Christina Peng/ Beckman HS 10th
Australia is burning. More than 10 million hectares of land have been scorched black by the fire. As of January 9, 2020, 26 people are confirmed dead, more than 1,700 homes have been destroyed, and an estimated 1 billion animals have been killed. Polluting the air to 11 times the “hazardous” level, the smoke reached as far as South America and could even be seen from outer space. Already, Australia is known as one of the most fire-prone regions in the world for its vast fields and wild forests. But this… no fire has been this deadly.
Paul, a volunteer firefighter, protested from his fire truck window: “Are you from the media? Tell the prime minister to go and get f*ked!” One of Paul’s fellow volunteers, standing by the road, later finished his message after he collapsed from exhaustion. “You don’t deserve to govern,” she told Morrison. “You knew this was coming, it’s been coming for years.”
They knew. The fires have been raging since spring 2019 and are expected to continue for months. But the flames did not come from nowhere--the fires are consistent with years of trends, research, and climate modeling. Australia had been warned, but the government refused to listen.
For more than a decade, scientists have been sounding the fire alarm with predictions of dangerous bushfire seasons ahead. In 2008, the Garnaut Climate Change Review, a major independent study on the impacts of climate change, warned the Australian fire seasons would “start earlier, end slightly later, and generally be more intense,” a phenomenon that should be “directly observable 2020.” In response to the study, scientists proposed an emissions trading scheme which was widely opposed by the Morrison’s Liberal Party at the time.
Perhaps 2008 was too early, and the government could not be bothered by studies with potentially unreliable results. But when the fires began, the government remained sluggish. In May 2018, Australia’s aerial firefighting center called for an increase in funding to improve its firefighting capacity, but the federal government only agreed to that request last week, when the public was outraged and the fires burned out of control. As recently as early December, “demoralized” members of the firefighters union traveled to the capital to demand better resourcing for the season ahead, along with increased action on climate change. At the time, three-decade veteran and commander Mick Tisbury warned of worsening conditions, saying, “We are fearful of the fire season we are going to cop.” In response, Scott Morrison said that the warnings were “very well known” to the government. Soon after, he took off for a Hawaiian holiday with his family, just as the crisis was beginning.
Australia may have failed to heed to the warnings, but we must now heed ours. Australia had been warned, and now we all have been.
<Christina Peng/ Beckman HS 10th