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Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life
A fire burns in New South Wales, Australia in November of 2019. Dean Sewell / The Sydney Morning Herald via Getty Images

The climate crisis played a significant role in Australia's devastating wildfire season, a group of researchers has confirmed.

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Koalas are clinging to life in bushfire-ravaged Australia, as seen here on Jan. 9, 2020. Ninian Reed / CC BY 2.0

Australian conservation groups are asking the government to declare koalas endangered after the devastating wildfires this summer killed thousands of them and destroyed 45 million acres of bush that they call home, according to a new report from the conservation group International Fund for Animal Welfare.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Goats are gaining a reputation for being a useful tool for fire prevention. HarshLight / CC BY 2.0

A city in Southern California has found a unique and adorable way to help prevent the next big wildfire: goats!

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An alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, as seen here in Christmas Valley, South Lake Tahoe, California on Feb. 15, 2020. jcookfisher / CC BY 2.0

California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.

The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."

While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.

On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."

A general view of fire damaged country in the The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area near the town of Blackheath on Feb. 21, 2020 in Blackheath, Australia. Brook Mitchell / Getty Images

In a post-mortem of the Australian bushfires, which raged for five months, scientists have concluded that their intensity and duration far surpassed what climate models had predicted, according to a study published yesterday in Nature Climate Change.

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A neighborhood in Paradise, California destroyed by the Camp Fire. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) will plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter for sparking the state's deadliest wildfire, the company announced Monday.

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Destruction from the Currowan fire on Tallowa Dam Rd. in Kangaroo Valley, Australia on Jan. 5, 2020. Wolter Peeters / The Sydney Morning Herald / Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Twenty-five people and more than one billion animals are dead in historic Australian wildfires that are now expected to burn for months.

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An aerial view of a neighborhood destroyed by the Camp Fire on Nov. 15, 2018 in Paradise, Calif. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Respecting scientists has never been a priority for the Trump Administration. Now, a new investigation from The Guardian revealed that Department of the Interior political appointees sought to play up carbon emissions from California's wildfires while hiding emissions from fossil fuels as a way to encourage more logging in the national forests controlled by the Interior department.

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A kangaroo tries to move away from nearby bushfires at a residential property near the town of Nowra in the Australian state of New South Wales. SAEED KHAN / AFP via Getty Images

By Jake Johnson

Ecologists at the University of Sydney are estimating that nearly half a billion animals have been killed in Australia's unprecedented and catastrophic wildfires, which have sparked a continent-wide crisis and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in desperation.

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Images taken during the bushfire crisis are projected on the sails of the Sydney Opera House on Jan 11, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. Don Arnold / Getty Images

After a "devastating" wildfire season, all of the bushfires in Australia's most populous state of New South Wales (NSW) are now contained.

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The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the Suomi NPP satellite acquired this image of forest fire smoke hovering over North America on Aug. 15, 2018. NASA Earth Observatory

New York City isn't known for having the cleanest air, but researchers traced recent air pollution spikes there to two surprising sources — fires hundreds of miles away in Canada and the southeastern U.S.

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Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life
The remains of burnt out buildings are seen along Main Street in the New South Wales town of Cobargo on Dec. 31, 2019, after bushfires ravaged the town. Thousands of holidaymakers and locals were forced to flee to beaches in fire-ravaged southeast Australia. SEAN DAVEY / AFP via Getty Images

An out-of-control wildfire in the Australian state of Victoria forced thousands of people to flee towards the coast Tuesday.

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By Eoin Higgins

Australia is on fire.

The country on Saturday saw delayed flights on the second day of a national state of emergency due to raging brushfires near every major city and choked-out smoke conditions.

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Firefighters work during a wildfire threatening nearby hillside homes in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood on Oct. 21 in Los Angeles. The fire scorched at least 30 acres and prompted mandatory evacuations. Mario Tama / Getty Images

A wildfire that broke out Monday near Los Angeles' wealthy Pacific Palisades area threatened around 200 homes and injured two people, CNN reported.

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Women carrying fresh water pots walk on cracked land at a village near the Sundarban in Khulna, Bangladesh on Feb. 12, 2020. Rehman Asad / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

By Tharanga Gunawardena

Extreme climate events are increasingly threatening countries and livelihoods. Devastating natural disasters and unpredictable weather have made communities more vulnerable and impoverished, especially women. According to the United Nations, 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. But what makes them more susceptible to the effects of climate catastrophe?

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A woman watches as she takes shelter at the beach as smoke from a bushfire is seen in Batemans Bay in New South Wales on Jan. 4. PETER PARKS / AFP / Getty Images

The Australian wildfires that burned for five months and destroyed millions of acres also killed 33 people. However, the smoke from the fires killed 12.6 times as many people. New research has shown that smoke from the fires killed 417 people and caused thousands of hospitalizations between October and February, as CBS News reported.

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Demonstrators hold up placards outside the Australian Open venue during a climate protest rally in Melbourne on Jan.y 24. MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP / Getty Images

The climate crisis has now stretched Australia's summers twice as long as its winters, a new report has found.

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New and recent books explore how we can effectively respond to climate change while enhancing our health and happiness. Kei Uesugi / DigitalVision / Getty Images

A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.

Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.

Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?

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Barkandji elder Waddy Harris poses for a portrait at his home on March 5, 2019 in Wilcannia, Australia. The Barkandji people — meaning the river people — live in Wilcannia, a small town in the Central Darling Shire in north western New South Wales. Jenny Evans / Stringer / Getty Images

By Zena Cumpston

In the wake of devastating bushfires across the country, and with the prospect of losing a billion animals and some entire species, transformational change is required in the way we interact with this land.

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