Australia is in the grips of a climate emergency. Bushfires in New South Wales and Queensland have killed six people and made the air toxic.
Climate change helped fuel the fires, and now the fires are fueling climate change. The bushfires have emitted 250 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere, according to NASA data shared with the Guardian. That’s almost half of the country’s yearly emissions.
Traditionally, carbon emitted from bushfires have been offset by forests regrowing and sucking up carbon dioxide. But hot, dry conditions that have come with climate change mean that forests may no longer be able to fulfill that role. Pep Canadell, a scientist at Australia science CSIRO, told the Guardian that many areas that burned won’t recover to their pre-fire state, throwing the whole system out of balance.
This kind of carbon feedback loop, where we destroy the Earth’s ability to absorb carbon as we emit more of it, is becoming more common as the climate crisis gets worse. Wildfires in California resulted in a similar uptick in carbon pollution last year, with emissions from the 2018 wildfire season alone producing “more than nine times more emissions than were reduced in 2017” according to a report released earlier this year. The state has also seen tens of millions of trees die off in recent years.
For Australia, emissions from the fires will only continue to rise in the coming months. The bushfires have already burned over 6.7 million acres of land, and they could last through next March or longer. It would take days of steady rain to put the fires out, the Guardian reported separately. But there’s no rain in sight—Australia is in the middle of an extreme drought, and the country’s Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting that the weather from now until March will be drier and warmer than average.
That could mean more fires, which more more carbon emissions, which could mean more dry and hot weather, which could mean more fires. Welcome to the future.