Australia’s fires have pumped out more emissions than 100 nations combined

Climate change is driving climate change.

Fires on Australia’s Kangaroo Island have produced thick clouds of smoke.

Fires on Australia’s Kangaroo Island have produced thick clouds of smoke. NASA EARTH OBSERVATORY IMAGES BY LAUREN DAUPHIN, USING LANDSAT DATA FROM THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY.

The wildfires raging along Australia’s eastern coast have already pumped around 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, further fueling the climate change that’s already intensifying the nation’s fires.

That’s more than the total combined annual emissions of the 116 lowest-emitting countries, and nine times the amount produced during California’s record-setting 2018 fire season. It also adds up to about three-quarters of Australia’s otherwise flattening greenhouse-gas emissions in 2019.

And yet, 400 million tons isn’t an unprecedented amount nationwide at this point of the year in Australia, where summer bush fires are common, the fire season has been growing longer, and the number of days of “very high fire danger” is increasing.

Wildfires emissions topped 600 million tons from September through early January during the brutal fire seasons of 2011 and 2012, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.

Wildfire emissions from September through early January, nationwide and in New South Wales.
Wildfire emissions from September through early January, nationwide and in New South Wales. COPERNICUS ATMOSPHERE MONITORING SERVICE 

But emissions are way beyond typical levels in New South Wales, where this year’s fires are concentrated. More than 5.2 million hectares (12.8 million acres) have burned across the southeastern state since July 1, according to a statement from the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Climate change doesn’t spark wildfires. But rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall dries out trees, plants, and soil, converting them into fuel that can amplify fires when they do break out.

2018 report by Australia’s national science agency and the Bureau of Meteorology concludes climate change has contributed to the nation’s worsening fire conditions, noting that average temperatures have risen more than 1 ˚C.  

In turn, these huge fires are fueling climate change. As trees and plants burn, they release the carbon stored in their trunks, leaves, branches, and roots. That creates a vicious feedback loop, as the very impacts of climate change further exacerbate it, complicating our ability to get ahead of the problem.

The fires have had devastating effects on the ground in Australia:

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  • “It’s probably fairly well known that Australia’s got the world’s highest rate of extinction for mammals,” Chris Dickman, a professor of terrestrial ecology, said in an interview with National Public Radio. “It’s events like this that may well hasten the extinction process for a range of other species. So it’s a very sad time.”

    The situation grew more dangerous in recent days, as hot and windy conditions returned. Two giant fires merged into a “megafire” straddling New South Wales and Victoria, and covering some 600,000 hectares (1.5 million acres). SOURCE

A staggering 1 billion animals are now estimated dead in Australia’s fires

The number of kangaroos, koalas, and others killed keeps skyrocketing. Here’s where the eye-popping estimate comes from.

A kangaroo jumps in a field amid smoke from a bushfire in Snowy Valley on the outskirts of Cooma, Australia, on January 4, 2020. Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images

As fires continue to rip through Australia, some devastating numbers are emerging: At least 24 people killed. More than 15.6 million acres torched. Over 1,400 homes destroyed. And, according to one biodiversity expert’s count, an estimated 1 billion animals killed.

That last number is staggeringly huge, and has begun to make the rounds on social media. You might be wondering: How are so many animals dying? And how do we know the number of animals killed?

The bushfires, exacerbated by climate change, have since September swept through vast swathes of Australia — we’re talking about an area bigger than Vermont and New Hampshire combined — affecting a mix of rural and suburban areas.

Many wild animals and some farm animals have been killed directly by the flames. We can see the evidence with our own eyes: Distressing images of burned kangaroos and koalas, and videos of dead animals on the sides of the roads, have circulated online over the past week.

Other animals have not been burned alive but have faced death due to the destruction of their natural environment, which they rely on for food and shelter.

Initially, the number of animals killed was put at 480 million, an estimate that came from Chris Dickman, a biodiversity expert at the University of Sydney, last week. A statement from that institution explained how he arrived at the number.

Anwen, a female koala, recovers from burns at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, Australia, on November 29, 2019.  Nathan Edwards/Getty Images 

In 2007, Dickman co-authored a report for the WWF (formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund) on how land-clearing affects Australian wildlife in the state of New South Wales (NSW). To calculate the impact, he and the other authors first mined previously published studies for estimates of mammal population density in NSW. Then they multiplied the density estimates by the areas of vegetation approved to be cleared.

