- Australia’s New South Wales Rural Fire Service said all fires within the state have been contained after heavy rains brought in by a now ex-tropical cyclone.
- Seemingly replacing one problem for the next, flash flooding has led to power outages and even prompted evacuations.
- Australia’s recent extreme weather shifts have raised concerns over climate change, with scientists predicting the country will continue to experience even more intense extremes as climate change worsens.
All Fires in New South Wales “Contained”
After months of struggling to contain brutal fires that ravaged millions of acres, firefighters in Australia’s state of New South Wales said all fires in the region have been contained.
“After what’s been a truly devastating fire season for both firefighters and residents, who’ve suffered so much this season, all fires are now contained in New South Wales, which is great news,” Rob Rogers, assistant commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service, said.
“Not all fires are out,” he added. “There’s still some fire activity in the far south of the state, but all fires are contained, so we can truly focus on helping people rebuild.”
New South Wales is the country’s most populous state, with it being home to both Sydney and the country’s capital, Canberra. This is the first time since the bushfire season began in June that all fires have been contained—meaning fire crews have managed to surround them on all sides to prevent them from spreading.
While Australia sees a yearly brushfire season, its most recent one was particularly extreme thanks to a combination of below-average rainfall and high winds.
In November, NSW and Queensland both declared states of emergency. Throughout the season, thousands were forced to evacuate their homes, more than 3,000 homes were destroyed, and at least 33 people died.
In December, heavy smoke blanketed Sydney, with the air quality in the city measuring 11 times above the hazardous level at one point.
The fires have also been devastating to wildlife, with one billion animals estimated dead. On Tuesday, Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water, and Environment listed 113 species in need “emergency intervention” following the fire, including the koala and the platypus, among others.
Rain Puts Out Fires but Leads to Flash Flooding
News that NSW’s fires were contained came after the region’s latest bout of rain. In fact, over the last few weeks, Australia has witnessed several waves of rain that have helped assist fire crews in controlling the blazes.
In NSW alone, the RFS said the downpour helped it put out 30 fires since Friday. That rain also helped to put out NSW’s two biggest fires, which were burning about 1.2 million acres of land each.
Over the past week, Australia’s east coast has experienced rain brought in by now ex-Tropical Cyclone Uesi. According to the Australia Bureau of Meteorology, NSW saw nearly 8 inches of rain within a 24 hour period. Over a four day period, it saw more than 15 inches of rainfall, reportedly the heaviest it’s seen in 30 years.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney’s dams are reaching their highest levels since April 2018.
However, with the rain, Australia seemed to have traded one problem for another. Both Queensland and NSW are currently facing a series of issues, including flash flooding, power outages, and more evacuations.
Queensland itself saw several reports of missing people, with one body being found.
Is Climate Change To Blame?
With Australia’s extreme weather shifts, some have wondered whether or not the heavy rainfall witnessed on the east coast is a result of climate change; however, the answer isn’t quite clear.
Many scientists have credited the bushfire season as a result of climate change. Those scientists also predict that Australia’s bushfire season will only continue to become more frequent and more intense. Part of this is because Australia is especially susceptible to climate change since it has a vast interior desert and rapidly-heating ocean currents surround the country.
As far as storms go, the Climate Council of Australia found in 2016 that climate is fueling more intense and more damaging storms.
“Extreme weather events including tropical cyclones, extreme rainfall, hail/thunderstorms and extra-tropical cyclones (for example, east coast lows) are now occurring in an atmosphere that is packing more energy and carrying more moisture than it did in the 1950s,” it found, adding that climate change also exacerbates coastal flooding.
It then predicted that “climate change will continue to exacerbate storms in Australia, increasing the risk of devastating impacts.”
Still, it’s unclear whether this ex-tropical cyclone is a result of that climate change, though as London School of Economics and Political Science Professor Tim Forsyth said, it is possible.
“For years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted weather will be more extreme and unpredictable,” he told NBC News. “This is consistent with the pattern this year in Australia of a longer than expected dry period, followed by unexpectedly high rainfall.”
“However, it is also important not to draw rapid conclusions,” he added. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty about long-term weather patterns. We have to acknowledge that human records of weather in Australia only go back to the early 20th century — so there are limits to what we know.”
See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Guardian) (NPR)
Police Arrest Hong Kong Man for Booing Chinese National Anthem
The man’s boos were launched during the first time the Chinese national anthem had ever been played for a Hong Kong athlete at the Olympics.
Instulting the Anthem
Hong Kong authorities announced Friday that a man was arrested for allegedly booing and “insulting” the Chinese national anthem while watching the Olympics on Monday.
The unnamed 40-year-old, who identified himself as a journalist, was allegedly watching the Olympics fencing medal ceremony for Hong Konger Edgar Cheung at a local mall. When the anthem began playing, he allegedly began booing and chanted “We are Hong Kong!” while waving a British Hong Kong Colonial flag.
The man’s actions were particularly noteworthy because it was the first time the Chinese national anthem had been played for a Hong Kong athlete in the Olympics. Hong Kongers compete at the Games under a separate committee called Hong Kong, China. The last time a Hong Konger won gold was in 1996 for windsurfing, at which time the British anthem of “God Save the Queen” was played.
Concerns for Freedom of Speech
The man is suspected of breaking the relatively new National Anthem Ordinance, which was passed in June 2020, and has a penalty of up to three years in prison and fines of $6,000 for anyone who publicly and intentionally insults the anthem. The law mirrors one in mainland China, but it has faced considerable scrutiny from increasingly persecuted pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong.
