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Australia's Bushfires Have Likely Doubled the Nation's Carbon Emissions

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Smoke is still making it hard to breathe in Melbourne
Smoke is still making it hard to breathe in Melbourne
Photo: Getty

A month ago, NASA estimated that Australia’s recent bushfires released 250 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere, which is almost half of the country’s yearly emissions. The fires have raged on since then, and shit is getting worse—way worse. New research from scientists with the Global Fire Emissions Database shows that the bushfires likely contributed 900 million metric tons of carbon, Bloomberg reports.

That means the fires have effectively doubled the nation’s annual greenhouse gas output. And if they were a country on their own, they’d be the sixth-largest national emitter in the world sandwiched between Japan and Germany.

Trees and other plants are normally a valuable source of carbon storage—they suck carbon out of the air and store it in their trunks, branches, roots, and even the soil. But when they burn, they release all that carbon into the atmosphere. That carbon warms the planet further, creating a disastrous feedback loop of more heating and risk of fires.


Scientists with the Global Fire Emissions Database estimate the Australian bushfires this season have released 900 million tons of carbon dioxide, but the output could fall anywhere between 650 million metric tons and 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, Bloomberg reports. But even with that wide margin, researchers are confident this is the most carbon-laden Australian bushfire season on record.


Australia is finally seeing some much-needed rain, but it’s not enough to put all the fires out. On Monday, more than 80 were still blazing.

The fires have been ongoing since September. So far, they’ve killed at least 30 people, burned some 26.4 million acres of land and destroyed over 2,000 homes. They’ve destroyed most of forest in the Blue Mountains and much of the Gondwana world heritage rainforests, killed more than a billion animals, created a public health emergency, and caused absolute devastation among Aboriginal communities. Even BHP, Australia’s biggest mining company, says their coal output is down because smoke from the bushfires made equipment harder to operate so at least there’s been some poetic justice.


These fires were fueled by the climate crisis. Temperatures reached a record high in 2019. The island has also been record dry, leaving plants ready to burn and the fires could flame up again.

Despite all this, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison isn’t listening to calls from within his own party (and from the streets) to introduce climate policies that are in line with the crisis before things spiral even further out of control. And really, what other evidence does he need that this an emergency?