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Written by  //  March 14, 2020  //  Australia, Climate Change  //  No comments

New York Times Topics: Australia ;
BBC Australia country profile ;
Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)

14 March
Australia’s Fire-Ravaged Forests Are Recovering. Ecologists Hope It Lasts
(NPR) … This cycle of fire, rain and recovery has played out in Australia for millennia. The majority of the country’s forests are uniquely adapted to fire. Some species need it. “Australia is, more than any other, a fire continent,” writes ecologist and historian Stephen Pyne in his book “World Fire.”
New research published in the journal Nature Climate Change found that a staggering 21 percent of Australia’s forested area burned in the 2019-2020 fire season, a figure the authors say is “globally unprecedented” and may indicate “the more flammable future projected to eventuate under climate change has arrived earlier than anticipated.”
The question now is whether Australia’s nature can keep pace.

15 February
The End of Australia as We Know It
What many of us have witnessed this fire season feels alive and monstrous. With climate change forcing a relaxed country to stumble toward new ways of work, leisure and life, will politics follow?
By Damien Cave, NYT bureau chief in Sydney, Australia.
In a country where there has always been more space than people, where the land and wildlife are cherished like a Picasso, nature is closing in. Fueled by climate change and the world’s refusal to address it, the fires that have burned across Australia are not just destroying lives, or turning forests as large as nations into ashen moonscapes.
They are also forcing Australians to imagine an entirely new way of life. When summer is feared. When air filters hum in homes that are bunkers, with kids kept indoors. When birdsong and the rustle of marsupials in the bush give way to an eerie, smoky silence.
…And in a land usually associated with relaxed optimism, anxiety and trauma have taken hold. A recent Australia Institute survey found that 57 percent of Australians have been directly affected by the bush fires or their smoke. With officials in New South Wales announcing Thursday that heavy rain had helped them finally extinguish or control all the state’s fires that have raged this Australian summer, the country seems to be reflecting and wondering what comes next.

12 February
Australia’s ‘black summer’ provides glimmer of hope for climate policy action
(Reuters) Australia’s deadly wildfires have opened up a small window of opportunity for the country to break a decade-long impasse on climate policy, as some politicians and big business push for major change. Independent politician Zali Steggall this week unveiled proposed legislation to target zero carbon emissions by 2050, aiming to take advantage of a subtle shift in rhetoric from the conservative Liberal-led coalition government.
The issue of climate change has plagued leaders of Australia for the past decade, contributing to the downfall of at least three prime ministers. As the world’s biggest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas and one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters per person, Australia has also come under fire from global climate activists and the United Nations for not taking more responsibility to curb global warming.

10 February
Fires and floods: Australia already seesaws between climate extremes – and there’s more to come
Australians take pride in winning against the odds but we have to move quickly to slow global warming and the extreme weather it creates
Neville Nicholls
(The Guardian) Last year was the driest and hottest year on record in Australia. Some parts of the country have had several years of drought in a row. But all droughts end eventually. At the weekend devastating storms swept through eastern NSW, causing flooding, power outages and commuter chaos. The Bureau of Meteorology says 391.6mm of rain fell over Sydney in the past four days, the most since 414.2mm fell from 2 to 5 February 1990.
The onset of the tropical wet season over northern Australia has been very much delayed, as predicted in the middle of last year by the Bureau of Meteorology. Most of the Australian tropics have had well below average rainfall in the past few months, and some areas had their lowest November-January rainfall. As well, the tropical cyclone season was late, also predicted by the bureau months ago. In recent weeks there has been some cyclone activity and some rain. But the wait is still on for widespread tropical rains and for more cyclones to cross the coast as Damien did at the weekend. Although rain brought by cyclones are often welcome, these systems can also leave serious damage.
Sydney is battered by TWO MONTHS of rain in two days and cyclonic wind forcing mass evacuations and 10,000 calls for help as the city wakes to mansions on the edge of being washed away, yachts sunk, 150,000 homes without power and schools closed

1 February
Wildfires threaten Australian capital and southeast towns
(PBS) Wildfires burned out of control near Australia’s national capital, Canberra, and across surrounding New South Wales state on Saturday, with endangered residents warned to prepare to evacuate.
The fire was downgraded from emergency level late Saturday to the second level on a three-tier scale of danger due to a fall in temperatures and winds. But several fires continued to burn at emergency levels in southeast New South Wales.
The continuing state of emergency is the first in the Australian Capital Territory since 2003, when wildfires killed four people and destroyed almost 500 homes in a single day.

The Scott Morrison Honeymoon Is Over
Right-wing Prime Minister Scott Morrison came to power in Australia tapping into a wellspring of resentment and touting his support for fossil fuels. But now with catastrophic bushfires sweeping across the country, his approval ratings are in free fall.
(Jacobin) Morrison has been called “Trump-lite,” a comparison that in some ways illuminates, in others obscures. Like Trump, Morrison attacks “globalists” and punishes media outlets that he thinks have wronged him. Unlike Trump, Morrison is a party man through and through: he led the New South Wales Liberal Party administration from 2000–4. Like Trump, Morrison is a roaring success with Evangelical movements across the country. Unlike Trump, this is because he actually is one. (January 2020 issue)

28 January
Australian officials warned communities in bushfire-ravaged eastern states to strengthen fire defense amid forecasts of soaring temperatures and strong winds, as one approaching blaze cloaked the capital in thick smoke. Bushfires have killed 33 people and about 1 billion animals since September, while 2,500 homes and an area the size of Greece have been destroyed. Firefighters have used several days of cooler, damper weather across much of the continent to try to gain control of more than 100 blazes still burning before temperatures rise again from mid-week.

