By now, few people have not heard of the devastating fires in New South Wales. However, I stumbled upon a reddit post and Guardian article discussing many rumors circulating the web and social media. A piece written by The Australian newspaper went viral after claiming that 183 arsonists (deliberate starting of fire) had been arrested during the current bushfire season. The number was found to be greatly exaggerated and based on annual figures instead of from September.
Even Donald Trump seized the opportunity to discredit the existence of climate change by sharing the information on Twitter: “Authorities in Australia have arrested close to 200 people for deliberately starting the bushfires (…), yet the media and celebrities continue to blame ‘climate change’ for the disaster”.
Arsony has always been a serious issue in Australia and individuals have been arrested for lighting fires since November 2019. However, no evidence exists to prove that the level of devastation the fires are causing is due to the start of deliberate fires. Fires are said to have most likely been exarcerbated by the dry hot climate, drought and lightning strikes this season has experienced. Also, important to point out, is the start location of these fires where most of them began in remote difficult access areas compared to arsony fires known to occur nearer to roadsides.
The problem lies in the way rumors grew to such an extent that even Members of Parliament stated, with confidence, that the primary origin of these fires was arsony. They used the fact that “some form of ignition is needed” as justification. It would be helpful if important political figures given media coverage would not share information that can in no way be verified at this time. The spread of misinformation across the web can dangerously hinder any progress on bringing climate change to the forefront of our agenda.
A little relief in terms of air quality for New South Wales, as rain has fallen on the fires this Thursday and will continue throughout the weekend.