The Australian Megafire: A Catastrophe

The catastrophic Australian Megafire is the result of the planet’s recent increase in the rate of climate change, showing another example of the dangers of global warming.

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For the past couple of months, Australia has been experiencing multiple wildfires due to its current arid environment. The intensity of these fires has increased dramatically, and they have eventually combined into one large fire encompassing a large area of Australia. Now dubbed the Australian Megafire, this inferno has been ravaging the southeastern part of Australia (the hottest, driest region of the continent). It has been declared as an urgent emergency by the firefighters of Australia because the fire has burned millions of acres and destroyed the homes of humans and animals alike. There were numerous factors leading up to the disaster, including global warming and the continent’s fire-prone climate. The Australian Megafire provides a clear message concerning the environmental effects of global warming and warns us that we need to pay more attention to the environment changing around us.

Australia is used to having bushfires due to its unique location in the Southern Hemisphere. According to Geoscience Australia, a government-founded website containing geoscientific research, bushfires are “slower-moving [fires] ... [and] have a higher heat output.” This means that though we have more time to deal with them, bushfires are very difficult to extinguish due to their intensity (“they can smolder for days”). This type of fire is caused by a multitude of factors, including human interference (gas, campfires, cigarettes, etc.) and the environment (temperature, wind speed, lightning, etc.).

A primary reason for these natural disasters is climate change. While this already-jarring calamity can’t directly cause such a colossal blaze, the two bushfires were initially able to spread due to the planet’s recent high temperatures. This allowed them to combine into the megafire that the country has since found so difficult to extinguish. Another critical reason can be attributed to an environmental phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD). The IOD is created by stark differences in ocean temperatures and humidity levels (the east tends to be much more arid than the west). Sadly, Australia’s location in the east creates a dry environment that allows bushfires to thrive. To provide further proof, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology observed an increase in the IOD’s intensity around the same time the bushfires began.

Though the bushfires are rapidly searing through forests and decimating hundreds of millions of animal lives, the damage from heat is just one of the many serious concerns incited by the flames. The unfathomable amounts of smoke released into the air by burning organic substances must also be taken into account. Smoke generated by burning wood, or wood smoke, consists of a range of gases and fine particles collectively called particle pollution, or PM. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, wood smoke has numerous toxic air pollutants, including “benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.” The environmental impacts of particle pollution include greater acidity in nearby water sources, poisoned food sources, ecosystem disruption, and exhaustion of soil nutrients. The recent fires will also contribute toward global warming as significant amounts of carbon and other damaging pollutants are released into the atmosphere. Australia additionally contains as many as 150 million hectares of trees, many of which have been reduced to ashes; this in turn highly reduces our natural ability to combat climate change, giving birth to an apocalyptic cycle of global warming/drought/fires. As a result, there is an increasing concern over the fires because the resulting increase of global temperatures would negatively impact both biodiversity and humans worldwide.

It is also important to consider just how much the Australian megafire has destroyed: over one million acres so far and counting. Approximately “1.25 billion animals may have been killed directly or indirectly from fires that have burned 8.4 million hectares across Australia (equivalent to all of Austria),” according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. This shows the critical effect that climate change and environmental indifference can have on the world. The fact that such a massive number of animals, including several endangered species, were harmed by these fires reveals why it is crucial to take action toward a more eco-friendly world. This includes changing small habits at the individual level. Be aware of the environment around you. Don’t throw flammable substances such as cigarettes near forests. Maintain a cleaner lifestyle for the environment. Many refuse to take such steps, believing that their actions will not have enduring consequences; however, the sheer destruction we have witnessed in Australia and elsewhere says otherwise.