF (42ºC). My friend said it was 48 degrees at his house outside of Sydney!

The drought has been a problem in New South Wales (Sydney)  and Queensland (Brisbane) since 2017 and this Spring (our fall) was the driest on record. The drought appears to be caused by a weather pattern called the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) which is sometimes called the India el Niño.

The third cause of the situation can be traced to warmer air over Antartica which is causing something called Sudden Stratospheric Warming.

One of the questions that has scientists and activists engaged is the degree to which the current situation is caused by global warming? If you follow the links above you can get a glimpse of the debate and it seems to me that while the IOD and the draught might not be linked both the high temperatures and winds clearly are.

The New York Times ran an insightful op ed article on the situation by Richard Flanagan, a well known and respected Australian Novelist on January 3rd. One of the things that Flanagan points out is that the current Australian Government and its Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, have not taken Climate Change seriously and even the opposition Labor Party is beholden to the country’s coal industry.

According to an article in National Geographic, Australia’s performance on climate change is very disappointing especially considering it was one of the first countries to try and implement a tax on carbon back in 2012. That effort failed spectacularly as Australian’s citizens were told that there was a trade off between economic prosperity and responsibility responsibility.

This nonsense is largely funded by the lobbies of coal, oil and gas. From an economic viewpoint, the transition to a low carbon economy has the potential to be the biggest economic boom of all time and political leaders should make sure their countries are at the leading edge of it rather than cling to fossil fuels beyond reason and common sense.

Perhaps the silver lining of the current crisis will be to convince Australians that the climate issue is real and that action should be taken sooner, rather than later. In line with this thinking is David Wallace-Wells’ best selling book, The Uninhabitable Earth where he makes a compelling case that the crisis is upon us today, not 50 or 100 years from now.

2 thoughts on “Australia is burning

  1. Dear Sir! Your article is very interesting and well informed. I would like to tell you some personal opinions: the fire is lighting usually by man hand. Also, I can not remember where I have read this, but it has sense: the Australian Government stopped few years ago the maintenance of their huge natural parks( I mean cutting the dead branches, burn them along with dead leafs, the anti-fire deforestation and so on). A lot of farmers and aborigines were complaining, but nobody listen to them. And let’s remember that there is plenty of eucalyptus. Theirs leafs are very oily and this oil is very flammable. And those leafs were staying there for at least 10 years, accumulating themselves on the ground. In my opinion it was a matter of time until the disaster. Of course, there are a lot of other factors.
    The Australians, also in my opinion, should respect the aborigines song-lines, their 60000 years old customs and traditions.

  2. Dear Mike,

    Thank you very much for this interesting article. It is indeed stunning how the world is currently changing. Australia is one extreme example but the world is changing as a whole. Down in Germany we had one record head wave after the other and no end in sight. We also get more and more species of potentially harmful mosquitos settling down in Germany. But still the politicians are mostly focusing on the fast money. Even though being trendsetter would be a large benefit for the countries economy on the long run. Within a couple of years there won’t be a chance to still neglect the fact there is a climate change and we all have to drastically change our lifestyle. But lets see how many problems we need to suffer through until the very last is committed to the task of saving our environment.

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