The ongoing costs of the "Black Summer"

The ongoing costs of the

Over the break I took some time to look back on 2020.

While it's easy to focus on Covid and it's impact on our lives that's not the only major event and I honestly think we're all a little sick of hearing about it.

"Black Summer" is what people are calling what happened in Australia over the summer of 2019-2020.

The fires were big news across the world when they were going on, but you don’t hear much about the aftermath nowadays.

With everything that’s happened in the last 18 months, it’s easy for people to move on and to focus on the "next thing." That isn’t so easy for the people who live in those affected regions, who are still dealing with the consequences of those fires. In this email, I’ll quickly cover the cost of the fires to Australian farmers and how things look for the future.

Black Summer wasn’t just devastating – It wasn’t meant to be possible.

Over the past 20 years about an average of 1% of mixed forests get burned up per year in Australia. That figure includes temperate broadleaf and mixed forests. It’s estimated that with Black Summer, the percentage burned was 21%. Reports from satellites show that 97,000 square kilometres of land and bush got burned in the fire, and scientists estimate that over one billion animals were lost. It’s like nothing anyone has ever seen before. Scientists weren’t expecting this kind of disaster until at least the 22nd Century.

It wasn’t just the wildlife and natural environments that suffered. Along with all the devastation that happened in the bush, the fires swept through communities and farms. Australian farmers were already having a hard time because of an ongoing drought across the country, and then Black Summer happened. When the fires hit, pastures were burned and livestock were killed.

It’s estimated, for example, that up too 100,000 sheep were killed on Kangaroo Island, either directly or indirectly because of the fires. 13% of the country’s total sheep flock were in regions that have been significantly impacted, while another 17% were in regions that were partially impacted. In New South Wales and Victoria, over 25,000 animals had been lost, and that accounts for 2% of Australia’s total population of sheep and cattle.

Those are big numbers, but what do they mean? For a lot of farmers, it meant that during the worst of the fires they were in a race to bury the dead carcasses of cattle and sheep, to stop the spread of disease. The bodies lay in heaps near roads or on the scorched earth. A lot of farm animals got burned and had to be put down, like cattle who had their udders too badly burned to feed their calves.

Things were bad, but they could have been a lot worse for farmers.

The bushfires mainly hit coastal areas and national parks. This left large areas of agricultural land untouched.

Many farmers are reporting having one of their best years. Beef, sheep, and grain farmers, for example, have been making a lot of profit in 2020. The production of key industries was affected during the fires, but now in many ways things are back to normal and have been for a while.

For a lot of farmers, the main concern at the moment isn’t dealing with the aftermath of the bushfires. Low levels of rainfall and the export troubles with China are more pressing problems for many.To sum up, farmers specifically affected by the fires had it rough, but the agriculture industry wasn’t as badly affected as it could have been.

What’s the future look like?

Many scientists think that with climate change, these sorts of fires are going to become more commonplace.

But at least for the immediate future, things might not be so bad.

Since these fires were so intense, it’ll likely take another 5 years before something like this could happen again. The reason is that it takes a long time for bush, dead vegetation and dead wood to build up. In the meantime, there’s been plenty of public pressure in Australia and across the world to do more to address this ongoing problem.

Nobody can say what things will look like in the future. Black Summer, for example, caught most people by surprise. A disaster like this shows that we’ve got to do everything we can to prepare for these sorts of events, and be as proactive as possible instead of reactive.

Love to get your thoughts on this and looking forward to connecting soon. Comment below.

P.s. For those of you interested I thought I'd throw in some references for this email. As I started reading about the fires I found some great articles that may be of interest to you too.

[i] https://www.wired.com/store/the-terrible-consequences-of-australias-uber-bushfires
[ii] https://www.wired.com/story/the-terrible-consequences-of-australias-uber-bushfires/
[iii] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jan/13/up-to-100000-sheep-killed-in-kangaroo-island-fires-as-farmers-tally-livestock-losses
[iv] https://www.kleffmann.com/en/kleffmann-group/news--press/press-releases/impact-of-bushfires-on-australian-agriculture/