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Australia Fires: Implications On Land, Koalas, And More

Avery Maloto

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For the last couple of weeks, Australia fires have been giving California’s a run for their money. With the help of its extremely dry weather, strong winds, and atypically high temperatures, Australia continues to provide the perfect breeding ground for bushfires.

And as a result, its flames threaten the livelihood of humans and animals across the continent.

Record-Breaking Australia Fires Destroy Massive Plots Of Land

According to Andrew Watkins, a senior climatologist at Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, 2019 marks the country’s “second driest January-October period on record”.  Coincidentally, Watkins adds that January-October accounts for Australia’s hottest temperatures ever recorded.  

In New South Wales alone, 60 fires are spread out across its state. Unrelentlessly, the flames have demolished over 4,000 square miles of land. To compare, this is equivalent to over thirteen times the size of New York City. As a result, authorities noted that at least six individuals are reported dead and roughly 600 homes have been destroyed.

Although New South Wales is not the only part of Australia subject to bushfires, it is by far the most severe case. This is due to the state’s environmental history. For over two years, New South Wales has been suffering from droughts.

As explained by an emergency services official, Mike Wassing, when coupled with high winds and temperatures, droughts can cause “tinder box-like conditions”. To further explain the situation, Wassing notes that “all it takes is one spark to start a fire that may burn for days”. 

In addition, the state of Queensland continues to remain ablaze as well. Currently, the Australia fires have destroyed 20 homes and roughly 695 square miles of land.

Koala Populations Dwindle Due To Australia Fires

Among the destruction of residential areas, the Australia fires continue to endanger wildlife populations as well. More specifically, these fires threaten to push the koala species towards the brink of extinction.

Earlier this year, the Australian Koala foundation claimed that there were fewer than 80,000 koalas left in the wild. As a result, scientists consider the species as “functionally extinct”. In other words, the animal population has may not have enough breeding pairs to successfully produce a new generation. At this rate, the koala population is at risk of being extinct by 2050.

With persistent flames, koala populations dwindle as their habitats continue to burn. According to the chairman of the Australian Koala Foundation, over 1,000 koalas have been killed by the Australia fires.

For the few lucky animals who are able to escape, many walk-out of the fires with singed ears and burned feet. However, their fight for survival is not over. Unfortunately, the flames incinerated much of the population’s food supply as well.

Eucalyptus trees are the main source of nutrients for koalas. While the average koala consumes up to 2.5 pounds of eucalyptus leaves per day, the bushfires pose a serious threat to the animal’s diet.

In the months it may take the charred plants to grow back, starvation is a likely scenario for surviving animals. 

Pumping Millions of Dollars Into Fighting Australia Fires

With the collaboration between the New South Wales’ premier, Gladys Berekiklian, and the federal emergency management minister, David Littleproud, a $48 million relief package will soon be granted to struggling communities.

With this money, Australia hopes to ensure to utilize the proper coordination, services, and equipment necessary to mitigate the fires. Included in these services is aerial support that is available at all times. 

Summary

It is difficult to conclude that a singular event is a direct result of climate change. However, there is a clear correlation between climate change and the severity of natural disasters and extreme weather conditions.

As climate change continues to increase global temperatures, many ecosystems become at risk of prolonged dry weather. As a result, wildfires continue to rage far past their traditional fire seasons. 

There are two paths that we can follow: working to break and prevent the current trends of relentless fires or continuing to pump millions of dollars towards putting them out. 

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Sustainability

Bad Move: 31 States Significantly Reduce Funding To Environmental Protection Efforts

Avery Maloto

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Environmental protection has been a hot button issue for decades. Fortunately, today’s younger generation seems to be expressing more dedication to climate change reform. However, while younger adults strive for change, the government does not seem to match the public’s efforts. Instead, state governments are rolling back many regulations that support environmental protection. 

In the last ten years, several states have collectively cut 4,400 job positions at agencies that are responsible for environmental protection.

Study Shows Drastic Budget Cuts To Environmental Protection Efforts

In a recent study published by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), analysts underscored the economical behavior of state agencies that strive to protect public health and the environment from all forms of pollution. Their discoveries were shocking.

From 2008 to 2018, EIP found that 31 states reduced funding for pollution control programs through their local environmental agencies. As a result, half of U.S. states were subject to budget cuts of at least 10 percent. 

