In recent weeks the world has been gripped by the ongoing environmental and humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Australia. The country has been suffering from devastating bushfires since the tail end of last year which is currently ravaging an area greater than the entirety of the central European kingdom of Belgium. The fires have seen an angry response by Australians towards their government, particularly Prime Minister Scott Morrison whose handling of the crisis is deemed poor by many, the deaths of 27 people, and the estimated demise of hundreds of millions of animals.

The bushfires

The country – renowned for its mining industry which extracts and exports huge quantities of gold and coal, a major contributor to climate change, each year – has been undergoing a large scale and highly destructive bushfire season since September. Homes have been destroyed, people killed, and the landscape ravaged. 

The fires have sparked a debate on one of Australia’s most contentious political issues: climate change. Because of the country’s status as a mining and carbon dioxide powerhouse, the debate has been far more vociferous than in many other nations. Those who believe that action must be taken argue that Australia has a responsibility to the world – and to itself – to reduce its footprint while others, including Prime Minister Morrison, doubt Australia’s climate impact and do not wish to see the economy and a major industry harmed in favour of the environment. The issue is so politically toxic in Australia that has toppled numerous political leaders, including prime ministers, leading to decades of inaction which is now resulting in huge loss of human and animal life.

Environmental tragedy

Ecologists at the University of Sydney estimated that 480 million mammals, birds, and reptiles may have died since September, and expressed fear that already fragile species of plants and animals may have been driven to extinction by the extreme conditions. The estimate was based on a World Wild Fund for Nature report from 2007 on the impacts of land clearing on local wildlife. One of the scientists behind that report now believes the number has risen to more than a billion nationwide. In one example of the threat posed to many animals, up to 8000 – a third of the entire koala population of the mid-north coast of New South Wales – are believed to have died so far. 

Heroic humans

In among the chaos of the crisis, local human inhabitants have stepped up to attempt to salvage what they can of the wildlife, taking in animals to keep them safe and ensuring they get potentially life saving medical treatment for burns and other effects. People have taken steps to ensure that animals can access scarce water while officials have dropped food from the skies to help wallabies who are starving as a result of the massive disruption to ecosystems. On the whole, things are looking bleak for Australia’s wildlife, but it is a shimmering, if small, silver lining that people are doing all they can to save all they can.


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