Using this simple formula, Dickman was able to calculate that approximately 480 million animals had been killed since the bushfires in NSW started in September.

Some experts suggested that estimate was too high. Sadly, there are three reasons to believe the true loss of animal life is much greater — more like 1 billion.

First, the 480 million number applied to NSW alone, and the bushfires have since spread to the state of Victoria. Second, the number included mammals, birds, and reptiles, but did not include insects, bats, or frogs. Third, the 2007 report “deliberately employed highly conservative estimates in making their calculations,” according to the statement.

That’s why Dickman now estimates the real number of animals lost in the fires is at least 1 billion.

“The original figure ― the 480 million ― was based on mammals, birds, and reptiles for which we do have densities, and that figure now is a little bit out of date. It’s over 800 million given the extent of the fires now ― in New South Wales alone,” he told the Huffington Post.

If we also count bats, frogs, and invertebrates (and given their environmental impact, there’s good reason to think we should), Dickman said it’s “without any doubt at all” that the number of animals lost tops 1 billion. “Over a billion would be a very conservative figure.”

Stuart Blanch, an environmental scientist at WWF Australia, also said 1 billion was a modest estimate given how far the fires have recently spread, according to HuffPost.

How the fires became so deadly for animals

At this point, you might be asking yourself: Can’t animals just run away from a raging fire? Can’t birds just fly away?

In many cases, particularly for birds, the answer is yes. “Certainly, large animals, like kangaroos or emus — many birds, of course — will be able to move away from the fire as it approaches,” Dickman told the BBC. But he added that “it’s the less mobile species and the smaller ones that depend on the forest itself that are really in the firing line.”

Koalas are a good example. An estimated 8,000 of them have died from the fires, ecologists say. That’s almost one-third of all koalas in NSW, which forms their main habitat.

“It may well be up to 30 percent of the population in that region [was killed], because up to 30 percent of their habitat has been destroyed,” explained Sussan Ley, Australia’s environment minister.

WWF is currently collecting donations to restore koala habitats.

Other animals may have fared better — reptiles, for example.

“Although it is hard to find estimates of how well reptiles survive fires, in similar areas of Australia the majority of these reptiles live in the soil,” said Colin Beale, an ecologist from the University of York. “Soil is a very good thermal insulator and burrowing reptiles can certainly show very low mortality even during intense fires.”

Some ecologists, including Beale, say Dickman’s estimates may be inflated. Although it’s plausible many animals have been affected by the fires, the proportion of them that actually died may be smaller.

Let’s hope so. The truth is, it’s hard for anyone to know the precise impact of the fires at this stage, not least because many animals that survive the flames will likely die later due to lack of food, water, and shelter.

Regardless of the exact numbers, this is a crisis for biodiversity in Australia, which is home to some of Earth’s most distinctive animals, like marsupials. Around 244 species of mammals are found only in Australia. What’s more, according to the University of Sydney’s statement, “Some 34 species and subspecies of native mammals have become extinct in Australia over the last 200 years, the highest rate of loss for any region in the world.”

The current loss of Australian animal life is a serious tragedy by anyone’s count. It adds to the terrible human toll: two dozen people killed, and thousands more evacuated. Fires are expected to keep raging for another month.

To help with the evacuations and firefighting, the government announced this weekend that it’s deploying the military. Experts say the deployment is on a scale not seen since World War II. As Defense Minister Linda Reynolds put it, “It is the first time that reserves have been called out in this way in living memory.” SOURCE

 

Some Stunning Perspective On The Australian Fires

Image result for australian bushfires

A kangaroo rushes past a burning house in Conjola on New Year’s Eve. MATTHEW ABBOTT / NEW YORK TIMES / REDUX / EYE

Dr. Lucky Tran, a scientist and refugee who is an activist fighting for climate justice and immigrant justice, has put the Australian wildfires into a terrifying perspective. Fires are terrifying as it is, but the one in Australia would be considered a Category 5 if it was a hurricane. Here in America, we are so far away geographically from the problem, so that’s the best comparison I could come up with that would sum up in one sentence how bad this fire is for those who just glance at the news and go on with their day-to-day routines.

Dr. Lucky Tran

Some perspective on the devastating scale of the :

-100s of fires are blanketing a country the size of the US or Europe

-5 million hectares of land have burned. That’s 5x the size of the Amazon fires & 50x the California fires

“5 million hectares of land have burned. That’s 5 times the size of the Amazon fires and 50 times the California fires,” he continues. He uploaded a photo of the map of the fires. In this photo, the outline of Australia is pretty much defined by the fires. They are literally burning this country. It’s as if someone took a red and orange marker and dotted the borders on a map. These dots are fires. These dots represent devastation, death, and terror.

