The Australian wildfires, environmental justice, and what you can do.
There have been fires in Australia as early as September, the beginning of the country’s fire season—17.9 million acres, larger than the country of Belgium. Recently, bush fires have merged, creating a single fire encompassing 1.5 million acres alone. For reference, California’s largest wildfire burned 2 million acres.
This is an environmental catastrophe that’s affected every state in Australia, but the state New South Wales and Victoria have seen the most damage. These are Australia’s two most populous states that include both Sydney and Melbourne, as well as the capital, Canberra. Smoke from the Australian fires have spread far, causing the air quality in Sydney to reach damaging levels and sending smog as far as New Zealand.
Satellite Image from NASA
Australia wildfires have burned bush land, national parks, and suburbs. As we know them now, the numbers are that 27 people have been sadly killed, more are missing. Over 2000 homes have been damaged, and a staggering 1 billion animals are estimated dead, with millions more at risk of entirely losing their habitat and permanently damaging Australia’s delicate and unique ecosystem.
Further worsening the situation, Australia’s summer lasts another month (through February), and wind conditions have hardly given those fighting the fires a reprieve. In the south, where the fires have been most active, fire season extends even longer into the fall.
Why is it happening?
In a warming world, these fires are a chilling reminder of how there are only more intense fires like this to come. Although the fires have had many causes (like lightning strikes), there is no doubt the dry conditions caused by climate change have exacerbated the problem. Before the fires and now, Australia has experienced a record-breaking drought during its already hottest summer. The lack of rain creates a wealth of dry fuel ready to burn at a spark.
On top of that, the perfect wildfire scenario was created by strong, gusting winds. Recently winds were measured going up to 80mph, which serve to spread the fires. In areas like the bush, they can move up to 14mph, faster than any animal or person on foot can outrun them.
Though the presence of the fires themselves is not unexpected, the intensity and longevity has caught many by surprise. In addition, the coalition government and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison have taken public stances denying climate change’s primary role and continues active support of the nation’s coal and fossil fuel industry. On January 10th, thousands took to the streets in Sydney to protest the Prime Minister’s handling of the crisis.
Matthew Abbot for the New York Times
Why does it matter?
What should be first considered is the terrible loss of life. Some areas of the bush are very isolated, and wildfires come on fast. Already so many human and animal lives have been lost, with some species facing local extinction. From recent trends, we can predict that the wildfire season is only going to get longer and more intense.
Like many issues involving climate change, these wildfires have come to represent a fight for environmental and climate justice. These are the ideas that everyone gets fair treatment and are respected by environmental policy. It’s extremely important in this case, because these fires are largely impacting poor rural communities whose homes, communities, and livelihoods are being destroyed by the direct result of climate change. Animals, too, are a subject of climate justice, because they cannot represent themselves.
As a clean skin care company, one of our founding principles is caring about the natural world. We believe it’s important to consider our impact on the environment, at least as a thank you for all the rich resources it gives us. When we fail to take responsibility for our impact on climate change, the environment gets damaged, and human lives are caught in the fray.
What can I do?
Images and stories from the fires may be distressing, and you should take care of your own mental health. However, it’s also important to share and spread these to your family and friends and make sure as many people as possible are aware of what’s happening in south Australia. This is not just a local disaster, but shows everyone just how devastating the results of climate change can be.
But you can also have an impact by donating.
You can also give money or specific items to GIVIT, an Australian charity that supplies specific, high-need things to people in need.