Bushfires have always been a part of Australia’s natural environment. However, they typically have a positive role to play in the management of the continent’s ecology. Over the past two decades, bushfires have become more and more extensive. By December 2019, Australia has been experiencing a national emergency due to the size and scale of these bushfires. Several non-profit organizations have sought to impress upon people that this level of fire is not normal.
There’s plenty of evidence to support the assertion that climate change has had an impact on Australia’s bushfires. For example, data shows that rainfall in key areas of Australia has decreased since the mid-1990s. Australia’s natural climate cycles between cool and hot seasons. The cool season is characterized by rainfall and the recovery of vegetation. Over the past few decades, changes to Australia’s climate have been observed. The southeastern region of the country has experienced a 15% drop in rainfall since the mid-90s as well.
Weather conditions have grown more and more extreme in other ways, too. For example, the number of high-temperature and extremely hot days in Australia grew from the 1950s to the 2010s. Hotter days are considered to be over 35 degrees celsius, and very hot days are defined as being over 40. These hot, dry conditions contribute strongly to the risk of bushfires which have been observed in Australia since the 1970s. As the bushfire seasons grow longer, it is becoming more and more difficult for authorities to use regular maintenance fires to control brush.
The human and animal toll of this increased danger is real. As these fires rage on, civilians, firefighters, and wildlife are all at extreme risk. Experts fear that up to 500 millions animals have been killed thus far; a truly shocking statistic. In 2013, fires claimed hundreds of homes across Australia. In October of that year, over 200 homes were lost to fire in the Blue Mountains alone. 2019 has been a challenging year, as well. By November of 2019, over 150 homes in Australia had been consumed by fire. During the month of December, fires still raged across the country, and totals are expected to only go up.
The Koala is a national symbol of Australia’s outback. They have been suffering from a destructive virus over the past decade that has decimated populations, and these massive fires are dramatically affecting the remaining koalas, which were already drought-stricken. Seeing as they are not fast enough to outrun a fire, it is estimated that over 25,000 koalas have perished in the fires with the surviving few being left with little to no habitat.
Many activists feel strongly that these trends relate to increased consumption of fossil fuels in Australia over the last several decades, urging reductions in consumption to try and reverse this trend.