This past week, Australia has been the scene of raging brush fires that, at the time of this posting, have claimed nearly 200 lives (NPR). This number of deaths seems ludicrously high, and I have tried to mentally justify how something as simple as a brush fire could kill so many people. According to some scientists, reasons for the high death count include climate change and dwindling water resources. This is in contrast to my initial conclusions of poor emergency management and geographically isolated areas, which however, probably did exacerbate the problem.
This morning, Freya Matthews of Australia’s La Trobe University wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that, “Saturday’s events showed us the terrifying face of climate change. The heat was devastating, even without the fire.” Matthews implies that fires such as the ones that barreled through Australia this weekend are now going to become commonplace. I can’t say that I disagree with her on this matter. Here in the United States, many climatologists and geographers have attributed the fury of Hurricane Katrina to rising oceanic temperatures. Similarly, if one takes the time to actively seek out environmental destruction stories (such as Australia’s brush fires or Hurricane Katrina, but perhaps much less publicized catastrophes like the expected extinction of salamanders), they will find that many of these disasters are theoretically caused by a rapidly changing climate.
What does this mean for us? I have only my opinions, and what I have
learned through acquiring my degree, personal reading, and experience
living in today’s dynamic world. With this knowledge in hand, I deduce
that we are indeed entering into a new climatic era and must learn to
manage the associated implications.
Matthews, in describing this
past weekend’s events, addressed more than just a singular occurrence.
“Let’s stop using the word “drought,” with its implication that dry
weather is the exception. The desiccation of the landscape here is the
new reality. It is now our climate.”
wheels streak the asphalt in the town of Bendigo on February 8, 2009.
At least 166 people–some entombed in their cars–are believed dead as
a result of the Australian fires as of February 9.
A dead horse that was trapped by the Australian wildfires lies on the roadside near the town of Kinglake on February 9, 2009.
The remains of a sheep pen smolder after a wildfire near Labertouche,
in southern Australia on February 7, 2009. Charred cattle and sheep
corpses are said to be lining roads after the weekend’s historic fires,
according to the AFP news agency.