The flames of the terrible year 2019 have devoured plant and animal life in the Amazon, in Siberia and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and they have given Australia no respite since September: as of Wednesday, there were still more than 100 fires burning in New South Wales alone—the state most affected by the blazes, together with Victoria.
Thousands of people have taken refuge on the beaches in the southeast, running away from the flames that are menacing homes, while military planes and Navy ships are being mobilized for relief and evacuation.
Meanwhile, the images are making their way around the world: firefighters surrounded by burning trees, carrying burnt koala bears and feeding thirsty ones with bottles, kangaroos fleeing, wooden houses reduced to ashes, national parks that have become black wastelands—the damage keeps growing without an end in sight. So far, almost five million hectares have been burned (3.6 million in New South Wales).
Eighteen people have been confirmed dead (including firefighters and locals), but many are missing in unreachable areas. Entire villages have been wiped out (ABC listed them all and called this a “New Year’s Nightmare”), many more are isolated and 50,000 houses are without electricity. On Monday, the threat reached Sydney and Melbourne as well: 100,000 people were evacuated from five neighborhoods that seemed to be under threat.
On New Year’s Eve, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has been much criticized for his holiday in Hawaii during the second half of December, while the emergency was in full swing, addressed Her Majesty’s subjects, the Australian people, with a message that tried to be reassuring, stressing that Australia is “an amazing country” and that “there’s no better place to raise kids anywhere on the planet,” despite the terrible fires, continuing drought and floods.
However, according to the leader of the Greens, Richard Di Natale, Scott Morrison is “failing in his basic duty to keep our citizens safe from harm,” due to “his totally inadequate response to these fires and his obstinate refusal to accept what we have known for decades: that burning climate changing fossil fuels would lead to more frequent and intense bushfires is putting the lives of Australians at risk has not honored his duty to protect citizens,” given the “inadequate response to the emergency and refusal to admit that continuing to burn fossil fuels will lead to more and more frequent and devastating fires.”
Many innocent people are suffering as a result of the Australian government’s blameworthy climate policies. At the last UN climate conference, the COP21 in Madrid, the current Australian administration demonstrated that it preferred the interests of the fossil fuel sector to those of the planet, insisting, among other things, on its right to count the carbon credits accrued on the basis of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol toward its climate commitments (according to the targets set by the international Paris Agreement of 2015). Moreover, Morrison said a few days ago that there was no “credible scientific evidence” that the country’s long-running wildfire emergency is a result of the chaotic climate change effects.
However, it’s no coincidence at all that Australia is experiencing the perfect mix of extreme events which are fueling fires that are practically invincible, even in a country with plenty of resources to fight them: prolonged drought, with zero humidity as a result (even the banana trees are burning), record high temperatures (over 40°C), strong to extremely strong winds, and the presence of invasive species such as eucalyptus, which burn easily.
A few days ago, the head of the New South Wales Fire Service, Shane Fitzsimmons, explained: “We need flooding rain to put these fires out. That’s really what is going to stop it. These will take many weeks to put out.”
Among the victims of this ecocide are millions of wild animals, as well as domestic animals. The mammal who became a symbol of the Amazonian fire apocalypse was the sloth, a tree-dwelling herbivore who is too slow to escape the flames. In the Australian inferno, the koala has been most prominently at the center of attention and concern.
As WWF Australia explained in a statement in November, many populations of marsupials had already been affected by the prolonged drought, which reduced the water content of eucalyptus leaves, increasing their toxicity.
Now, experts fear that around 8,000 koalas have died, 30% of the population in New South Wales. The estimate is based on the fact that this is the percentage of their habitat that has been destroyed, and they are slow creatures, unable to escape the fire that literally leaps from one eucalyptus tree to another.
It is impossible to estimate how many tens of millions of animals, both domestic and wild, have died horrible deaths in the flames or suffocated by the smoke, or are suffering from burn wounds, with no chance that help could ever get to them. The Times has reported that, according to experts at the University of Sydney, the fires may have already killed as many as 480 million animals—including mammals (beside koalas, kangaroos, wombats, possums, etc.), birds and reptiles—whether directly or indirectly. Of course, these estimates are not testable, since—according to an expert at the Nature Conservation Council who spoke before the Australian Parliament—it will be very difficult to find traces of these deaths.
The Stand Up for Nature coalition, made up of 13 environmental organizations, is calling for an immediate moratorium on the cutting down of the native forests in the state most affected by the blazes, because it would be “reckless” to sacrifice even more of the natural habitat.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Your weekly briefing of progressive news.