Australia burned trees and flooding

This season’s bushfires in Australia have been gigantic even when considered on a global scale, with more than 20% of the country’s forests burnt.

As the fires were followed by heavy rains and flooding, Australians saw what scientists call “compound extremes” (New York Times, with limited free reads per month) – another effect we can expect from Earth’s rising temperatures.

Understanding events like these requires more than objective or “external” facts. In this realm, the facts that matter are also very much emotional; they are “internal” facts about the lived experience of individuals and cultures.

Some stories manage to combine both kinds of facts. Here is a vivid blow-by-blow chronology, from the Sydney Morning Herald (firewall suspended for bushfire stories). Australian novelist Richard Flanagan shows passion and skill in this powerful (NYT) piece, “How Does a Nation Adapt to Its Own Murder?” And this interactive piece offers the big picture in text and the lived particulars, doing so in short videos of a father and daughter whose family property (and business) burned.

Other excellent stories focus on lived experiences, both individual and cultural. In “This Grandmother Tree Connects Me to Country. I Cried When I Saw Her Burned,” Vanessa Cavanagh helps us see through the eyes of one indigenous Australian. We can read the stories of six Australians in “What It’s Like to Live through the Australian Bushfires” – including tales of people going well out of their way to help others. We can listen to one worried father describe what it was like to deal hour-by-hour with two small children as the capital city Canberra filled with beyond-hazardous smoke. And this unusual and memorable story shows us the profound grief of an animal, not of a human.

Australia wildfireTop-notch science reporting on Australia’s wildfires

Some Australians are finding that these disasters are forcing them to change how they see themselves in the world. In “The End of Australia as We Know It,” by New York Times Australia bureau chief Damien Cave, Australians “are stumbling toward new ways of living.” And in “Has Australia Reached a Climate Tipping Point?” (NYT), Lisa Pryor addreesses the question “How do you adapt to chaos?”

And here are three more worthwhile articles: on Syrian refugee children who drew pictures for bushfire survivors; on Australian Fiction dealing with catastrophic bushfires; and a collection of psychological resources for those affected by the fires.


This series is curated and written by retired Colorado State University English professor and close climate change watcher SueEllen Campbell of Colorado. To flag works you think warrant attention, send an e-mail to her any time. Let us hear from you.

Topics: Weather Extremes