Is the main cause of Australia’s wildfires climate change or inadequate disposal? Why, even in Australia, where the ecotourism industry is so important, people still can’t protect their natural resources? Why is it difficult to translate understanding of climate issues into effective action? The Australian wildfires fully reflect the complexity of climate issues, especially human society. As the science communicators Sarah Davies and Maja Horst put it in their book: “When the actors of society communicate with science, they talk about the world, their place, and the place of others.” ”
Photo credit: Queensland Fire and Emergency Services
On January 5, Beijing saw its first snowfall of 2020. The snow was heavy, and even in warmer urban areas, the snow in the green belt remained for a week. But last winter, Beijing set a new record with 145 consecutive days without precipitation.
Meanwhile, in Canberra, another capital in the southern hemisphere, smoke from wildfires has turned the daysky sky yellow. The Australian National University (ANU) has decided to close three campuses in Canberra and New South Wales for six days because of the high level of air pollution hazards in the area.
During the school’s closure, Calo, a master’s student in science communication, went to Sydney. “The (Canberra) city is highly alert, but there is no immediate threat of wildfires,” he said. In that environment it is more sad than panic, because there is not much that residents can do except donate. Despite the poor air quality, it’s safe to wear a mask and hide in a room at least; “
It is inconceivable that this is perhaps the most direct feeling of climate change for most people. We can’t imagine what happened to a neighbouring town, let alone the suffering across the ocean, or the meaning of such an abstract and huge number of carbon emissions. There is now a consensus in the academic community that climate change will bring more extreme weather, not only heat waves and droughts, but also extreme cold and flooding, and that such changes will change the geopolitics of the world and hit areas that are already vulnerable even harder.
According to Baidu, China’s online focus on Australian wildfires peaked on January 7th, when they were burning for four months. Even in Australia, it took a long time to realize that this was indeed an unprecedented mountain fire.
Australia had adapted to co-existence with the fire. The climate is dry most of the time, and lightning and man-made factors are prone to fires. And every fire is a reshuffle of the ecosystem. Eucalyptus trees are strongly resistant to drought and fire, and can grow new shoots quickly after a disaster, making them an advantageous species here. Over the course of 30 million years of evolution, today more than 800 species of the genus occupy almost every corner of the country except the desert. Even some birds have mastered the ability to control fire. A paper published in December 2017 confirmed that birds of prey such as black birds pick up burning branches and throw them down in areas where there is no fire, allowing them to drive insects and small animals out, and they take advantage of them to get a lot of fun. Australia’s indigenous people call them “fire eagles.”
Some forestry managers in high-risk areas are also increasingly embracing the idea that wildfires are inevitable and can only manage to control their size. Controlled burning, also known as planned burn, is carried out in many areas, or in the case of wet, cool, wind-lower weather, and systematically burning plants in some areas to avoid fuel build-up and large-scale fires. Florida burns an average of 2.1 million acres a year, and Australia has similar measures. “Every spring there’s a planned burn and there’s smoke in the city, but everyone gets used to it,” says Tara, who runs an eco-tourism company in Canberra. “
Calo also mentions a similar experience, which was planned to burn down near the ANU in May 2019. The picture is provided by Calo.
But planning to burn down didn’t always go according to plan. Some oppose the planned burning, arguing that it does not reduce the harm caused by wildfires, but also destroys biodiversity, mishandling and the risk of fire. The exact time and place at which the plan is planned to burn out also needs to be discussed. On the other hand, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reports that as the bushfire season is prolonging, the time window left for planned burn-out is getting shorter and shorter, with only 30 per cent of planned burn-outs completed in Victoria when the 2018 wildfire season approaches.
In this large-scale wildfire, the implementation and practical effect of the planned burning will need to wait for a more detailed investigation. Extreme heat and drought may be more immediate. Australia experienced an extremely dry spring at the end of 2019, followed by a heat wave, which was a significant factor in the positive eruption of the Indian Ocean Dipole Index (IOD), the highest since 1997. This indicator describes the temperature difference between the sea in the western Indian Ocean and the eastern sea surface, which reached 2 degrees Celsius in October 2019, which in turn affected rainfall patterns.
In October 2019, an positive outbreak of the Indian Ocean dipole index led to reduced rainfall in Australia and increased rainfall in eastern Africa.
The Australian government’s response to the wildfires has also been criticised. Even though firefighters were overworked, the fire continued to spread and eventually spiralled out of control.
Rich and fragile.
Due to its unique geographical location, Australia has a wealth of unique natural resources, ecotourism has become an important local industry. Tara started eco-tourism in mid-2019 and The Forest Park in Canberra’s south is one of the main tourist routes. After entering the wildfire season, for safety reasons, she suspended her route to the forest and made only a visit to the city. But wildfires still indirectly affect the city, “during the double-day period would have prepared a lot of activities, but because of the smoke pollution causes all have been cancelled,” she said.
By January 10, Australia had reached 10 million acres, more than Portugal,” according to the Nature report, and about 1 billion mammals, birds and reptiles died in the fire. Animals that survive will also struggle to find food and shelter in the short term, and their survival continues to be threatened.
