The catastrophic 2019-2020 summer season in Australia is an apocalyptic warning of what climate change can do to other parts of the world. While structures can be rebuilt and fauna regrown, the loss of human and animal life is a tragedy beyond recovery
Bush fires in Australia have been going on since September 2019 and there is no end in sight.
As of January 8, 2020, 26 people were confirmed dead in the bush fires that burned more than 12 million acres, destroyed 5,900 buildings, with more than 2300 homes among them, and over one billion animals are feared dead, according to official reports in newspapers. The Australian bush fires are about 46% bigger than last year’s Brazilian Amazon fires.
Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes and many small settlements and towns have been almost completely destroyed as walls of fires descended upon them. Smoke from the bush fires have not just engulfed many parts of Australia, but have also turned the sky hazy in New Zealand, and more recently, in Chile which is more than 11,000 kilometres across the Pacific! People are having a hard time not just battling the flames, but also breathing as the smoke-fill air formed a blanket over towns and cities such as Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.
In early December, smoke clouds over Sydney shot the air pollution level there more than 12 times the “hazardous level” and early January has seen Canberra experience “the worst air quality in the world for several consecutive days” with the Air Quality Index being “14 times” higher than the recommended level.
With a couple of months of summer still left there, more devastation is going to take place. Record-breaking temperatures and drought are factors that led to the unprecedented scale and intensity of the fires.
The recently released Annual Climate Statement from the Bureau of Meteorology, Australia, confirmed 2019 as “the nation’s warmest and driest year on record.” This is the first time on record when Australia had both the lowest rainfall and highest temperatures in the same year.
The national average temperature in 2019 was “nearly 0.2°C above the previous warmest year in 2013,” and “the warmest year without the influence of El Niño,” according to The Conversation.
Drought conditions started in Australia in 2017, followed by “driest September ever in 2018” and “driest spring on record” from September to November 2019.
We’re probably looking at what climate change may look like for other parts of the world in the first stages in Australia at the moment,”Professor Chris Dickman
Australian wildlife suffer immeasurable damage
Ecologists from the University of Sydney fear that a billion mammals, birds and reptiles may have been lost since the bush fires began in Australia in September. The estimation takes into account both animals that perished in the fires and through loss of their habitat.
Many plants and animal species indigenous to this continent are feared to be on the brink of extinction, if not completely wiped out as a result of the raging fires that continue to wreck havoc there, particularly in the states of New South Wales and Victoria.
The latest estimate, released in a statement, is based on calculations by Professor Chris Dickman, a professor in Terrestrial Ecology at the University of Sydney, of a 2007 report for the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) on the impacts of Land Clearing on Australia Wildlife in NSW. His updated estimate includes just mammals, birds and reptiles, but does not include insects, bats or frogs.
The actual figure of the perished mammals and other animals is likely to be much higher and will probably never be known because the fires have been so large, and have lasted so long, that the remains are likely to be consumed completely by the flames.
Professor Dickman and his team also disclosed that “most of the range and population” of between 20 and 100 threatened species, such as the glossy black cockatoo and a small marsupial known as the long-footed potoroo, have been burned or they died “due to a lack of food and shelter in the aftermath.”
Along with efforts to control the fires by teams of fire-fighters, many of them volunteers, there have been urgent efforts to rescue the animals, treat the injured and find temporary shelters for them.
A video of a woman running to rescue an injured koala and taking off her T-shirt to wrap him in it, was seen all over the world. What was most heart-wrenching in the video was the sight of the koala crying in pain — the first time many viewers would have seen an animal wailing in pain.
The actual figure of the perished mammals and other animals is likely to be much higher and will probably never be known because the fires have been so large, and have lasted so long, that the remains are likely to be consumed completely by the flames.”
That koala succumbed to its injuries, like countless other injured animals rescued. It is estimated that up to a third of the koala population in NSW mid-north coast may have perished in the fires there. The koalas are at high risk in the event of a bush fire because they are very slow-moving, live on trees and eat eucalyptus leaves — which are rich in oil — thus their bodies are highly flammable. As flames jump from treetops to treetops, the koalas are caught up in the flames before they can escape.
The Australian biodiversity is very rich and varied, with over 300 native mammal species that include the more well-known marsupials such as such as kangaroos, koalas and wallabies, to mammals and the egg-laying platypuses and echidnas.
Sadly, “some 34 species and subspecies of native mammals have become extinct in Australia in the last 200 years,” discloses Professor Dickman. And he terms it “the highest rate of loss for any region in the world.”
Professor Dickman blames climate change for what is happening in Australia right now, and warns that this change can be a reflection of what can happen elsewhere in the world.
“What we’re seeing is the effects of climate change. Sometimes, it’s said too that Australia is the canary in the coal mine with the effects of climate change being seen here most severely and earliest, as well. We’re probably looking at what climate change may look like for other parts of the world in the first stages in Australia at the moment,” Professor Dickman warns, according to a report published in The Smithsonian Magazine.