They argue that it tramples the right to free speech, which is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Hong Kong police, however, say that’s not the case and claim that his actions breach common restraints on freedom of speech. Senior Superintendent Eileen Chung said that his actions were “to stir up the hostility of those on the scene and to politicize the sport.”
Police issued a warning that it would investigate reports of others joining his chants or violating the separate National Security law passed last year.
This incident isn’t the only case of alleged politicization of the Games. Badminton player Angus Ng was accused by a pro-Beijing lawmaker of making a statement by sporting a black jersey with the territory’s emblem. The imagery was very similar to the black-and-white Hong Kong flag used by anti-government protesters.
Ng countered that he wore his own clothes to the event because he didn’t have sponsorships to provide jerseys and he wasn’t authorized to print the emblem on a jersey himself.
See what others are saying: (Inside) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)
Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse
The Roman Catholic Church is facing considerable backlash across Canada for its treatment of indigenous peoples in the residential school system, along with its subsequent efforts to downplay the problem.
Priest Sparks Outrage
Father Rheal Forest was put on forced leave Wednesday following remarks he made over a weeks-long period starting July 10 in which he doubted victims of the country’s infamous residential school system.
Residential schools were a system of schools largely for indigenous children that were mostly run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The schools were notoriously cruel and long faced allegations that children had been abused or went missing under their care.
To date, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four former residential schools across Canada, a fraction of the over 130 that used to exist.
Forest, of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Winnipeg, was standing in for a couple of weeks while the main priest at his church was away. During that time, Forest told parishioners that victims of the residential schools, particularly those sexually abused, had lied.
“If [the victims] wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes — lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” he said.
“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”
In that same sermon, he also added that during his time with Inuit groups in the north of the country, most had allegedly said they appreciated the residential school system. Instead, he said they blamed any abuses on lay people working at the facilities rather than priests or nuns.
Forest’s comments drew a ton of backlash, prompting the archdiocese to place Forest on leave. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that the institution “completely disavow” Forest’s comments, adding, “We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system.”
Overall, the archdiocese has attempted to apologize to indigenous communities for its part in the residential school system, with Archbishop Albert Legatt saying in a video that the way forward was by “acknowledging, apologizing, and acting” on terms set by indigenous groups.
Church Allegedly Kept Money From Victims
Forest’s views and subsequent dismissal aren’t the only public relations scandal the Roman Catholic Church faces in Canada.
According to documents obtained by CBC News, the Church spent over a decade avoiding paying out money to survivors per a 2005 agreement. At the time, it, alongside the protestant churches that also ran some residential schools, agreed to pay an amount to victims of the schools in the tens of millions.
Instead, according to an internal summary of 2015 court documents, the Catholic Church spent much of that money on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company, and unapproved loans. It seems that some of this was technically legal, such as a promise to give tens of millions back via “in-kind” services; however, there was no audit completed to confirm that these services actually happened or to prove the alleged value of the services. This led to doubts about whether or not they were done effectively.
The Catholic Church was unique among the signatory churches in the 2005 agreement with its efforts to avoid paying victims. All of the other denominations paid out their sums many years before without issues.
While priests such as Father Forest have supported the Church, there has been internal backlash. Father André Poilièvre, a Saskatoon priest and Order of Canada recipient, said the Church’s actions are “scandalous” and “really shameful,” adding, “It was a loophole. It might be legal, but it’s not ethical.”
With these latest revelations, widespread anger at the Church has triggered allegations that indigenous groups are behind a spree of church burnings across the country.
The entire situation is likely going to continue to smolder as a government commission set up to investigate the schools estimates there will be thousands of more unmarked graves found across Canada.
See what others are saying: (CBC News) (The Guardian) (CTV News)
Tokyo Sets Back-to-Back Records for Number of Daily COVID-19 Cases
Some positive cases were detected among people attending the Olympic Games, including a handful of athletes.
Cases Going Up
The Tokyo Olympic Games found itself in more controversy on Wednesday after Tokyo experienced a record number of daily COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row.
On Tuesday, the city recorded 2,848 new cases of the virus, passing the 2,500 daily new case threshold for the first time since the pandemic began. Then on Wednesday, it shattered the record again with 3,177 new COVID-19 cases.
At least 155 of those new cases were detected among people attending the Games, including a handful of athletes, which contrasts Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s promise that the Olympics wouldn’t be hit with the virus. The spike in new cases has largely been attributed to the delta-variant, something that many countries are dealing with around the world.
Nishimura Yasutoshi, a Japanese economic minister, told a parliamentary panel this week that COVID-19 cases are expected to continue rising for at least a few days. He also explained that many people may have delayed getting tested last week due to holidays, therefore inflating total daily new case numbers.
Governors in prefectures around Tokyo have moved to ask the government for states-of-emergency, which Tokyo is already under.
Doubts About Government Response
The prime minister said in a press conference on Tuesday that “the government has secured a new drug that reduces the risk of serious illness by 70 percent,” adding, “we have confirmed that this drug will be used thoroughly from now on.”
However, he never actually mentioned what drug he was referencing.
“In any case, under these circumstances, I would like to ask the people to avoid going out unnecessarily and to watch the Olympics and Paralympics on TV,” Suga continued.
He also stressed that canceling the Olympics amid the outbreak was completely out of the question, although there have been continued calls from the public and opposition lawmakers for just that.
Beyond refusing to cancel the Games, Suga is facing backlash for refusing to enact strict state-of-emergency protocols. Currently, the measures in Tokyo are almost all voluntary and consist of asking people to stay home, along with requesting restaurants that serve alcohol to completely close and telling all others to shut down by 8 p.m.