Australia

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a news conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on April 7. “Today is not about ideologies,” he has said. “We checked those at the door.” Credit Lukas Coch/EPA, via Shutterstock

Until four months ago few leaders seemed more influenced — even inspired — by President Trump’s worldview than Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison.

Mr. Morrison’s government was climate-denying, globalism-bashing and displayed an increasingly authoritarian bent. His rhetoric, even if it lacked the sriracha of Trumpetry, riffed on Trumpian themes.

And given a good crisis, Mr. Morrison’s administration seemed as determined as the White House to miss no opportunity to make matters worse — as it did with its grossly inept response to Australia’s summer of apocalyptic wild fires.

Having seen this almost impossibly low bar set for government action, many Australians have felt relief tinged with astonishment knowing that their country is today among the world’s most successful in dealing with the coronavirus epidemic.…  Seguir leyendo »

A sign on the side of a road in Rye, Victoria, Australia, on April 19. (Scott Barbour/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Australians like to see themselves as rebellious people, distrustful of authority — but the coronavirus has changed that.

While small protests against the lockdowns have erupted in the United States, and some in Britain have insisted on their right to party, in Australia we’re mostly doing what we’re told.

In Sydney, public transport use is down to levels not seen for nearly 100 years. Attendance in government schools in Victoria is down to just three percent. In parks, walkers and joggers dutifully arc around each other like passing ships.

Australians have been told to stay at home, apart from a list of designated tasks, including exercise, seeking medical help, buying supplies and performing necessary work.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the Old Testament, the Bible recounts the 10 Plagues of Egypt, disasters inflicted by God to force the Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. In the past few months, Australia has been forced to endure plagues of its own, afflicted with terrifying bush fires, drought and smoke pollution that choked the skies. Now, the emergence of a global pandemic feels very much like another plague lapping at our shores after the summer that destroyed so much.

As of Thursday, there were 5,133 confirmed cases of covid-19 in Australia. Most cases have been in returned travelers — people who have traveled by plane or been passengers on cruise ships — rather than from pockets of local transmission.…  Seguir leyendo »

Si se mide con cualquier estándar razonable, Australia está muy lejos de la mayoría de los demás países. Sídney está más cerca del Polo Sur que de Singapur. Volar en vuelo directo desde Washington, DC, o de Bruselas a Canberra sigue estando más allá de nuestras capacidades técnicas; siempre hay una escala en algún punto.

De todos modos, para mejor y para peor, la geografía es menos importante de lo que solía ser. Puede que Australia sea remota, pero está muy presente en el mundo. De hecho, ya está en la primera línea de dos retos globales que darán forma a la agenda internacional en las décadas venideras.…  Seguir leyendo »

Residents look on as flames burn through bush on 4 January 2020 in Lake Tabourie, NSW. Photo: Getty Images.

The 2019–20 fire season in Australia has been unprecedented. To date, an estimated 18 million hectares of fire has cut swathes through the bush – an area greater than that of the average European country and over five times the size of blazes in the Amazon.

This reflects previous predictions of Australian science. Since 2008 and as recently as 2018, scientific bodies have warned that climate change will exacerbate existing conditions for fires and other climatic disasters in Australia. What used to be once-in-a-generation fires now re-appear within 10–15 years with increased ferocity, over longer seasons.

In a country known for climate denial and division, debate has erupted around bushfire management and climate change.…  Seguir leyendo »

Australia’s raging bushfires have already taken a great toll. At least 28 people have died this season, and more than 3,000 houses have been destroyed, displacing thousands of people and decimating communities.

The longest-lasting impact of the conflagration, however, may remain to be seen. We will not know how much environmental damage has been done until burned areas can be surveyed, but the toll on biodiversity is expected to be immense. Using average population density values for native birds, reptiles and terrestrial mammals, I have estimated that more than a billion of these animals have been killed. The estimate is conservative, as it does not include bats or other classes of vertebrate.…  Seguir leyendo »

Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images Ember and thick smoke from bushfires, Braemar Bay, New South Wales, Australia, January 4, 2020

Australia is no stranger to bushfire. In 1994, in Sydney, I lost a house to one, and in 2002, just north of Sydney, I fought off another. But I’ve never experienced anything like the current fire season before. These bushfires have been burning since September, taking lives and property across the nation, but the worst came in late December, just as families were settling into their holidays.

