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Apocalypse 2020: Hail, Climate Change

Australia is still on fire.

It's quietened down a little, now. We've all gotten so used to everything smelling like smoke that a rating of 'very poor' air quality sees us frolicking out in the haze, enjoying the comparative freedom of breathing. Canberra is taking a break from World's Worst Air and giving Melbourne a turn. Cooler weather and a heck of a storm front have swept up the eastern part of the country, dumping suspiciously muddy rain onto the dust and ash, and hailstones have stripped the dry leaves off any plants that survived the dought and heatwaves and smoke and fire. My backyard is ankle deep in brown leaves, as though it's late autum - and my front yard smells like someone crushed up a few cubic metres of pine needles in a pestle and mortar. Which is more or less what happened.

The rain and hail are nowhere near the drought breakers we need, but on the whole very welcome. The Gospers Mountain fire west and north of Sydney, the largest bushfire from a single ignition source ever recorded, is now marked under control. That doesn't mean it has been put out: it is likely to burn for weeks or even months yet. So far it has burned an area bigger than Manhattan and Long Island.

There are still fires burning across NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. During this fire season (which began around the middle of 2019) the total area burned is about the size of Portugal.

Reports from witnesses and scientists in the fire field are shocking. My grandfather, who spent half a century fighting fires in the mountain regions around Canberra, warned me many times that on rare occasions, when the conditions are right, a bushfire can turn and burn straight back over ground already burnt. This year we are hearing reports of fires burning three or even four times across the same ground. The ground is so dry that the clay under the soil is dry too, and radiating heat like a kiln after the fires go through. With the drought, the layers of dead leaves and organic matter are poorly composted, and also dry. These are the fires of your nightmares.

In the midst of the horror, so many beautiful things have happened. A moderately well-known comedian called Celeste Barber started a Facebook fundraising page intending to split the proceeds between the rural fire service and suitable wildlife charities. She's raised $51 million so far. It's Facebook's biggest ever fundraiser, and she has expanded the list of recipients to ensure other fire-affected states are not left out. Celebrities, governments, companies, organisations and individuals around the world have been fundraising in their own way. Online model Kaylen Ward offered nudes in return for $10 donations, and before she called a halt she had been kicked off Instagram, been disowned by her family, rejected by her boyfriend and raised $1 million. Firefighters and equipment have flown in from New Zealand, the USA and Canada and have been helping for months. Even tiny countries like Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji and Estonia have dug deep and sent donations.

Many people have been delighted by stories of wombats sheltering other creatures from bushfires. This one is partly true: wombats dig large, deep burrows and in a bushfire they shelter as deep as they can. Wombats are vicious, territorial creatures not known to share easily but in a bushfire other animals will take shelter in their burrows: the wombat is less dangerous than the fire.

West of Sydney in a remote, hidden location, firefighters have also managed to save the Wollemi pines, the last survivors of a species that was around when dinosaurs roamed Gondwanaland. The effort involved - flying firefighters in by helicopter to set up an irrigation system to protect a whole valley - is remarkable.

Meanwhile in Sydney the original four Wiggles - Anthony, Greg, Murray and Jeff - are performing a series of adults only fundraising concerts. Breaking news tonight is that lead singer and yellow Wiggle Greg Page collapsed on stage right before the final song and was taken to hospital.

 

Please consider using your voice and your vote locally to prioritise meaningful action on climate change.

 

And never mind the prayers, if you could send a big "Wake up, Greg!" that would be very helpful.

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