January 2020 and it looks like this is going to be an intense year on all fronts— earth, water, fire, air, and politics. “Staying on top of the news without getting drowned in despair” is my affirmation for the year and not to make jokes about hindsight being 20-20 because my sight is nowhere near that good backwards or forwards!
Fires in Australia have been burning since September, and getting bigger despite firefighting efforts. According to one local report, many of the fire fighters are volunteers who can’t get any pay or benefits. The statistics are piling up along with creative ways to make the magnitude of the disaster seem more real: breathing the air in Sydney is like smoking a pack of cigarettes a day; the area devastated by fire so far, approximately 12 million acres, is 6 times larger than the total area burned in the 2018 California wildfires (2 million acres burned), 5 times larger than the 2019 Amazon rainforest fires (2.2 million acres); nearly double the 2019 Siberian wildfires (6.7 million acres with nearly no press coverage in the US), or larger than the country of Belgium (is that helpful at all?); and the fires are so big they can be seen from space (of course with advanced imaging lots of things can be seen from space).
Climate scientist Michael Mann is in Sydney on a previously planned sabbatical to study the impact of climate change on extreme weather events in Australia—and has a front row seat for the wildfires. In an opinion piece Mann called out Rupert Murdoch and conservative prime minister Scott Morrison who are both climate deniers and shills for the coal industry for their efforts to deflect the conversation away from climate change—calling them “climate arsonists” because these right wing ideologues have claimed there is no connection to climate change and tried to deflect the conversation by claiming that many of the wildfires may have been set by arsonists. This was deliberately misleading as the evidence shows most were caused by lightning strikes. And regardless of how each fire started, the hot, dry conditions have provided the perfect conditions for the fires to spread and endure. As surface temperatures increase and droughts get worse, the combined heat and dryness provide more fuel for fires once they start. The current intense, fast-spreading bushfires are a result of these factors. Those of us living in fire prone regions like California are witnessing similar trends.
One Billion animals lost
Ecologists in Sydney put the death toll for animals at one billion and counting. The loss of individual animals and habitats will be particularly devastating for species already in decline and with little habitat left. We won’t fully know the toll until the fires subside. Amid pictures of koala and kangaroo running from the fire lines, one small bright spot has been noted. In some areas small animals are returning quickly after the fires sweep through. Scientists believe they are taking shelter in complex underground tunnels and burrows including those created by wombats—which are quite large animals that are over 3 feet long and range from 40-70 lbs. These underground complexes served as shelter for not just wombats but echidnas, lizards, and skinks, rabbits, and even small wallabys. So is the one bright spot wombats? Or is it living underground? This is starting to sound a lot like those old Mad Max movies but I will leave the movie reviews for the mocha column.
If you want to donate to help fire victims whether animals or people, here are some recommended places: culturally-appropriate support services for affected first nations’ people https://www.gofundme.com/f/fire-relief-fund-for-first-nations-communities; and for animals Wildlife Rescue https://www.wires.org.au/ Port Macquarie Koala Hospital https://www.koalahospital.org.au/ , https://www.wildlifevictoria.org.au/