Opinion | Susan Knopf: Australia is burning down
For the Record
Editor’s note: This column has been updated with the latest estimates on the number of animals killed.
He held up the chunk of coal and said, “Don’t be afraid!” That was Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in February 2017, when he was federal treasurer. He laughed about his stunt, poking fun at climate change activists. Just a few days ago, he told his countrymen, “There’s no better place to raise kids,” as Australia burns. Who’s afraid now?
Morrison toured scorched New South Wales towns. The Guardian headline read, “Death of a salesman?” Like President Donald Trump, Morrison refused to heed scientists’ warnings. They both peddle the idea, “We can just go on like we’ve been doing. It’ll be fine.” We’re not fine.
BBC reported earlier this week that more than 15.6 million acres burned in Australia. That’s more than seven times what burned in California in all of 2018, “the deadliest, most destructive wildfire season” in the state’s history according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
In Australia, the air is thick with smoke ash. In Sydney, it’s 11 times the “hazardous” level. People are fleeing to the beaches to avoid being burned to death. An estimated 1 billion animals have died across New South Wales, University of Sydney Professor Chris Dickman estimated. “The true mortality is likely to be substantially higher,” the university stated.
CNN reported Monday that Morrison unveiled a $1.39 billion fund to help rebuild communities hit by the fires. Wouldn’t it be cheaper if we addressed global climate change and reduced our collective carbon footprint? I’m beginning to think the biggest advocates of global climate legislation are going to the insurance companies. The so-called conservative climate deniers are going to find themselves without dance partners pretty fast.
When Trump decided to retreat from the 2015 Paris Climate Accords, U.S. industry said, “no!” The Los Angeles Times reported, “McDonald’s, Walmart and Levi Strauss & Co. are rallying behind climate action, announcing plans to expand their use of renewable energy and establish science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gases to help the nation reach its goals under the Paris pact.”
Australia is suffering the same political schizophrenia we have here in the U.S. Former New South Wales Fire and Rescue Commissioner Greg Mullins told CNN, “The driving force behind this is climate change.” He added, “In our decades of service, we’ve seen Australia become drier, hotter and extreme weather conditions far more severe.”
While in Madrid, United Nations representatives hammered out details to meet the Paris Climate Accord deadlines. Australia tried to recycle old carbon credits, already used in the past century, looking for loopholes to avoid compliance. Your country is burning! Don’t you get it? I cry from my country, one of the worst carbon dioxide polluters, that is leaving the deal.
“More country has been burned, more homes lost, three times more homes lost than our worst previous fire season in history, and the fires are still burning,” Mullins told CNN. The fires have been burning two months. The fires burned in every single Australian state. Sadly, some arson is to blame, but Mullins and others believe the historic damage is due to years of prolonged drought.
For the record, we are the No. 2 leading CO2 emitter in the world. According to World Population Review:
- European Union
- South Korea
- Saudi Arabia
Australia is ranked 17th. When you look at Australia’s CO2 emissions per capita, they are ranked 11th, and the U.S. 12th. Experts say that when you calculate the CO2 value of Australia’s exported coal, its ranking is much higher, according to Australia’s ABC News Fact Check. What can we do?
Charity Navigator recommends these charities focused on Australian disaster relief:
According to Charity Navigator, each of these charities spends more than 90% of funds collected directly on programs.
Bottom line: We all share one planet. Everything you do to shrink your carbon footprint here affects us and Australia. Vote for climate change leaders not deniers. Australia would be closer to meeting carbon reduction goals if they had not elected Morrison. Everyone thought 2019 would be the year Australia voted for climate, but no. Even after all the anguish and loss, Reuters reports Australian politicians still refuse to connect the fires to climate. We can learn from Australia’s mistakes and elect climate change leaders before our state becomes the next inferno.
Susan Knopf’s column “For The Record” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf has worn many hats in her career, including working as an award-winning journalist and certified ski instructor. She moved to Silverthorne in 2013 after vacationing in Summit County since the 1970s. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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