Out of these, Wisconsin experienced the largest reduction of 36% of funding for its environmental agency. Closely following are Texas and Louisiana with a reduction of 35% and North Carolina with a reduction of 34%. 

Unfortunately, the losses do not stop there. On top of the rollbacks of funding, a total of 41 states have reduced their staff population in their respective environmental agencies. 

Illinois suffered the most with a cut of 38% of its environmental staffing. In addition, North Carolina cut 35%, Arizona cut 32%, and Louisiana cut 30% of their respective staffings. 

Why Are Budget Cuts Happening For Environmental Protection?

Surprisingly, these cuts are not necessarily the consequence of a partisan issue. Many Republican states, such as Texas and Louisiana, experienced large losses in environmental funding. However, Democratic states like New York and Illinois suffered as well.

The question then arises, if not for political opinion, why are these changes happening?

One explanation is the possibility that some states simply do not have the money. As noted in the report, federal and state governments play complementary but essential roles in environmental protection.

However, many states nor the EPA have enough funding to do their share. Unfortunately, this results in many of the cuts seen in the workforce.

For Instance, Texas Is Making Huge Reductions

However, Luke Metzger, the Executive Director of Environment Texas, explained another obvious reason: lack of care.

Metzger noted that with “one-third of [Texas] waterways unsafe for fishing and swimming and two-thirds of Texans living in areas with unsafe air quality, Texas has major environmental problems”.

However, he continues to note that “instead of meeting this challenge, [Texas] legislature is de-prioritizing the environment and public health”.

Unfortunately, Texas is not the only state de-prioritizing the issue.

In 2011, an EPA Inspector General report found that Louisiana had the worst enforcement of environmental laws in the country. In addition, North Carolina cut $136 million in 2008, a time when overall state spending increased.

Where Do These Decisions Leave Us?

Unfortunately, environmentalists and policy experts warn that state-level cuts are only the beginning. Following the trend, many foresee similar budget cuts in federal spending in the near future.

This would entail a larger slash in funding than the 16% already lost by the EPA between 2008 and 2018.

The truth is, there is no silver lining on these actions. To say in simpler terms, cuts to state environmental agencies are attacks on the quality of life across the country.

By stripping the allotted budget away from environmental protection, public health may very well deteriorate over time. Whether through the lack of spending or sheer apathy, the health of families, forests, and waterways are put in jeopardy by pollution.

Not only do we not want that for ourselves, but for the sake of future generations, something needs to change.

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New Zealand Steps Up To The Plate On Climate Action As Australia Lags Further Behind

Rich Bowden

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Australian progressives have long looked in jealousy across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand on its commitment to climate action. There, New Zealand leads the South Pacific in attempts to resolve these divisive problems. Additionally, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has become a beacon for progressive government policies. It’s less so in Australia.

There, action on meeting emissions targets has stalled. Also, government support for renewable energy and the protection of the environment have been secondary concerns.

A Stark Contrast In Climate Action Between NZ And Australia

Australia is currently suffering under the worst drought for decades. Moreover, bushfires in a number of states have destroyed property and continue to threaten towns and cities.

In contrast to his NZ counterpart, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has seen criticism for a Trump-style “thoughts and prayers” approach for bushfire victims as opposed to real climate action to reduce the effects of the climate crisis.

This approach has (unsurprisingly) caused anger among some bushfire survivors.

Further, while Australia has seen inaction on the climate emergency, New Zealand has stepped up to the plate. Its government has declared that climate will be central to all future policy decision-making.

Positive Climate Action Sentiments At NZ’s Governmental Level

The New Zealand parliament passed the Zero Carbon Act earlier in the year. Additionally, Environment Minister James Shaw announced that all major decisions made by the Ardern government would keep the climate emergency in mind.

“Cabinet routinely considers the effects of its decisions on human rights, the Treaty of Waitangi, rural communities, the disability community, and gender – now climate change will be a standard part of Cabinet’s decision-making too,” Shaw said in an announcement.

He added that an impact assessment on climate will be central to the government’s decision making.

“A climate impacts assessment will be mandatory for policy and legislative proposals that are designed to reduce emissions, or which are likely to have consequential impacts on greenhouse emissions greater than 250,000 tonnes a year.”

Climate Action Lags In Australia

A roundtable representing a diverse range of groups including environmental organizations, businesses, farmers and unions has warned that a “business as usual” approach to the climate emergency “would have serious economic, environmental and social impacts on Australia.”

