If you haven’t seen it, you’ve almost certainly heard about it: with more than 25 million acres destroyed, 800 million animals dead, and smoke causing respiration issues over 1,000 miles away in New Zealand, the Australian wildfires this year have been some of the worst in recent history.

With mounting evidence linking climate change with longer fire seasons and changing weather patterns, the need for action is becoming clear. Similar to North Dakota, Australia’s conservative government is defending their climate policy, specifically the repealing of a carbon tax which was shown to work and which Australian companies were in support of due to the level playing field and increased efficiency it allowed.

On the surface, Australia appears to be one of the most environmentally friendly countries on earth. It leads the world in efficient urbanization, and in solar power utilization.

However, with the largest coal exports in the world (at 37.8% of total) coming from Australia in 2018, their massive footprint is exported to the rest of Asia.

The question is this: At what point does the cost of wildfires exceed the value of mining and selling coal? Or, more succinctly, when does climate change become more expensive than carbon emissions? At what point does Australia decide to ban coal?

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Let’s bring this issue home. Studies have acknowledged that increases in precipitation due to climate change could interfere with planting in the spring, and harvest in the fall. While discussing this with my dad, a lifelong farmer, he agreed that a harvest like this last one would make farming here unsustainable were it to happen too often.

I wonder, how long until we’re in the same position as Australia? When will our loss of agriculture outweigh the value of fracking, or of pipelines? When, if ever, will we ban oil drilling, or dismantle pipelines?

There’s a not-unrealistic scenario where we realize in my lifetime that the oft-ridiculed Dakota Access Pipeline protesters may not have been wrong to protest.

Unfortunately, by then it’ll be too late to undo the damage.