By Hebe Larkin
One day I woke up and the sky was blood red.
It was 2009, I was nine years old, and I thought the world was going to end. The sun was glowing dimly through the haze, people were suddenly wearing face-masks and we would find layers of dust on everything for weeks afterwards. It wasn’t quite the end of the world, but the aftermath of a huge dust-storm that had blown across Sydney. It was so unusual that you can even find a Wikipedia page about it.
Today, my nine-year old fears of apocalypse have retuned. As bushfires rage in Australia, the obscured sun, the choking air, the face masks, have become the new normal. When I flew back home to Sydney this December, the day after the hottest-ever day on record, where the average temperature topped 41.9C, the pilot gave us the weather forecast. Of course, he said, you can see the smoke haze above the city. We descended from blue sky above the haze, into the layer of smoke.
This bushfire season has been extraordinarily bad, but follows a trajectory that climate scientists have warned government about since the 1980s. Human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels, has been linked with climate change and rising temperatures. In Australia, 9 out of 10 of the country’s warmest years have occurred since 2005. These higher temperatures create the perfect condition for bushfires, in the following ways:
Already during this bushfire season:
And this won’t be the end of it – the bushfire season still has its course to run.
Understandably, in a country where two-thirds of people believe the climate emergency to be the world’s greatest threat, the response from citizens has raged alongside the bushfires that ignited their anger. Protestors have marched on conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s house to demand action, while he was abroad on a family holiday.
But government response has been slow, even non-existent. At the recent climate summit in Madrid, Australia was singled out as being one of the worst-performing countries on its Paris climate targets. At its current rate, it won’t meet its target of 26-8% below 2005 levels. Indeed, the deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, while agreeing that Australia needed to take more action on climate change, viewed it as a discussion for the future. He then went on to support the coal industry.
If Australia is to have any hope of mitigating the risk of unprecedented bushfires and heat waves, it needs federal policy put in place to reduce emissions across all sectors. Otherwise, the red skies of 2009 will become the new normal.
OCS Media Team
The latest in climate science and policy from the OCS team.