The ACT Scientist of the Year has called on Australia's politicians to stop bickering over the right time to discuss the influence of climate change on recent bushfires and act to keep global warming to less than two degrees.
Dr Sophie Lewis is a climate scientist at UNSW Canberra, specialising in extreme weather events over long time frames, and in a viral blog post has called for Australia's leaders to address both the current bushfires and the long-term action needed to mitigate climate change.
"If we're going to meet the challenges of climate change, we must be compassionate and empathetic and understand that what people are going through at the moment is traumatic," Dr Lewis told The Canberra Times.
"We have to be sensitive to that and also thinking about how we can be prepared and planning for the current conditions and the coming summer and there's no point in doing that if we're not being prepared for what's going to happen in the future."
While causes of bushfires are complex, Dr Lewis said increases in the number of extreme fire danger days and fire risks could be related to increasing global temperatures.
"We're finding there's still a lot that goes into these events in terms of weather patterns, wind, and we always need an ignition source and whether that's something like lightning or unfortunately arsonists.
"But we do know that the background conditions, because of climate change, are influencing fire danger and fire risk in Australia."
If we can't get together and unite over our children, it really has me worried.Dr Sophie Lewis
On Sunday morning more than 60 fires were burning across New South Wales, all at "advice" level, and on Sunday afternoon Queensland authorities were warning there could be need to evacuate due to a fire west of Cairns. Minister for Natural Disasters and Emergency Management David Littleproud announced a $48 million recovery package for NSW on Sunday.
Dr Lewis' work is contributing to the world's understanding of climate change as a lead author on a chapter for the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Part of her work on weather and climate extreme events in a changing climate is marking weather records that are consistently being broken.
While often awake in the middle of the night for teleconferences with her co-authors, Dr Lewis is worried that the Australian political debate isn't addressing the effects climate change will have on the lives of children like her two-year-old daughter.
"I was working on a draft of a paper with a co-author who has a daughter the same age as mine, and when I sent it to her she just wrote back with a whole lot of swear words because she realised with the timelines we were talking about, our kids were going to be in high school.
"That just cut through all that academic and technical science.
"If we can't get together and unite over our children, it really has me worried."