Tim Flannery Discusses Devastating Wildfires in Australia

Apocalyptic wildfires are decimating Australian flora and fauna, with one expert saying that hundreds of millions of animals have probably been killed. To assess this dire situation, its causes and whether there is any cause for hope, Christiane speaks with Australia’s best known climate scientist Tim Flannery.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Give us the state of play as we speak right now.

TIM FLANNERY, CHIEF COUNCILLOR, CLIMATE COUNCIL AUSTRALIA: Well, we have had around 17 million acres of Australia burned; 25 people have died in the flames. The impacts on biodiversity have been truly horrific. Just on Kangaroo Island alone off the coast of South Australia, half of the koala population, we think, has been killed, about a third of the koala population for the northern half of New South Wales. And they are the species that are easy to count. So I think, unfortunately, that the impacts of this on our economy, on our biodiversity and on just human lives will be with us for many decades. And, sadly, it’s not an end. These dry conditions look set to persist for several months yet.

AMANPOUR: So, why is it that it is so bad this time around?

FLANNERY: We have had the driest year on record, and it follows the previous year, which was very dry as well. This year has been the hottest year on record, by quite a considerable amount, about one degree Fahrenheit. And those conditions, they’re part of the long-term trajectory of climate change, and they have conspired together with a windy season to produce these horrific fire conditions, which have just gone on and on. And I should tell you that this was predicted by climate scientists first in the early ’80s. My own Climate Council has produced 12 reports warning the government and warning the people of the escalating fire risk and danger in Australia. And, sadly, until it hits, very little is done.

AMANPOUR: Are you absolutely sure that this is climate change-caused?

FLANNERY: Yes, I am absolutely certain. The science is telling us this. It’s telling us that these extreme heat conditions we have seen this year might occur naturally once every 350 years. But once you add the influence of the human-emitted greenhouse gases, we’re likely to see those conditions every eight years. And, of course, that number will decline. It will become more frequent as the buildup of gases continues.

About This Episode EXPAND

As U.S.-Iran tensions escalate following the death of Qasem Soleimani, Christiane analyzes the situation with Mohammad Marandi, Chris Murphy, Ayad Allawi and Stephen Hadley. Plus, environmentalist Tim Flannery joins the program to discuss the wildfires devastating Australia.