We were worried about some friends who live in Sydney in Australia. We sent them an email asking about their safety and also how they were living through this terrible environmental disaster. As they live in Sydney, this was perhaps a little neurotic on our part!
Did they feel they were in danger? We got an email back from them assuring us that they were safe and well as the fires are actually hundreds of miles from where they live. But they have smelt the smoke from the fires on a few days:
“This Spring and Summer so far have been quite mild, despite some very hot days here and there and a few occasions when the wind has blown the bushfire smoke into the city.”
The email also gave us a different perspective than the one we have been getting from the Press. That is why I want to share this with you today.
Up to now, we have had catastrophic images and these really do convey the terrible tragedy of the loss of life, property, and wildlife. This is truly a disaster. There is no doubt that climate change has contributed to the disaster, but not excessively so, according to our friends.
What the press fails to tell us are the following facts mentioned by our friends in the email.
1. The Australia ecosystems have evolved with fire. Many native plant species actually depend on fire to regenerate. The aborigines have used fire for centuries and even millennia. They are using it to clear land for agricultural purposes.
2. Back-burning (burning the undergrowth in forests) is an essential tool in helping to prevent disastrous fires from devastating huge areas of land. This back-burning usually takes place in the wet and cooler months of the year. It is an essential bushfire reduction strategy. When Captain Cook landed in Australia, it was autumn and it is said that he took part in some back-burning.
3. When local government councils fail to do this, they are heightening the risks of an excessive fire-load. But the councils blame overwhelming bureaucracy and claim that this reduction of the fire hazard is no longer sufficient. They have pleaded with the government to “acknowledge the link between climate change and bushfire.” They are asking for more funding.
4. The newspapers rarely mention that about 50% of these fires are caused by natural causes such as lightning. The other 50% is caused by humans who may be arsonists or who are deliberately setting areas on fire for their own benefit. The dry air, high winds, and long drought have resulted in fires spreading uncontrollably.
5. Bushfires like the ones we are experiencing are a regular occurrence in that they happen every 7 years or so which are usually the result of long droughts. Our friends have remarked:-
“The area that is burning is less than in previous serious bushfire seasons.”
That may be true but I never remember reading about thousands of people stranded on a beach or so many people losing their homes. Have whole towns ever been abandoned before?
Our friends’ email gave us some of the background but we can never get away from the fact that the rising temperatures are a major factor as revealed in this dramatic chart here, issued by the Australian ABC News.
But the situation is dire, not just in Australia but in the whole world. As one climate scientist puts it,
“At this point I could restate all the lines of scientific evidence that clearly show the links between human-caused climate change and the intensification of extreme weather conditions not just in Australia, but all over the world.”
Time for urgent long-term planning but all the participating countries said that at the Paris summit way back in 2015. Now, four years on, maybe the world has reached the tipping point? I am not so optimistic as I was then!