Traditionally, as we draw the year to a close, we celebrate – with colleagues, family and friends. Physically and mentally, we wind down, welcoming the holiday season as a time to rest, reflect and rejuvenate for the year ahead.
At the beginning of this month, we not only entered a new year, we entered a new decade. But this time, nothing felt right. Nothing was the same.
Australia is no stranger to bushfires, but the images that tore across our screens and filled our news feeds proved undeniably that we face an emergency of a scale and intensity we have never seen before.
Over the years, we have spoken of towns or regions burning, but this holiday season, at just the beginning of summer, we saw a nation on fire.
We also saw a nation respond. Voluntarily, financially, compassionately.
Heartbreakingly, 27 lives have been lost, half a billion animals have perished, more than 7 million hectares have been scorched and over 3,000 homes have been destroyed.
The fires have been felt in varying degrees by the majority of Australians. For those on the front line, it’s been life-threatening, traumatising and utterly exhausting. For others, waking to cities blanketed in smoke and skies that by day, glowed sunset hues, there was an overwhelming sense of helplessness.
Words like ‘unprecedented’ and ‘apocalyptic’ were thrown around as we learned of thousands stranded on a beach and smoke clouds creating their own tornadic weather systems. Never before has our global climate emergency felt more real.
Australia’s deadly fires have been fuelled by a combination of extreme heat, prolonged drought and strong winds. The country, in a region feeling the greatest impacts of climate change, is in the grips 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.
With 2019 the hottest and driest year on record, we know climate change is both lengthening and intensifying the aggression of Australia’s bushfire season. In a step change, we are now actively talking about longer term adaptation and resilience. This is a welcome recognition of the emergency, but if we don’t tackle the underlying cause – our carbon emissions – there will be worse to come.
As Sir David Attenborough reminds us, we are in the midst of a climate emergency threatening our very species. What this emergency requires is an unprecedented response.
We must immediately join other countries in truly recognising this and implementing clear strategies to proactively reduce our carbon emissions over time. In doing so, we can become a global leader in new, clean technologies that drive jobs and future opportunities.
Over recent months, Australians of all ages have banded together, with support from overseas, in a spirit of generosity and strength that will go down in history – for all the right reasons.
Let’s make sure our long-term response does too.