26 January
Australia Day
In recent times, Australia Day has become increasingly controversial as it marks the start of when the continent’s indigenous people were gradually dispossessed of their land as white colonization spread across the continent.
On January 26, 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip guides a fleet of 11 British ships carrying convicts to the colony of New South Wales, effectively founding Australia. After overcoming a period of hardship, the fledgling colony began to celebrate the anniversary of this date with great fanfare and it eventually became commemorated as Australia Day.
Australia, once known as New South Wales, was originally planned as a penal colony. In October 1786, the British government appointed Arthur Phillip captain of the HMS Sirius, and commissioned him to establish an agricultural work camp there for British convicts. With little idea of what he could expect from the mysterious and distant land, Phillip had great difficulty assembling the fleet that was to make the journey. His requests for more experienced farmers to assist the penal colony were repeatedly denied, and he was both poorly funded and outfitted. Nonetheless, accompanied by a small contingent of Marines and other officers, Phillip led his 1,000-strong party, of whom more than 700 were convicts, around Africa to the eastern side of Australia. In all, the voyage lasted eight months, claiming the deaths of some 30 men.

25 January
How Does a Nation Adapt to Its Own Murder?
Australia is going up in flames, and its government calls for resilience while planning for more coal mines.
By Richard Flanagan
(NYT opinion) A new survey estimates that more than half of all Australians have been directly affected by the fires, with millions suffering adverse health effects. The economic damage keeps growing, the total cost placed at about $100 billion Australian dollars (more than $68 billion), and rising. Gross domestic product is already impacted. Australia’s central bank has announced that it may be forced to buy up coal mines and other fossil fuel assets to avoid an economic collapse.
“This is what you can expect to happen,” said Richard Betts, a professor of geography at Exeter University in Britain, if the temperature increases by an average of three degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. “It tells us what the future world might look like.”
To describe this terrifying new reality, a terrifying new idea: “omnicide.” As used by Danielle Celermajer, a professor of sociology at the University of Sydney specializing in human rights, the term invokes a crime we have previously been unable to imagine because we had never before witnessed it. Ms. Celermajer argues that “ecocide,” the killing of ecosystems, is inadequate to describe the devastation of Australia’s fires. “This is something more,” she has written. “This is the killing of everything. Omnicide.”
Australia’s situation is now no different from that of low-lying Pacific islands confronting imminent destruction from rising seas. Yet when last August those states protested against the Australian government’s refusal to act on climate change, Australia’s deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, said, “I also get a little bit annoyed when we have people in those sorts of countries pointing the finger at Australia and say we should be shutting down all our resources sector so that, you know, they will continue to survive.”
Today Australia has only one realistic chance to, you know, survive: Join other countries like those Pacific nations whose very future is now in question and seek to become an international leader in fighting for far stronger global action on climate change. But to do that it would first have to take decisive action domestically.

23 January
3 U.S. Firefighters Die in Plane Crash as Australia’s Blazes Intensify
The disaster ended a brief lull in the country’s summer of deadly wildfires.
(NYT) Three firefighters from the United States were killed on Thursday when a large plane carrying fire retardant went down in the mountains south of Canberra, the Australian capital.
It was a tragic reminder that this unprecedented Australian fire season is far from over, and that the scale of what the country is facing has the power to draw in even Americans with years of experience who seek to contribute from above.
The aircraft, a C-130 Hercules, was operated by Coulson Aviation, a family-owned Canadian company that helped battle last year’s California wildfires and has worked in Australia for more than a decade, leasing firefighting planes and helicopters, with crews included.
American firefighters have been heavily involved since at least early December. But as the blazes have intensified, dozens more have arrived to help, extending a history of firefighting collaboration between the two countries that goes back almost two decades.

22 January
Meet the Wollemi pine, the ‘dinosaur tree’ brought back from the dead and threatened once again
(WaPo) The Australian bush fires are far off in a world beset with many perilous natural events, including volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, but there is something about the fires that has entered the collective global consciousness in a way that has made this disaster different.
This may be down to the power and immediacy of the picture-driven, connected age we live in, with its images of poor, burned koalas, homes reduced to charcoal or tennis stars wheezing in Melbourne’s smoke. It may be the reach and tenacity of fires that began months ago and continue to blaze — scorching 15 million acres and counting. It may be the pernicious shadow of climate change over the conflagration.
The plight of the animals is compelling, even if the oft-repeated estimate of a billion creatures perishing is regarded by most experts as incalculable and unreliable. Many animals have the ability to flee the fires. But with few exceptions, there is very little coverage of the fire’s effects on plants, which are both unable to outrun the fires and are fueling them.
17 January
Secret Mission Has Saved Australia’s Last-Standing ‘Dinosaur Trees’ From Bushfires
(Science Alert) A secret operation by specialist firefighters has saved the world’s last stand of Wollemi Pines, a prehistoric species known as “dinosaur trees”, from Australia’s unprecedented bushfires, officials said.
Fewer than 200 of the trees exist in the wild, hidden in a gorge in the World Heritage Blue Mountains, northwest of Sydney, an area hit by one of the biggest bushfires that have ravaged much of Australia for months.
With flames approaching the area late last year, air tankers dropped fire retardant in a protective ring around the trees while specialist firefighters were winched into the gorge to set up an irrigation system to provide moisture for the grove, officials said.
Matt Kean, environment minister for New South Wales state where the Blue Mountains lie, described the operation as “an unprecedented environmental protection mission”.
While some of the trees were charred by the flames, the grove was saved from the fires, he said in a statement late Wednesday.

