We Need to Talk About the Australian Bushfires

Sivakumar Ravishankar
Published on Jan 17, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

A fourth-year medical student reflects on climate change and the bushfires ravaging his home country of Australia.

The earth has always been subject to shifts in temperature, with cold and hot cycles over time. However, during eras past, these changes have been much slower, often taking millions of years. Now, these temperature shifts are happening rapidly—within a period of 200 years—and are quickly approaching levels that in the past led to mass extinctions. CO2 levels have also been rising since the mid-20th century at an unprecedented rate.

So, why are these changes happening?

Let’s take a look at natural processes first. Our atmosphere retains heat from the sun, which helps maintain the presence of life on earth. This is a completely natural phenomenon, and as you may have guessed, it is not the problem. The major problem is the human behavioral effect on global warming, which has led to our climate change situation. 

The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that human influence is the dominant factor behind mass deforestation, the destruction of marine ecosystems, and a rising population, all which are causing significant environmental pollution, a rise in greenhouse gases, and a planet that’s getting hotter every year. 

We can all agree that we bear witness to these changes. If we carry on this path, there will be irreversible changes to ecosystems, including melting of the poles and rising sea levels causing catastrophic flooding, acidification of the oceans, extreme weather phenomena, extinction of flora and fauna, mass migrations, and loss of human life. 

What do you need to know about wildfire smoke and your health?

We know that global warming leads to climate change—and we’re seeing the consequences play out in Australia right now.

Let’s talk about the current bushfires in Australia 

Australia is currently experiencing devastating and widespread bushfires across our nation. It’s one of the most catastrophic bushfires the world has ever seen, and has received a lot of attention across the globe. 

As of my time writing this (January 13th, 2020), the fires have damaged over 10 million hectares of land, destroyed over 5900 buildings, killed twenty-nine people and an estimated 1.25 billion animals. The fires have also destroyed sites of great cultural importance to Australia’s Aboriginal population, another huge loss for the country. 

The Australian bushfires are an unprecedented environmental tragedy, and something that we’re all complicit in to some degree. However, it is heartening to see people unite to battle this devastating crisis, not only within Australia, but across the globe. 

Though the battle is not yet won, we are giving it our best, fighting against the fires and rescuing as many people and animals as we can. I truly believe that we can put the same amount of effort into reducing global warming to shrink our carbon footprint and reverse the course we’re currently on. 

Climate change is a public health concern 

From the quality of our air, to our supply of food, clean water, and shelter, climate change impacts every aspect of human life and has consequences for global health. According to the World Health Organization, we can expect an additional 250,000 deaths per year due to the impact of climate change between 2030 and 2050. And of course, the impacts will be the worst in developing countries with weaker health infrastructure. 

This video by Osmosis Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rishi Desai talks about how to navigate the effects of climate change on patients, and it’s well worth the to watch. Climate change is already happening. As clinicians, we should be better-prepared to deal with this crisis, and this is a great way to get started thinking about how we can make a difference. 

About Sivakumar 

Siv is a fourth-year medical student at the Oceania School of Medicine. His hobbies include reading books, listening to music and going on hikes. He plans to specialize in Emergency Medicine. 

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