Dr. Tran continues his thread by posting a graph comparing several fires:

Dr. Lucky Tran

Some perspective on the devastating scale of the :

-100s of fires are blanketing a country the size of the US or Europe

-5 million hectares of land have burned. That’s 5x the size of the Amazon fires & 50x the California fires

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Dr. Lucky Tran

Here’s another visualization of the massive impact & extent of the . This is a crisis that the world needs to pay attention to.

📷 u/Fierylizard03 https://www.reddit.com/r/australia/comments/ei02l9/the_scale_of_australias_fires/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=ios_app&utm_name=iossmf 

View image on Twitter

The graph, titled Black Summer Fires, compares the Mendocino Complex Fire, Amazon Fires, Siberian Fires, and current Australian fires. The comparison shows the sizes of the fires by the acres burned.

  • Mendocino Complex Fires — 459,123 acres
  • Amazon Fires — 2,240,000 acres
  • Siberian Fires — 6,424,739 acres
  • Current Australian fires (still active) — 11,300,000 acres

Other facts from this graph include:

  • 11.3 million acres destroyed, an area larger than the Netherlands.
  • 2,500 buildings destroyed.
  • 13 people killed (at least).
  • 30% of New South Wales koalas killed.
  • Over $50 million a day lost.
  • $250 million in insurance claims (so far).
  • 480 million animals killed (so far).
  • Air pollution in Sydney makes breathing equivalent to smoking 37 cigarettes.
  • Thousands have been displaced.

NPR‘s Ailisa Chang spoke with Cormac Farrel, an environmental scientist working on bushfire management, regarding the Australia fires. Chang says to Farrel, “And I understand that you and your family are wearing gas masks right now.” He replies, “Yeah … we managed to get one of the last air purifies, so we’re able to take the masks off indoors. But pretty much everyone outdoors is wearing a gas mask to be outside safely today.”

How You Can Help

I did a basic search on GoFundMe and came across several campaigns that are benefiting different firefighting initiatives: The Australian Red Cross Society, The Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service, and Victims Saving Koalas. Plenty more campaigns have been set up as well. For those in the Tesla community who would like to help, perhaps consider the GoFundMe campaign #FrunksUp4Fires — NSW Bushfire Fundraiser set up by Tesla Owners Australia. The fund will go to the Trustee for NSW Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund and their goal is to raise $10,000. A bit more than half of that has been raised.

“It was brought up on Twitter that we could use our Tesla’s unique design of having a car boot/trunk in the front of the car (a frunk due to Tesla’s having no engine, as they are electric vehicles) as a unique way to assist in raising funds and donated items to give to charity for the victims of the 2019/2020 Bush fires,” Toby Patton says.

If you would rather donate items for the victims who have lost everything, GIVIT, a nonprofit that connects people who have with those who need in a private and safe way, has a list of things that are needed. Some of these things include fans, water tanks, food vouchers, generators, and fuel — fuel most likely for gasoline/diesel vehicles for traveling to safer areas.  SOURCE

‘Ecocide’: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle sound the alarm over bushfires

London: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have warned the bushfires sweeping vast swathes of Australia are contributing to a global ‘ecocide’, in a stark message that forms part of a coordinated response by three wings of the royal family to the unfolding disaster.

Amid mounting international criticism of Australia’s climate change policies, the Queen and Prince Philip, Prince William and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, issued separate statements on Saturday expressing shock at the death and destruction.

The Queen’s message stuck to the traditional formula of offering “thoughts and prayers to all Australians at this difficult time”.

“My thanks go out to the emergency services, and those who put their own lives in danger to help communities in need,” she said.

However, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex chose a more blunt form of phrasing to warn of the ecological impact of bushfires and climate change.

“From areas we are personally connected to such as the communities and people we visited in New South Wales in 2018, to the fires in California and parts of Africa, we are struck by the increasingly overlapping presence of these environmental disasters, including of course the destruction of the Amazon which continues,” they said.

“This global environmental crisis has now been described as ecocide. It’s easy to feel helpless, but there’s always a way to help.”

The pair urged their social media followers to donate to the NSW Rural Fire Service or the Australian Red Cross.

