Christine Jardine: Apocalypse threatening Australia should make us all pause for thought

A firefighter in Australia hoses down trees and flying embers in an attempt to save nearby homes. Picture: AFP/Getty
A firefighter in Australia hoses down trees and flying embers in an attempt to save nearby homes. Picture: AFP/Getty
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Usually on New Year’s Eve I make a point of watching the firework display from Sydney.

In recent years it has become the symbolic beginning of our own celebrations as it provided a moment to share with family and friends halfway across the world.

That emotional connection was enhanced when my daughter and I enjoyed visiting the modern wonder of the world that is the Sydney Opera House and Harbour as part of her 21st Birthday trip.

This year I couldn’t bear to see the fireworks.

During that visit two years ago we had also stood at a popular viewpoint and looked out over the breathtaking majesty of Australia’s Blue Mountains.

The friend we were visiting in Sydney explained they got their name from the fact that the forest is so thick that the first immigrants who saw it thought it looked blue.

It does.

This week news footage from that same spot showed only a thiCk blanket of smoke as the forest burned.

Every news bulletin now seems to relate an ever-escalating tragedy.

I am sure that I am far from alone in having contacted friends and family in Australia this week to check they are safe.

Australia is burning.

And it is frightening.

As I watch I cannot help but wonder if what we are seeing played out on the other side of the world is a warning that we ignore at our peril.

During that birthday trip we visited Perth, Melbourne, Hamilton Island and Sydney.

All of it different. All of it breathtaking.

The wildlife we got used to seeing along the roadside in the north has been helpless against the furnace that has engulfed their habitats.

One report I read said it’s possible that entire species may have been lost.

Many of the communities we travelled through, or flew over, are now abandoned or reduced to ashes.

As I’ve watched the coverage I’ve become increasingly frustrated at the lack of recognition of what we are actually seeing.

I fully appreciate that bush fires are a regular occurrence in Australia, as in other parts of the world.

Who can forget the destruction of vast tracts of the rainforest that was also played out on our TV screens.

Or the wild fires that recently swept through California.

But what we are seeing now is something on a far greater scale.

The disaster that is threatening Australia should give us all pause for thought.

As I write this more than five million hectares of Australia has been destroyed by the bushfires.

That is equivalent to about two thirds of Scotland – and rising.

The area of New South Wales being evacuated this weekend is roughly equivalent to everything and everybody between Edinburgh and Inverness.

Thousands of homes have been lost.

The death toll is beginning to rise and there seems no clear picture of how many lives might be at risk.

As I watched the now embattled and criticised Australian Prime Minister try to salvage his own reputation from the carnage his country faces, I wondered exactly what it will take for some politicians to recognise that the planet’s climate is spinning towards catastrophe?

When will the naysayers stop and ask themselves if perhaps they are wrong?

Perhaps climate change is a real and dangerous phenomenon after all?

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an expert.

But, like most people now I have read and heard enough to believe that we are damaging the only planet we have.

Whether it is the plastic which is polluting our oceans and threatening our wildlife, or the carbon emissions which make the air in our cities difficult to breathe and contribute to global warming, we are running out of time to mend our ways.

But even as I type the words I know that I share the guilt for not having acted sooner.

For decades now it has been too easy to take a flight, or jump in the car.

The shopping baskets, paper bags and glass bottles with which previous generations happily coped were discarded in an era of convenience. The disposable culture is now proving more expensive for us all than anyone could possibly have envisaged.

How can anyone who has watched the suffering and destruction caused by droughts, fires and unprecedented natural disasters across the planet in recent years possibly still doubt it? When the fires are finally under control and Australians begin to rebuild their confidence in their natural environment I hope that part of the healing process will be to ensure that the rest of the world does not forget what they have been through.

We should all learn the lesson of their experience.

And even if the doubters are still convinced that those of us clamouring for action to save the planet are wrong, after what they have seen in Australia are they prepared to take the risk that they have miscalculated?

I hope we can all see now that it is a gamble that none of us can afford to take.