The fires in south and east Australia began in August—an unusually early start to the fire season—and have been burning longer and hotter than the wildfires the region typically experiences. As of this writing, at least thirty-three people have died, thousands are homeless, and many more have been displaced. It’s been reported that one billion animals have died, not including bats, frogs, insects, and other invertebrates. The animals that survived the initial fires will struggle for survival in ecosystems devastated by flame and ash. The fires are expected to continue for months.
Climate experts agree that the combination of hotter temperatures and drier conditions made this year’s fires particularly severe, and that human-caused global warming has likely played a role. Australia’s average temperature has increased one degree Celsius since 1910; 2019 was Australia’s hottest year on record. Though it’s “difficult to diagnose” (as one scientist put it) a specific cause for the severity of this season’s fires until more research is done, there is little doubt that climate change has something to do with it.
That doesn’t stop some from continuing to peddle uncertainty. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp—which controls more than half of Australia’s newspaper market (and in America owns Fox News)—has waged a disinformation campaign about the role of global warming. According to one such false narrative, arsonists are solely to blame. True, some of Australia’s fires were intentionally set, but then, no one claims that climate change starts fires—just that it makes them more dangerous, regardless of what sparks them.