Clear Skies or Roaring Flames: Can Any Reality Awaken the World to Our Role in Climate Change?

Residents look on as smoke rises in plumes near Nana Glen
(Dan Peled/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Perhaps the most unexpected silver lining to surface during an industrial shutdown on the planet has been the sight of blue again. Yes, the skies have never been cleaner. Meteorologists and climate scientist have brought needed attention to the improved air, water, and man-made waste situations since the Covid-19 pandemic effectively put a damper on man’s industrial assault on the planet.

But is anyone listening? It’s hard to say. Even these same scientist are saying that any permanent change would require… well… a permanent lockdown. Perhaps more troubling is the fact that the most tragic events of the past year have seemed to have been forgotten. If they did not leave a more eco-friendly consciousness in their wake, how can we expect a little good news to do the trick?

Let’s re-examine the most horrendous of the year’s environmental catastrophes:

After a year plagued by Donald Trump’s random 2 am tweets, impeachment procedures, the stress of exams, and the crushing emotional turmoil of 2019’s Avengers Endgame, I think we can all agree that some things would best be left in the past. Ringing in the new decade provided a much welcome fresh start for many of us, and while we fight futilely to rid ourselves of our Netflix addictions and fix our sleep schedules, the devastating bushfires sweeping across Australia prove that one thing can’t be shaken off so easily: climate change.

A kangaroo bounds past a burning house in a now viral image
(Matthew Abbott/The New York Times/Redux)

“Australia’s climate has warmed by just over 1° C since 1910, leading to an increase in the frequency of extreme heat events,” according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s 2018 State of the Climate report, a raise in temperature comparatively higher than the average rate of warming across the globe. With 2019 being Australia’s hottest and driest year on record, the heat this summer hit an unprecedented high, one area of the country even reaching 121.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

An injured koala receives treatment at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital
(Tao Shelan/China News Service/Getty Images)

However, according to an article in Vox interviewing the director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University, the consequences of climate change aren’t just restricted to affecting temperature in Australia.

Global warming shifts oceanic and atmospheric patterns, which can potentially bring about torrential rain, forceful winds, cool breezes, and (of course) the aforementioned extreme heat. It can also change the timing of seasons, location of major rainfall events, and wildlife habitats.

A combination of these factors has resulted in a striking picture. As the world watches the country now choking on smoke underneath a sky painted a deep orange, the havoc wreaked by fires spurred on by climate change is decidedly tragic and undeniably human.

A father holds his daughter underneath the blood-red skies in Mallacoota. Many parents with young children were stuck after flights were grounded and only school-aged children and older were allowed to evacuate by boat.
(Justin McManus/The Age/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

The statistics are bleak. A staggering 34 people and 1 billion animals died in the fires. With more than 46.6 million acres burned, 3,700 homes were destroyed.

Royal Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons presented a posthumous Commendation for Bravery and Service to the son of RFS volunteer Geoffrey Keaton at his father’s funeral
(NSW Rural Fire Service via Reuters)

The air quality in Sydney was as bad as smoking 37 cigarettes per day, and NASA saw the smoke from the fires make a “full circuit around the world”.

“It’s absolutely terrifying to watch a country literally going up in flames and think that this is only the beginning of what could happen to our planet if we don’t change anything.”

SAS 10th grade student

While the global community shows their support for Australia with fundraisers, tearful prayers, and emotional social media posts, one thing is undeniable. As important and well intended as these actions are, they simply aren’t going to be enough.

The painful truth is that the fires ravaging Australia are just the latest in a series of tragedies around the world caused or exacerbated by climate change; a pattern that will only continue in a world where leaders refuse to meet the realities of global warming with decisive action.

A firefighter retreats from a blaze after lighting a controlled burn near Tomerong
(Rick Rycroft)

While the global community shows their support for Australia with fundraisers, tearful prayers, and emotional social media posts, one thing is undeniable. As important and well intended as these actions are, they simply aren’t going to be enough.

Australia is no stranger to political paralysis in the sphere of climate change and the perpetuation of ridiculous ideas about carbon emissions. In 2017, Prime Minister Scott Morrison brought a literal chunk of coal to the House of Representatives in order to argue against steps towards renewable and low emissions, taunting his opponents and mocking them for what he called “coal-o-phobia”.

Protesters marched in Melbourne in response to the bushfires
(Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Despite a November poll showed over 60% of Australian voters felt the government should be doing more about climate change, Australia’s government seems to be dominated by politicians tone deaf to this urgency. With the nation in the clutches of fossil fuel friendly politicians like Morrison, journalist Hugh Riminton bemoaned the country “a burning nation led by cowards.”; Juxtaposed starkly with its high climate vulnerability, Australia continues to have one of the highest carbon emissions per capita in the world, with the booming coal industry one of the most lucrative exports in the country.

An aerial shot showed destroyed bush in East Gippsland, Australia
(Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Juxtaposed starkly with its high climate vulnerability, Australia continues to have one of the highest carbon emissions per capita in the world, with the booming coal industry one of the most lucrative exports in the country.

Unfortunately, those of us from the U.S. are all too familiar with these attitudes and lack of action. When you have a President all too eager to play climate change off as a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese, the echoes of climate misinformation can be heard across our government. The reign of the Trump administration has resulted in the exit of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, the discouragement of state climate initiatives, and the complete desertion of goals to reduce carbon emissions.

It’s, what, 2020 now? Are you kidding?! What’s going to be left to save by the time we can do something about it??

SAS 11th grade student
A massive amount of smoke rises in East Gippsland, Victoria
(DELWP Gippsland/AP)

And yet, as our leaders remain frozen in unwillingness to act, climate change rages on, and the U.N. warns the by the year 2050, climate change has the potential to affect 1.6 billion people in 970 cities across the world in a multitude of ways, as well as displace up to 200 million people.

High schoolers of all people can understand the human tendency to procrastinate things to the last minute. Unfortunately for us, we can’t treat climate change like homework; research has shown that once certain tipping point is reached, some aspects of climate change will be irreversible to a certain degree. Which means that we finally need to something we’ve been told to do for a long while: act.

The time for sad, heart emoji laden Instagram stories and waving our metal straws around in order to fool ourselves into feeling like we’re making a difference is over. Thoughts and prayers are important, but what we need is action. And so, as we watch smoke, fear, and destruction blanket Australia, we need to learn. Enough is enough.

When the pandemic wains and gives us space to breathe, will we do more to make sure that that air is as clean as in the rare moments of respite we are experiencing now?

Author: catherinegmcguire

Catherine (Cat) McGuire is currently a sophomore at SAS, and this is her first year working on the Eye. She gets her obnoxious personality and dedicated love for food and the Yankees from New York City where she was born, then going on to grow up in Hong Kong and eventually moving to Singapore in second grade. She enjoys spending her time watching the Office, traveling the world, debating political issues using tweets as points of reference, and laughing at outdated memes! She’s extremely passionate about Aaron Judge and eating excessive amounts of xiao long bao, truffle fries, mooncakes, and bubble tea. She can be contacted at mcguire43887@sas.edu.sg

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