January 4, 2020

Australia is burning - but why are the bushfires so bad

Sarah Newey, writing for The Telegraph:

Australia’s deadly fires have been fuelled by a combination of extreme heat, prolonged drought and strong winds.

The country is in the grip of a heatwave, with record-breaking temperatures over the last three months. In mid-December the nation saw the hottest day in history - the average temperature was 41.9 degrees Celsius.

Australia has a wildfire season in much the same way the western US does, but climate change is making it worse this time.

experts say that the changing climate is key to understanding the ferocity of this years blazes - hotter, drier conditions are making the country’s fire season longer and much more dangerous.

And Australia’s climate is definitely changing. According to the country’s Bureau of Meteorology, temperatures have already risen by more than one degrees Celsius since 1920 - with much of the increase taking place since 1950.

The Telegraph notes Australia has a poor record in tackling climate change. Australia is the world’s largest coal producer and the coal lobby has huge sway over government officials. That sounds familiar.

In 2007, Bushfire CRC and The Australian Bureau of Meteorology published a warning for the future, noting the likelihood of increased and more extreme brushfires:

The number of ‘very high’ fire danger days generally increases 2-13% by 2020 for the low scenarios and 10-30% for the high scenarios. By 2050, the range is much broader, generally 5-23% for the low scenarios and 20-100% for the high scenarios.

The number of ‘extreme’ fire danger days generally increases 5-25% by 2020 for the low scenarios and 15-65% for the high scenarios. By 2050, the increases are generally 10-50% for the low scenarios and 100-300% for the high scenarios.

And here we are.