The statement coincided with the Madrid climate talks with the Australian Climate Roundtable calling on the federal government to take climate action and adopt policies that would achieve deep reductions in Australia’s net emissions.

“Our overarching aim is for Australia to play its fair part in international efforts to achieve this while maintaining and increasing its prosperity,” said the media statement.

“Achieving this goal will require deep global emissions reductions, with most countries including Australia eventually reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to zero or below.”

Takeaways From The Roundtable

The roundtable believes government policy should be instrumental in achieving change. From the group’s joint principles released in May 2019: 

“Policy instruments should: be capable of achieving deep reductions in Australia’s net emissions in line with our overall goal; provide confidence that targeted emissions reductions actually occur; be based on an assessment of the full range of climate risks; be well designed, stable and internationally linked; operate at least cost to the domestic economy while maximizing benefits; and remain efficient as circumstances change and Australia’s emissions reduction goals evolve.” 

Australia definitely has the capacity to commit further to climate action, but will it? And how?

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Sustainability

Time’s Up: Climate Change Displaces Another Person Every Two Seconds

Ari Kelo

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Alarmingly, non-profit group Oxfam has found that climate change displacement impacts another person every two seconds.. That amounts to roughly 20 million people a year who are forced away from their homes or over 200 million in the past decade. And without proper action, climate displacement will only get worse with time. It’s time to shed some light on this worsening issue.

Climate Change Displacement On The Rise

In the lead up to the UN’s Climate Summit in Madrid, Oxfam published a report on Monday raising awareness for the global issue of climate change displacement. The report expects to put this issue into the spotlight during these international climate talks.

According to the report, climate-related disasters have become the number one reason for internal displacement in the past decade.

To put that in perspective, people are now three times more likely to be displaced by a climate disaster than by political conflict. And cyclones, floods, and wildfires pose much more serious threats than earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. What’s worse? The number of these climate-related disasters has also increased five-fold in the past decade.

And while anyone could face displacement, Oxfam asserts that the poorest countries face the most at risk, despite their minimal responsibility for the climate crisis.

Hitting The Most Vulnerable First

“While no one is immune, it is overwhelmingly poor countries that are most at risk,” stated Oxfam’s press release.

For reference, eighty percent of global climate change displacement occurs in Asia, home to one-third of the world’s poorest population. And low- or middle- income countries like India, Nigeria, and Bolivia are four times as likely as rich countries like the U.S. to face climate change displacement.

Moreover, the consequences can become just as extreme as the weather events themselves. For example, extreme weather displaced almost five percent of Cuba, Dominica, and Tuvalu‘s populations each year of the past decade.

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are also at high risk. They make up seven of the ten countries most at risk for internal displacement due to extreme weather. And displacement has economic consequences as well. A Small Island Developing State can lose up to 20% of its national income because of extreme weather disasters.

These countries can be up to 150 times more likely to face climate change displacement than European communities. And what’s particularly concerning is the threat faced by displaced women. During displacement, they are subjected to a greater risk of sexual violence.

“Our governments are fueling a crisis that is driving millions of women, men and children from their homes and the poorest people in the poorest countries are paying the heaviest price,” said Chema Vera, Oxfam International’s Acting Executive Director.

So What Now?

The short answer: we must take immediate action.

Luckily, the UN will review its progress since enacting its “Warsaw Mechanism on Loss and Damage” mandate while in Madrid.

The mandate calls for “[enhanced] action and support, including finance, technology, and capacity-building, to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.”

Accordingly, climate activists and developing countries are encouraging the UN to build a separate fund for communities recovering from climate disasters. Such a fund could help alleviate the impact of climate change displacement.

“Governments can and must make Madrid matter. They must commit to faster, deeper emissions cuts. Further, they must establish a new ‘Loss and Damage’ fund to help poor communities recover from climate disasters,” Vera said.

What Oxfam Thinks We Should Do About Climate Change Displacement

But no one action is enough. Climate change displacement and refugee crises will only crescendo in the coming years. We must do more to halt its consequences. So far, the international community has done very little.

But finding a fix is more important than ever. Here’s how Oxfam puts it. “As the 2019 UN Climate Summit opens, Oxfam is calling for more urgent and ambitious emissions reductions to minimize the impact of the crisis on people’s lives, and the establishment of a new ‘Loss and Damage’ finance facility to help communities recover and rebuild.”

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