Conservation and Biodiversity

Australia’s white-hot Christmas: High temperatures break records countrywide

Australia is burning — specifically, from bushfires, triggered by extreme heat waves. 

Unfortunately, these fires don’t seem like they’re going anywhere soon. Australia’s record average temperature of 104.5° F (40.3° C) was broken Tuesday with temperatures reaching 105.6°F (40.9°C). However, with projections showing the more intense parts of the heat wave to arrive later this week, the country may break these records again soon. 

This is alarming considering we’re only near the beginning of the summer for Australia. But it may be something Australians will have to get used to. Last January, Australia recorded its hottest month on record. Historically, the continent has endured warmer weather early in the new year, and if it stays this way into 2020, it may also mean the continuation of conditions like drought and bushfires. 

 It’s getting hot in here

These bushfires are disastrous for humans, whose homes and livelihoods will be at risk once these fires get going. As the heat increases, the bush dries out, and fires tend to rage longer and more intense than in the past

Studies have shown these fire seasons have become longer and more expansive than in the past, with climate change to blame. A team of researchers looked at a majority of Australia over a 30-year period and found the country has been experiencing much longer fire seasons over time, documented in a 2015 study published in Nature

And this aligns with other far-reaching research. Data taken over 100 years by the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology showed that average temperatures have increased steadily since the early 1980s. Unsurprisingly, that same report showed that these increases are linked to rising sea surface temperatures and decreases in rainfall.

Sitting in hot water

To ignore this data is putting us in hot water. When asked whether the bushfires were linked to climate change, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack dismissed them: “We’ve had fires in Australia since time began.” 

McCormack is technically right, but he’s also terribly misguided. Fire is essential for many of Australia’s ecosystems to persist, yes. They help to cycle nutrients, and aid in plant reproduction processes. But, of course, too much fire can burn everything down. And all these longer, worse fires are our fault, specifically, because of all the greenhouse gasses we’re spewing into the atmosphere. Yet if we continue to blame these fires on nature, we’ll make everything worse.

As we continue down this road of inaction, the people affected by the fires will only increase. Already, fires have swept over hundreds of homes and businesses and have skilled six people. Earlier this week, a couple whose house had been destroyed left pieces of the rubble at Parliament in Canberra.

The couple also spray-painted the remnants of their home with the words, “Morrison, your climate crisis destroyed my home,” a message to Australian Prime Minster Scott Morrison, whose administration has accused of downplaying the climate crisis in the past.

But if we collectively as a planet don’t do anything, we’ll be just as guilty as our world leaders. Future generations will make no distinction between climate crusaders and climate deniers — they’ll just see a ravaged world left behind by us.

To fight climate change, we need everyone on board. To meet this moment, we must build the largest, most diverse global mobilization in history in defense of the environment. Our world needs a united response for bold action. Join Earth Day Network’s EARTHRISE movement.

Photo credit for image at top: NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey