Have We Gone Too Far to Come Back?

As geographers and atmospheric scientists, we are keenly aware of the reciprocal and interdependent relationships among human societies and the earth system. Popular understandings of natural disasters such as the recent acceleration of burning in the Amazon [1] and the Australian bush fires arguably overemphasize social drivers, and recent changes, that are political (Brazil) and individual (Australia). What we as a community can contribute is the push to think more systematically, structurally, and historically: how have climate changes over the last 50 years contributed to recent crises? And, given the long-term, dynamically interacting social and environmental systems, what are the prospects for resilience?

Australia, for several months, has been experiencing bush fires on an epic scale. There is a great deal of talk about homes lost, people dead, and smoke clogging the air. However, there are other immediate and long lasting implications to our actions.

The fires have devastated Australia with 30 people dead (including four firefighters), roughly 38,594 square miles of bush, forest and parks across Australia burned [2]. In addition to the landscape change, countless animals have perished and as the smoke clears, we may discover that some of the endangered species inhabiting those regions may very well be extinct.

Our planet, however, has some resiliency. Below are examples of life emerging from the fires as nature attempts to rebound through the flames.

This is heartening, however, bush fires don’t only damage our landscape but they can create dangerous weather patterns to worsen existing fire burning patterns. This can cause unpredictability in the way the fire behaves and endanger those fighting the fire [3].

The fires are still burning and will continue to cause damage. The toll may not be known until long after fires have been extinguished. As Geographers and Atmospheric Scientists, the complexity of how these fires affect our planet, our research, and out understanding of climate change, are both exciting and terrifying. Our planet is resilient, but is it resilient enough to survive human beings? Have we gone too far to come back?


[1] –https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/10/18/amazon-rainforest-still-burning-more-fires-future/4011238002/

[2] – https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-50951043

[3] – http://media.bom.gov.au/social/blog/1618/when-bushfires-make-their-own-weather/