During bushfire crisis, Australia’s koala ‘beds are burning’ down
Wednesday, January 08, 2020
As the world watches Australia burn, recall the indignant 1987 song “Beds are Burning” by Sydney band Midnight Oil. The lyrics prove prescient: “Four wheels scare the cockatoos/From Kintore, east to Yuendemu/The Western Desert lives and breathes/In forty-five degrees.”
The country’s devastating wildfires make scary four wheels the least of the cockatoos’ problems, and recent numbers indicate Australia’s planetarily unique biodiversity and surrounding interdependent human communities are changed forever.
Native Australians would agree that full recovery is naive.
Internationally, the climate change story is about emissions causing depleted ozone that warms water and melts ice in some places. In other places, heat waves and droughts combine with human actions, like arson or negligent utility wiring, to cause wildfires with immense social, public health, ecological and economic impacts. Australian bushfires eat up the famed bush landscape, burning up nearly 15 million acres by Jan. 7, 2020, with nearly 1% of the entire country’s land impacted in ongoing blazes.
Observers report apocalyptic scenes: “Day turns to night as smoke extinguishes all light in the horrifying minutes before the red glow announces the imminence of the inferno. Flames leaping 200 feet into the air. Fire tornadoes. Terrified children at the helm of dinghies, piloting away from the flames, refugees in their own country.”
As of Jan. 7, 24 people have died in over 136 fires, with 69 not contained. Twenty-four people have been charged with arson for these recent fires, which have burned for months. Fires, which largely involve the south and east coasts, rage outside every major city. Sydney is battling over 100 fires, according to updated reports that promise change as the crisis unfolds.
Tourists and residents alike are being evacuated or rescued in impacted areas. 3,000 reservists have been called to duty as of Jan. 5, with a $14 million commitment to lease firefighting equipment. Australia has requested help from other firefighting-savvy nations, including the U.S.
Flames blocking escape routes keep thousands trapped on beaches, while others retreat to community shelters in larger cities. Survival stories from remote areas are harder to come by, but people gather where they can to grieve and protest.
The U.S. and Australia face extreme climate challenges while supporting dirty energy like coal extraction. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledges climate change exists, but parrots Donald Trump’s coal-championing rhetoric. Residents call for climate action in ongoing street protests. Morrison’s position is widely condemned; he faces angry hecklers at public appearances, and worse, as the crisis continues.
As the world awaits the human and public health tolls along with structural damages, plant and animal damages are catastrophic, and may include entire species that are now extinct,
Once described as a scourge with a population double the country’s 25 million humans, surviving kangaroos face immense challenges on fire-ravaged land.
Australia’s equivalent of the Galapagos Islands, Kangaroo Island, has seen fires destroy “small marsupials called dunnarts and glossy black cockatoos.” This loss also includes an attack on half of the island’s koala population of 50,000.
More political pressure is inevitable as further flung infernos impacts downwind nations such as New Zealand and even the more distant South America. New Zealand is experiencing increased lightning and thunderstorms, and ash has been spotted on its glaciers, too.
To quote Midnight Oil’s anthem again: “The time has come to say fair's fair/To pay the rent now, to pay our share/The time has come, a fact's a fact/It belongs to them, let's give it back.”
Advanced coal burning nations: you’ve been warned again. Back in 1987, Midnight Oil was condemning dependency on finite fossil fuels extracted from stolen indigenous lands.
How will the score of such immense loss be settled? To “give back” scorched earth today requires not just payment of rent, but payment for damages incurred.
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