Horrific bushfires are burning in every Australian state.
At the time of writing, 23 people and an estimated half a billion animals have lost their lives. Yes, you read that right: 500 million animals.
Over 5 million hectares have burnt, with hundreds of homes, farms and businesses destroyed. (For perspective, Tasmania’s size is about 6.8 million ha)
Australia has always had bushfires. But the extent and severity of the current fires is unprecedented. This is no ordinary fire season.
What’s causing the fires?
A range of factors cause fires to start: lightning strikes, electric fences, camp fires, cigarette butts… Sadly, a large number are also deliberately lit. But these have been factors behind major fires since Europeans came to Australia, and don’t explain the increased severity of fires.
Small fires, which previously could have been quickly put out are now becoming raging infernos often before fire crews can get to them. Larger fires are merging into mega fires with their own weather systems, which can create more fires.
Is enough being done to prevent fires?
Every state has a range of practices, including hazard reduction burning, and creation of fire breaks, to prevent large bushfires. Forest management is complex and there is no one regime that suits all locations or environments. Indigenous fire practices, disrupted in most of the nation, are still practiced in northern Australia, and some other areas.
A few things are making it harder for hazard reduction burns – firstly we’re building further into what was once bushland. This means smoke from hazard burns impacts more people. Secondly, hotter, drier weather has meant a shorter safe time period for burning. There is no evidence to support the myth that hazard reduction is being prevented by “red tape” or environmentalists.
What’s climate change got to do with it?
There are many factors causing bushfires, but hot, dry conditions are making the fire seasons longer and fires more intense. Scientists, including from our own CSIRO, have warned us about this for decades.
Average temperatures in Australia (and globally) have been steadily rising.
Hot weather, prolonged drought, and strong westerly winds – all a result of climatic changes – are fueling the current bushfire crisis. And, as towns run out of water, it’s also becoming harder to fight the fires.
What can be done?
The immediate priority must be to ensure people are safe, fires are extinguished as soon as possible, power and water are restored, and communities are supported to rebuild and recover.
Our governments must also plan ahead. Not only to ensure buildings are better designed for heat, and we have resources to fight fires, but as a nation we stop adding to the CO2 emissions which are causing increased temperatures in the first place.
Australia’s emissions are still rising, and we are still exporting coal & gas for other countries to burn. We need a plan to transition both Australia’s own domestic use and our exports beyond fossil fuels. It’s long overdue. And as the sunniest and windiest continent, we could be leading the world in a clean energy transformation. Let’s not waste more time. Join us to demand our governments at every level – local, state and federal – act on climate and move beyond coal and gas.