Australia now enters month three of the worst wildfires in the country's recorded history, and there's no end in sight to temperatures over 110 degrees, massive destruction of homes and wildlife, devastating drought, and pictures that look like the mouth of Hell itself.
As the fire stalked the east coast of Australia on Tuesday, the daytime sky turned inky black, then blood red. Emergency sirens wailed, followed by the thunder of gas explosions. Thousands of residents fled their homes and huddled near the shore. There was nowhere else to go.
Apocalyptic scenes like these in Mallacoota, a vacation destination between Sydney and Melbourne, came on the last day of the warmest decade on record in Australia. The country is in the grip of a devastating fire season, with months of summer still to go, as record-breaking temperatures, strong winds and prolonged drought have ignited huge blazes across the country.
The government prepared to deploy navy vessels and military helicopters to help fight the fires and evacuate people.
The devastation is immense. In the state of New South Wales, which includes Sydney, more than 900 homes have been destroyed and nine million acres have burned since November. About 90 fires were still raging in the state on Tuesday, with about three dozen more across the border in Victoria. At least 12 people have died.
Australia is normally hot and dry in summer, but climate change, which brings more frequent and longer periods of extreme heat, worsens these conditions and makes vegetation drier and more likely to burn. The country recently concluded its driest spring on record. That was followed in mid-December by the hottest day on record, with average highs across the country of 41.9 degrees Celsius (107.4 degrees Fahrenheit).
Polls show a large majority of Australians view climate change as an urgent threat and want stronger government action to combat it. The catastrophic fire conditions have put an intense focus on the Australian government’s failure to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, which traps heat when released into the atmosphere and contributes to global warming.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a conservative, has made it clear that Australia’s economic prosperity comes first. Even as his country burned, he has said repeatedly that it is not the time to discuss climate policy.
“We have stood up to these terrible disasters before, and we have come through the other side,” he said in his New Year’s Eve address. “We will rebuild and we will stay strong.”
The Morrison government won't lift a finger to change anything, and Australia will continue to burn every summer. The thing about climate change, and people who refuse to do anything about it, is that eventually the destruction will become so awful that people will revolt.
When that happens, I'm not sure what will become of humanity. But I foresee bloody conflict ahead for a lot of places as people fleeing the ravages of climate change run into realpolitik and the people with the rifles and tanks.
Get used to scenes like this over the decades ahead. Not all of us are going to make it.