A climate change turning point in Australia, but is it too little, too late?

Aamer Fattah
Jan 16 · 3 min read
Australia’s bushfire smoke as seen from the International Space Station (credit: astronaut Christina Koch)

Here in Australia, it’s been a tragic few months and start to the new year, with catastrophic bushfires causing 28 deaths nationwide, and destroying or damaging more than 3,000 homes in the state of New South Wales alone.

Insured losses are expected to top $1.34 billion, with estimated total losses of around $5 billion as of last week.

The bushfires have melted roads and ravaged natural ecosystems, killing more than a billion animals and hundreds of billions of insects (these are conservative estimates) just in NSW, including a third of Australia’s Koalas.

And for the first time in Australia’s history, the government’s issued a compulsory call-out of 3,000 defence reservists to support the bushfire response efforts. In war-zone-like scenes, Black Hawk helicopters and amphibious Navy ships were deployed to evacuate thousands of residents and tourists trapped by bushfires, unable to escape by road.

Also, in a case of life imitating post-apocalyptic fiction, people are even stealing water now, Mad Max-style

The bushfires have also created an ‘airpocalypse’ that’s enveloped Australia’s major population centers with the world’s worst air pollution levels, even shutting down the capital recently. Hospitalisations have spiked, with increasing concerns about long-term population health effects — the mental health impacts alone are expected to last for years.

Bushfire air pollution is now a global concern, recently turning New Zealand skies orange and reaching several cities in South America. And NASA’s just announced that Australia’s bushfire smoke plume actually circumnavigated the Earth.

Australia’s latest bushfire disaster was predicted years ago in the landmark 2008 Garnaut climate change report, which highlighted that “…[bush] fire seasons will start earlier, end slightly later, and generally be more intense. This effect increases over time, but should be directly observable by 2020.”

Some have described Australia’s current catastrophic bushfires as the ‘new normal’, but things are expected to get much worse: Professor Ross Garnaut’s aforementioned prediction was based on a 2007 study by Dr. Chris Lucas and colleagues of the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre.

According to their analysis, the number of ‘very high’ fire danger days in Australia is projected to increase (relative to 1990 levels) by 20 to 100% for the high global warming scenarios by 2050, with ‘extreme’ fire danger days expected to increase by 100 to 300%.

Based on the community reaction over the past few months, the current disaster is likely to mark a turning point in Australia’s climate change response.

Sadly, it’s probably too little, too late.

In his 2008 report, Professor Garnaut also predicted that “without strong action by developed countries and firm commitments from major developing countries between now and 2020, it will be impossible to avoid high risks of dangerous climate change.”

If this prediction also comes to pass, then it’s too late to reverse the trend. In that case, the best we can hope for is to effectively mitigate the ‘high risks of dangerous climate change’, and where mitigation efforts fail, manage the fallout to reduce the damage done to our communities, our natural ecosystems and future generations.

In the meantime, like the Baby Yoda song says, let’s keep on keeping on 🤙

About the author:

Aamer Fattah is a scientist, innovation leader and deep tech expert.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency, organization, employer or company.

Lab 42

Your guide to the latest research breakthroughs and trends shaping our future. Also, the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.

Aamer Fattah

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I write about emerging technologies and trends.

Lab 42

Lab 42

Your guide to the latest research breakthroughs and trends shaping our future. Also, the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.

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