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Mallacoota: this is what climate change looks like

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As a climate scientist, I am trained to assess the latest research and objectively analyse data and facts.

But as someone who just spent the past three days fleeing fires that have mauled my favourite place on Earth, I confess it is it hard to do anything but feel.

I feel heartbroken for those who have lost houses, futures and family members.

I feel inspired by the compassion and leadership shown by people across the country in times of crisis but furious that we cannot seem to replicate this on the global stage.

And I feel afraid of what the next few months, years and decades will hold.

The climate science of what’s happening this summer involves many components. Cool waters off the coast of Indonesia have meant less moisture available for our weather patterns, on top of the drought already strangling eastern Australia. Unusually strong westerly winds around Antarctica in the past month have exacerbated this drying by shifting weather patterns and bringing enhanced bushfire risk. Climate change is also present, lurking in our warmer temperatures, our drier winters and our longer, hotter fire seasons.

There are scientific quibbles to be had about exactly how big a role human-induced climate change is playing in the catastrophe unfolding along our east coast. It’s hard to identify the fingerprints of climate change in fuel loads, for example, or ignition sources.

But the big picture is crystal clear: this is what climate change looks like. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded with virtual certainty that our bushfires will become more intense and more frequent in the future. And by future, they weren’t referring to a far distant problem. They meant 2020 to 2070.

The future is here, and it’s hard to breathe.

As we move into the new decade, I find myself scared of our country and how much damage our wide brown land can inflict on communities. But I am more scared for our country and the irreplaceable Mallacoota-esque magic we are already losing.

Dr Linden Ashcroft is a lecturer in climate science at the University of Melbourne’s School of Earth Sciences.

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