20 January
Australia’s Wild Weather: First Fires, Now Baseball-Size Hail
Severe heat and dry skies have given way to strong thunderstorms in the country’s southeast, where giant hailstones destroyed cars.
(NYT) Large hailstones have rained down on Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra over the past two days, destroying vehicles, punching holes in roofs and blanketing the lawn in front of Parliament.
Suddenly, a season of suffocating heat, bone-dry skies and voracious fires has given way in southeastern Australia to widespread thunderstorms. Skies once darkened by smoke are now brooding with clouds and rain — at least for a few days.
Hailstones were as large as baseballs. Wind gusts topped 70 miles per hour. In some areas, an inch of rain fell in just 30 minutes. A few places experienced flash flooding. Thousands of people were left without power.
But other images from the region, including a wall of dust that swept rural New South Wales, offered a dramatic reminder that Australia’s drought — and the devastating wildfires it has fed — are far from over.
Hold the Phone, Sydney … It’s Raining.
For one gray and drenching moment, or a few hours in some places, strong rain doused some of Australia’s deadly flames. And all rejoiced.
Rural firefighters and farmers, as well as just about everyone in Australia’s largest city, rejoiced Friday at the arrival of something not seen for months: heavy downpours of that magnificent gift called rain.
Thunderstorms hit Sydney and a wide swath of the surrounding area, including parts of the north coast of New South Wales that have been burning for months, with more rain expected through the weekend.
The amount of rain varied wildly on Friday, from a few drops to more than four inches. It was not enough to end the country’s bush-fire crisis — dozens of fires farther south are still out of control.
In a battle of extremes, the historic wildfires made the storms more dangerous. Fire officials warned of “widow makers” — burned-out trees that collapse with precipitation.
The rain also threatened the water supply in many areas as ash and debris washed off into reservoirs. At the Warragamba Dam, whose reservoir provides 80 percent of the water for Sydney, booms and filters have been set up to try to keep the contaminants from reaching treatment plants.

13 January
Australia fires: A visual guide to the bushfire crisis
Record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought have fuelled a series of massive bushfires across Australia.
Although recent cooler conditions and rain have brought some respite, more than 100 fires are still burning in the states of New South Wales and Victoria.
Some 28 people have so far been killed – including four firefighters – and an estimated 10 million hectares (100,000 sq km or 15.6 million acres) of bush, forest and parks across Australia has burned.
In the worst-hit state, New South Wales (NSW), fire has affected more than five million hectares, destroying more than 2,000 houses and forcing thousands to seek shelter elsewhere.
There were 105 fires burning in the bush, mountain forests and national parks across NSW on 13 January, the Rural Fire Service said, with 38 uncontained.
Two large fires on the border between NSW and Victoria have merged into a so-called “mega blaze”.
Victoria, where fires have burned 1.2 million hectares, extended a “state of disaster” for the worst-hit areas from 2 to 11 January, allowing authorities to enforce evacuations and let emergency services take over properties.
South Australia has also suffered
Two people and an estimated 25,000 koalas were killed when flames devastated Kangaroo Island in the state of South Australia last week.
Experts have expressed concerns over the survival of endangered species on the island which include the dunnart – a mouse-like marsupial – and the black glossy cockatoo. Saving Kangaroo Island’s animal casualties
Tens of thousands of farm animals, mainly sheep, were also killed in the fire.

10 January
Bushfires, bots and arson claims: Australia flung in the global disinformation spotlight
(The Conversation) In the first week of 2020, hashtag #ArsonEmergency became the focal point of a new online narrative surrounding the bushfire crisis.
The message: the cause is arson, not climate change.
Police and bushfire services (and some journalists) have contradicted this claim.
We studied about 300 Twitter accounts driving the #ArsonEmergency hashtag to identify inauthentic behaviour. We found many accounts using #ArsonEmergency were behaving “suspiciously”, compared to those using #AustraliaFire and #BushfireAustralia.
The viral false claim that nearly 200 arsonists are behind the Australia fires, explained
Only a handful of fires were deliberately ignited. But that didn’t stop people from spreading misinformation.
A false claim that a big wave of arson is driving Australia’s raging bushfires has gone viral this week on social media, particularly among climate skeptics grasping for a counter-narrative about the wildfire disaster.
Donald Trump Jr. and Sean Hannity were among the most prominent tweeters this week of the allegation that close to 200 people in Australia have been charged with arson for deliberately lighting brushfires. Other people on the right, as well as bots trying to amplify climate skepticism, jumped on board with the hashtag #ArsonEmergency.
In many instances, the people promoting the arson narrative are doing so to refute climate change as a driver of the fires, with some conspiracy theorists going as far as to blame environmentalists for deliberately starting fires.
To be clear: Climate change is definitely a factor in the growing severity of Australia’s fire risks. And there is no arson emergency in Australia; the number of arrests for arson being cited is wrong.
Let’s unpack what’s going on here. The source of the “nearly 200” people being charged with arson claim is a news release from the New South Wales Police Force on January 6, 2020. What the release actually says is that legal action was taken against 183 people since November 8, 2019, for fire-related offenses, including things like improperly discarding cigarettes or not taking enough precautions around machinery, i.e. not arson. Legal action “ranges from cautions through to criminal charges,” according to NSW police, so not everyone is being charged with a crime. And not all of these penalties are for incidents linked to the wildfires.
It turns out that only 24 people are currently facing criminal charges for deliberately igniting fires in New South Wales, and even fewer have actually managed to start large fires. Remember that this is the number of people charged over the course of three months. There have been thousands of bushfires burning across Australia since September, scorching an area larger than West Virginia. As of Thursday morning, there were close to 150 different fires burning across New South Wales. Many of them are burning in remote, sparsely populated areas. So clearly this is not just the work of prolific pyromaniacs.