The Duke and Duchess were criticised last year for taking a number of flights on private jets despite their climate advocacy.

Prince Harry later said “nobody is perfect” in terms of their ecological footprint and said the majority of his travel is on commercial planes.

Their ‘Ecocide’ comments are the latest in a series of interventions on the impact of global warming by senior members of the royal family.

Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, have urged their followers to donate to the NSW Rural Fire Service and Red Cross. CREDIT:AP 

Prince William chose the first day of the new year to launch a major prize designed to help bring down carbon emissions, warning the Earth was at a “tipping point”.

The Earthshot Prize will aim to uncover solutions to climate change across all parts of industry and society.
Drawing comparisons to the Nobel peace prize, multimillion-pound prizes will be awarded to five winners a year over 10 years. Recipients could include scientists, activists, economists, political leaders, governments, banks, businesses, cities and even countries.

In their statement on the Australian bushfires, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge said they were “shocked and saddened” about the loss of “homes, livelihoods and wildlife across much of Australia”.

“We send our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who have tragically lost their lives, and the brave firefighters who continue to risk their own lives to save the lives of others.”

The Queen, who is close to renowned environmentalist Sir David Attenborough, used her traditional Christmas Day broadcast to say she had been struck by the “sense of purpose” younger generations had shown in tackling issues like climate change.

“The challenges many people face today may be different to those once faced by my generation, but I have been struck by how new generations have brought a similar sense of purpose to issues such as protecting our environment and our climate,” she said. SOURCE

‘It’s Going to Be a Blast Furnace’: Australia Fires Intensify

Calling for evacuations along the southeastern coast, officials said the next few days would be among the worst yet in an already catastrophic fire season.

INVERLOCH, Australia — They fled from looming firestorms that threatened to cut off their escape, only to join a slog alongside the masses of others who crowded the roads. Thousands more waited for rescue by sea.

Across the scorched southeast, frightened Australians — taking a few cherished things, abandoning their homes and vacation rentals, and braving smoke that discolored the skies — struggled Thursday to evacuate as wildfires turned the countryside into charcoal wasteland.

And from government officials came a disheartening warning: This weekend will be one of the worst periods yet in Australia’s catastrophic fire season.

“It’s going to be a blast furnace,” Andrew Constance, the transport minister of New South Wales, told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Monitoring a fire on Thursday in East Gippsland, Victoria, where 17 people were missing.
Credit…Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

 

The blazes have strained the country’s firefighting resources, and the fire season, though still young, already ranks as among the worst in Australia’s recorded history.

The state of New South Wales declared an emergency in its southeastern region on Thursday, calling on residents and vacationers to evacuate. Mr. Constance said the relocation was the largest in the region’s history.

To the south, the state of Victoria declared a disaster on Thursday, allowing it to authorize the evacuation of areas along its eastern coast.

Using any means they could find, the authorities were warning people to evacuate. But with communication in some areas spotty to nonexistent, it was not clear that everyone would get the message.

NSW RFS

@NSWRFS

Leave Zone – Batlow / Wondalga
Dangerous conditions in Batlow, west of Blowering Dam. If you’re in this area, particularly Batlow north to Wondalga & west of Blowering Dam, leave before tomorrow. It is not safe. For road closures go to @LiveTrafficNSW

View image on Twitter
In just the past week, at least nine people have died, and many more are unaccounted for. In all, at least 18 people have died in this fire season.

The blazes have consumed more than 1,000 houses, killed countless animals and ravaged a Pacific coast region of farms, bush, eucalyptus forests, mountains, lakes and vacation spots. About 15 million acres have been blackened over the past four months, and more than 100 wildfires are still burning.

With the Southern Hemisphere summer barely underway and the country already reeling from record-breaking heat, no one expects relief any time soon. No rain is in the forecast

Lake Conjola, in New South Wales.
Credit…Robert Oerlemans, via Associated Press 

“We’re still talking four to six weeks at best before we start to see a meaningful reprieve in the weather,” Shane Fitzsimmons, the rural fire commissioner for the state of New South Wales, told reporters.

In Mallacoota, a coastal town in Victoria state, the Australian Navy on Friday began ferrying to safety some of the 4,000 people trapped there when flames cut off all escape routes on land.

People camped on the beach and slept in small boats, they said, trying to shield themselves from flying embers as the inferno moved toward them. The heavy smoke meant only a few people with medical problems could be evacuated by helicopter.

