Wildfires in Australia, sign of more rapid climate change



Satellite image of bush-fires in Australia. CC earthobservatory.nasa.gov

Addison Soule, Writer, Podcaster

 In the time it takes to read this article, 12.35 million acres of land will scorch across the continent of Australia.

Climate change is a serious problem in the world, regardless of anyone’s stance on the subject. How serious? 24 people have died on the continent, as well as 480 million animals. 900 homes have also burned on the island continent. Australia set record high temperature averages within two days in December of 2019. The record was first broken on December 17, with a temperature average of 40.9 degrees C(105.6 F).  That record fell the day after with an average maximum temperature of 41.9 degrees C(107.42 F). 

High school biology and anatomy teacher, Courtney Ford has an answer for the cause of climate change. “I would say that it’s the release of green-house gasses, that go up into the atmosphere and they break down the atmosphere, so stronger radiation can penetrate the earth, and that radiation is being trapped within the earth’s atmosphere. I believe by the presence of the gases that are in the atmosphere.”

The most frequently occurring green-house gas in earth’s atmosphere is carbon dioxide(CO2). On average, humans pump 40 billion tons of CO2 into the air annually (Slate.com). According to Climate Change Expert Professor Ben Houlton at  University of California Davis, humans are much more to blame for climate change than people may realize.  

“Well the vast majority of modern climate change, since humans started burning fossil fuels for energy is carbon dioxide, it is accumulating in the atmosphere as we burn fossil fuels, and land use conversion, such as tropical deforestation, which also releases CO2 into the air, and if you add those two together, you get to about 90-95%, of climate change that we are seeing,” said Houlton. 

As for the other five to ten percent, “The remainder can be explained by natural factors, such as variations in the sun’s intensity, things like that. But, you know there is no reasonable, plausible hypotheses that can stand up to all the data that has been observed, other than the radiative forcing, or the heat that is being trapped by elevated green-house gases in our atmosphere, which can be traced back with a high degree of confidence to the burning of fossil fuels.” said Davis. 

Although, there is still a little more to climate change, “Yea, I mean the first thing I think I would say to anybody is that we are very lucky to have green-house gases in our atmosphere, at the right balance. If we did not we wouldn’t be here right now, because you can do a very simple calculation and say if we didn’t have CO2 and water vapor, and all these other gases in our atmosphere. What would the earth’s temperature be right now based on it’s distance from the sun? It would be 0 degrees, in other words we would have frozen water. We would have no life. So the way to think about this, which is very simplistic, is too much of a good thing,” said Houlton. 

Houlton said that pretty much everybody can understand too much of a good thing, such as eating one too many Christmas cookies over the holidays and suffering the consequences.

Humans have been burning fossil fuels as far back as history goes, burning things as simple as campfires necessary for survival at the time. Things like that really had little to no impact on the atmosphere, therefore little to no impact on the earth’s climate. When humans started burning fossil fuels in mass quantities during the industrial revolution, however, this affected the atmosphere on a larger scale. 

When it comes to climate change and Mason High School’s teaching requirements, “Global warming and climate change are actually apart of our curriculum that we’re supposed to teach in Biology A. So in the curriculum that we follow, there’s a significant amount of content that does cover those topics,” said  Ford. 

One might say, “We live in Michigan, so climate change doesn’t really affect us.” However, they would be incorrect. 

“Yea, I mean I think we’re starting to hit tipping points that extend beyond human control, and when people talk about, when scientists talk about dangerous climate interference. Which is the point we have hit, what we really mean is not only the impacts, but we’re really talking about our inability to control our future sufficiently and to predict exactly where these extremes are going to occur, and how bad they’re going to spread. some would say that these fires are an example of a tipping point…that we knew would happen at some point as we continue to pump more green-house gases into the atmosphere, and I would say that that’s largely consistent with the scientific view”, said Houlton. 

During the interview with Houlton, it was discussed how scientists often take a very long time to come to agreements on certain topics. The topic under discussion in this case was obviously climate change.  

“You know, I think that if we are willing to be mindful about the facts and the impacts, and not be influenced by special interests. Then it’s quite obvious, the data are beyond compelling, in fact the intergovernmental panel on climate change, a leading group of global scientists have already indicated that climate change and the evidence for green-house gases is unequivocal, that means beyond any reasonable doubt, and the fact is it’s very hard for scientists to come to those consensus viewpoints,” said Houlton. 

He used the analogy that scientists are more like cats than they are like dogs, meaning that take time to strategize their actions(or ideas in this case.)  “It took the scientific community over a hundred years, before we were willing to come to a consensus view,” said Houlton.


People might say, “My impact is insignificant, when it comes to the environment.” While yes, each person’s impact is relatively insignificant, when we add up all of the people on earth, the impact is tremendous. 

So what can people do as individuals? “I think we all have a role to play at different levels, so the first thing is to consider how we can not drive cars as often…, So if you were to ask me what’s the single most important thing I could do, number one what you’re doing right now, talk about it. Number 2, vote, to the point where we are holding our elected officials accountable for the changes that are happening, and the solutions that we need. Number 3, how can we form a coalition that is using the science, to advance sustainability efforts on the local level? So you know if you’re a city in Michigan, that has a sustainability group, or a carbon neutrality goal, something like that. … the unfortunate state that we’re in now is that the impacts are here, climate change has entered our living room,” said Houlton. 

So what are the solutions? “… this could be the biggest business opportunity of the 21st century if we mobilize in force and those are the kinds of things that we really need to focus on,” said Houlton.  New technologies are already being developed in order to remove fossil fuels like carbon dioxide from earth’s atmosphere. 

“How we can consider our sustainable food options, that are more locally sourced, and have less environmental impact. In fact, some of our food systems and agriculture can be a huge part of the solution, and we can get data on that and understand where we’re getting our food from. Also we can convert our homes and things like that to renewable energy where it’s available. So those are some individual based ideas, kind of expensive in some cases, which is unfortunate,” said Houlton.  “It(climate change) is giving rise to a lot of suffering, and pain, people are losing their lives, their homes, and this is going to get worse, and yet if we vote with our planet and people of the future and of this generation in mind. I think that we can help solve this challenge, and we can reduce and avoid the most extreme impacts that nobody wants to see,” said Houlton.

When it comes to the topic of climate change, yes it is absolutely open to discussion. Just know that the world’s leading scientists can in fact all together confirm that the planet is warming, and that the earth has warmed so much, that it has begun to make climate unpredictable. The evidence of which comes from the wildfires in Australia, which Houlton firmly believes is a red flag.

 “So anyone that says, ah this is…, no it goes to first principle, it goes to physics, these are immutable laws, laws that cannot be broken. These are scientific laws and either you want to respond to the science and do some good things with it, or you can ignore at your peril. That’s where we’re at,” Houlton said.