Nica Schreuder
3 minute read
6 Jan 2020
3:04 pm

Australia’s bushfires the worst the world has ever seen

Nica Schreuder

Since September last year, five million hectares have burned across New South Wales alone, and an estimated 480 million animals have died.

This January 4, 2020, satellite shortwave infrared closeup image released by Maxar Technologies shows wildfires east of Orbost, Australia. (Photo by HO / Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies / AFP)

Australia is burning at a alarming and extensive rate.

Since September last year, five million hectares (50,000 square kilometres) have burned across New South Wales alone, and more than 1.2 million hectares in Victoria, according to AFP. This brings the total amount of razed land to close to eight million hectares.

A local walks on a farm as flames approach near the town of Taree, about 350km north of Sydney, on November 14, 2019. Picture: WILLIAM WEST / AFP

Firefighters monitor bush fires at the Woodford residential area in Blue Mountains on November 12, 2019. – A state of emergency was declared on November 11, 2019 and residents in the Sydney area were warned of “catastrophic” fire danger as Australia prepared for a fresh wave of deadly bushfires that have ravaged the drought-stricken east of the country. (Photo by Saeed KHAN / AFP)

During the Amazon fires in 2019, an estimated 906,000 hectares of forest burnt, which means Australia’s fires are more than five times as deadly.

To add to the region’s woes, Australia is stuck in a toxic negative feedback loop, or a process where more carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere from the bushfires, which in turn increases global warming. And the more the region burns, the more trees die, which means that less carbon dioxide can be retained.

Insider reports that the fires have released an estimated 1% of the world’s total carbon emissions. The longer the fires continue, the more ominous this figure becomes, and the warmer the planet becomes.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose government has been heavily criticised for its slow response to the disaster, has pledged $1.4 billion in taxpayer money for a national recovery fund, as firefighters from around the world continue to descend on the region.

Lives lost

At least 24 people have perished in blazes, and two are missing in New South Wales.

Depressingly, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said that as the planet warmed, bushfires would become worse, and coined this “the new normal”. Bear in mind that Australia’s fire season only peaks after the dry winter and spring in New South Wales and southern Queensland.

This picture taken on December 31, 2019, shows a kangaroo trying to move away from nearby bushfires at a residential property near the town of Nowra in the Australian state of New South Wales. (Photo by SAEED KHAN / AFP)

Animals including koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, possums and wombats as well as birds and reptiles have been severely affected by out-of-control fires, with Insider reporting that an estimated nearly half a billion animals have died since fires broke out last year.

According to Australian biodiversity expert, Professor Chris Dickman, 480 million animals have died, based on a 2007 World Wildlife Fund report on the impact of clearing land on Australian wildfire in New South Wales.

The figure was calculated by estimated mammal population density numbers, multiplied by areas of vegetation to be cleared. Unfortunately, this figure is likely to be much higher, as it only covers the New South Wales area, and many fires have occurred in other parts of Australia since September.

In addition, this does not include the loss of insect, bat or frog life, further increasing the total number of animal lives lost.

As the world witnesses the possible near-extinction of a number of species native to Australia, the destruction of houses and loss of human life, the call for countries to move away from fossil fuels is (hopefully) being strongly reconsidered by carbon-dependent countries.

(Background reporting by Glenda Kwek, AFP)

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