Among those on the beach was Justin Brady, a musician who just moved from Melbourne to Mallacoota, about 250 miles to the east. He managed to salvage a fiddle, a mandolin and some harmonicas before abandoning the home he built and its contents to the flames.

“It’s been pretty heavy,” he said.

People were evacuated from the coastal town of Mallacoota by the Royal Australian Navy on Friday.
Credit…Royal Australian Navy 

Others nearby were not nearly so measured, venting their anger at the national and state governments, which they said had not taken the crisis seriously enough.

Michael Harkin, who lives in Sydney and was vacationing in Mallacoota, complained of “incompetent governance” that is “not keeping us safe at all.”

“I’m looking forward to getting somewhere that isn’t here,” he said.

The emergency services minister of New South Wales, David Elliott, drew withering criticism on social media after he left the country on Tuesday for a vacation in Britain and France. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that he said he would return “if the bushfire situation should demand it.”

Mr. Elliott’s departure came just weeks after Prime Minister Scott Morrison was widely ridiculed for taking a vacation in Hawaii during the crisis. He cut his trip short.

The Navy ship that arrived at Mallacoota, the HMAS Choules, delivered food, water and medical supplies, and was expected to leave with hundreds of evacuees. Once it is far enough from shore, the sickest people can be taken away by helicopter.

Inspecting the wreckage of a fire truck that veered off a dirt track near Lake Conjola on Tuesday as a fire approached.
Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times 

The Choules will return for more people, officials said, but it will be a slow process; the trip to a safe port in the sprawling country is expected to take 17 hours. Many of the people aboard the cramped ship will have to spend most of that time sitting on the open deck.

The evacuation orders have been easier to make than to carry out.

Two-lane roads are carrying highway-level traffic, and some roads have been closed by the fires or blocked by downed trees and power lines. Long lines of cars snake around gas stations, tanks run dry, and drives that would normally take two hours last half a day or more.

The state premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, said 17 people were still missing as fires swept alpine resorts and the normally bucolic Gippsland area.

Thousands of people have gone days without electricity or phone service. With cell towers destroyed but landlines still working, long lines formed at pay phones, creating scenes from another era. Officials advised people to boil water before using it, after power failures knocked out local water treatment facilities.
Cars lined up waiting to leave Manyana in New South Wales on Thursday.
Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

 

Stores have run short of essentials like diapers, baby formula, bread and bottled water. With lodgings full, many people fleeing the fires have been forced to sleep in their cars.

Businesses with generators have continued to operate, but some have run out of fuel, and others are near that point.

Craig Scott, the manager of a supermarket in Ulladulla, a beach town about 100 miles south of Sydney, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he planned to keep the generator there running by siphoning fuel from the tanks of fishing boats. He said the store had just gotten the generator a few months ago, when no one imagined how desperately it would be needed.

So vast and intense are the fires that they can create their own weather, generating winds as they suck in fresh air at ground level, and sparking lightning in the immense ash clouds that rise from them.

Canberra, Australia’s capital, recorded the worst air quality ever measured on Thursday; the largest city, Sydney, has been suffering through intense smoke for weeks; and ash from the blazes has darkened skies and coated glaciers in New Zealand, more than a thousand miles away.

The fires have set off anger at Prime Minister Morrison, in particular. He has played down the role of global warming, opposed measures to combat climate change and, at least initially, rejected additional funding for firefighters.
Dust and smoke from Australia’s bushfires are reaching New Zealand, with its effects visible in snow near Franz Josef Glacier.
Credit…Reuters

 

On Thursday, Mr. Morrison was heckled as he visited Cobargo, a New South Wales village where fires have killed two men and destroyed the main street. When he extended his hand to one woman, she said she would shake it only if he increased spending on firefighting.

“You won’t be getting any votes down here, buddy,” one man yelled. “You’re out, son.”

As Mr. Morrison left hurriedly, the man taunted him about returning to Kirribilli House, the prime minister’s elegant official residence in Sydney, with spectacular views of the harbor and the city.

“I don’t see Kirribilli burning,” the man yelled.

Mr. Morrison said he understood residents’ frustration.

“I’m not surprised people are feeling very raw at the moment,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “That’s why I came today, to be here, to see it for myself, to offer what comfort I could.”

“I understand the very strong feelings people have — they’ve lost everything,” he said, adding that there were still “some very dangerous days ahead.”
Flames consumed trees along a road near Manyana, where hundreds of tourists were stranded.
Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

 

SOURCE

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