There are bushfires burning around where I live in North East Victoria, Australia. Few can deny the effects of climate change.
Australia broke its all time weather records for heat twice in December 2019 and it’s bound to get hotter as February is traditionally our hottest month.
The weather has been warmer and drier for a longer period so it was only a matter of time until the ‘unprecedented’ bushfires took hold.
So far 25 million acres of land have burnt, 26 people have died, over 2000 homes destroyed and around one billion animals killed. And we are not anywhere near the end of summer.
Closer to home, popular tourist towns during their peak earning season are without visitors, people are displaced and sent to ‘defendable’ towns, life for many is put on hold, whilst volunteer firefighters step away from paid employment risking their lives week after week.
Personally, we stay inside doing our best to avoid the hazardous smoke in the air out there. My sinuses swell and my husband coughs, yet thankfully, our two family members most at risk are coping okay. One is a child with a heart condition, the other is heavily pregnant. We have nothing to complain about though, after reading about a young asthmatic who had a fatal respiratory attack triggered by bushfire smoke.
Then today, I received my car insurance renewal. The premium had gone up by $48 so I rang to find out why. It’s because there had been an increase in claims in my area and I realised this is the way of the future.
Climate change will cost us money.
Extreme Weather Events
Heatwaves are getting longer, hotter and starting earlier in the season. Extreme heat can cause heat stroke, exhaustion, worsening of cardiac conditions and respiratory illnesses, and dehydration.
This problem is made worse in Victoria by the fact that housing is of poor quality and not properly designed to cope with increasing extremes resulting in people suffering in the heat more often.
Australia’s ageing coal and gas systems were not made to operate in extreme weather conditions, resulting in breakdowns and power failures right at the time we need it the most.
As well as problems with housing and power systems, heatwaves cause havoc for our roads and railways. Roads melt, train tracks buckle and motors overheat.
As the planet continues to warm, Australia faces a growing risk of further extreme bushfire weather. In fact, climate experts are saying south-eastern Australia will be subject to a fourfold increase in catastrophic bushfire weather.
To add to the predictions, fire tornadoes are set become a more common feature of Australian bushfires due to climate change. Canberra and the bush-urban interface of Melbourne will be at a much greater risk in the future.
ABC News defines fire tornadoes into three categories:
- Fire-whirls – these are relatively small on the ground but can reach hundreds of metres into the air, like a dust devil or willy-willy
- Fire-generated tornadoes – stronger than fire-whirls, these tornado-strength vortices that form during a fire are commonly known as “firenadoes”
- Supercell bushfire thunderstorms – the biggest and most dangerous form of fire rotation, when the whole bushfire thunderstorm itself spins
Some experts are even saying that Australians may become climate refugees as global temperatures soar.
“It is conceivable that much of Australia simply becomes too hot and dry for human habitation.”Dr Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center
Whether you believe in the dire prediction for Australia with climate change, what is certain is that with uncontrollable bushfires comes devastation. Farms, businesses and homes are destroyed as people’s livelihoods are ruined.
Loss of Livelihoods
Livelihoods are affected by climate change and extreme weather events.
During the 2019/20 bushfires in NSW alone, almost 9,000 head of farm livestock have been euthanised or confirmed deceased across an estimated 16,000 properties. For the farm animals that have survived, they now face a lack of feed and clean water. Many farmers are unable to continue making a living from the land.
The Australian tourism industry is on track to lose hundreds of millions of dollars due to the bushfire crisis.
Towns that are usually bustling with tourists during the peak summer school holiday period are empty. Even neighbouring areas, not in the direct line of fire are suffering from the lack of visitors.
Hazardous levels of bushfire smoke are covering entire cities making it unsafe to go outside. Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney have all been affected.
Apocalyptic images of catastrophic fire have filled news channels, front pages and social media around the world, resulting in potential tourists from staying away.
This is all compounded by roads made inaccessible due to bushfire damage, towns isolated for weeks at a time, a loss of electrical power and phone signal.
With bushfires comes smoke, lots of smoke. As bushfire smoke is made up of very small particles and gases they can irritate your eyes, nose and throat.
These particles are so small they can even penetrate deep into your lungs. For people with pre-existing heart or lung problems, this could make their medical condition worse.
Smoke particles in the blood stream may also be a cause of heart attack.
“Loaded with active ingredients, [bushfire smoke] can incite inflammation and other problems…there is also a suggestion they make the blood a little more coagulable, which may explain the raised risk of stroke and pulmonary embolism.”Professor Jennings, cardiologist
Pollutants in the air are measured via the Air Quality Index (AQI).
By looking at the chart, a reading above 301 means hazardous air quality. Checking my air quality App for my location gives a current reading of 374.
Last week it peaked at 1400, turning the sky orange and dusky even in the middle of the day.
We spend the majority of our days inside, particularly to protect our young son with a heart condition and his heavily pregnant older sister.
Hospitals have reported an increase in admissions due to bushfire smoke. After bushfire smoke made its way to Melbourne, Ambulance Victoria recorded a 51% increase in calls for breathing difficulties.
The best way to reduce your risk of breathing in polluted air is to limit your exposure. Where possible, try to stay indoors with the windows and doors shut.
When it comes to face masks, P2 masks can help protect against smoke, but will only do so if fitted properly.
The current bushfire could cost Australia $5 billion dollars in both insured and uninsured losses.
The Financial Review warns that insurers will increase premiums caused by the changing risk profile of our country.
Insurance costs will get more expensive.
This is not just for home insurance but also premium increases for insurance covering home and contents, commercial property, farms and vehicles.
If you have insurance cover, check to find out if you are covered for damage by bushfire.
Food will cost more, perhaps even as much as 50% more.
The combination of worsening drought and catastrophic bushfires caused by climate change has resulted in a loss of food crops, and the closing of vital highways for food distribution via road transport.
The vegetable industry’s peak body, AUSVEG, warns that consumers will see a price rise in pretty much everything.
As well as higher prices, food quality may be affected. Expect to pay more for lesser quality vegetables and fruit.
What You Can Do Financially
- Ensure any insurance policies are covered for bushfire and that there is an adequate amount of cover. Policies include home, landlord, business, farm, vehicles, recreational vehicles, and contents.
- Be aware and prepared for insurance premium increases
- Understand that food prices may spike during extreme weather events and be able to budget for these increases
- If your health is susceptible to extreme weather events, have a plan of action prepared. Discuss the plan with your doctor.
- Ensure you have ambulance cover
- Have an emergency fund with at least three months worth of expenses covered, in case your home is destroyed or you are displaced
- Keep a record of your insurance provider and policy numbers in a safe place, for example: a safety deposit box or in a fireproof lock box from Bunnings. Other important documents include birth certificates, passports, photocopies of driver’s licences and medicare cards, banking details, and investment documents such as shares or superannuation
- Whilst this may sound morbid, for the sake of your family, have an up-to-date-will
- After an extreme weather event has passed, consider supporting towns and businesses affected by a loss of income by purchasing any products or services you need from them
Please comment below with any other suggestions you have.