Australia: The fires have pumped out more emissions than 100 nations combined – no end in sight13. January 2020
Australia: The fires have pumped out more emissions than 100 nations combined – no end in sight
Sidney, January 13, 2020
The forest fires that rage on the east coast of Australia have already pumped around 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, further fueling climate change. This is more than the total annual emissions of the 116 countries with the lowest emissions combined.
In New South Wales, where this year’s fires are concentrated, emissions are well above typical levels. More than 5.2 million hectares (12.8 million acres) have been burned throughout the South East State since July 1, according to the NSW Rural Fire Service.
Climate change is not causing forest fires. But rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall are drying out trees, plants and soil and converting them into fuel that can intensify fires when they break out. In turn, these huge fires fuel climate change. When trees and plants burn, they release the carbon stored in their trunks, leaves, branches and roots. This creates a malignant feedback loop, as the effects of climate change itself make it worse and hamper our ability to prevent the problem.
The fires have also had a devastating effect on the soil in Australia. In recent weeks an area of more than 10 million hectares has been burned. That is considerably more than was destroyed by the devastating Amazon fires last year. By comparison, California’s 2018 fire season is estimated to be one of the deadliest and most destructive in the history of the US state – but the area burnt in Australia is already almost 13 times as large.
More than 25 people died. Hundreds of thousands had to be evacuated. Thousands of homes were destroyed, and smoke consumed more than 20 million square kilometers (7.7 million square miles). A professor at the University of Sydney estimates that more than a billion animals were killed in the fires. “It’s probably fairly well known that Australia has the world’s highest extinction rate for mammals,” said Chris Dickman, a professor of terrestrial ecology, in an interview with National Public Radio. “It’s events like these that can accelerate the extinction process for a number of other species. So this is a very sad time.”
The situation has become more dangerous in the last few days as the weather has become hot and windy again. Two huge fires merged into a “mega fire” that stretches across New South Wales and Victoria, covering about 600,000 hectares (1.5 million acres).