Out of the Ashes: An Update on the Australian Bushfires and the Path to Recovery


Kavya Weaver '20, News Editor

The scenery of many areas of Australia right now is almost otherworldly. The charred, smoking remains of once verdant forests and the blazing red haze over active fires is reminiscent of a post apocalyptic hellscape. Although the wreckage left behind by the fires is absolutely tragic, the impacts of this environmental disaster extend far beyond the disfiguration of the landscape. The wildfires have ecological, political, and cultural implications that have dramatically affected the Australian national identity and life in the country as we know it. 


As of February 13, Australian fire officials have announced that all of the bushfires are now contained, a landmark moment facilitated by a week of heavy rain. Although the fires no longer pose an uncontrollable threat, the process of rebuilding from the destruction is going to be an extremely daunting challenge for the country. Since September, Australian bushfires have burned over 27 million acres of land, killed at least 29 people, and destroyed 2,500 homes. 


The fires have also been massively traumatic to the country’s wildlife: approximately 1.25 billion animals have perished, a loss that will certainly lead to long-term damage and destabilization of sensitive ecosystems. Ecologists also fear a loss of biodiversity and mass starvation within the animal population with their homes destroyed, many species don’t have access to the plant life they used for food. Additionally, the fires have released 400 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and deposited soot on New Zealand. 


Another result of the fires is political contention between the Australian people and government. Although it is well established in the scientific community that these fires are a symptom of climate change (2019 was Australia’s hottest year on record), the conservative government of Australia still refuses to acknowledge the extent of global warming’s role in exacerbating the fires. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stubbornly resisted enacting policies that tackle climate change and has been criticized for not setting high enough goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This has been a major source of frustration for the Australian people and has resulted in public outrage and protest. Many Australians are taking the challenge of combating climate change into their own hands by trying to make their lifestyles more sustainable and environmentally friendly. 


The damage wreaked by the fires have also shaken Australia’s cultural identity. In a culture that is known for being relatively laid back, anxiety has risen dramatically as a result of the trauma many Australians sustained during the fires. Additionally, Australian culture highly values time spent outside in nature, and this core philosophy for life has been threatened by the disaster: “Since the fires started, tens of millions of acres have been incinerated in areas that are deeply connected to the national psyche. If you’re American, imagine Cape Cod, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Sierra Nevadas and California’s Pacific Coast, all rolled into one — and burned” (Cave). 


Although Australia has suffered incredible pain and destruction over the past six months, the Australian people and land are resilient. Countless stories of heroism emerged during this period of burning stories of fearless firefighters, selfless volunteers, and kind neighbors willing to take care of each other. A sense of fervent political activism has been kindled, and the people will hold their government accountable for their inaction regarding climate change. Even in the midst of the ashes, Australia has hope for a brighter and more sustainable future.