Not for the first time this week, Sydney and the Illawarra region woke up to bushfire smoke sitting heavy.
It’s the kind of smoke that gets inside your bedroom, in your lungs, and clings to your clothes. I’m writing this from an air-conditioned office and I can still smell it.
The smoke has reached “hazardous” levels, according to NSW Health, and is coming from around 50 bushfires that are still burning in the state’s north and Hawkesbury area.
Photos show Sydney and surrounding areas all but disappearing, which is a very safe and normal thing to witness! It’s not even summer.
Extraordinary side by side pictures taken a day apart on a North Sydney worksite display the dense bushfire smoke blanketing Sydney. #9News | http://9News.com.au
— Victoria Quested (@VictoriaQuested) November 20, 2019
— Sabrina Schoenholzer (@saschoenholzer) November 21, 2019
— Suzanne Milthorpe (@SueMilthorpe) November 20, 2019
— Jordanna Phillips (@jphills5) November 20, 2019
— Patty Huntington (@pattyhuntington) November 20, 2019
Despite the evidence literally in front of our eyes, Prime Minister Scott Morrison hit back at claims his climate change policies have contributed to the fire season – which, if you’ll recall, 23 current and former fire and emergency chiefs made just last week.
“The suggestion that any way shape or form that Australia, accounting for 1.3 per cent of the world’s emissions, that individual actions of Australia are impacting directly on specific fire events, whether it is here or anywhere else in the world, that doesn’t bear up to credible scientific evidence,” Morrison told RN.
“Climate change is a global phenomenon and we are doing our bit as part of the response to climate change.”
It’s exactly the answer most anti-climate action people like to give: that Australia can only do so much, so asking it to do any more is just silly. It’s an answer that both relieves Australia of doing anything more than it currently is – which is not even enough to hit our starting point Paris climate targets – and ignores the possibility of leading by example.
In contract, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians today declared climate change as a national public health emergency, urging all governments to implement a national climate change strategy immediately.
“Science is telling us that unchecked, climate change will worsen food and water shortages, increase the spread of climate-sensitive diseases, and increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events,” it said in a statement.
“This will have serious consequences for public health and wellbeing.”
Already these fires have resulted in a devastating loss of lives, homes, animals and wilderness – and we’re still in November. Away from the fires, people with asthma or lung issues are being urged to stay indoors and avoid strenuous activity.
It’s not looking like there’s any end in sight. Hot and windy conditions are forecast for later today, and the smoke isn’t expected to clear by tomorrow.
Smoke from bush fires burning in NSW is settling across broad locations including Sydney and the Illawarra. This smoke is unlikely to clear out of these areas today. Remember only report unattended fires to 000 and not just smoke. #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/r5lbjqBUwT
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) November 20, 2019