Bushfires in Australia are common natural events which blaze over a million hectares of land, decimate hundreds of homes and properties, and cause fatalities including humans and animals lives, each year. Over the years, however, the frequency and intensity of these bushfires have increased manifold; this has left many wondering whether this could be attributed to an ongoing climate change crisis.
Bushfires engulf different parts of Australia in different seasons; depending on the local topography, it could be mountainous fires and grassland fires. Some of the most affected states by bushfires are New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. 2019 saw many images from the smoke-laden haze of Sydney sky, choking residents donning pollution masks. The causes of the bushfires range from natural accidents like lightning, deliberate actions by arsonists to man-made errors such as fire from campfires or even from the butt of a burning cigarette. Though, the climate change implications like long and frequent droughts, rising global temperature have made the environment more conducive to catching the fires. As droughts affect an area, trees, shrubs and grasses, become dry and desiccated, making the entire grassland or forest more prone to fire. The dry, windy, and hot environment at higher altitudes become ready to catch fire at the drop of a spark from a burning matchstick or the butt of a cigarette. Some trees such as Eucalyptus, Pines and Firs may produce oil which may lead to a highly flammable miasma making the forests more susceptible to bushfires.Each year, there is a significant loss of flora and fauna by such large conflagrations, which also lead to death and injury of human beings and livestock. Ash Wednesday (1983), Black Tuesday (1967), Black Saturday (2009) are a few of the worst bushfires events in the history of Australia.
Communities in the regions which face bushfires live in a constant apprehension for their lives. Not only such devastating events cause mass displacement of people, loss of livelihood and security, but they can also take a heavy toll on their mental health. Protection measures such as removal of overhanging branches on the properties, clearing the dry bushes and keeping the area around homes wet and green, using appropriate fire-resistant building materials, may help, but in most cases, evacuation is the only option for many!
While communities and climate activists continue to voice their concern and demand concrete climate actions, the politicians and policymakers remain in denial and inertia; refusal to discuss whether the long periods of droughts caused by global warming is triggering more bushfires events is fulminating the citizens and the environmentalists. On the contrary, the coal industry and mining actions are still being favoured by the government. Australia, being the largest exporter of coal ( exporting approximately 70 per cent of its total coal production each year), may lose considerably in terms economic gains if it reduces its dependence on coal for its energy needs. However, in a survey, only 18 per cent of the citizens preferred coal as their top three energy sources. Denying climate change would mean more catastrophic events in future. It is time we started taking climate changes seriously and do every bit to reduce global warming.