I know this is not a good time. Thewas devastating, to say the least, and now Thousands of houses were destroyed and dozens of people died. This hot year is advancing, as terrible as it is tragic.
For Australians like me, the scenes from California, Oregon and Washington are incredibly familiar. All of this has a deafening likeness. HowIt seems eerily familiar when it comes through our social media feeds. We have been there, we say.
In December last year, Australia was on fire. Our bushfire season was in full swing and catastrophic flames burned across the country. Scientists had predicted that the effects of climate change would lead to unprecedented fires. We knew It came and yet, when flames lashed the mountainside, settled on townships and left charred cattle carcasses on the edge of the country roads, we could only adapt.
The dangers of the bushfire season persist in Australian minds; Memories of the devastation of years gone by are hidden in the dark corners of our consciousness. But they stirred a lot during Australia̵
Our daily life changed. The climate emergency was capitalized. The sky turned hazy, then sepia, then blood red. Smoke became our new normal. We added a new routine three times a day: Check the Air Quality Index to see how bad the particulate pollution was for that day. As you move between home and office, your lungs fill with smoke. On the other side of the rift in New Zealand, the smoke from the fires turned glacier brown. The wildlife has been decimated – probablyaccording to some estimates.
It was the first time in my life that I could really do it see and feeling the effects of climate change. I’m sure many of those on the west coast feel the same way right now.
We have been therewe say as we tighten our N95 masks around our ears.
I don’t need a crystal ball to tell you what happens next: the blame is shifted, the facts are obscured, the doubts are marketed. A parallel universe emerges in which climate change does not play a role in the chaos caused by forest fires. In this universe, politicians can bury their heads in the sand and ignore the reality of the situation. I don’t need a crystal ball because that’s exactly what happened in Australia.
In Australia, our leaders refused to discuss climate change. When asked about the matter at a briefing, Prime Minister Scott Morrison waved the question off. “There is a time and a place to discuss controversial and important issues. Right now it is important to focus on the needs of the Australians who need our help,” he said. His former deputy claimed that the sun’s magnetic field was responsible for the flames. His electricity The MP said only “downtown madmen” dealt with climate change.
Science has been constantly undermined by misinformation, disinformation, or outright apathy. The Prime Minister claimed there was no scientific evidence linking the bush fires to carbon emissions and climate change. There is ample evidence. In the US, President Donald Trump, who has been criticized for keeping silent about the forest fires in the West, did not directly dismiss climate change, but rather blamed poor forest management as the reason for the conflagrations.
We have been there.
We spent an inordinate amount of time debating down here WHO started the fires and why they burned out of control. Left-wing activists and “greenies” have been falsely accused of deliberately lighting the flames and preventing burns to reduce the risk that would have prevented them from growing on such an immense scale. As the inferno continued to set entire cities on fire, media organizations like Richard Murdoch’s NewsCorp downplayed the role of climate change and stepped up the arson talk.
There is no evidence that this is true, but rumors continued, touted by some of the country’s leaders and coordinated by bots on social media.
We are already seeing similar campaigns against political groups in the US. On Friday the FBI issued a statement in Portland in which it had received reports that “extremists” were responsible for starting forest fires in Oregon. The investigation found that the reports are not true.
We were there too.
Nobody claimed climate change started The fires in Australia in January. You didn’t do it Beginning the Amazon fires of 2019 or the zombie fires of the recently concluded Arctic fire season. They also didn’t start any wildfires in the United States. However, climate researchers have consistently shown how a warming planet contributes to worsening weather conditions and increases the likelihood of more devastating seasons of fire. In places like Oregon, fires burn where they normally don’t.
Yes we were there.
I am encouraged by some discussions in the Pacific. In California, where the fires burned more land than ever before, Governor Gavin Newsom did not crush words.
“The climate change debate is over,” he said during a September 11 press conference, aided by charred trees and a gray ash-covered ground. And he’s right. There is no more time for that debate. They discuss what Netflix show to watch tonight, or what to cook for dinner, or what school to choose for your kids. They are not discussing whether climate change is real. You can’t argue about something when all the evidence points in one direction.
You simply cannot discuss something when an international committee has for decades summarized all scientific knowledge from around the world and comes to the conclusion that “the warming of the climate system is clear”. Failure to heed those words of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is in part why Australia was caught on the hindfoot when the inferno hit.
The Australian public recovered in January. There was outrage. Protests across the country called for the Prime Minister’s resignation. They called for immediate changes in climate policy and additional funding for firefighters. But the change has not come. The political pressure eased.
Australia recovered from crisis to crisis, from fires to viruses, and entered an economic recession, the first in nearly 30 years. It was hard to keep the pressure going by marching in the streets. It still is. But as a “green recovery” from COVID-19 was pushed by a variety of governments around the world, Australia took a different pace. She wants to use natural gas, a fossil fuel, to rebuild her economy. Scientists are not convinced that this will be good for the environment at all. Gas is the fastest growing source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
As the conflagration ravaged rural communities, we saw the consequences of ignorance, the devastation of doing nothing. Cities leveled. Lost life. We had the chance to reconcile climate and energy policies and reduce future carbon emissions to alleviate some of the ruin we will face in the decades to come. The 2020 Australian fire season has just started. Despite all the evidence, even though the landscape is turning black, Australia continues to move slowly in the fight against climate change.
After the fires in the western United States are extinguished, attention turns to the future. Climate change cannot be rejected. It cannot become political football. It cannot be ignored. There is a small window of time to get aggressive, set targets to reduce carbon emissions, pass laws to deal with the crisis, and protect against increasingly destructive infernos and extreme weather events.
We were there and didn’t. You must.