With natural disasters on the rise, is there hope for the future?
The new year started with a series of natural disasters which have many on edge and worried about the fate of our world. In recent weeks, there have been wildfires in Australia, a volcanic eruption in the Philippines and earthquakes in Puerto Rico. The world is visibly suffering from warmer temperatures and drier weather.
This past week, Henry Fountain and Nadja Popovich of the New York Times reported that according to NASA, 2019 was the second warmest year, behind 2016 by just a fraction of a degree.
In addition, the past ten years have been the hottest ever recorded. With no change in sight, it is safe to assume these patterns will continue.
With the recent rise in natural disasters around the world, the threat has become more imminent and clearer than ever.
Although it seems as though the fires have only just begun, they have been burning for quite some time.
According to an article by Jessie Yeung, a Digital Producer for CNN International, the wildfires in Australia started in July of 2019 and strengthened in December.
However, wildfires are not uncommon in Australia. In fact, they have a fire season caused by their dry and hot summer weather, which will continue until February.
The country has also been suffering from a severe drought, one of the worst in several years. The fires started in Victoria’s East Gippsland when lightning struck a dry, wooded area. The fires spread rampantly, traveling over 12 miles in just five hours.
Although these fires are a result of natural occurrences, they can be worsened by humans; this season, police have arrested 24 people for intentionally starting bushfires. In addition to a total of 17.9 million acres burned, the fires have killed 28 people.
The most affected state in Australia is the New South Wales, which has seen 12.1 million acres burned. The damage does not stop there.
Additionally, millions of animals have died and half a billion have been affected by the flames. Yeung also reported that almost one-third of the koalas have died and that nearly one-third of their habitats have been destroyed. For some animals that live in dense populations, these flames have been harmful to their species as many are killed at once. While the koalas have suffered greatly, they are still better off than animals whose populations are concentrated in one area.
Unfortunately, the impact of these fires has extended past the original source of East Gippsland. On Tuesday, Jan.14, NASA announced the smoke has circumnavigated the globe, reaching across the Pacific Ocean and Australia’s east coast. The smoke created by the wildfires has affected New Zealand and Sydney causing hazy skies. Sydney’s air quality has been deemed 11 times the “hazardous” level.
Aside from the wildfires in Australia, Puerto Rico and the Philippines have seen devastating natural disasters already this year.
So far, Puerto Rico has suffered from one large earthquake and several aftershocks. On Jan. 7, 2020, Puerto Rico experienced a 6.4 magnitude earthquake, but the end of the first two weeks of the year they have suffered from a total of 1,000 quakes, which includes an aftershock of 5.9 magnitude and a 5.2 tremor.
In early January of 2020, the Philippines experienced an eruption from Taal Volcano, south of Manila. This eruption launched ash, steam and pebbles six to nine miles in the air and the explosion caused an evacuation of 6,000 people from the local area.
Taal is now a level four threat, on a scale of five, and has been deemed a permanent danger zone. Eruptions such as these can alter the global climate by increasing temperatures and emission of sulfur dioxide.
While these two disasters may not seem related, it is hard to overlook them as they occurred simultaneously with the fires in Australia. With changes to the geography of these countries and the continuation of warmer temperatures, it is clear the world is suffering.
Some people believe natural weather conditions have created the perfect storm for Australia, claiming the Indian and the Pacific Ocean have created a particularly dry season. Others may focus on the fact these fires occurred “naturally.”
It is ignorant to believe, however, that we as humans have had no impact on the climate.
Researchers in the United Kingdom have studied the impact of climate change on the fires in Australia. The studies conducted in 2013 found a link between human-induced warming and an increase in the frequency and occurrence of fire weather to occur. This is evidenced by the fact that the fires in Australia have begun earlier in the season.
With all that being said, are there ways to limit the occurrences and intensity of natural disasters such as these?
Over the past few years, environmental activists have been successful in bringing awareness to the issue and have begun the fight for policy changes, such as a cap on carbon emissions on large corporations. Without a major decrease in carbon emissions led by these corporations, no real improvement will occur. But this does not mean we simply stand by and wait for this change to occur and continue to live the way we do.
Even as students at Christopher Newport, we have the ability to make an impact. Recycling and using reusable water bottles are no brainers. An extra step may be to use reusable grocery bags, ride a bike or carpool to reduce emissions. CNU has provided reusable to-go containers which greatly reduce our waste on campus.
Although these efforts may seem arbitrary given the doom it seems we are soon to endure, I am a strong believer in the influence one person or one community can have on another.
Furthermore, it would not make sense to stand by and watch as the world suffers. It is time we take responsibility.
~Cana Wilson, Staff Writer~