Media across the world have been publishing articles and photos on the catastrophic bushfires in Australia. Richard Flanagan, a well-known Australian author, published an opinion piece in the New York Times two days ago, which fairly accurately summarized the impact of the fires and the complete inadequacy of the government and political response (Australia Is Committing Climate Suicide).
Here are some quotes from the article:
“Australia today is ground zero for the climate catastrophe. Its glorious Great Barrier Reef is dying, its world-heritage rain forests are burning, its giant kelp forests have largely vanished, numerous towns have run out of water or are about to, and now the vast continent is burning on a scale never before seen. …….
“The fires have already burned about 14.5 million acres — an area almost as large as West Virginia, more than triple the area destroyed by the 2018 fires in California and six times the size of the 2019 fires in Amazonia. Canberra’s air on New Year’s Day was the most polluted in the world partly because of a plume of fire smoke as wide as Europe.
“Scientists estimate that close to half a billion native animals have been killed and fear that some species of animals and plants may have been wiped out completely. Surviving animals are abandoning their young in what is described as mass “starvation events.” At least 18 people are dead and grave fears are held about many more. …..”
Other impacts not mentioned by this article include the more than 1500 houses burnt down or the growing number of towns across NSW and Victoria devastated. The last couple of days have probably increased the number of deaths to around 30. Record temperatures were recorded in Canberra and Sydney, with the temperature in Penrith reaching 48.9 degrees, the highest ever recorded in the Sydney region. A cool change yesterday brought strong winds of up to 104 km/hour.
The article goes on to draw a parallel between Australia’s situation and that of the Soviet Union in the 1980s when an all-powerful political clique demented on its own fantasies faced a monstrous reality which it had neither the ability or will to confront.
Residents of coastal towns in NSW and Victoria have sheltered on beaches, and in some cases taken to the water to escape the fires. The Australian Government belatedly sent three naval ships to evacuate residents from some beaches. Families with young babies were left stranded in Mallacoota when the navy ship refused to take children under 5 (apparently because they would have to climb a ladder onto the ship) and told the families to wait for an aircraft to evacuate them. When the aircraft arrived, it was unable to land because of the zero visibility and the families were left stranded and trapped. Fuel is running low in many of the towns affected and people are unable to leave.
Some further quotes from the article:
“And yet, incredibly, the response of Australia’s leaders to this unprecedented national crisis has been not to defend their country but to defend the fossil fuel industry, a big donor to both major parties — as if they were willing the country to its doom. While the fires were exploding in mid-December, the leader of the opposition Labor Party went on a tour of coal mining communities expressing his unequivocal support for coal exports. The prime minister, the conservative Scott Morrison, went on vacation to Hawaii.
“Since 1996 successive conservative Australian governments have successfully fought to subvert international agreements on climate change in defense of the country’s fossil fuel industries. Today, Australia is the world’s largest exporter of both coal and gas. It recently was ranked 57th out of 57 countries on climate-change action.
“This posture seems to be a chilling political calculation: With no effective opposition from a Labor Party reeling from its election loss and with media dominated by Rupert Murdoch — 58 percent of daily newspaper circulation — firmly behind his climate denialism, Mr. Morrison appears to hope that he will prevail as long as he doesn’t acknowledge the magnitude of the disaster engulfing Australia. ……
“The situation is eerily reminiscent of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, when the ruling apparatchiks were all-powerful but losing the fundamental, moral legitimacy to govern. In Australia today, a political establishment, grown sclerotic and demented on its own fantasies, is facing a monstrous reality which it has neither the ability nor the will to confront. …..
“As Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, once observed, the collapse of the Soviet Union began with the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. In the wake of that catastrophe, “the system as we knew it became untenable,” he wrote in 2006. Could it be that the immense, still-unfolding tragedy of the Australian fires may yet prove to be the Chernobyl of climate crisis?”