Hundreds of wildfires have been raging across Australia for more than two months, destroying 7.4 million acres of land and hundreds of homes. While Australia typically experiences bushfires every year, this year’s fires began burning earlier in the season and with greater intensity than usual. Exceptionally dry conditions and extreme heat are fuelling the fires. Scientists agree that climate change is creating these extreme conditions and contributing significantly to the devastation of the fires.
Smoke from the fires is creating hazardous conditions in Sydney where air quality is 11 times over the maximum hazardous threshold and temperatures have reached a sweltering 49.9˚C.
Sydney — Australia’s largest city — has been filled with toxic smoke from the numerous fires burning across southeastern Australia. Smoke from the fires is creating hazardous conditions in Sydney where air quality is 11 times over the maximum hazardous threshold and temperatures have reached a sweltering 49.9˚C. Sydney hospitals have seen a dramatic increase in emergency room visits for patients experiencing heat exhaustion and respiratory issues. Physicians have declared that the city is facing a public health emergency as a result of the bushfires.
Children, elderly people, and those with chronic disease are especially vulnerable to the potentially deadly consequences of exposure to extreme heat and toxic smoke. As previously reported, health consequences of exposure to air pollution may be even more devastating than once understood. Short-term health risks associated with air pollution include increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks while long-term risks include respiratory issues, lung disease and stunted growth. For children, long-term exposure to air pollution has been compared to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and can cause developmental issues among other health concerns.
As this year’s blazes are burning with a greater intensity than has been seen in the past, typical methods employed by firefighters are no longer effective. Scientists warn that this year’s fires may become the new normal as climate change continues to wreak havoc with little government action to combat it. Instead of addressing the public’s concerns the Australian government has mitigated climate change’s role in the fires, citing that the majority of the fires have been set by arsonists.
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These fires are continuing to draw global attention, spurring conversations on the subject of climate change as scientists agree that the increased intensity and duration of the fires are due to global warming. Citizens, scientists, and healthcare professionals are calling upon the Australian government to act as the country continues to suffer from the negative effects resulting from the fires. The government continues to be criticized as Australia remains one of the largest producers of coal in the world while the coal industry has been identified as a significant contributor to climate change.