Australia’s bushfires rage out of control

Hell: Wildfires can burn millions of acres and can travel up to a mile every four minutes. © Getty

Are bushfires the price for using fossil fuels? Huge infernos are burning across eastern Australia. Critics say they are linked to the climate crisis, and the country must stop mining coal.

They’re calling it Catastrophic Tuesday.

When the fire danger level reaches catastrophic, you must abandon your home and seek safety immediately. Yesterday, schools closed and towns were evacuated, as hot gusty winds spread fires over 2.5 million acres.

Australia’s government has declared a state of emergency. The army, firefighters and volunteers are helping with search and rescue, but with more hot weather on the way, the New South Wales fire chief warns it may be months before the fires are brought under control.

Bushfires are nothing new in Australia. Occasional fires return nutrients from plants to the soil and, for thousands of years, people, animals and plants have adapted to the annual “bushfire season”.

But why are things getting worse? The evidence points to the climate crisis.

Are bushfires the price for using fossil fuels?

Playing with fire

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack says it is “disgraceful” to play politics when people’s lives are in danger: “We’ve had fires in Australia since time began, and what people need now is a little bit of sympathy, understanding and real assistance.” Coal is very important for jobs and the economy, and the opposition Labor Party says. “The moral responsibility for emissions lies with the nation that burns the coal, not the nation that supplies the coal.”

Greenpeace says politicians don’t want to talk about coal because the industry has a “murky influence” over government. Green MP Adam Bandt agrees, saying, “The government has had every opportunity to minimise the risk of these catastrophic fires and, instead, it has chosen to pour fuel on the fire.” British businessman Richard Branson says this is a wake-up call for Australia, that could spark a “revolution in clean energy, which can create thousands more jobs than coal could ever produce”.

You Decide

  1. Will stopping coal mining help reduce the bushfires?

Activities

  1. Use the Expert Links to design a poster with information on how to prevent bushfires.

Some People Say...

“The anger is real. The anger is justified. Because this disaster was all foreseen and predicted.”

Carol Sparks, Mayor of Glen Innes Severn Council

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Over the last century, the average temperatures in Australia have risen by one degree, increasing the days each year when there is a high or extreme risk of bushfires. January 2019 was the hottest month on record, and the area burning in New South Wales is already four times greater than the whole area affected last year. So far this season, five people have died and at least 100 homes have been destroyed.
What do we not know?
In the coming days and weeks, temperatures, wind direction and air humidity will affect how the fires spread and how quickly they can be controlled. As the bushfire season extends, it begins to overlap with natural emergencies elsewhere. No one knows whether the emergency services will be able to cope with the increased demand or whether there will be enough time for the region to recover and prepare for next year’s bushfire season.

Word Watch

Catastrophic
An event causing sudden damage. When the level is severe or extreme, people are advised to leave as early as possible in order to survive. At catastrophic, leaving is the only option.
New South Wales
Often abbreviated to NSW, this is the most populous state in Australia and the centre of this week’s bushfires.
Bushfire season
A period of the spring and summer when hot and dry conditions increase the risk of fires. The season is starting earlier than in the past.
Greenpeace
An organisation that campaigns on environmental issues and climate change.

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