Aus fires more proof of climate crisis

Aus fires more proof of climate crisis

AFP photo

Fires raging across the southern half of Australia underscore the immediacy of the climate change crisis facing the world. Australia is among the countries that are most prone to bushfires. Yet, the fires sweeping across the continent in recent months are unprecedented. They are more intense and widespread than in the past. Consider this: in the catastrophic fires of 2018, 740,000 hectares of land burned, compared to 5 million hectares in recent months. Australian bushfires are a feature of summer, but this episode began in August, even before the end of winter. Worryingly, the worst is yet to come as temperatures peak in Australia in January-February. So, the fires may not subside for another two months, at least. Destruction is already serious. It is estimated that around 500 million animals have died in the fires so far and 30% of Australia’s koala population is said to have been wiped out. This is more than catastrophic. Climate scientists say that long-term climate warming, years of drought and a set of climate patterns combine to trigger severe fire catastrophes. All three ‘ingredients’ have come together in Australia. Australia’s average temperature has risen by at least a degree Celsius over the past century. Higher temperatures dry the soil and fuel load. This could have been reversed by rainfall but that is not only sparse in Australia but also, in its southwest, precipitation has fallen by 20% since the 1970s. Southeastern Australia has been reeling from drought over three successive years. The unprecedented bushfires were the result.

An increase in frequency of extreme and divergent weather events are some examples of the unfolding impact of climate change. These are happening across the world. Droughts and floods occurred simultaneously in different parts of India last year. It is unfortunate that leaders continue to deny that climate change is upon us. Reacting to the ongoing bushfires, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there is no “credible scientific evidence” linking greenhouse gas emissions to the severity or frequency of catastrophic bushfires. If only he and other climate change deniers would take a serious look at countless scientific reports linking greenhouse gas emissions with long-term climate change that is making the planet more prone to disasters.

Global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have lost steam over the past decade. Will the unfolding disaster in Australia make world leaders, especially from advanced economies, take the crisis more seriously? The world is running out of time. Already, we have lost opportunities to reverse changes that have happened. However, with timely action to arrest emissions, we could at least slow the pace of the destructive impact of global warming. 

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