The high summer period between Christmas and Australia Day (January 26) is Australia’s grandes vacances. Offices close and people resort to campsites and holiday shacks on the golden, unspoiled beaches so characteristic of our country, to fish, barbeque, and let the kids run wild.…  Seguir leyendo »

Australia has been burning for more than two months. Sobering images show summer vacationers sheltering from the flames while awaiting rescue, the burned wreckage of homes and businesses, and the charred bodies of kangaroos and koalas. The fires are leading to political controversy over the Australian government’s refusal to acknowledge the climate change threat — and what Australia should do about it.

Climate change has contributed to the devastation

Australia’s landmass is nearly the size of the contiguous United States, and fires this year have consumed some 25 million acres — slightly less than the size of Indiana, and far more acreage than the devastating fires in California or Brazil last year.…  Seguir leyendo »

Des soldats australiens soignent un koala souffrant de brûlures à cause des incendies qui ravagent le pays, à Kingscote, le 7 janvier. TRISTAN KENNEDY / AFP

On croirait l’apocalypse. Une catastrophe nationale est en train de se produire, qui, chaque jour, crée de nouveaux chocs. « Le ciel est en feu », « Une telle rapidité et une telle furie », « On dirait une zone de guerre ». Voilà quelques-unes des phrases employées pour saisir la violence des incendies par ceux qui les combattent.

Cela fait maintenant trois mois que le feu ravage des terres déjà grillées par la sécheresse et des arbres assoiffés par des vagues de chaleur précoces [l’été débute en décembre dans l’hémisphère Sud]. La surface de forêt rasée à ce jour est six fois supérieure à celle de la forêt amazonienne détruite pendant toute l’année 2019.…  Seguir leyendo »

Control burning by volunteer fire fighters along the Princess Highway in Meroo National Park, New South Wales, Australia.Credit...Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

Every state in Australia has been touched by fire since the season started in September. The fires have burned over 12 million acres, an area larger than Maryland. Four hundred and eighty million animals are estimated to be killed or badly injured. Thousands of people have been evacuated. At least 24 have died.

This is just the midpoint of our normal fire season, which used to run from October to March but now is almost year round.

As I write this, my parents are living without power in an evacuation center in Narooma, a town of 2,600 people on the east coast of New South Wales.…  Seguir leyendo »

Apocalyptic scenes are playing out across Australia as bushfires have burned millions of acres and ravaged more than 1,000 homes in New South Wales alone.

The bright orange haze may look like something out of a dystopic science fiction film — or even Dante’s Inferno — but this is Australia’s current reality. A total of 20 people have died, and the photographs of human suffering are foreboding: native Australians have poured out of smoke-shrouded towns as the flames creep nearer, while people along the coast have taken refuge on beaches.

These are scenes from an Earth that is becoming uninhabitable amid raging wildfires, severe hurricanes and floods, record droughts and rising sea levels that have already submerged islands.…  Seguir leyendo »

I’m visiting my mother in the little country town where I grew up in Gippsland, a region of Australia that’s currently on fire. That’s not very specific, so let me narrow it down: I’m in one of the south-easternmost parts of Australia that is currently on fire.

Gippsland is a big area, roughly two New Jerseys. The closest fire is 50 miles away from us today, lending the sky a gray hue and the sun an orange tint. The official weather forecast is: «Mostly sunny but smoky.»

People here keep one eye on their phones, watching the online maps that show flames slowing chewing their way through half a million hectares to the north and east, but there’s no immediate danger.…  Seguir leyendo »

Bushfires burn between the townships of Bemm River and Cann River in eastern Gippsland, Victoria. (Darrian Traynor/AFP/Getty Images)

Much of Australia’s forested East Coast was already on fire by the time images emerged last month of Scott Morrison, our prime minister, holidaying in Hawaii. Sydney was blanketed in smoke. I’d been frantically updating emergency-services maps, checking on friends and relatives in four states, making sure my parents knew which kind of masks to get. I wondered whether Morrison realized he was on the verge of a Hurricane Katrina moment — whether he would rush back with a swift response, if only out of fear for his own political reputation.

“I don’t hold a hose, mate,” he said on talk radio from Hawaii.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘We’re taught not to look at the sun. Every child on earth is given the same warning. But in Australia these days you can stare all you like.’ Photograph: Mark Evans/Getty Images

We know the sight by heart: corrugated iron on a low pile of ash with a chimney left standing. Another house gone. And the pattern of bushfires is part of our lives too. They burn until a cold wind blows up the coast when it buckets down dousing the flames.

