The sixth mass extinction began some time ago and has accelerated rapidly with the large scale destruction of habitat around the world. But in Australia, as a potential consequence of the bush fires that are ravaging the country, a mini-extinction might be in progress as hundreds of species that have been decimated by the bush fires face a struggle to survive.
The koala, a species classified as vulnerable, has suffered massive population loss in the Australian bush fires. As many as 30,000 may have been wiped out on Kangaroo Island alone. And this is just one of Australia’s many famous exotic animals that are likely to have suffered huge population losses in the bush fires thus far. Echidna’s, Wombat’s, all manner of reptiles – snakes, geckos, lizards, possibly some crocodiles, have suffered significant losses. The total toll is already thought to be about 1 billion – not a typo – and likely to rise further as fire ravaged areas are checked.
But also at the height of the bush fires at the start of January, it was feared that not only was the flora and fauna in grave danger, but it might also threaten the water supply for Sydney whose population is about 5 million people. The risk is complicated further by the fact that should significant rain suddenly fall, the ashes of burnt out vegetation and man made materials and goods will get washed into the rivers and reservoirs and lakes, contaminating the water and causing an ecological catastrophe among aquatic species.
Most summer festivals and regular sporting events are going ahead. The Boxing Day and New Years cricket tests in Melbourne and Sydney both went ahead on the understanding play might be stopped if atmospheric pollution levels get too high. The Australian Tennis Open is still going ahead, though the organizers have taken similar precautions to those in the case of the cricket.
1,400 houses have been lost thus far. 27 people have been killed by the bush fires. The economic toll, and an area bigger than the Netherlands has been burnt out. In a New Zealand context the area burnt out is almost as big as Canterbury.
But the biggest non-environmental impact might be political. Australia, a generally conservative nation, seems to have run out of patience with its climate change denying politicians. Protests in the streets have happened. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, despite his continuing defence of fossil fuels, has seen a massive slump in support for his Liberal Party government. His handling of the crisis has been ridiculed for his lack of compassion, disconnect with suffering communities and stubborn defence of the very fuel sources many believe are causing the climate change that is making the fires possible. Mr Morrison has been coldly received in many bush fire affected towns and even told to leave in others.
With the bush fires still burning in many places and some merging with others to create what are being called mega fires, this is far from finished, with the hottest month not yet here, the worst might actually be still to come…