NEW SOUTH WALES, Australia — The worst fire season in living memory has devastated all corners of Australia. The most ferocious of these burned for more than four months, scorching 72,000 square miles of land and destroying more than 9,000 buildings — including 3,500 homes.
Thirty-four people died, and millions of wild animals were caught in the flames.
For two decades, scientists have said that because Australia’s climate is heating up, the fire season would grow longer and more severe — but for Australian citizens, pinning the blame on climate change isn’t straight-forward.
On New Year’s Eve, the North Rosedale home of Jack Egan and Cath Bowdler burned down. “This is too much,” said Egan among the ruins of his home. “We’ve gotta change, and we’ve all gotta be on board with the change, otherwise we all go down. There’s no politics in catastrophe.”
But coal is the country’s top export, and the lion’s share of Australia’s electricity is generated by coal-fired power stations. The country’s prime minister is a staunch defender of the mining industry, which is centered in the outback of Queensland.
At the end of their shifts, mine workers often drink at the Commercial Hotel’s bar in Clermont. And hotel owner Roger Vine is quick to pour cold water on the link between the ferocious bushfire season and climate change.
“I think the climate’s changing. I don’t think it will ever stop, and I don’t think it’ll ever finish, he said. “They’ve had bushfires here for millennia.”
VICE News traveled across Eastern Australia to hear how this severe season of bushfires has stoked debate on the potential effects of climate change.
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