Global apathy toward the fires in Australia is a scary portent for the future

By | January 1, 2020

David Wallace-Wells writes:

Right now, on the outskirts of a hyper modern first world megapolis, at the end of a year in which the public seemed finally to wake up to the dramatic threat from global warming, a climate disaster of unimaginable horror has been unfolding for almost two full months, and the rest of the world is hardly paying attention.

The New South Wales fires have been burning since September, destroying fifteen million acres (or more than two thousand square miles) and remain almost entirely uncontrolled by the volunteer firefighting forces deployed to stop them; on November 12, greater Sydney declared an unprecedented “catastrophic” fire warning. That was six weeks ago, and the blazes are almost certain to continue burning through the end of next month, the soonest real rain might arrive. They may last longer still, of course, aided in part by record-breaking heat waves that are simultaneously punishing the country (technically an entire continent, Australia as a whole averaged more than 100 Fahrenheit earlier this month) and devastating marine life in the surrounding ocean. “On land, Australia’s rising heat is ‘apocalyptic,” the Straits-Times of Singapore wrote. “In the ocean, it’s even worse.”

Already, smoke has enveloped the city of Sydney in air at least ten times as thick with smoke as is considered safe to breathe, setting off indoor fire alarms and suspending the city’s ferry service, since the boats couldn’t navigate the smog. The city of Melbourne, more than 500 miles away, has been choked by smoke, as well, and the glaciers all the way in New Zealand have changed color because of the fires, too. An early report that koalas were made “functionally extinct” turned out to have been erroneous, but a more recent report suggests that, due to the bushfires, 480 million animals have died. And because plants contain carbon which is released when burned, when the New South Wales fires finally do burn out, they almost certainly will have doubled Australia’s national carbon emissions for the year — or more. [Continue reading…]

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