Thousands of Australians are protesting against what they say is a lack of government action on climate change, as the country’s bushfires continue to rage.
It comes as nearly 250,000 people were urged to leave their homes in Victoria in the face of extreme fire danger, with more than 30 fires active.
The fires have killed at least 27 people since November and destroyed more than 10 million hectares of land, including precious wildlife and homes.
Image: A satellite image showing burned land and thick smoke over Kangaroo Island. Pic: NASA Earth Observatory
Friday’s protesters in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to do more to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and to take action to deal with climate change.
A protester called Anna said: “The fact that we’re at the bottom of the list of Western countries in dealing with climate change is ridiculous considering how affluent we are as a country.”
Another, Benedicta Gensen, added: “I can’t even watch the news because it’s heartbreaking, it’s our doing. If we kill Mother Earth, what have we got? Nothing, you know.”
‘I don’t want to burn, but I have to save them’
Mr Morrison told Sydney radio station 2GB he was disappointed that people were linking the bushfire crisis with Australia’s emission reduction targets.
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He said: “We don’t want job-destroying, economy-destroying, economy-wrecking targets and goals, which won’t change the fact that there have been bushfires or anything like that in Australia.”
Image: Protesters in Sydney are among those calling for more action on climate change
Daniel Andrews, premier of Victoria state, criticised the protests as badly-timed and a drain on police resources.
He said: “I respect people’s right to have a view, I tend to agree with a lot of the points that are being made – climate change is real, but there is a time and a place for everything and I just don’t think a protest tonight was the appropriate thing.”
Sky correspondent Tom Cheshire is in Melbourne and said the issue of climate change had polarised the country.
He said: “Neither side seems to find any middle ground on this, it has become such a contentious issue. It’s not just an emergency and national crisis but it’s a political crisis too.”
Image: More than 10 million hectares of land has been destroyed by the fires
Some places are without power and have spent weeks under hazardous levels of smoke, which has reached the skylines of New Zealand and even Chile in recent weeks.
As well as communities in Victoria, people in high-risk parts of New South Wales and South Australia have also been told to consider leaving their homes.
Officials warned the next few hours could be “very, very challenging” as souring temperatures and erratic winds created dangerous conditions, even as rain fell in some parts.
There are more than 160 fires burning across New South Wales and in the alpine region bordering Victoria. Two fires are set to merge, which would create a blaze over almost 600,000 hectares.
Image: Residents of Mallacoota gathered at the wharf as the fire approached. Pic: @bluesfestblues
Meanwhile, British naval helicopter pilot Lieutenant Commander Nick Grimmer has been flying rescue missions up to 10 hours a day with his crew.
Lt Cdr Grimmer, 35, from Great Yarmouth, is on a three-year exchange in the Australian navy, where he is based at HMAS Albatross, situated 100 miles south of Sydney.
One of his missions was helping people in the town of Mallacoota in Victoria, where residents and tourists had retreated to the beach to escape the approaching flames late in December.
Most of the evacuees were collected by landing craft from HMAS Choules, but Lt Cdr Grimmer’s helicopter launched to search for people cut off from the beach and to survey the extent of the damage.
Image: Lieutenant Commander Nick Grimmer is a British naval helicopter pilot flying rescue missions in the Australian bushfires. Pic: Royal Navy
He has been in the navy for 12 years, including time in Sierra Leone, but he said his work in Australia was most challenging.
He said: “You have to fly low because of the visibility – then suddenly you find yourself in thick smoke and are forced to either turn back or climb rapidly to avoid running into mountains. There’s a fine line between what you can do and what is not possible, with risks being constantly re-evaluated.
“It’s frequently difficult to breathe. Your clothes, in fact the entire aircraft stinks of smoke and everyone is exhausted. But it’s also by far the most rewarding thing we’ve done.
“Every day you go through the spectrum of emotions – from intense lows to highs,” he explained.
“I’m an animal lover and seeing the impact on wildlife is heartbreaking – all too often we are seeing dead animals who have succumbed to the fires in fields we are landing in.”
Source : Sky News