8 January
Economic impact of Australia’s bushfires set to exceed $4.4bn cost of Black Saturday
Fires will cripple consumer confidence and harm industries such as farming and tourism, Moody’s says
(The Guardian) The Moody’s economist Katrina Ell said the fires would further cripple Australia’s already anaemic consumer confidence, increasing the chances of a rate cut next month, as well as causing damage to the economy through increased air pollution and direct harm to industries such as farming and tourism.
She said the risk of damage to the broader economy, outside areas ravaged by fire, was increased because the bushfire season still had months to run.
… She said the direct effect on local industries came on top of the pain of Australia’s lengthy drought. “Damage to fresh produce will put upward pressure on consumer prices, given that most fresh fruit and vegetables consumed at home are sourced locally,” she said.
She said tourism had also taken a “significant hit” during what is normally peak season. …broader effects included air pollution, which has affected 30% of the population, and would cause “reduced worker productivity, increased health spending, and lower crop yields”, as well as road closures and the cost to insurers.
As of Monday, more than 8,200 claims worth about $644m had been lodged, according to Insurance Council of Australia data.
The ratings agency S&P said the claims were likely to crimp the profitability of insurers and lead to rises in premiums.

7 January
How Long Will Australia Be Livable?
Facing a future of fire, drought, and rising oceans, Australians will have to weigh the choice between getting out early or staying to fight.
(The Atlantic) … bushfires that began in the spring of September 2019, that have burned in every state and territory, that have claimed at least 24 lives, that have destroyed nearly 1,800 homes, and that have turned more than 8.4 million hectares of land into lifeless charcoal. They have led to one of the largest peacetime evacuations in Australia’s history, as fire authorities in two states instructed tens of thousands of holidaymakers and residents to remove themselves from the path of several flaming juggernauts. In an echo of the Gallipoli retreat, thousands had to be rescued from beaches by the Australian navy and air force. In the face of these unprecedented fires, Australians appear to be listening less to the inner voice of the Aussie battler, and instead heeding the pleas and warnings of fire authorities.
Bots and trolls spread false arson claims in Australian fires ‘disinformation campaign’
(The Guardian) Online posts exaggerating the role of arson are being used to undermine the link between bushfires and climate change
Police contradict claims spread online exaggerating arson’s role in Australian bushfires

6 January
Listen to your people Scott Morrison: the bushfires demand a climate policy reboot
Frank Jotzo, the director of the Centre for Climate and Energy Policy at Australian National University, has some constructive advice for Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a column today for the ABC: do not waste an opportunity to recalibrate his government’s approach on climate change.
Morrison should heed Jotzo’s suggestion that he and his cabinet need to “drop the old anti-climate change stance”. As Jotzo writes,
“You’ve been politically locked into a no-action position, but the bushfires give you the reason to change […] You can make it your mission to protect the country from harm, an essential conservative cause.”
Jotzo speaks with authority as one of the country’s foremost experts on climate reduction policies. He has a global reputation.

4 January
‘A shape in the ash’: Bushfires destroy Australian wildlife
Rescuers race to save animals in distress
(Al Jazeera) As another heatwave sweeps across the country, the fires are showing no sign of abating and experts fear there may not be enough habitat or numbers left for some species to recover. While rehabilitation can take months, releasing them back into their natural habitat requires that habitat to exist. Right now it is burning … and …  it is unclear how long it will take to rejuvenate and for release to be possible.
The fires have also caused a drop in bird, rodent and insect populations.
“When that happens, then, of course, that’s going to affect the larger ecosystem, because that’s the building blocks for a whole community,” Lett told Al Jazeera, adding that everything has a role in nature from breaking things down, being eaten by other animals, or spreading seeds.

2 January
Australia fires: Race to evacuate thousands before conditions worsen
(Axios) Australian authorities are racing to evacuate thousands of people stranded in the states of New South Wales and Victoria before high temperatures and strong winds return — with the military helping people escape the deadly wildfires by air and sea.
Australian wildfires may have killed half a billion animals and plants
As apocalyptic wildfires continue to rage across Australia, the loss of life in the region is reaching staggering numbers. (CBS) Ecologists at the University of Sydney now estimate that nearly half a billion animals and plants have been wiped out since the fires began several months ago.
…  Devastating images and videos from the area show kangaroos trying to flee burning forests and charred bodies of koalas lying on the ground.


31 December
Global Apathy Toward the Fires in Australia Is a Scary Portent for the Future
By David Wallace-Wells
(New York) Right now, on the outskirts of a hyper modern first world megapolis, at the end of a year in which the public seemed finally to wake up to the dramatic threat from global warming, a climate disaster of unimaginable horror has been unfolding for almost two full months, and the rest of the world is hardly paying attention.
The New South Wales fires have been burning since September, destroying fifteen million acres (or more than two thousand square miles) and remain almost entirely uncontrolled by the volunteer firefighting forces deployed to stop them; on November 12, greater Sydney declared an unprecedented “catastrophic” fire warning. That was six weeks ago, and the blazes are almost certain to continue burning through the end of next month, the soonest real rain might arrive. They may last longer still, of course, aided in part by record-breaking heat waves that are simultaneously punishing the country (technically an entire continent, Australia as a whole averaged more than 100 Fahrenheit earlier this month) and devastating marine life in the surrounding ocean. “On land, Australia’s rising heat is ‘apocalyptic,” the Straits-Times of Singapore wrote. “In the ocean, it’s even worse.”
Images like these are already disconcertingly familiar, especially from the California wildfires of 2017 and 2018. But the response to what’s transpired in Australia — again, over a period that has stretched into months — is unfamiliar, to me at least, and not in a good way. Those California fires transfixed the world’s attention, but while the ones still burning uncontrolled in Australia have gotten some media attention outside the country, in general they have been treated as a scary, but not apocalyptic, local news story.

