Australia’s Out of Control Wild Fires Mirror SoCal Conditions

Australian bushfires are currently blazing through much of the country’s New South Wales region (a region in Southeast Australia), a black mark in the continuing trend of ever growing wildfires in the world. 

The devastation is overwhelming: an estimated 35 people and one billion animals killed by the fires, over 2,000 homes destroyed, and around 46 million acres burned since the fires began last September.

Eastern Australia is no stranger to fire. The abundant vegetation and extremely dry conditions makes it one of the most fire-prone regions in the world. Smaller, less intense wildfires are known to benefit the land during Australia’s dry season from September to February, giving the soil needed nutrients and opening waxy seed capsules so that plants such as the Eucalyptus tree can grow. In fact, indigenous populations in Australia have used controlled burning methods for agricultural benefits and to prevent larger fires for thousands of years. 

So why has the fire season this year been so devastating? 

Though there is not one clear answer climate change is likely a key factor. 

“It has been attributed to many other fire incidents/seasons in Australia,” said biology teacher Theresa Peters, “but the studies need to be made yet to confirm this.”

“Climate change (warming in Australia) leads to longer and more frequent droughts which dries/kills more vegetation, and makes the area a fire risk,” said Peters. “Clearly the past major fires seasons in Australia have happened when the areas are also battling drought, just like the recent fires in California. Drought means more dry vegetation which fuels the fires.”  

Last year was in fact, according to The Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s 2019 climate statement, the country’s “warmest year on record” and “driest year on record”, so it’s no surprise that the climate issue of global warming is a cause for concern.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds that “the concentration of GHGs [greenhouse gases] in the earth’s atmosphere is directly linked to the average global temperature on Earth” and that “the concentration has been rising steadily, and mean global temperatures along with it”.

About two-thirds of greenhouse gases are made up of carbon dioxide and its heavy levels are mostly caused by burning fossil fuels. Wildfires increase greenhouse gas levels too because fires emit carbon dioxide, creating a vicious cycle in which large wildfires indirectly fuel more fires. 

The combination of the higher temperatures and drier conditions have exacerbated fires in all parts of the world, not just Australia. Dryness and high temperatures are playing a part in the steady increase of fires across California.

Global efforts to cut back carbon emissions such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement are an attempt to reduce the effects of climate change across the world. 

Most recently, the UN held a Climate Action Summit last September to accelerate action. We can take action too, both to help Australia and to help save our entire planet.