Green Energy Times Staff
Australia has a wildfire season every year. The worst of the bushfires occur in the summer months, late December through late March in the southern hemisphere. On the first day of the Australian summer, it was already a record fire season. Wildfires covered an area about equal to the size of Vermont in a country a little smaller than the 48 contiguous United States. Now, only about a quarter of the way through the fire season, it is far, far worse. As of January 11, the burned area was 41,000 square miles, equivalent to two thirds the area of New England.
Wildfires currently burn in all six states. There were about 130 bushfires in New South Wales on January 9, fifty of which were uncontained. By January 10, fires in New South Wales and Victoria had merged into a “megafire” covering 1.5 million acres. Smoke from the Australian bushfires caused gray skies and dark horizons 7,000 miles away in Brazil. Animals all over Australia have been suffering. The World Wildlife Fund reports that an estimated 1.25 billion animals have been killed. The loss of human property and life is also significant; an interim count stands at 28 lives and over 2,000 homes. Australians in affected areas are being told to evacuate as soon as they receive notification, because by the time roads are cut by fires, helicopters are hindered by smoke and cannot always get people out. Those who are trapped can do little more than hunker down and wait for the fire to pass
The Australian wildfires have been creating their own weather. Smoke plumes generate towering pyrocumulonimbus clouds which are associated with dry lightning, a condition which can spark new blazes, as well as with strong down drafts, which can carry live embers from existing fires for miles.
This brings us to the question: Can similarly devastating fires happen here? It is certainly possible. California is subject to the amplification of drought and heat conditions caused by climate change, just as are Australian states. Our leaders are equally able to duck responsibility when challenged with the responsibility of responding to the climate crisis. Australia’s prime minister has taken the position that because fires come every year, the 2021 fire season is nothing to be alarmed about. He vacationed in Hawaii in December just as the record breaking fire season was ramping up. Confronted by angry citizens upon his return, he belatedly promised money and 3,000 armed forces personnel to fight the fires. This was far too little, far too late. In a similar mode, Donald Trump has steadfastly resisted acknowledging the scope and calamity of climate change, rolling back environmental protections and promoting the fossil fuel industry in the face of super storms, drought and wildfires in this country.
One Australian farmer, Peter Andrews, illustrates a positive reaction to the abandonment of responsibility by his leadership. He has developed what he calls “natural sequence farming,” which raises the water table and decreases the effects of droughts that afflict his area. Examples of resiliency are also seen here, as in California, where one vineyard was able to survive when those around it were consumed by wildfires, because its solar-powered microgrid and satellite communications enabled irrigation to continue for days after the staff evacuated. Watch for more about this in the next edition of Green Energy Times.
Weather caused by fire. Source: EPA Australia.