The tragedy of two Australias: A lament for New Year’s Eve
By Danielle Celermajer
This is the story of two Australias. The Australia that is saturated with the reality of the climate catastrophe. The Australia for whom it remains abstract. The photos are awful and people losing their homes is tragic, but like every other story in the newsfeed, it is displaced by the next one.
The communities on one or other side of the fire-front know that solidarity is the only salve we have. We need one Australia in solidarity for those whose losses are irredeemable, and those who might be spared the worst.
As these words appear online, I am in my car driving away from my home, my place in the world. I remained there as long as I could, but the danger has now become too great. The animals with whom I live are gone. Some lost forever. The wild animals who live around us will not escape.

30 December
‘Unprecedented National Crisis’: Australians Flee to the Water as Fires Consume Coastal Town on Southern Coast in Victoria
Australian film critic Matt Brady said on Twitter that the crisis in Mallacoota was laying bare another issue: how Australia has changed for the worst in recent decades.
“I feel like 30+ years ago, Aussies with boats from would be flocking to help evacuate Mallacoota of their own volition,” said Brady. “But Australia is a crueller and more selfish place now and our sense of community and solidarity has been killed off so that doesn’t seem to be happening.”

28 December
As a drought-stricken area in Australia struggles, a Chinese company moves to bottle its water
(Quartz) Drought has been a chronic issue in southeastern Australia for years. In regions such as southern Queensland, months can pass without rain. Local communities have to ration water or risk running out.
Yet a company owned by Chinese investors based in Brisbane still got approved last week to run a commercial water-mining operation in the area. It plans to transport the water to a facility where it can bottle and sell it.
Despite complaints by neighboring property owners, the council approved it—even as it prepared to implement extreme water rations in the area. In the nearby town of Stanthorpe, plans are underway to truck in emergency water, to ensure it doesn’t run completely out. Joyful View, meanwhile, intends to pump water out of the ground at Cherrabah and move it in tankers to a bottling plant on the Gold Coast.

27 December
Australian Officials Fear 30% Of Region’s Koalas Have Been Killed In Wildfires
“Up to 30% of the koalas in the region may have been killed because up to 30% of their habitat has been destroyed,” Minister Sussan Ley told a morning radio news program. “We’ll know more when the fires are calmed down and a proper assessment can be made.”
Besides suffering burns, the animals are starving and water is scant. Eucalyptus trees — a source of koalas’ staple food — have been destroyed by fire.

24 December
Australia fires: The thousands of volunteers fighting the flames
(BBC) Since September, close to 3,000 firefighters have been out every day in NSW battling blazes the size of small European countries.
Close to 90% of those people on the ground are unpaid volunteers, says the NSW RFS, the government-funded organisation leading the fight.
This century-old model is common across Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia – Australian states which have traditionally had bushfires each summer. In recent years, fires have also flared up in Tasmania and sub-tropical Queensland.
In NSW, most of the 2,000 or so brigades are found in country towns and rural centres dotted among eucalyptus bushland. Members are almost always locals, stepping in to save their own communities.
Historically, the work has tended to be patchy, which has been a key factor behind the volunteerism. Fires don’t rage all year round, and there have been years when many areas aren’t affected at all.
But this year, the situation has changed. Intense blazes typically seen in later summer have flared in spring, forcing authorities to wage full-blown campaigns earlier than ever before.

21 December
‘Everything is Burning’: Australian Inferno Continues, Choking Off Access to Cities Across Country and “These fires are likely to continue to spread well past Christmas.”
by Eoin Higgins, staff writer
(Common Dreams) The country on Saturday saw delayed flights on the second day of a national state of emergency due to raging brushfires near every major city and choked out smoke conditions.
The fires in Australia’s southeastern state of New South Wales (NSW) were at the “catastrophic” level on Saturday, according to the BBC.

19 December

A bushfire on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin in Sydney, Australia, on Thursday. Credit…David Gray/Getty Images

2 Firefighters Die in Australia Fires and Scott Morrison Ends Vacation
(NYT) Two volunteer firefighters died on Thursday night while battling ferocious blazes in the region surrounding Sydney, prompting Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, to say he would cut short a family vacation to Hawaii that had enraged constituents. The deaths come as more than 100 out-of-control wildfires, stoked by extreme heat and strong winds, continue to rage in New South Wales. The state government has declared a state of emergency, and the smog reaches as far as Melbourne, where it blanketed the city.
Catastrophic fire conditions have also been forecast in South Australia, where temperatures reached nearly 122 degrees on Thursday, and asphalt roads have begun to melt in the record-breaking heat. With Australia literally on fire and melting, the prime minister’s absence drew furious criticism from other ministers and the public, who this year have choked through hazardous pollution levels in Sydney and staged protests and strikes calling for urgent action to combat climate change.

18 December
Sydney is now almost entirely surrounded by wildfires which firefighters have claimed are impossible to put out: NSW is entering a period of grim uncertainty
(The Big Wobble) Sydney, home to nearly six million people is now almost entirely surrounded by wildfires which firefighters have claimed are impossible to put out. A very dangerous heatwave is also moving across the country from west to east. All-time and daily records may be surpassed in parts of South Australia, New South Wales, and Victoria this week and temperatures may potentially soar to above 50 deg C, 122 deg F in some inland areas to the south.

