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This Month in Climate History

March 2020 marked the end of one of the "worst wildfire events in modern history". Nine months after the first fires had broken out, Australia breathed a sigh of relief at heavy rains that finally doused the blazes. By their conclusion, though, the fires had burned a cover of land equivalent in size to the country Syria and burned thousands of homes. Additionally, ecologists estimate that over three billion animals were lost to the fires. This is a particularly devastating blow to the island continent which contains biodiverse species not found anywhere else on the globe. In fact, the weather extremes of recent years (paired with continued development and habitat loss) have now put the beloved koala on the endangered species list. While Australia, like California, is naturally prone to wildfires, seasons like the 2019-2020 Australian wildfire season suggest that climate change is making these events far more destructive.

Researchers concluded that climate-change induced high temperatures increased Australia's wildfire risk in the 2019-2020 season by at least 30% relative to 100 years ago. Climate change leads to more intense and prolonged heat waves, drying out vegetation and increasing the risk of fires spreading out of control once they start. Climate change also changes weather patterns and has spurred record-breaking droughts around the world, further turning vegetation into fire-ready kindling. For example, a recent study found that the current drought in California is the worst in 1200 years (but probably longer, considering that the researchers just didn't have comparative data from longer than 1200 years ago). In the face of extreme weather and increased wildfire risk, we must reassess our relationship to fire management; while much of American history has focused on fire prevention at all costs, government officials are beginning to realize the importance of honoring indigenous fire-keeping practices as a path to more resilient ecosystems.


1.Australian Wildfires declared among the 'Worst Wildfire Disasters in Modern History', NBC News

2. 2019-2020 Australian Bushfires, Center for Disaster Philanthropy

3. Australia's Wildfires have now been Linked to Climate Change, Science Daily

4. Drought and Climate Change, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

5. How Bad is the Western Drought? Worst in 12 Centuries, Study Finds, New York Times

6. How Many Animals have Died in Australia's Wildfires?, New York Times

7. Australia Declares Koalas an Endangered Species, New York Times

8. Embracing Indigenous Knowledge Addresses Wildfire Crisis, U.S. Department of the Interior,


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