10 years after Black Saturday, the Australian bushfires face its worst season yet. The fires have burned over 15 million acres of land and killed over 1 billion animals in Victoria, NSW, and South Australia. The total impact of the emergency bushfires is yet to be seen as the fires continue to this day.
Australia isn’t the only country choking on the smoke of bushfires. Tasmania is also facing record-breaking heat with bushfires burning 200,000 hectares.
As the world looks on, let’s take a closer look at the cause and the impact of this natural disaster and what you can do to support it.
WHAT CAUSES THE AUSTRALIAN BUSHFIRES?
Natural and man-made
Fires can start in several ways:
- arcing from overhead power lines
- accidental ignition due to agricultural clearing welding
- sparks from machinery
- controlled burn escapes
Lightning started the bushfires of 2019-2020 and various sources confirm that a few people in Australia have deliberately started the fires.
Before we blame the forest fires on arsonists, it’s a fire in combination with hot and dry weather that have caused the Australian and Tasmanian bushfires to get out of hand. 2019 was the hottest year on record according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Trees, underbrush, and dry grassy fields fuel the fires. On top of that, brisk winds fan the flames and spread it across the land.
Weather variability was also at play this year. The Indian Ocean Dipole was in a positive phase and there was also a high positive Southern Annular Mode. To make matters worse, there was a delay in the monsoon season this year. These conditions all contributed to the extremely dry weather conditions in Australia.
Wildfires aren’t unusual for Australia, however. They’re an important part of its ecosystem and the planet’s natural carbon cycle. The severity and persistence of the fires are what’s so alarming. This leads us to our next question.
IS CLIMATE CHANGE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE AUSTRALIAN BUSHFIRES?
Global Warming is a major contributor
Australia’s climate has warmed 1 degree Celsius in the past century. The increased intensity and frequency of heatwaves and droughts, in the past 30 years, lead experts to turn to climate change as a the main cause for the severe Australian bushfires.
Bushfires contribute to global warming
A bushfire also contributes to global warming. Until recently, forests in Australia would reabsorb the carbon released during a bushfire, resulting in zero net emissions. The damage that has been done this season may take years to reabsorb. According to NOAA scientists, 500,000 acres of burnt forest emits the equivalent amount of CO2 as 6 coal power plants during an entire year.
One of the major contributors to global warming is fossil fuels. Coals powers ¾ of Australia’s electricity and is also Australia’s 2nd largest resource export according to the Reserve Bank of Australia. Extensive use of coal has an impact on global warming.
WHAT’S THE IMPACT OF THE BUSHFIRES?
The ecosystem suffers the most during a bushfire. Australia is a biodiversity hotspot home to over 570,000 species and more than 5% of the world’s plants and animals. Unfortunately, it’s also the continent with the greatest decline in biodiversity over the past 200 years.
A third of the koala population has reportedly died in the bushfires already. When animals aren’t burned alive, they face death due to habitat loss and a lack of food and safe water.
Although cute koalas and endearing kangaroos get a lot of attention now, each species plays its unique role in the ecosystem. Eliminate one species, and the chain is broken. Insects, for example, play a critical role in rebuilding ecosystems. They decomposing decaying material, aerate the soil, and pollinate plants. This is exactly what creates and restores forests.
Although rain is a very welcome visitor to help extinguish the fires, it will wash ash and eroded soil into the waterways. As the bacteria depletes the oxygen in the water, it will kill countless creatures and plants living in rivers and lakes.
Smoke from the bushfires is so prevalent that it is circumnavigating the planet and affecting different parts of the world. The small particles in smoke will cause respiratory illnesses and heart problems for many people. Canberra currently tops the list of major cities with the worst air quality in the world.
People living in areas where the bushfires have wreaked havoc have needed to leave their homes and rely on external support. Research shows there’s a rise in mental health issues after natural disasters.
The bushfires of 2009 cost Australia about $4.4 billion. The current bushfires have burned 14 times more land and costs are expected to exceed this amount. Business Insider Australia predicts this will cost Australia 0.25%-1% of their GDP growth. With economic growth of 0,4%, this is a setback Australia can’t afford.
Produce prices will rise because crops and farm animals were lost in the fire which decreases the supply. There’s also a loss of income in the tourism industry which is usually a major source of income for Australia. On top of that, insurance claims are nearing $400,000, and the emergency fires haven’t reached their end yet.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO SUPPORT THE VICTIMS OF THE BUSHFIRES?
The fire departments need funds to finance the expenses related to the tremendous efforts required to put out these bushfires.
Organizations like Red Cross and Salvation Army focus on the victims of the bushfires and provide emergency support to families who needed to evacuate.
If animals are your main concern, several wildlife nonprofits are doing what they can to rescue and rehabilitate animals that were injured in a bushfire. Take a look at WIRES if you want to donate to animals that were wounded in a bushfire.
Although volunteers are essential, organizations can’t implement them without prior training. The best way to help organizations continue their activities is by donating money. It will take months to restore the damage that has been done. So financial funds will be required until long after the fires have died down.
To avoid scams, donate directly on the organization’s website or through the government website.
Continue traveling to Australia
Canceling your trips to Australia isn’t the answer according to government officials. Australia will need all your tourism dollars to rebuild what has been lost. During your travels, you can support local organizations that are doing what they can to support victims of the bushfires.
Volunteering in Australia
When you continue your travels to Australia, why not combine it with volunteer opportunities that rescue wildlife or rebuild forests. Rescued wildlife are brought to various wildlife rehabilitation centers all over the country. You don’t need to volunteer in the bushfire area of Victoria, NSW, or South Australia to make a difference.
If you prefer looking at the bigger picture and want to address climate change, volunteer worldwide and join one of the reforestation programs, ocean clean ups, or mangrove and coral reef conservation centers around the world. These are important efforts that will impact climate change on a global scale!
And last but not least, SHARE information about the Australian bushfires with your friends and family. Help spread awareness about what’s going on on social media. Inspire others with tips on how they can make a difference by tackling climate change, volunteering, or spreading the word.