Australian Bushfire: Is climate change the new arsonists?
Climate change has become a global issue of concern, manifesting itself in many ways; one of which is its undeniable role in driving extreme weather-related events in various parts of the world. The effects of climate change are dynamic in nature and have led to detrimental impacts, unsettling the lives of common people. These impacts vary widely across various geographical regions in their intensity and magnitude. For instance, the extreme northern and southern regions of the earth, which have the highest concentration of ice, have been experiencing an uptick in the ice melt, leading to a noticeable decrease in the volume of glaciers, which are considered as vital sources of freshwater. At the same time, some parts of the world are encountering overwhelming precipitation events in the form of intense, widespread, and prolonged rains leading to severe flooding; while some are grappling with the extremely dry climate events, marked by unprecedented droughts and bouts of scathing heat-waves taking the ecosystem to the boil.
Australia constitutes 0.3% of the world’s population, the contribution in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is more than 1.07% of the global GHG emissions. This contribution is particular, as per capita emissions exceeds the average for OECD.
Greenhouse gases drives global temperature
According to the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC), a body of meteorological scientists from 190 countries, the ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities is driving the global average temperatures up. They have already predicted that the frequency and intensity of the extreme events are likely to increase across the globe. Contrary to the fact that the country of Australia constitutes 0.3% of the world’s population, the contribution in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is more than 1.07% of the global GHG emissions. This contribution is particular, as per capita emissions exceeds the average for OECD and the developed world. Ironically, the country falls in the category of highly vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change, driven by the global warming, and has been at the receiving end of extreme weather events such as bushfire and droughts. The average temperature on the continent has been increasing since the year 2000, and statistic for the period 2012-2019 show more than a 1 °C increase in the average temperature figures fig. 01. Consequently, hot weather and dry skies are the new norms in the weather outlook of the country.
These weather extremities dominated by the absence of rain for prolonged periods are causing high intensity and widespread wildfires leading to changes to species composition in the wildlife forms and at the same time increasing risks for human life, health and property. According to various international reports, some of the environmental scientists warn that the intensification in the scale and magnitude of wildfires are a clear example of the role played by climate change in the aggravation of natural disasters.
Unprecedented extreme events recorded
Since 2000, annually, on average million hectares of wild land turned to ash annual in the country. According to the Australian met department, 2019 was recorded the hottest and driest year with an average temperature of 1.52 °C. This created conducive conditions for wildfires; resultant, 18.6 millions of hectares burned to ashes by 14th of January 2020, killing at least 33 people, and destroying 3000+ homes. The effects on wild have been worst with estimated billion-plus mammals, reptiles, and birds exterminated in the summer season. A similar catastrophic event back in 2009, hit Australia later dubbed as “Black Saturday” which killed 173 people and destroyed over 2000 homes and 3500 other commercial buildings. Figure 2 shows the previous bushfire events in Australia.
Wildfires do not only lead to local environmental degradation, but the impacts also permeate across the length and breadth of the country with a severe decline in air quality and an overall negative impact on the economy of the country. For instance, the total annual cost of fire in Australian has been estimated at around 8.5 billion or 1.15% of the country’s GDP. This situation gets worst if such a natural disaster hits those under the category of developing countries with weak economic conditions to cope with similar events.
Health impact due to bush-fire
According to one of the latest research, in Australia extreme events; heat waves and wildfire are responsible for 60% of fatalities related to natural hazards. As a result of the intense smoke and air pollution stemming from the fires, some cities of Australia recorded the worst air quality index. Wildfire produces harmful smoke which lowers the quality of living space and may cause fatalities or decrease in life expectancy, as the fine particle produced as a result of wildfire can directly permeate the air-blood barrier in the body, reaching sensitive and vital organs, with eye irritations and respiratory disorders the most common.
Trends of bush-fire in Australia and America
Here under is some historical data that informs us about the past bushfire events in Australia, showing the year of bushfire and area (hectare) burned fig 02.
At a global scale, it is well noted that Australia and America are the most widely affected countries due to forest fire. In 2017, 93% of all the natural disaster events were weather-related and the damages as a result of these disasters broke all previous records. According to a recent report only 16 natural disaster events in America, robbed its economy of more than $US 300 billion. In Australia, the projected cost related to natural disaster is estimated at $39 billion per year by 2050 without including the additional impact of climate change on extreme weather and society.
According to the Copernicus monitoring program the country in 2019-2020 has already emitted 400 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This will further enhance the Australian’s annual GHG emissions, contributing to global warming and heighten the likelihood of recurring of mega-fires. The total annual cost of fire in Australian has been estimated at around 8.5 billion or 1.15% of the country’s GDP. A future with a significantly increased potential for catastrophic bushfire means communities needed to be better educated, prepared, and made ready to tackle the unpleasant expectations.
Release of GHGs from wildfires to the atmosphere amplifies climate change by the intensification of the global warming phenomenon.
In conclusion, the forest fire is not only a threat to the human’s health and economic well being; with its positive feedback i.e. release of GHGs from wildfires to the atmosphere amplifies climate change by the intensification of the global warming phenomenon. Thus tackling the situation requires appropriate measures at the community, national, and government levels. By adopting sustainable policies in the economy; and moving away from consumerism, towards living a green environmental-friendly life can save the world from climate-induced disaster. The onus lies greatly on the Australian government, which needs to take strong measures and actions as part of the worldwide commitment to limit the global warming to 1.5 °C above the long term to reduce the worst impacts of climate change. Business, as usual, means the ultimate en voyage towards the cumulative demise of human civilization from the face of the earth.