There is a revived fossil fuel fever taking hold of the climate Down Under.
Burning fossil fuels releases CO2, which triggers the release of two other planetary, heat-trapping gases: methane and nitrous oxide. These three gases together are known as CO2 equivalent (CO2eq).
Currently, CO2eq is 495 parts per million and rising. According to the 2007 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fourth Assessment Report, Earth is committed to a temperature increase of at least 2.4C (4.3F), which translates into climate instability with more frequent and intense extreme weather e.g. heatwaves, droughts, firestorms, insect epidemics and flooding.
The continent of Australia and Nature Down Under has been lambasted by elevated temperatures both on land and under the sea.
Beginning in 1996, rainfall patterns diminished across most of southern Australia. A drought set in and by 2003 it was deemed the worst on record. The Millennium Drought broke in 2010 resulting in Queensland floods covering an area the size of Germany and France. It cost the Australian taxpayers $6 billion.
That 14-year drought caused mass Aussie tree graveyards.
In the southeast, skeletons of manna gums were strewn over 500,000 acres of New South Wales, Cooma-Monaro tablelands. In the northeast, the sun-baked 46 million acres of Queensland’s Mulga Lands leaving dead trees everywhere.
Along southwestern Australia, heatwaves collided with drought and cooked the iconic jarrah forests surrounding the capital city, Perth. Tree death rates were 10.5 times above normal. The critically endangered Carnaby cockatoos are now teetering on the edge of extinction.
At about the same time as the forests expired, a vicious underwater heatwave of 2.5C (4.5F) smote the kelp forests along the shallow reefs in mid-Western Australia. Almost 370 square miles of kelp re-surveyed in 2016 showed no sign of recovery. The fish, seaweeds and invertebrates, or spineless bottom dwellers, are now gone.
In 2013, the island state of Tasmania sweltered through brutal heatwaves, particularly in the early autumn. From Bridport to Smithton – across the entire northern coastal region – the manna gums simmered to death. Dubbed Ginger Syndrome, ruby-colored resin oozed from blisters all over the trunks, streaking the light-colored boles red – a horrid death.
During 2015-16, a second consecutive summer underwater heatwave along Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef scorched 93 percent of the reefs. Approximately 50 percent of the northern Great Barrier Reef perished from overheating. Unprecedented. By the way, 25 percent of marine life depends upon coral reefs for habitat and one third of all sea life uses coral reefs for different life stages.
At the same time, heat scalded the Great Barrier Reef, mangroves along a 600-mile strip the of Gulf of Carpentaria shoreline boiled to death. Heatwaves, drought and an El Nino that dropped sea level by 8 inches caused the mass death of 9 million trees.
It was coined globally unique because nothing like this has ever been witnessed before. Mangrove shorelines are vital breeding grounds for fish stocks, including prawns, crabs and in far northern Australia, finfish like barramundi.
Mangroves and wetlands protect and store five times as much carbon as some tropical forests, mostly in deep wetland soils. The death of more than 18,000 acres of Australian mangroves means that the soil in addition to the decomposing trees are bleeding climate-damaging greenhouse gases into an overburdened atmosphere, contributing to temperature rise.
The death of ancient forests around Australia also contributes to greenhouse gases as they decompose. Living ancient forests, on the other hand, both effectively store greenhouse gases and release oxygen.
Equally of concern is the accelerating deforestation across Queensland. In 2015-16, both legal and illegal land clearing may have topped 2.4 million acres, placing the destruction of Nature in that state on par with a leading global offender, Brazil, and its felling of the Amazon jungle. The loss of habitat along with introduced species, man-made persistent organic pollutants, poachers and the climate in crisis are driving the Sixth Mass Extinction, 1,000 times faster than the other five previous mass extinctions.
In the face of Nature broiling Down Under to death, the Liberal federal government is promoting the expansion of the Galilee and Bowen coal basins as well as encouraging risky deep-sea oil and gas extraction in the largest southern right whale nursery on the globe, and subsidizing it.
It’s not just Australia; the world today is amidst “black gold fever” – a contagious excitement over the riches of fossil fuels. Nature, on the other hand, is showing us that fossil fuel heat is sizzling our planet and its life-sustaining support systems.
Obviously it is time to reduce fossil fuel emissions immediately and embrace a zero-combustion global economy as soon as possible. We can achieve this by redirecting the $5.3 trillion annual fossil fuel subsidies into solar and wind farms. It’s a matter of our survival!
Dr Reese Halter is a treehugger, storyteller, award-winning broadcaster, distinguished conservation biologist and author.
Dr Reese Halter’s latest book is
Save Nature Now