Global Apathy Toward the Fires in Australia

Global Apathy Toward the Fires in Australia Is a Scary Portent for the Future

By David Wallace-Wells

Wildfires devastated southeastern Australia in the final months of 2019 and in January 2020. See photos of those wildfires from space as NASA tracks them with satellites. (Image: © NASA EOSDIS)

Right now, on the outskirts of a hyper modern first world megapolis, at the end of a year in which the public seemed finally to wake up to the dramatic threat from global warming, a climate disaster of unimaginable horror has been unfolding for almost two full months, and the rest of the world is hardly paying attention.

Already, smoke has enveloped the city of Sydney in air at least ten times as thick with smoke as is considered safe to breathe, setting off indoor fire alarms and suspending the city’s ferry service, since the boats couldn’t navigate the smog. The city of Melbourne, more than 500 miles away, has been choked by smoke, as well, and the glaciers all the way in New Zealand have changed color because of the fires, too. An early report that koalas were made “functionally extinct” turned out to have been erroneous, but a more recent report suggests that, due to the bushfires, 480 million animals have died. And because plants contain carbon which is released when burned, when the New South Wales fires finally do burn out, they almost certainly will have doubled Australia’s national carbon emissions for the year — or more.

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