For months, shocking images of Australia’s bushfires have captured the attention of the world. Their devastating effects were intensified by a lack of rain and driven by high temperatures and winds.
According to scientists at the University of Sydney, nearly a billion animals and hundreds of billions of insects were killed in New South Wales alone, and 2,000 homes were lost.
Aside from donating to support those affected by the fires, we need to understand why they have been particularly intense this year.
There’s been a global outpouring of support on social media, and of donations to assist the tireless efforts to help those affected by the blazes. But at the same time, social media has become a source of miscommunication. One example is the #ArsonEmergency on Twitter, which stated that 200 arsonists have been arrested for starting fires in New South Wales, an untrue statistic.
What should be communicated more widely on social media is that although bush fires are common in Australia, climate change is responsible for the unusual severity of the fires. Since mid-December, the country experienced both a heatwave and drought, creating conditions that make the fire season much more dangerous.
Despite some people on social media saying they were caused by arsonists, science shows us it is human-induced climate change that gradually increases prime fire conditions.
We must not forget that it is not just Australia that is suffering from wildfires intensified by human-induced climate change. The Amazon rainforest made headlines last year when it burned, and while that has eased as the rainy season has begun, long-term problems with deforestation persist in the region.
Fires continue to threaten the Amazon’s biodiversity.
The World Wildlife Fund said Brazil’s Cerrado Savannah is now being threatened, with an increasing number of fires reported in 2019. Similarly, Indonesia’s peatlands have been burning since last year, as a result of deforestation, and slash and burn methods of agriculture, the impact of which is intensified by the El Nino weather phenomenon.
As the effects of climate change and global warming grow, fires will become more commonplace, drastically changing the way we live, and how we cope with the risk of fires.
So it is even more important that we don’t become desensitised to this “new norm”, and instead, raise awareness of the underlying human factors that are setting the scene for such fires.