The environmental catastrophe playing out in Australia provides a terrifying glimpse of the “new normal” facing a warming world. Bushfires burning since September have now incinerated over 11.3 million acres, an area bigger than the Netherlands. At the latest count, eighteen people have died, and over a thousand homes have been destroyed.
Yellow smog hangs semi-permanently over major cities, a cloud so toxic that it caused an elderly woman to collapse and later die from respiratory distress after she stepped onto the tarmac of Canberra’s airport. Millions of Australians are being exposed to carcinogenic particles; simply breathing in Sydney’s air has been described as the equivalent of smoking thirty-four cigarettes a day.
Among the devastation, nearly half a billion animals have died, including a sizable proportion of New South Wales’s koalas. Almost certainly, entire species have been wiped out, as fire has swept through ecosystems never before exposed to flames.
Scenes from the affected areas have become increasingly apocalyptic. Tens of thousands of rural residents remain without power. A state of emergency prevails in New South Wales, the third declared in the past few months. In the Victorian disaster zones, people still await extraction by naval vessels.