An Update on the Australian Fires and How We Can Help

Although social-media awareness has died down this month, the country of Australia continues to burn. Every year, the country is expected to experience a fire season during the summer, which are from months December to February. According to The Verge, fire season typically peaks during January and February; however, according to The Sydney Morning Herald, the first fire sparked in mid-November in the Snowy Valleys. In October 2019 due to a single lightning strike, the Gospers Mountain fire became Australia’s biggest forest fire ever, burning 860,000 acres by December 15, 2019; as of December 27, the Gospers Mountain fire had burnt more than 1,200,000 acres. It wasn’t until January 12, 2020, that the fire was marked as contained. At least 27 lives have been claimed by the fires, and at least 2000 homes have been destroyed or damaged. The fires continue today, as a bushfire approaches Australia’s capital Canberra, causing the country to declare its first state of emergency since 2003. The smoke from the fires has and continues to produce poor breathing conditions; Vox reports that the air pollution in Sydney in early January was equivalent to smoking 37 cigarettes. A crisis map of Australia is available online for updates on the fires.

                                                                                    Image Courtesy of Unsplash

Why and how are the fires being started?

Although bushfires are to be expected to a certain degree during the hot summer months, Australia is experiencing elongated dry spells, decreased precipitation, and increased temperatures, all of which are direct effects of human-caused climate change. According to the organization Climate Signal’s website, fires are given the opportunity to be even more intense and last longer given the effects of climate change: warmer temperatures, more dry vegetation, and lower water availability. Human-caused climate change is leading to extreme heat increase; 2019 was the hottest year on record for Australia, and the hottest day on record for the country was on December 18, 2019, reaching a temperature of 107.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Droughts are more likely to occur due to climate change, as rainfall during the Australian winters has been below half the typical level in some areas over the past three years.

                                                                                                     Image Courtesy of Unsplash

What are the effects of the fires?

Besides forcing people to relocate because their homes are being threatened or destroyed, people are experiencing respiratory struggles due to such poor air quality. Additionally, wildlife is being greatly affected by the fires. The University of Sydney has calculated an estimate of more than one billion animals lost due to the Australian bushfires. An estimated 8000 koalas have died in New South Wales, and an estimated 30% of the koalas’ habitat has been wiped out. This is particularly devastating as Australia is home to 244 species endemic to the country, and already the country has the highest rate of native species extinction over the past 200 years.

                                                                                                 Image Courtesy of Unsplash

How can we help?

  1. Donate to the fire departments in Victoria and New South Wales. Funding can go to supplies and to the families of firefighters and volunteers who lost their lives to the fires.
  2. Donate to the Australian Red Cross, which has helped more than 18,600 people affected by the fires.
  3. Donate to WIRES, the New South Wales-based Wildlife Information, Rescue, and Education Service, Inc., which is Australia’s largest wildlife rescue organization.
  4. Donate to the Koala Hospital Port Macquarie.
  5. Donate to the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital.
  6. Donate to Wildlife Victoria.

Numerous other organizations exist assisting both people and wildlife affected by the fires that are listed in this article by USA Today.

We can learn from these devastating fires that the effects of climate change are real and already occurring; human-caused climate change is currently claiming the lives of people and wildlife. We can all try to reduce our individual contributions to climate change through personal lifestyle changes and more importantly, political activism against corporations that are largely responsible for the climate-change effects we are experiencing now.