17 December
Come with me to the mega-blaze, Scott Morrison, and see what we’re up against
By Greg Mullins
(Sydney Morning Herald) … firefighters and many others who work on the frontline have been warning that climate change is having a devastating impact. Prolonged drought, tinder-dry bush and extreme heat coupled with longer, overlapping fire seasons has made Australia an even more dangerous place.
In the face of this, the leadership vacuum and misinformation has been astounding.
Outside of Australia, we have become an international pariah. In Madrid the world heard with disbelief our government’s refusal to address the causes of climate change, while watching our bushfire catastrophe unfold. They saw images on their screens of our country burning, of parched land, dried waterways, burnt wildlife and frightened citizens. They must be asking themselves – as I do – what will it take to get our government to wake up to the climate emergency?

16 December
U.N. Climate Talks Collapsed in Madrid. What’s the Way Forward?
The failure this week of the United Nations’ COP25 climate conference, which didn’t produce the rules or commitments many had hoped for, has David Wallace-Wells looking for another model to address coming global catastrophe. …including the so-called European Green Deal and an alliance of cities and states in the U.S. called America’s Pledge. Whatever the path forward, it will require “a complete change of perspective on climate in Washington,” as well as “some shift almost as complete in Beijing.”
(New York) Those in Madrid without much sense of climate urgency might have looked to Australia — by some accounts responsible for “cheating” and “thwarting” progress at the conference last week. This week, the country is poised for a record-setting heat wave, with temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (or 104 Fahrenheit) all across the country, prompting a “code red” warning for vulnerable citizens. The heat wave follows a month of horrifying brushfires there, which have burned through more than 7 million acres. In Sydney, ferry service had to be suspended because the boats couldn’t navigate in the smoke. All across the city, fire alarms inside office buildings went off, the smoke so dense the sensors concluded the buildings themselves had to be smoldering. And millions took in toxic air with each breath. In general, scientists believe that air quality measuring above 200 on the Air Quality Index scale is dangerous to breathe; technically, air stops being “good” at 33. In 2017, the air in Delhi registered at the very top of the scale, 999. Last week, parts of Sydney broke 2,500.
By accidents of geography and colonialism, Australia is unusually positioned as a climate-change case study, the one exception to the cruel rule of global warming and global inequality: that the poorest countries will suffer most in our hot new world. By far the richest of all the countries staring down the most intense, most immediate warming barrages, Australia is an early test case of how the world’s affluent societies will bend, or buckle, or rebuild under the pressure of temperature changes likely to hit the rest of the well-off world later this century. The country was founded on genocidal indifference to the native landscape and those who inhabited it, and its modern ambitions have always been precarious: Australia is today a society of expansive abundance, jerry-rigged onto a very harsh and ecologically unforgiving land.
Down Under things have been getting worse for quite some time. In southern Australia, the “millennium drought” began with low rainfall in 1996 and continued, through a Death Valley–like trough that lasted eight years, beginning in 2001 and ending only when La Niña rainfall finally relieved the area in 2010. Rice and cotton production in the region fell 99 and 84 percent, respectively. In 2011, a single heat wave there produced significant tree dieback and coral bleaching, the death of plant life, crashes in local bird populations and dramatic spikes in the number of certain insects, and transformations of ecosystems both marine and terrestrial. Off the coasts of Australia, fish populations have declined an estimated 32 percent in just ten years. New coral formations on the Great Barrier Reef, one of the country’s great natural treasures,
have declined 89 percent.
How has Australia’s politics responded to this obvious crisis? You might expect — or hope — the impacts would have shaken the country out of complacency. But in fact, the opposite has occurred: The brutal assaults of global warming (and the intuitions of environmental pressures and resource scarcity that come with them) have turned what was once a climate-conscious country into a self-interested agent of global indifference. When Australia enacted a carbon tax, its emissions fell; when, under political pressure, the tax was repealed, they rose again. In 2018, the country’s Parliament declared global warming a “current and existential national security risk.” A few months later, its climate-conscious prime minister was forced to resign, for the shame of attempting to honor the Paris accords. His replacement, Scott Morrison, a climate skeptic, campaigned against climate action, relentlessly attacking his opponent for the cost of his plans, and won a surprise reelection. When the bushfires began last month, he declined to answer questions about the influence of climate change.

12 December
Australia could see hottest day on record next week as Perth heatwave conditions travel east
Scott Morrison acknowledges smoke haze concerns as he stands by climate policies
Scott Morrison says he understands community concerns about smoke haze engulfing cities
But the Prime Minister insists his government won’t be changing its climate policies
An international climate conference has featured criticism of Australia’s emissions targets

10 December
Sydney smoke at its ‘worst ever’ with air pollution in some areas 12 times ‘hazardous’ threshold
Dangerous smoke is choking almost all areas around Greater Sydney
Many believe they have never before experienced such poor air quality in Sydney
The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting the smoke to linger all week
‘Doing nothing is not a solution’: NSW environment minister blames climate crisis for bushfires
Kean’s intervention piles pressure on Scott Morrison to do more on emissions reduction and disaster management after his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull urged him to step up his government’s response to the “national security issue” and former emergency services chiefs pushed for a national summit.
As Sydney suffered through air quality 11 times worse than hazardous levels on Tuesday, Kean told the Smart Energy Summit that weather conditions were “exactly what the scientists have warned us would happen”.

6 December
Leading scientists condemn political inaction on climate change as Australia ‘literally burns’
Climate experts ‘bewildered’ by government ‘burying their heads in the sand’, and say bushfires on Australia’s east coast should be a ‘wake-up call’
Sydney has been blanketed with a thick smoke haze that health officials said had led to a 25% increase in people presenting in emergency departments for asthma and breathing problems.

