Experts from the University of Sydney have estimated that almost half a billion animals – reptiles, birds and mammals – have been killed in the fires that are raging across Australia these days. The thousands of Koalas that have died have only been the more visible face of the calamity as photos appear of them seeking water from passersby and rescuers. Many humans, including fire-fighters and volunteers, have also died. These statistics are mind-boggling and heartbreaking, but at least there is acknowledgement of this fact in Australia, where the fires are spreading due to unusually hot weather attributed to climate change, as well as mistakes made by people.
At the same time, in Brazil’s Amazon forests, the calamitous impact of fires that have been lit deliberately by ranchers seeking more land for their livestock is obviously even greater on the fauna, but the government there has exhibited little remorse or determination to prevent the tragedy. Similar problems exist in the neighbouring countries, like Bolvia.
Apart from the immediate tragic consequences faced by the animals, these fires also pose a serious threat to the global environment, emitting carbon into a system that is already overburdened. In all the places where such major events are taking place, it has become difficult for the local communities to respond, even if they wish to, as in Australia. This is because the problem is aggravated by the overall rise in global temperatures – a situation that is predicted to get even worse in the coming days. What used to be considered ‘seasonal’ fire incidents have now gone out of control and pose a threat that can only be contained through a collective effort at the global level. (This is a phenomenon being experienced in Uttarakhand, too.)
Unfortunately, in political terms, the world has never been less prepared to take up the challenge. Regional conflicts and climate change skepticism in major nations like the United States have put paid not only to the initiatives taken in the past, but also scuttled those to be taken in the future. The refugee crisis that the world is battling with has been greatly aggravated by those fleeing the consequences of climate change, which is devastating agriculture, economies and causing internal strife. While nations like India, which have been in the forefront of environmental activism, do more than their bit to meet commitments they have made, the slowing impetus elsewhere is posing a threat to all. Sadly, those facing the more immediate threat are the ones who can do least about it. The conscience of the world needs to be awakened if anything worthwhile is going to be done about the problem.