As wildfires continue to blaze across their country, Australians are losing homes and workplaces. So far one bush fire death has been reported.

From BBC News:

More than 170 fires are burning in New South Wales, as lightning strikes cause more blazes amid hot and windy weather. At least 30 fires remain uncontained, officials say. Fires are also burning in Victoria and Tasmania, where a firefighter tackling a blaze on the Tasman peninsula was found dead on Sunday. A report on his death is being prepared.

Map of fires in Western Australia in NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz

Naturally, the fires are being used by both sides in the climate debate. One politician, the acting Opposition Leader no less, claimed that the bush fires are releasing more CO2 than “decades” of emissions from Australia’s coal industry. A lecturer at Australian National University took this claim to task:

Bushfires this year have so far burned around 130,000ha of forest, so have emitted nearly 4 million tonnes of CO2. So, the bushfires this year have emitted an amount of CO2 equivalent to 2% of Australia’s annual emissions from coal-fired power. The current bushfires must burn an area of forest greater than Tasmania to generate CO2 emissions equivalent to a year of burning coal for electricity.

What made the politician confident enough to make such an incredibly inaccurate claim is one of those wonders which can only be attributed to the hubris that exists in the minds of that ambitious political class.

Academics and now normal Australians are also increasingly linking the increase in natural disasters in recent years to climate change. Politicians will of course put “the economy” over the climate when it gets them votes, however if the farms are burning, farmers might start thinking the economy and the climate are very closely related indeed. Same goes for popular (and profitable) tourist destinations that are presently turning to ash. Same goes for normal Australian’s who would rather not have their towns reduced to smoking ash heaps. Read more on that topic in the Financial Times and the Guardian.

Regardless of whether anything can or will be done climate-wise to prevent more catastrophic fires and record breaking temperatures, fires like the one in New South Wales, with a 60-miles (96 km) perimeter and smoke plumes 8.7 miles (14 km) high, are frightening enough to prompt anyone to ask questions like “what are we doing with our climate?”

See dramatic photos of Australia’s wildfires in the Huffington Post.

Smoke from fires in NSW, pic: Tone Edge (Flickr CC)