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The race to decipher how climate change influenced Australia’s record fires

Real-life climate disasters are mirroring doomsday myths—and that’s worse than you think

This story was published in partnership with Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art, and culture.

The last year or so has seen a spate of landmark climate change reports that lay out an apocalyptic vision of the future, a vision that is already starting to take shape as rising temperatures fuel hellish wildfires in Australia, punishing floods in the Midwest, and ferocious hurricanes along the Gulf Coast.

But it’s not just the grim forecasts of scientists that are coming to pass. It’s also apocalyptic myths from around the world, as increasingly perilous fires and floods echo prophesies from religion and folklore. As Al Gore put it, “Every night on the network news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelations.”

This trend could pose a challenge to tackling the carbon crisis. Experts say that if people come to believe climate chaos portends the literal end of days, they might give up on doing what…

 

The race to decipher how climate change influenced Australia’s record fires

flame

Australia has always had fires — catastrophic ones, too. The really devastating ones earn their own name, such as Black Friday in 1939, Ash Wednesday in 1983 and Black Saturday in 2009. The last of those killed 173 people: the continent’s deadliest fire on record. All three — as well as the current crisis — happened amid or at the end of long, intense droughts. Sources: MODIS fire data: NASA; FIRMS/forest data: ESA

On 1 January, the air in Canberra was the worst of any city in the world. With unprecedented bush fires raging nearby, a thick blanket of smoke smothered Australia’s capital for weeks, sending a surge of residents to the hospital with breathing problems. The toxic haze got so bad that Sophie Lewis, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra, took her toddler and boarded a plane to Tasmania.

“I almost wept with relief in Melbourne, on the way to Hobart, simply from seeing the sky,” she says. After weeks in the smoke, her daughter had grown used to all the people walking around with “bird beaks”, Lewis’s name for the masks everyone was wearing…

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