The Australian bushfires are a climate premonition, but they don’t have to be

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report in 2018  outlining the need to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Current global concentrations of carbon dioxide roughly correlate to nearly quadruple that temperature; effects of warming have already been observed over the last few weeks in Australia where, after the annual average temperature increased by more than 1.5 degrees C, bushfires erupted across its eastern coast. Unfortunately, the harsh reality of these climate conditions is that if, by some miracle, carbon emissions were to drop to zero tomorrow, Earth’s temperature would continue to increase over the upcoming centuries. That being said, while a 1.5 degree threshold is unlikely, a failure to set an idealistic landmark will result in more severe tropical storms, wildfires and weather anomalies over a longer time scale. More importantly, there are effective responses that can be implemented on a shorter time scale that can reduce the effects of these natural disasters.The most obvious of these responses is making significant moves to renewable sources of energy, and the easiest way to implement renewable energy is to nationalize the power grid

Historically, nationalizing power has had a substantial effect on the infrastructure and economy of one notable area: the Tennessee Valley. After the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was authorized, unemployment dropped dramatically and energy production grew. Further expansion of the TVA on a national scale could have similar effects while providing the federal government the means to include renewable sources of energy nationwide and to modernize the electrical grid.

Likewise, public transportation needs to be modernized to include low emission vehicles and fully electric vehicles. Currently, carbon capture technology is being used to create biofuels with extremely low emissions compared to the average gasoline in cars while transportation accounts for 29% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Expanding the use of biofuels and using fully electric public transportation will not only be instrumental in moving further to net negative carbon emissions, it is already being used. There are federal grants for public transportation to transition to low emissions fuels. Further expansion of public transportation would make car ownership less of a necessity.

The specter of climate change has cast its shadow over humanity for more than 20 years, and one of its most horrific images reared its head only a few weeks ago when nearly an entire continent caught fire. While humanity can point to individuals responsible, the fact remains that  Australia was experiencing a drought caused by a heat wave caused by long periods of low precipitation as a result of climate change. Moreover, one can argue that changes in emissions in the United States do not affect Australia, but emissions, regardless of their source, do, in fact, have global cascading effects that have proven capable of large scale change, such as acidifying the ocean or rewriting global wind and sea currents. 

Australia should be seen as the wake-up call humanity needs to take on this crisis. As far as climate change goes, there is an almost overwhelming number of problems that need to be fixed, and it is easy to concede defeat when one is faced with such a Herculean task. However, as is the case in Australia, inaction will do nothing more than fail those whose lives are at risk due to a climate crisis.


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