Australia is experiencing some of the worst bushfires in the country’s history, but that’s not going to stop Sydney from enjoying an annual New Year’s Eve tradition. Fireworks in the country’s largest city will proceed like normal tomorrow night, despite the fact that the region is under a total fire ban and many smaller towns are cancelling their fireworks due to fire risks.
New Year’s fireworks are a long tradition in Sydney, akin to fireworks on Independence Day in the U.S. since it’s summer in the southern hemisphere and Australia is one of the first places on the globe to ring in the New Year. But the fireworks have become a controversial topic lately, given the climate emergency that’s currently happening down under.
Sydney had to receive a special exemption from local fire authorities to continue the fireworks show this year. The exemption was just announced today after several days of debate about how appropriate it might be to go on with the party, and one local politician said that the risk was too high and the fireworks should be canceled out of respect for the firefighters.
The Sydney Morning Herald published an editorial in support of the $6.5 million fireworks event today, writing that, “Just as troops need entertaining in times of war, we all need a bit of respite and joy. For many people, the spectacle of the fireworks over our beautiful Sydney Harbour can provide that.”
Many right-wing politicians have come out in support of the fireworks as well, saying that the party will be a way to heal the community.
“We appreciate that there is a lot of suffering in the community at the moment,” the state’s Premier (like a Governor in the U.S.) Gladys Berejiklian said over the weekend. “[New South Wales] has always been a state that’s hopeful about the future, that’s resilient, that’s optimistic. And we need to stay strong so we can keep supporting our communities that are doing it tough.”
But plenty of others are upset at the idea that so many people are dying from the bushfires and feel it’s inappropriate to just go on with the show. Another volunteer firefighter died today roughly 5 hours southwest of Sydney while battling the blazes. Premier Berejiklian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have been criticized for not doing enough to address the blazes, and Morrison had to be shamed into returning to Australia because he was vacationing in Hawaii before Christmas.
The entire country has been experiencing vicious heatwaves throughout December and tomorrow looks like it’s going to be another scorcher. The forecast for Tuesday includes a high of 93 degrees Fahrenheit in Sydney, with the Bureau of Meteorology issuing a “poor” air quality alert and a “severe” fire warning. Anyone with heart or lung problems is advised to say indoors tomorrow.
Strong winds are also expected in Sydney tomorrow, topping anywhere from 20-25 miles per hour. And the New South Wales Rural Fire Service has tweeted a map of the fire spread that’s expected during New Year’s Eve.
Smaller towns in the state like Parramatta, Liverpool, and Campbelltown have had to cancel their own fireworks displays.
Things are looking dire in the rest of the country as well, with over 100,000 people advised to leave their homes in the suburbs of Melbourne today. The area of East Gippsland is the latest populated area to experience the terrifying fire and smoke.
Hobart, the coldest major city in Australia, saw the hottest December day in its history, hitting 105.4 degrees Fahrenheit (40.8 degrees Celsius), less than one degree Celsius of the city’s all time record of 41.6 C.
Across the country, at least 10 people have died, over 5 million hectares have burned, thousands of buildings have been destroyed, and an estimated 500 million animals have been killed. And summer is just getting started.
For some people, climate change seems like a futuristic nightmare. But for Australians, there’s nothing futuristic about it. The nightmare is now.