Over the past few months, there have been bushfires (wildfires) that have burnt in many states of Australia. These fires have burnt through over 8.4 million hectares (21 million acres; 84,000 square kilometres; 32,000 square miles) including over 2,500 buildings with over 25 people perishing along with an estimated 500 million animals. These fires have come during one of the hottest years on record along with “prolonged and severe drought and very high dryness factors for fuels”. The current fires are expected to take over 8 weeks to be extinguished if we have favourable conditions during the remainder of the Australian summer.

There has been an understandable amount of anger and anxiety towards governments and politicians as people look to deal with the seemingly surreal images and the enormity of the fires during what is normally a celebratory Christmas period. This has been followed in recent days by a great outpouring of charity and kindness towards those fighting the fires and those who have lost their homes and towns, the donations(food & toys) have reached a point were governments and organisations had to request people to stop and only contribute monetary donations.

These fires are a warning to the world that impacts of climate change are occurring as predicted and in some instances faster than anticipated. The Garnaut Climate Review report of 2008 foretold of the current fires providing this grim warning:

Recent projections of fire weather (Lucas et al. 2007) suggest that fire seasons will start earlier, end slightly later, and generally be more intense. This effect increases over time, but should be directly observable by 2020.”

The Garnaut Climate Change Review

The same report also warned “summer recreational activities are also at increasing risk from bushfires and storm and wind events.” and that there would be “increases in air pollution (for example, from bushfire smoke)”.

Australia has had fire events over thousands of years through natural occurrences and through traditional land management by indigenous people. However, due to the increase in people living and farming across the land, we have seen changes in land management that only allows governments to undertake fire management (through controlled or prescribed burning) in certain low-risk conditions with a short time window. It may be time that we greater utilise their knowledge and practices of First Nations (indigenous) people to manage the landscape.

Past Major Bushfires in Australia – National Museum of Australia | Image Credit – Damian Holmes

Governments (local, state and federal) have all pledged to rebuild the towns, farms, tourism facilities and infrastructure. However, there are some hard and controversial decisions that will need to be made in the coming weeks, months and years regarding the planning, development and management of the landscape.

North Coast NSW | Image Credit Ash Hogan

The involvement of landscape architects will be key and many architects, landscape architects and other design professionals have pledged support and services for rebuilding communities through organisations such as Architects Assist. Organisations such as the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) have also stated that they will “In the coming weeks we will look to coordinate a service to connect those [AILA] members looking to offer their services to communities.”

As landscape architects, we need to also continue to advocate for change at all levels of government and use our landscape organisations to change policy to deal with the threat of climate change. AILA President Shaun Walsh announced today that “AILA will also continue advocating to government about the climate and biodiversity emergency as we call for immediate and significant funding and policy action.” also directed members to AILA’s Bushfire Position Statement.

The world, its people and governments need to heed the advice that has been provided by scientists, academics, organisations and public that climate change is real and the impacts are only being exacerbated by ongoing debate and inaction. We all need to participate in the conversation and advocate for action on climate change. Please contact your local landscape architecture organisation to see how they are advocating on behalf of members and how you can participate.

This article was originally published on World Landscape Architecture on January 7, 2020