5 December
Frustrating cities: behind Australia’s urban design fails
Sydney’s pedestrian bottlenecks, Brisbane’s barren streetscapes and Perth’s freeway fiascos: cities across the country are making classic mistakes

25 November
No, koalas aren’t ‘functionally extinct’—yet
As koalas suffer in the Australian bushfires, misinformation has spread about their demise. Here’s what we know.
(National Geographic) “A bird can fly, a kangaroo can hop very fast, but koalas are so slow. They basically just get stuck where they are.”
The plight of the defenseless animals has sparked a flurry of concern—and confusion. Over the weekend, erroneous declarations that the animals have lost most of their habitat and are “functionally extinct” made the rounds in headlines and on social media, illustrating just how quickly misinformation can spread in times of crisis.
Koalas are considered vulnerable to extinction—just a step above endangered—and reports indicate that between 350 and a thousand koalas have been found dead so far in fire-devastated zones of northern New South Wales.
But, experts say, we are not looking at the death of a species—yet. “We’re not going to see koalas go extinct this fast,” says Chris Johnson, professor of wildlife conservation at the University of Tasmania. “Koala populations will continue to decline because of lots of interacting reasons, but we’re not at the point where one event could take them out.”
The scale of the current fires—largely a result of climate change and the slow death of Aboriginal fire management methods—has no precedent, according to Bowman. “They are burning at a particularly high intensity,” he says.
Packed with oil, the [eucalyptus] trees are burning hot and fast, sometimes exploding and sending sparks yards in every direction.

11 November
Australia fires: nation braces for ‘most dangerous bushfire week ever seen
New South Wales faces an unprecedented fire danger on Tuesday amid high temperatures and strong winds
(The Guardian) Fire chiefs in Australia have warned [that] New South Wales – the country’s most populous state – faces an unprecedented “catastrophic” fire day on Tuesday
Sixty fires are currently burning in across the state, 40 of which are running out of control. There are also nearly 50 fires burning in Queensland, and fires in Western Australia and South Australia.
Across NSW, three people have already died, and more than 150 homes have been razed. An extreme and persistent drought has left much of the region tinder-dry. The conditions, combined with temperatures in the high 30s and strong winds, are expected to present about 1,300 volunteer firefighters from across the country with life-threatening fires on Tuesday that will be impossible to stop.
Even as emergency authorities were making their preparations, the federal government’s refusal to discuss the role of climate change in worsening the fire risk attracted condemnation, after the deputy prime minister Michael McCormack on Monday dismissed such concerns as the “ravings of … inner-city lunatics”.

19 September
Australia’s capital city switches to 100% renewable energy
Canberra will be the first major region in the Southern Hemisphere to purchase all its energy from renewable sources.
From 1 January 2020, Canberra will join seven other districts around the world that produces or purchase the equivalent of their total electricity consumption from renewable sources, according to a report released on 18 September by policy think tank the Australia Institute in Canberra.
The report analysed data on more than 500 regions around the world with populations greater than 100,000 people.
The district of Rhein-Hunsrück in Germany became the first area to go 100% renewable, in 2012; two German states, three states in Austria and one region in Spain followed.

18 May
Australia Election Results: Prime Minister Scott Morrison Seizes a Stunning Win
(NYT) Scott Morrison, Australia’s conservative prime minister, scored a surprise victory in federal elections on Saturday, propelled by a populist wave — the “quiet Australians,” he termed it — resembling the force that has upended politics in the United States, Britain and beyond.
The win stunned Australian election analysts — polls had pointed to a loss for Mr. Morrison’s coalition for months. But in the end, the prime minister confounded expectations suggesting that the country was ready for a change in course after six years of tumultuous leadership under the conservative political coalition.
By granting Mr. Morrison his first full term, Australians signaled their reluctance to bet on a new leader, choosing to stay the course with a hardworking rugby lover at a time when the economy has not suffered a recession in nearly 28 years.
Australia’s ruling Coalition claims election victory in major upset
It was billed as the climate change election, and the climate lost.
(The Guardian) Despite enduring its hottest year on record and a series of environmental calamities that have brought the climate emergency into sharp relief, Australia has voted for the centre-right Liberal party and its coalition partner, and against taking forceful action on the climate crisis.
The election was framed as a great climate showdown. The Coalition has held power over a tumultuous six years, during which two prime ministers have been toppled and it has suffered from catastrophic infighting, largely over energy policy, as it has has been unable to agree on taking action on the climate crisis or even agree as to its reality.
The Coalition offered few policy proposals throughout the campaign, save for tax cuts, instead attacking the cost of Labor’s broad suite of policy offerings, which included tax reforms and increased spending on health, education and the environment.

17 May
We all smell the smoke, we all feel the heat. This environmental catastrophe is global
Alexis Wright
(The Guardian) How do you find the words to tell the story of the environmental emergency of our times? No one in this country escapes the realities of this man-made global warming catastrophe that is creating before our eyes unprecedented heatwaves, out-of-control fires, immense slow-moving rain systems, freakish cyclones, floods creating inland seas, warming seas, coral bleaching, and the fast pace of losing necessary ecosystems through the demise of native flora and fauna that cannot keep up with the changing environmental conditions. All in one year?

