Australians protest as bushfire haze sparks health fears

Demonstrators raise placards at a climate protest rally in Sydney on December 11, 2019. Up to 20,000 protesters rallied in Sydney on December 11 demanding urgent climate action from Australia’s government, as bushfire smoke choking the city caused health problems to spike. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 December 2019

Australians protest as bushfire haze sparks health fears

  • Many of the protesters voiced anger at the government’s silence in the face of the crisis
  • Police estimated the crowd size at 15,000, organizers put the figure at 20,000

SYDNEY: Up to 20,000 protesters rallied in Sydney on Wednesday demanding urgent climate action from Australia’s government, as bushfire smoke choking the city caused health problems to spike.

Sydney has endured weeks bathed in toxic smoke as hundreds of blazes have raged across the countryside, with hospitals recording a 25 percent increase in the number of people visiting emergency departments last week.

On Tuesday smoke alarms rang out across Australia’s biggest city, with thick haze triggering smoke alarms and forcing buildings to be evacuated, school children to be kept indoors, and ferries to be canceled.

The devastating fires have focused attention on climate change, with scientists saying the blazes have come earlier and with more intensity than usual due to global warming and a prolonged drought.

Police estimated the crowd size at 15,000, organizers put the figure at 20,000.

Many of the protesters voiced anger at the government’s silence in the face of the crisis.

“The country is on fire” said 26-year-old Samuel Wilkie attending his first climate protest. He described politicians’ response as “pathetic.”

“Our government is not doing anything about it,” said 29-year-old landscape gardener Zara Zoe. “No one is listening, no one is doing anything.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison — a staunch backer of Australia’s vast coal industry — has said little about the smoke since the crisis began, preferring to focus on fire-hit rural communities.

Organizer Chloe Rafferty said that had created anger at the conservative government’s inaction.

“I think the wider public can see that we are not expecting the climate crisis in the future but we are facing the climate crisis now,” she told AFP.

“People are experiencing it in their day-to-day lives.”

As well as a rise in people visiting hospitals with smoke-related health symptoms, the number of emergency calls for ambulances spiked 30 percent last week.

“For most people, smoke causes mild symptoms like sore eyes, nose and throat,” top health department official Richard Broome said.

“However, people with conditions like asthma, emphysema and angina are at greater risk because the smoke can trigger their symptoms.”

Smoke from bushfires is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution in Australia, releasing fine particles that can lodge deep within people’s lungs and cause
“severe” health impacts over time, according to scientist Mick Meyer from government-funded scientific research agency CSIRO.

“The impact of smoke on people remote from the fires may, on occasion, substantially exceed the direct injury to people within the fire zone,” he wrote in The Conversation.

“But we currently lack the operational tools to understand the extent of these impacts or to manage them.”

Six people have been killed and more than 700 houses destroyed in bushfires this fire season.

Though the human toll has been far lower than the deadliest fire season in 2009 — when almost 200 people died — the scale of this year’s devastation has been widely described as unprecedented.

Three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land has been burnt — the size of some small countries — and vast swathes of koala habitat scorched.

Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia.


Amazon indigenous leaders accuse Brazil of ‘genocide’ policy

Updated 48 min 16 sec ago

Amazon indigenous leaders accuse Brazil of ‘genocide’ policy

  • Hundreds of elders gathered this week at Pairacu, deep in the rainforest, to form a united front against Bolsonaro’s environmental policies
  • “We do not accept mining on our lands, loggers, illegal fishermen or hydroelectricity. We are opposed to anything that destroys the forest,” a leader said

PIARACU: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s pledge to open up the Amazon to mining companies was tantamount to “genocide,” indigenous leaders said Friday at a meeting to oppose the government’s environmental policies.
Hundreds of elders gathered this week at Pairacu, deep in the rainforest, to form a united front against Bolsonaro’s environmental policies, which have seen deforestation in the jungle nearly double since the Brazilian leader came to power a year ago.
“Our aim was to join forces and denounce the fact that the Brazilian government’s political policy of genocide, ethnocide and ecocide is under way,” the group said in a draft manifesto drawn up at the end of the summit.
“We do not accept mining on our lands, loggers, illegal fishermen or hydroelectricity. We are opposed to anything that destroys the forest,” the text said.
They also said that “government threats and hate speech” had encouraged violence against Amazon communities and demanded punishment for the murder of indigenous leaders.
At least eight indigenous leaders were killed last year.
Brazil’s leading indigenous chief, Raoni Metuktire, said Thursday he would personally travel to the capital Brasilia to present the meeting’s demands to Congress.
“Over there, I’m going to ask Bolsonaro why he speaks so badly about the indigenous peoples,” said the 89-year-old leader of the Kayapo tribe.
Preliminary data collected by the National Institute for Space Research showed an 85 percent increase in Amazon deforestation last year when compared to 2018.