Bushfires in Australia Strengthen the Country’s Climate Movement



A man in Lake Conjola tried to defend a property on New Year’s Eve as fire consumed the house next door. Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

According to CNN, on November 12, 2019, a catastrophic fire danger was declared in Sydney, Australia. By early December, the city found that the air quality was eleven times worse than the “hazardous” level. Meanwhile, devastating blazes burned across the continent, strongest in New South Wales. PBS found that the fires are responsible for the death of upwards of one billion animals, the destruction of national parks, such as Blue Mountains, twenty four million acres and two thousand homes; totals all of which are still climbing. 

This horrific mass destruction is attributed to the climbing temperatures and the severe drought. While there is a fire season every summer, the greatly increased severity is due to the increased strength of the Indian Ocean Dipole, a current, which has brought colder waters to the Australian coasts. The cooler air brought about by this change means less moisture and fewer clouds, causing a severe drought. This combined with strong winds and the rising temperatures of the planet have created the perfect conditions for catastrophic fires. 

According to the Washington Post, historically skeptic Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia continues to insist that the fires are unrelated to climate change and he continues to work to expand Australia’s coal industry. However,  the state environment minister of New South Wales, Matt Kean, who is a member of the same political party as Morrison, stated that the organization is beginning to call for more action to combat climate change, something never before seen in this group, demonstrating a shift in policy in a more conservative party. This can be attributed the growing outrage among the Australian public. Many are calling for stricter environmental restrictions. This growing environmentalism can be mostly attributed to the Extinction Rebellion, a guerilla climate change activist group which started in the United Kingdom. The Instagram following for the Sydney branch of this organization has gone from 1,000 to 35,000 in the past two weeks. A movement initially labeled as out of touch in Australia, climate activism has become much more mainstream, with people from all walks of life joining in. More and more people are retaliating against the expansion of Australia’s coal industry, most recently the Carmichael mine which will provide the largest coal supply to date. In November, when the project was gaining momentum, 60% of Australian citizens said the government was not doing enough to address climate change. Undoubtedly, these numbers will continue to climb as many make connections between the bushfires and climate change.