15 May
Australia’s biodiversity at breaking point – a picture essay
by and
Land clearing, deforestation, emissions, drought and warming oceans are all worsening the attack on Australia’s threatened species
Read more of our coverage of the issues in Our wide brown land series

14 February
Australia’s Burning, Flooding, Disastrous New Normal
We are a land of proudly resilient people. But in an age of climate change, we can’t just hike up our Stubbies and move on.
By Kim Mahood
(NYT op-ed) Although many Australians share deep concerns about climate change, just as many have been apathetic or resistant to the need for action. There are signs that things are changing. In a factoid-saturated, opinion-polluted media environment, the emotion and outrage of hard-bitten outback farmers, a breed more commonly associated with skepticism and understatement, has an authenticity that no amount of scientific evidence or talking heads can project. Not inclined toward rhetoric and panic, Australian farmers are now on the front line of climate change. Once convinced that the time for action has arrived, there is no group better equipped to mobilize and make things happen, and there’s a groundswell of protest at the lack of leadership from government.

12 February
‘We have death and devastation at every turn’: the flood massacre of Queensland cattle
Almost overnight we have transitioned from drought to a flood disaster zone. There are kangaroos dead in trees, birds drowned in drifts of silt and our beloved bovine family perished in huddled piles
by Jacqueline Curley and Kate Hunter
Queensland floods: satellite images before and after reveal devastation
(The Guardian) After what can only be described as an environmental massacre of mammoth proportions throughout the whole of north-west Queensland, the people of this country are heartbroken.
We live on a family cattle station 60km north of Cloncurry, where we have just received 700mm-plus of rain over seven days, with the majority of that falling over four days. This extreme weather event, equivalent to an inland cyclone, has decimated much of our native wildlife, along with our domestic livestock. They were constantly exposed to wind and cold driving rain for far too long. The majority of the country was either covered in flood water or churned into a bog, making their feed inaccessible.
The scale of devastation here and throughout the north-west is impossible to put into words. There are estimates of hundreds of thousands of domestic livestock having been lost so far during this disaster and it is impossible to put into numbers the impact on the region’s native wildlife. In some of our paddocks we are facing a 95% loss and on average we are estimating approximately 50% losses over all of our family’s flood-affected properties, encompassing approximately 120,000 acres.

3 February
3 February
Australia’s banks offer mea culpa ahead of royal commission report
Anna Bligh admits industry has failed customers as Labor goads Morrison government
Australia’s big banks have launched a public mea culpa ahead of the release of the long-anticipated, likely scarifying, findings of the banking royal commission, acknowledging they have failed their customers, and arguing the Hayne report is a chance to reset the sector.
There is widespread anticipation the report could flag legal actions as a consequence of the litany of horrors unveiled during the royal commission process, and could also recommend reform of regulation across the financial services sector, as well as action on controversial remuneration and reward structures inside institutions.

2 February
Scott Morrison and his inner circle fight for their political lives
The Prime Minister has a mountain to climb just three months out from an election where voters are widely expected to install Bill Shorten as Australia’s seventh prime minister in just eight years.
(Sydney Morning Herald) The Coalition’s precarious grip on the hung Parliament means it cannot afford to lose a single seat in May and must actually snatch seats from Labor to survive due to some unfavourable boundary changes. With national opinion polls consistently pointing to a loss of up to 20 seats, Morrison’s time in The Lodge could be one of the shortest in modern political history.

1 February
Australia’s extreme heat is sign of things to come, scientists warn
Hottest month ever shows temperatures rising faster than predicted, say climate experts
(The Guardian) Australia sweltered through the hottest month in its history in January, spurring mass deaths of fish, fire warnings and concerns among climate scientists that extreme heat is hitting faster and harder than anticipated.
For the first time since records began, the country’s mean temperature in January exceeded 30C (86F), according to the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), which said daily extremes – in some places just short of 50C – were unprecedented.
“There’s been so many records it’s really hard to count,” said Andrew Watkins, a senior climatologist at BoM, after January registered Australia’s warmest month for mean, maximum and minimum temperatures.
This followed the country’s warmest December on record, with heatwaves in every Australian state and territory. With colour-coded heat maps of the country resembling blazing red furnaces for much of the month, the authorities have recently issued a special report on the extraordinary heat.

31 January
Behrouz Boochani: detained asylum seeker wins Australia’s richest literary prize
Guardian writer on Manus Island wins $125,000 after sweeping non-fiction prize and Victorian prize for literature at Victorian premier’s literary awards 2019
Behrouz Boochani, whose debut book won both the $25,000 non-fiction prize at the Victorian premier’s literary awards and the $100,000 Victorian prize for literature on Thursday night, is not allowed into Australia.
The Kurdish Iranian writer is an asylum seeker who has been kept in purgatory on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea for almost six years, first behind the wire of the Australian offshore detention centre, and then in alternative accommodation on the island.
Now his book No Friend But the Mountains – composed one text message at a time from within the detention centre – has been recognised by a government from the same country that denied him access and locked him up.

The Alarming Allure of Australia’s Brumbies
The environment is being sacrificed for a national myth.
By A. Odysseus Patrick, senior correspondent at the Australian Financial Review.
(NYT) Since this country’s founding in the early 20th century, the packs of untamed horses that roam freely through our beautiful and hostile alpine landscape have captured the public’s imagination. The savage grace and freedom of the horses — known here as brumbies — have made them into a popular symbol of the national spirit.
Today, environmentalists want the brumbies shot.
Not since cattle roamed the mountain parks (before a ban in the 1950s) have animals done such damage to the alpine regions that Australians proudly call the “high country.”
A 2014 survey estimated there were more than 9,500 wild horses in the Australian Alps. Some of the horses descend from animals that belonged to settlers in the early 1800s.
The brumbies eat fragile alpine moss. Their hooves trample the banks of creeks, killing vegetation that stops silt from building up. They destroy peat that takes thousands of years to develop. Campers report the fear of being trampled by herds in the middle of the night.

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