In Australia, the 2019/2020 fire season has seen abnormally high temperatures and vast wildfires affecting large areas of the country
Cause, impact and response – the basics
Starter: stop the press, absent articles! Using the downloadable document called ‘Absent articles’ ask students to read the headline and then write the opening paragraph for the piece. Set a limit of 100 to 200 words and ask students to think: what should a good first paragraph have in it? Hint: intrigue, mystery, unusual facts, raw emotion or simply a catchy beginning? For A level consider extending this to drafting a whole article.
Main: create a case study A3 poster for your book. Make sure you have cause, impact and response on your design. These are the key sections of a good natural hazards case study. As an extension task ask your students to investigate the opportunities and challenges for Australia. For A level consider asking students to utilise section 5.6 on page 217 in the AQA Hodder A level textbook, titled Fires in nature.
Plenary: discussion point – how do you think the evacuees felt on the beach in Malua Bay? Could your students act out a scene from a beach evacuation drama? Get creative to finish!
Extension: access and read the FT article titled Australia’s deadly wildfires in numbers to understand why the fire season of 2019/20 stands out. A level students should listen to RGS-IBG schools podcast with Dr. Helen Cleugh from CSIRO to understand the physical geography of this disaster.
What it was like – empathize and elaborate
Starter: be the writer, choose a photograph in the downloadable document called Photographs and write a caption to explain the scene. This could be called ‘Capture the caption’ with the best being written up onto the whiteboard. Prizes for the best effort and the one that is the most realistic! For A level consider asking students to annotate a stuck in image with what the victims are thinking/ worrying about/ feeling at the time. Follow up with a discussion about emotion and decision-making.
Main: open the downloadable document called ‘Personal account’ detailing how the wildfires effected Melinda Varcoe and Jessica Pickerings. Create a story board with pictures and text of either Melinda’s week or Jessica’s holiday. The best way to structure this activity is simply to have a printed template ready. Have a think about how many lines of writing you want under each image – are your students visual learners or do they enjoy text?
Plenary: create a stats page of all the records and data that have been broken or recorded.
Extension: access and read the FT article titled Thousands trapped on Australian beaches as bushfires rage to learn more about the evacuations. A level students should listen to the RGS-IBG schools podcast with Dr. Christine Eriksen from Wollongong university to understand the human geography of this disaster.
The effects – duration and solutions
Starter: debate the picture by Anthony Hearsey or project the tweet by Rihanna – how can misinformation by dangerous? Options are varied to start the lesson; students might be shown a picture of Rihanna with the question ‘how did Rihanna contribute to the disaster’? For A level students consider showing the artwork from Anthony Hearsey to spur a debate about how you should quality-assure sources. This is also an opportunity for A level students to be exposed to the concept of map distortion: Mercator, Peters and the ‘south-up map orientation’ of Australian maps. This is referenced on page 355 of the AQA Hodder A level textbook.
Main: print off a picture of a wildfire and stick into the centre of a double page. Quarter the area. Create a mindmap with the left page being for short and long term effects (top left quarter and bottom left quarter). Use the right page for short and long term responses (top right quarter and bottom right quarter). For A level students consider using a larger format with select groups to present their findings to the class.
Plenary: use thedownloadable document referenced Further reading to access a list of weblinks to further investigate the impacts of this natural disaster.
Extension: is retro-fitting and collectivism the way forward long term? Access and read the Guardian article titled Australia faces ‘massive’ rethink to prepare for long-term bushfires and air pollution. A level students should listen to scientist Paul Hessburg on what megafires are, what ‘crosstalk’ describes and risk management to prevent wildfires in the future.
How the atmosphere has changed – 1911 versus 2020
Starter: use the attached document referenced Archive maps from the RGS-IBG archives to compare the 1911 rainfall choropleth map titled Climate summer conditions against a 2020 rainfall choropleth map from the Australian BoM. You will find reliable choropleth maps to use here. Be careful our archive map is in inches! Compare the differences. Has the pattern of rainfall changed over time?
Main: now look at the Temperature isothermal map from the RGS-IBG archive to compare it against 2020 data. Compare the differences between the red January isothermal lines for 1911 and the Australian BoM isothermal map for January 2020. Has the pattern of temperature changed over time? A level students could be given a template of both isothermal maps to fill in. Analyse the changes in atmospheric temperature from 1911 to 2020 for Australia.
Plenary: practice or adapt a past paper question on natural hazards. Or for A level students consider the following; are the general patterns the same? Are the extremes consistent? For the 1911 Climate summer conditions choropleth map is there a link between the isolines showing pressure and the amount of precipitation? In relation to the Temperature isothermal map, is there a link to the relief of the land (also shown on the map)?
Extension: access and read the FT article titled to learn what a ‘pyro-cumulonimbus clouds are. A level students should draw and label a ‘fire whirl’ diagram, plus investigate another effect of fire-ravaged landscapes: soil erosion from subsequent heavy storms.
When a hazard become a disaster – population and carrying capacity
Starter: is the problem there are too many people? Project this question on the board and allow students to discuss. A level students could be shown a projected question: when does a natural hazard become a natural disaster? A level students can then be encouraged into discussing the critical difference between rapid-onset and slow-onset disasters – e.g. what is wildfire classified as? Why do slow-onset natural disasters struggle to mobilize international support? Unusually why were the wildfires of 2019-2020 in Australia so well supported globally?
Main: compare the population density of Australia in 1911 to the population density of 2017. Using a template instruct students to map where the areas of high population are in Australia and where there are areas of low population. Introduce the terms dense and sparse. A level students should use this as a springboard to discuss the Boserup vs Malthusian argument and the concept of overpopulation, underpopulation and optimum population. What is the optimum population of Australia?
Plenary: identify which states suffered from wildfires. Does this overlap with high population density? Why is this overlap a problem?
Extension: read Solving the [Australian] ‘population problem’ through policy by The Conversation. Global census is that climate change is the main driver behind these wildfires, some say it is also incorrect forest management. An A level group extension might consist of asking students to split into two groups, then setting them the written task to argue a) forest management is to blame or b) climate change is to blame. Use a tweet from President Donald Trump (on the Californian wildfires) and Australian actor Russell Crowe as stimuli.
‘Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen. Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!’
President Donald Trump (2019)
‘Make no mistake. The tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate change-based, we need to act based on science, move our global workforce to renewable energy and respect our planet for the unique and amazing place it is’
Russell Crowe (2020)
Did you know you can apply for free access to the Financial Times? Access and click Free for Schools to broaden your horizons and expand your reading list.
Ask your students to work out the range of rainfall for New South Wales and Victoria in 1911 compared to 2020. Students should then analyse their findings. Ask the class what the implications are for a reduced rainfall range in Australia.
Follow this up by incorporating an activity using ArcGIS, an excellent step by step guide can be found using Sentinent-2 to specifically map data on the Blue Mountains, West Sydney. You can also access wildfire data, live feeds, technology and additional GIS resources.
Look at this article from Geography Directions for the latest from the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) publications.
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