On 1 January, the air in Canberra was the worst of any city in the world. With unprecedented bush fires raging nearby, a thick blanket of smoke smothered Australia’s capital for weeks, sending a surge of residents to the hospital with breathing problems. The toxic haze got so bad that Sophie Lewis, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra, took her toddler and boarded a plane to Tasmania.
“I almost wept with relief in Melbourne, on the way to Hobart, simply from seeing the sky,” she says. After weeks in the smoke, her daughter had grown used to all the people walking around with “bird beaks”, Lewis’s name for the masks everyone was wearing.