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Australia's deadly wildfires - what FIU experts want you to know
A house burning in New South Wales on New Year’s Eve. Image Credit: Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

Australia's deadly wildfires - what FIU experts want you to know

In a livestreamed conversation, FIU faculty assess the crisis from political, social and environmental perspectives.

January 16, 2020 at 12:00am

As unprecedented wildfires rage across Australia, threatening homes, wildlife and an area the size of Indiana, experts from FIU tackled the issue in a livestreamed conversation this week.

What will the impact of the fires be long-term? How have the nation’s leaders responded to the crisis? Is climate change at the root of it all and how has the issue played out politically?

Some of FIU’s top experts in disaster response, climate science and the politics of resilience weighed in during a special online presentation of the Dorothea Green Lecture Series of the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs.

“This is not just Australia, we have to take this as a case example,’’ said Richard Olson, director of the Extreme Events Institute and professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations. “We saw this a few years ago in California, and we’re seeing it elsewhere.”

The effects on wildlife and habitat have already been catastrophic, said Mireya Mayor, director of the Exploration and Science Communications Initiative in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education and an Emmy Award-nominated wildlife correspondent for National Geographic. 

“We’re looking at a situation where we will have species that are found nowhere else on earth that are going to be extinct,'' she said. "Entire ecosystems are being obliterated.”

The scope of the disaster is unlike anything Australia - a continent shaped by fire - has ever seen, added Kevin Grove, professor of Global and Sociocultural Studies. 

“The fires we’re seeing, it really strains our ability to fully comprehend and make sense of what’s going on and the extent of destruction,'' he explained. "It’s not only the size it’s also the intensity. The intensity with which they are burning through the landscape is unprecedented. What’s happening now has never been seen before in recorded history within Australia.”

The crisis should be a wakeup call for political leaders around the globe, FIU experts agree.

"There is an entire continent on fire,'' Mayor added. “If this is not enough to wake everyone up and it’s impacting life as we know it, what’s it going to take?" 

View the entire livestreamed conversation below.