Bushfires have run rampant in Australia since late October and are unlikely to end anytime soon. Bushfires are nothing new to Australia since they have a bushfire season every year from December to February, but this season has been particularly bad due to one of the worst dry spells in Australian history.
So far, at least 25 people have died, four of which were firefighters, and thousands have become homeless. The pollution from the fires serves as the most dangerous aspect as it is damaging to the respiratory system and can lead to death, especially for people with preexisting conditions, according to the Chair of the Australian Medical Association’s ethics and medico-legal committee, Chris Moy.
However, the group most heavily affected has been the animals. An estimated one billion animals are said to have died in the bushfires, many of which were threatened or endangered. 25,000 koalas, which are labeled as vulnerable to extinction, have died in the fires so far, one step above functionally extinct.
“Fire is an important part of maintaining biodiversity in ecosystems – they are beneficial. Unfortunately, fires on this scale are detrimental to ecosystems and may cause the extinction of endemic species,” said biology professor Dr. Jerry Kavouras.
Many are linking the dry season to climate change since scientists believe increased carbon dioxide levels are leading to increased temperatures and therefore drought seasons.
“There is currently an attribution study underway to determine the likelihood that climate change increased the severity,” said Kavouras. “A similar study had determined that climate change increased the severity of fires in northeastern Australia in 2018.”
State and local governments are solely responsible in fighting bushfires, but due to the strength of the current fires, the federal government has been more involved and is expected to play a key role in bushfires from now on. The federal government received scrutiny for their lack of action in the beginning of the fires but have since seemed to step up.
In the midst of the unprecedented bushfires, Prime Minister Scott Morrison took a vacation to Hawaii, upsetting many citizens. According to Lowy Institute, he’s also been criticized for his continued support of the coal industry and inaction on climate change despite two-thirds of Australians viewing climate change as the most important threat to Australia in the 2019 elections.
To try and make amends with his country and his inaction in the fires, he mobilized over 3,000 members of the defense force, promised to spend more than $1.4 billion to prevent bushfires and toured affected areas. On his tour, numerous people confronted the Prime Minister due to his lack of preparation and most refused to shake his hand, as shown in videos that circulated Australian media.
It seems that the outrage of his citizens and the devastating fires have started to change Morrison’s views as he recently acknowledged the role of climate change in the intensified drought season and hinted at the possibility of reducing Australia’s emissions target.
It’s unknown when the fires will end, but conservationists, firefighters, and thousands more are working hard to help save the animals and end the devastating fires.