To help wildlife get through, Australia has airdropped food such as carrots and sweet potatoes in the affected areas. Photo credit: Matt Kean MP/Facebook
The more resource-rich regions, the more vulnerable they are to climate change. According to australia’s national tourism website, more than 80% of the local mammals, reptiles and frogs are unique to Australia. In 2017, Anthony Waldron et al. published a report in Nature that counted the world’s biodiversity decline index based on changes in the rating of birds and mammals on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species (IUCN). BDS), noting: “60% of the world’s biodiversity decline occurs in seven countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, China, India, Australia and the United States (mainly Hawaii). “
Dr. Huang Mengtian, an assistant researcher at the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences who studies the effects of extreme weather events on terrestrial ecosystems and plant feedback, describes an important concept in this area: “For example, when there is a drought today, plants may not react immediately now. It’s about ten days and a half months before there’s a reaction, such as the leaf falling or slowly dying, and the time of the reaction is related to the resistance of vegetation. “
On the other hand, the affected ecosystem sits back in a period of time, which is the legacy effect. In the case of drought, “when the drought occurs and we see very clearly that ecosystems have responded, then assuming that the event is over after ten days, the effects of the event may remain in place after 20 or 30 days, and the duration is related to the resilience of the ecosystem,” Huang said.
That is to say, the changes in ecosystems we are seeing today are actually the result of changes in the environment some time ago; Waldron et al.’s research also established a model that takes investment in environmental protection as a positive factor, and economic and agricultural population growth as a negative factor, and predicts a country’s biodiversity loss with high predicting accuracy.
It’s different and the same.
Huang, who experienced two wildfire seasons during the UC Berkeley exchange, closed schools for a week last year at the height of the situation and nearby stores. By August last year, after the Amazon forest fire, she was invited by the media to write about the incident. The article has not yet been published, and the Australian fire has taken place again.
The frequency of large-scale fires is only a microcosm of the effects of climate change. “When I first started doing research a few years ago, we usually first thought about the effects of long-term trends such as climate change, anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and so on,” said Ms. Huang, whose research has begun to focus on extreme weather events. But in recent years, more and more research has been focused on the effects of extreme events, such as fires, droughts, and pests. Coupled with the fact that many of the effects of long-term trends have become common, we are now turning to vegetation or ecosystems in response to these very rare extreme events. “
What we call “climate change” today is actually “global warming” in the early 2000s – a term that gives the illusion that the Earth will heat up as a whole as a greenhouse in the summer sun. By contrast, “climate change” can more accurately describe the complex and uncertain nature of the phenomenon.
Photo: Screenshot of the Google Trends page
The Horn of Africa experienced an all-time average of 300 per cent of precipitation between October and mid-November, as Australia experienced drought and high temperatures due to positive eruptions of the Indian Ocean Dipole Index. Globally, rising average temperatures may make plant growth more robust in some high latitudes, but lower latitudes may be hit harder. In a paper published in November last year, for example, Huang Mengtian and his co-authors wrote: “While agricultural production at high latitudes may benefit from warming, the overall estimate of global food production is lower, given the increase in extreme events in the context of continued warming. And the risk of food systems being destroyed is growing. “
Even within China’s territory, the effects of climate change will vary regionally. Last September, reports of a warming and wetting trend in northwest China were widely circulated online and dubbed “the real thing.” From the reports and online commentary, many people think this is a good opportunity to develop agriculture in the northwest. But Huang Mengtian points out that China is a country with a wide latitude span, and that a favorable trend for one region may also be detrimental to another. Overall, the 2019 China Climate Change Blue Book concludes: “China is one of the sensitive and significant areas of global climate change. Since the middle of the 20th century, China’s regional warming rate has been significantly higher than the global average for the same period. In 2018, the average temperature in China’s spring and summer seasons reached a record high, with heavy losses from typhoon disasters. “
Regional impacts are uncertain, but extreme events have increased overall, and the future of climate change is diverse and integrated. But even knowing this fact, how can public awareness be translated into action because it is difficult to perceive the specific impact of their actions on the environment?
“The public is clearly not a homogenous group, and in this case, telling the right story to the target group, not just the facts, drives them to change their perceptions, attitudes, and even behaviors (although it’s usually good to change attitudes,” Calo said. In australia’s energy mix, for example, it would not be in their vital interest to say to coal miners that coal miners give up coal to save the environment, but could cost them their jobs. More suitable for them may be a story that can dispel the sense of unemployment and its associated crisis, such as the new jobs created during the transition to clean energy. “
The climate issue is also a manifestation of the tragedy of the commons, and conflicts of interest have complicated it, and ultimately no one can really stay out of the way. “Before I came to (ANU), I actually held the idea that science should be delinked from politics, but there’s really no scientific thing that’s not about politics,” Calo said. “
Canberra has a blue sky on January 14. Someone on the ANU campus prepared a water basin for the wildlife, and a black-backed bell was invited. It is often called the Aussie magpie, but it is very different from the northern hemisphere magpie.
Photo courtesy of Calo
Tara went to the affected areas on the south coast to check out the tourist routes. “I went to the area where it was set on fire on New Year’s Eve, and now power and communications are basically restored in most areas,” she said. Shops that have not been burned have basically opened, but there are no tourists, so they are losing money. “She hopes to resume the extension of the route by the end of the month, in the name of public welfare tourism to help the small town residents to revive the economy.”
The coming autumn/winter season will give Australia some respite. 16, australia’s eastern coast ushered in widespread rainfall. Heavy rain is expected to extinguish some of the flames and wet the land and vegetation to prevent further spread of wildfires. But in some hard-hit areas, rain can also cause flash floods and landslides, and flood severity and other pollutants from burning into rivers.
Meanwhile, the northern hemisphere is about to move into the next spring.