Maybe people living in fire-ravaged areas of California can comprehend the horrors besetting Australia, but to me it is nothing but a world out of control—a world where acres burn in seconds and houses vanish just as quickly, and where people are driven to the ocean for mere survival and perish regardless.
The size of the fire, the acreage consumed, comparisons to other land areas that we know—all of that contributes to our understanding, but it can’t begin to assess the human cost. And chalking this up to “another fire season” does not begin to describe the current situation. No one is safe.
In southeastern Australia, for instance, the mining town of Mogo had never burned, not within anyone’s memory. Natural springs bubbled just beneath the surface and kept it green. Last week strong winds pushed a firestorm through the drought-stricken community, razing half of the main street.
Beyond the human misery and property losses, some experts estimate that half a billion animals have died, and many species may have been wiped out forever. The same is almost certainly true for elements of the continent's plant life. A nation comprises many different facets beyond people and structures, and eliminating so much of it will have devastating effects for generations to come.
Australians are angry, and most of their vitriol has been aimed at their climate change-denying prime minister, Scott Morrison. He won his position by some deft political chicanery, and while his opponents promised a re-examination of incredibly lax environmental policies, Morrison promised to build the biggest coal mine in the world. (No, I didn't make that up.) https://www.economist.com/asia/2019/06/29/adanis-giant-australian-coal-mine-gets-the-go-ahead.)
His more recent activity has alienated most of the country—a holiday vacation in Hawaii, a reluctance to compensate the thousands of volunteer firemen who are doing the bulk of the work, a delay in calling up the military to fight the fires because “the states have always handled it themselves.”
“There has been a lot of blame being thrown around,” he said. “Blame: It doesn’t help anybody at this time, and over-analysis of these things is not a productive exercise.”
Over-analysis? Quite the contrary, sir. Any analysis of a crisis like this—over, under, sideways, or down—can lead to something positive, even if it’s just an admission that Australia lags behind the rest of the industrial world in environmental protections, and that it is meeting its benchmarks only because you have set them abysmally low.
As a warning to the rest of the world, and maybe as a precursor of what awaits us all, Australia cannot be ignored. The images we are seeing boggle the mind. As a stop-gap measure we can help by contributing to various charities, but in the long run the only answer is making sure that fools like Morrison, Trump, Scott Pruitt, Mike Pence, and others of their ilk are never given stewardship of even an acre of land, let alone a continent or a planet.