This story is adapted from a BBC report dated 9 November 2019.
THE PRESENT. In early November 2019, concurrent wildfires were raging in eastern Australia and California. This is unprecedented because its Spring in Australia and Fall in California – the wrong seasons for wildfires, let along wildfires that are this intense.
I was in Australia in August 2019 and reported on a massive drought that stretched from Sydney west into the state of South Australia. We saw no blade of green grass for two whole days of four-wheeling in the northern Flinders Ranges. We saw dozens of dead kangaroos by the roadside. And we saw pitiful dry holes in the sandy bottom of a creek bed – scratched out by desperate kangaroos looking for water. It brought tears to my eyes.
At least six people were dead and four missing in “unprecedented” bushfires in Australia in the past month. There were 1,300 firefighters tackling about 100 blazes.
Thousands of people spent the night in evacuation centers while officials assessed whether it was safe for them to return home. Meanwhile fire officials confirmed that more than 500 homes had been destroyed.
One blaze burned though 2,000 hectares of bush which contained a koala sanctuary. Hundreds of the animals were feared to have died.
THE FUTURE. Its Spring in Australia and Fall in California. It’s not summer wildfire season in either place. This appears to be the new normal – deadly wildfires all year round.
Hard not to blame global warming – especially when we look at the data collected from the northern Rockies a few years back. In a 2006 peer-reviewed publication, it was shown that a recent warming — of less than 0.9°C — caused the wildfires in western USA observed in spring and summer during recent decades. The explanation was that higher temperatures in spring and summer cause earlier snowmelt, longer summers, drier forests in summer, etc.
SOUTH AUSTRALIAN CLIMATE CHANGING.
My home state of South Australia is the driest state in the driest country of the world. Fires in the state prompted emergency warnings on Wednesday November 20 as temperatures neared 45C (113F) in parts of the state, exacerbated by winds of up to 90 km/h (55 mph).
Officials switched off electricity to about 10,000 homes and businesses to reduce the risk of new fires. Such blazes are most commonly sparked by winds bringing down power lines.
South Australia has endured its driest first nine months of any year on record, said Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology. No significant rainfall is forecast for the coming months.
AUSTRALIAN CLIMATE CHANGING.
Australia’s fires last longer and are more intense due to climate change, according to scientists.
Officials have confirmed that 2018 and 2017 were Australia’s third and fourth-hottest years on record respectively.
Even if global temperatures are contained to a 2C rise above pre-industrial levels – a limit set out in the landmark Paris accord, agreed by 188 nations in 2015 – scientists believe the country is facing and may continue to face a dangerous new normal.
In 2018, a UN report said Australia was falling short in efforts to cut its carbon dioxide emissions (CO2 is the dominant greenhouse gas). The country mines and burns and exports a lot of coal (coal is the largest earner of all exports).
Australia uses mostly coal-burning (70%) to generate electricity, with much of the remainder being natural gas-burning. Australia has one of the highest per capita emissions of carbon dioxide in the world, with its 0.3% of the world’s population releasing 1.1% of the world’s greenhouse gases.
GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGING.
All five of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last five years, according to global temperature data released in February 2019 by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Last year’s average global surface temperature was 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit above a baseline period between 1951 and 1980, according to NASA.
CALIFORNIA CLIMATE CHANGING.
The last five years have been among the hottest in 124 years of record keeping.
“That’s definitely an indication that the world is warming, and things are starting to change,” said the manager of the California Department of Water Resources’ state climate program.
Out of the 1,483 months since records began in 1895, July 2018 was the hottest of all, with an average statewide temperature of 79.7 degrees, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.
And notorious hot-spot Death Valley led the way, with an average July temperature of 108.1 degrees. This is an all-time high temperature record for any weather station in the world, NOAA said.
Blame global warming for the concurrent wildfires in Australia and California. Then blame the growing greenhouse emissions into the upper atmosphere. Then blame the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), agricultural practices, and cutting down forests.
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