But that’s not the pattern now. The downpour has been postponed officially until late January. Things are looking up: it was April. Either way the experts are saying the weeks ahead are looking dry, tinder dry.

As that news sank in this summer an unfamiliar emotion took hold in Australia: not fear so much as dread.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘The magnitude of these fires alone, apart from their human and environmental consequences, simply shows us that we now confront a new, more flammable world’ Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images

The fire situation in eastern Australia continues to rapidly escalate.

At this stage we cannot predict when this will come to an end, but with losses of lives and property mounting on the south coast of NSW, eastern Victoria, South Australia, southwestern WA and Tasmania, we now have a nationally significant catastrophe that affects city and country alike.

The magnitude of these fires alone (about 5 million hectares and rapidly rising), apart from their human and environmental consequences, simply shows us that we now confront a new, more flammable world: a coupling of people, ecosystems and fire that is now irrevocably transformed.…  Seguir leyendo »

A demonstrator with a mask attends a climate rally in Sydney last Wednesday as bushfire smoke choked the city and the Australian government used the COP25 Madrid climate talks in Spain to push for dodgy accounting tricks to halve its climate effort. Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images

I’ve been at the climate summit in Madrid for the past two weeks. The question I was constantly asked was: “What will it take for Australia to treat the climate crisis seriously?” International friends, colleagues and strangers looked on in horror at the effects of the bushfires and outright amazement at the Morrison government’s denial of the link between the fires and Australia’s coal industry, and seeming lack of concern at this extreme impact of climate change.

Morning after morning I woke to check the news and the “fires near me” app. Seeking updates from friends. Was the Katoomba fire close enough to force evacuation of one?…  Seguir leyendo »

There are not many political messages that can slip through a closed window or a locked door, but that’s just what happened last week in Australia’s biggest city. Climate change didn’t just come knocking; it slithered in under every crack, filling houses and offices across Sydney with the acrid smell of burning forests.

The Sydney Opera House, whose white-tiled sails normally sparkle in the sunlight, was seen through a haze of smoke. Asthmatics were advised against exercising. Schoolchildren were kept in their classrooms, away from the smoke-filled playground.

And politicians, especially from the ruling conservative coalition, issued instructions that it was inappropriate to discuss climate change while the fires were actively being fought.…  Seguir leyendo »

Centrists may deplore movements like Extinction Rebellion, but it’s activism that gets things done. Photograph: Olivia Vanni/AP

There is an invidious strain of centrism in Australian media and politics that is one of the most powerful forces against effective action on climate change.

It is a strain that has become more virulent in response to protests by Extinction Rebellion and the raised voices of those who care not to genuflect to the systems that have led us to the current crisis.

It is a strain that conservatives use to their advantage.

Two weeks ago, as New South Wales and parts of Queensland burned, the prime minister was at pains to argue that now was not the time to talk about climate change.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Conditions in our immigration detention centres are harsh, punitive and degrading.’ Photograph: Alamy

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s report on the use of force in immigration detention is the latest chapter in a now familiar story of excessively harsh, punitive and degrading conditions in Australian immigration detention centres.

Once again, we see a disregard for the rights and basic dignity of people who have sought our protection and committed no crime.

The report lays bare the unnecessary handcuffing of women, children, people in wheelchairs, people with mental illness and no history of violent behaviour, and other people needing medical care. It confirms what our clients have been telling us: that handcuffing has become a routine practice for transfers between centres and, alarmingly, for off-site medical appointments.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘If internet traffic is unencrypted, any government, company, or criminal that happens to notice it can – and, in fact, does – steal a copy of it, secretly recording your information for ever.’ Photograph: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

In every country of the world, the security of computers keeps the lights on, the shelves stocked, the dams closed, and transportation running. For more than half a decade, the vulnerability of our computers and computer networks has been ranked the number one risk in the US Intelligence Community’s Worldwide Threat Assessment – that’s higher than terrorism, higher than war. Your bank balance, the local hospital’s equipment, and the 2020 US presidential election, among many, many other things, all depend on computer safety.

And yet, in the midst of the greatest computer security crisis in history, the US government, along with the governments of the UK and Australia, is attempting to undermine the only method that currently exists for reliably protecting the world’s information: encryption.…  Seguir leyendo »