Australia’s Bushfire Crisis and the Urgent Need for Climate Action

Scorched Earth: How Australia's Bushfire Crisis is Fueling the Urgent Call for Climate Action

On New Year's Eve, a residence was engulfed in flames in Lake Conjola, New South Wales. IMAGE CREDIT: Matthew Abbott for The New York Times


The severe bushfires in Australia between September 2019 and March 2020 destroyed thousands of structures and houses. According to reports, the fires spread to at least 18 million hectares of land. Billions of wild animals, including tree bears and kangaroos, were killed alive by the fires in this massive disaster. According to the statistics, from 1910 to 1950, the temperature in Australia fluctuated between 1°C on average (Figure 1). By 1950, temperatures had increased significantly due to high carbon emissions and excessive air pollution indexes caused by industrialization (Figure 1). Experts suggest the fire was highly related to unusual environmental factors such as strong winds and drought. The root cause of these unique phenomena was humanity’s lack of attention to environmental pollution problems. The bushfires sounded the alarm that environmental issues must be faced squarely and immediately while highlighting the urgency of climate action.

As one of the world’s largest per capita emitters, Australia has made early public commitments to end the “climate wars” and plans to become a “renewable energy superpower.” In practice, however, Australia has failed to commit to controlling chemical and carbon emissions. The Australian government does not strictly control emissions from the fossil fuel industry, including coal and natural gas. In addition, the government is not actively promoting renewable energy programs or banning new fossil fuel projects. With this lax attitude, air pollution and global warming will likely worsen. Suppose the government does not take urgent action to control and reduce heat and carbon emissions. In that case, this will have severe consequences for humans, animals, and the entire ecosystem that cannot be ignored.

Figure 1. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, data indicates that Australia has experienced a warming trend of slightly over one degree Celsius since 1910, with the majority of the increase happening since 1950. IMAGE CREDIT: 


Environmental Relevance

In New South Wales, 15 lives were lost in the blaze. The fire consumed at least 1,300 other homes. The biggest victims of the fires were the animals that lived in the forest and the plants that grew in the wild. The fires swept through the woods, engulfing not only the plants that could not walk but also the wild animals that could move freely and could not escape. According to World Wide Fund (WWF) Australia, over 1 billion wild animals are estimated to die, and over 3 million wild animals are affected by fires and air pollution. Among the animals involved were endangered species such as koalas and kangaroos (Figure 2). On the other hand, the land burned by the fires became infertile, significantly affecting animal and plant recovery. It could have caused severe ecological imbalances, such as the permanent extinction of certain animals and plants.

Figure 2. A koala bear survived the fire. IMAGE CREDIT:


The bushfires also caused severe smoke and air pollution. The air pollution particle has reached PM2.5, which can severely harm human health, according to The New York Times. According to the report, at least 19 firefighters and volunteers working on the front lines have died from inhaling excessive amounts of harmful particles. One interviewee, Chris Liu (a PhD candidate at UNSW), said he was shocked by the fire and the resulting consequences. He agrees that there is a strong correlation between climate change and this bushfire. The bushfires that caught people off guard seemed like a warning to humanity that the climate and ecology were out of whack.



The bushfires have caused devastating damage to the plants and animals that inhabit the wild and have had an untold impact on the human economy. The fires caused at least billions of dollars in economic damage. The COVID-19-related closures and travel bans have already caused severe financial losses to businesses, and the bushfires have added to an already depressed economy. Many companies, significantly those dependent on healthy ecosystems in the fishing, agriculture, and tourism industries, have been severely impacted. On the other hand, the bushfires emitted a lot of smoke and haze, causing numerous people sickness and even death due to inhaling the exhaust fumes. Insurance claims for bushfire damage amounted to A$1.9 billion according to the Insurance Commission.

Besides, according to the UN Human Rights Commission, the Australian government has been strongly accused of failing to adequately protect indigenous Torres Strait Islanders, including from the adverse effects associated with climate change. The bushfires have severely affected indigenous peoples’ living conditions and income sources. These include the destruction of their living environment by the fires, such as the destruction of their homes and increased air pollution indices, and the potential for food shortages due to the fires killing the plants and animals they depend on for survival.


The bushfire triggered a profound reflection on humanity. The bushfire could have been an avoidable disaster. Improving and mitigating pollution and environmental harm is a matter of urgency. The government needs to adopt and implement renewable energy developments and programs immediately. There should also be stricter audits of all businesses that rely on non-renewable energy sources for their production activities, including controls more stringent on their carbon emissions and more authoritative legal action against those that violate the law.

On the other hand, the enforcement agencies could consider the cultural burning. This local indigenous artistic practice is commonly used to manage fires and nourish the land. The government could ask fellow indigenous people for information on this, which would help aid in bush restoration after a fire and create a job for the indigenous people. The government can also hire experts to study the geology of the unfertilized land burned by bushfires and conduct low-intensity burns depending on the specific geology. This primitive and environmentally friendly method will allow the vegetation to be better nourished and improve the wildlife environment while reducing the risk and severity of bushfires. In addition to urging governments to take more active action to mitigate climate change, people should also take the initiative to incorporate environmental awareness into their daily lives, such as separating garbage and reducing the use of plastic products.

Do you think the government should take more decisive steps toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

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