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Are the Australian Bushfires caused by Climate Change?

Are the Australian Bushfires caused by Climate Change?
January 7, 2020 Mike Watson

Background

Successive Australian governments have been accused of dismissing climate change whilst their election campaigns have been funded by the coal industry. The current prime minister,  Scott John Morrison, has infuriated Australians through his poor response to the Australian bushfire crisis. We consider whether the bushfires are the result of climate change and the extent to which the Australian government is committed to combating climate change.

are the australian bushfires caused by climate change

Figure 1: Australian bushfire

Australian Bushfires 2019/2020

The extent of the bushfires this season is vast. 6.3 million hectares has been burnt, 24 people have been killed and over 1,300 homes have been destroyed since September. In 2009 bush fires caused  173 deaths with 2029 homes destroyed. In 1967 Tasmania saw 62 deaths and 1293 homes destroyed.

Are the Australian Bushfires caused by Climate Change?

There is no evidence that these particular fires are directly attributable to climate change. Nevertheless there is clear evidence that average temperatures in Australia have risen over the last century with the country’s all time temperature record being broken twice in December 2019. The average maximum reached 41.9 degrees Celsius. 

A particular climate event, known as a positive Indian Ocean Dipole, is causing the Australian heatwave. The dipole means the west of the Indian Ocean is warmer than usual and the east is cooler. 

It is likely, but not certain, that man made climate change is making Australian bushfires more frequent and more severe.

Is Australia causing Climate Change?

Australia is the world’s seventh biggest greenhouse gas emitter and its emissions are growing. Furthermore global emissions continue to rise due to increased burning of coal in Asia. A lot of this coal is mined in Australia which is the largest net exporter of coal in the world (389 Megatonnes in 2016).

coal blamed for Australian inferno

Figure 2: Mount Isa Coal Mine, Queensland, Australia

However one looks at it Australia is a major contributor to man-made climate change and this isn’t set to change anytime soon.

Conclusions

The general consensus is that the Australian bushfires have been caused, in part at least, by climate change. The government has appeared to be unprepared, uncaring as well as dismissive of climate change. Will Australian voters care once these bushfires are forgotten? 

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References

New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/04/world/australia/fires-scott-morrison.html
BBC News: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-50951043

Image accreditation:

https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/74328698-9e97-4782-b2d6-afaa55e2461b
https://www.flickr.com/photos/82134796@N03/11616572044

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