Fake news is everywhere blaming “greenies” for preventing back-burning and causing the fires, while raving right wing loonies say the same thing on the telly. It’s bollocks. As the firefighters will tell you.
Yet for 25 million Australians, life - mostly - goes on as normal. Although some fires have licked the suburbs, the cities have escaped (air quality aside). The weather, as weather is wont to do, changes. On Saturday the temperature in Penrith, Western Sydney, hit 48.9 degrees. Today, it’s a pleasant 25 degrees in the city, with a 20 per cent change of rain. As I look out of my window, I see the usual green trees. There’s a nice breeze, and the birds are singing. If I didn’t know what was happening elsewhere - say on Kangaroo Island, off the South Australian coast, where residents of Vivonne Bay are currently being evacuated, “probably more than half” of the island’s koalas have been killed, and the picture of devastation has been liked to a lunar landscape - I could never imagine it.
Another danger: that we forget.
For a writer, no words is confronting. No words to express the losses that lurk in the bright corners, best avoided. Because the truth is: there are indeed words if we’ve the stomach for them. Violent, terrible ones - some of which, you have read by now. Half a billion animals wiped out. A conservative estimate, according to some. Species likely pushed to the brink of extinction. An area around the size of England burned to crisp. More than 20 people dead, thousands of houses and properties lost. Those are indeed words, but they are not words that trip comfortably off the tongue or onto the page.
Mind you, they might be more palatable than the pictures. My Instagram feed is now a dangerous place, a horror show of fried kangaroos, burned lorikeets and cockatoos washed up with the tide. If I could stop crying, I might actually have seen them.
And so to the practical. What can you do? If you have money to give, please consider donating to one of the charities that looks after wildlife and/or focuses on climate action. Of course, the Red Cross is worthy, and of course Australia’s valiant volunteer fire-fighting forces are, but Celeste Barber’s campaign has already funnelled $44 million to the latter. We’re giving more to humans, less to the environment - as usual. WIRES does essential work on the ground rescuing sick and injured animals. The work of the Climate Council is vital. The WWF has a plan to plant 2 billion trees by 2030. Greenpeace, the Bob Brown Foundation and the Australian Conservation Foundation all need our help. As do the Stop Adani and Fight for the Bight coalitions.
Other than money, what else? We can tackle the big stuff - change our lifestyles, habits, consumption patterns, and ways of living in relation to nature. We can put Earth first because it’s our only home. We can wake the fuck up and depose unworthy leaders who do not take climate action seriously. Who put profit before people and planet. Who ignore our young people and are too lily-livered and greedy to step up and take responsibility for their future.
The bushfire crisis is happening in real time where I live, but next time it could be closer to you. In August, the Amazon burned. In October, it was California. When it’s not fires, it’s droughts, hurricanes, floods. Down Under we pray for rain while the UK hopes it will stop. On New Year’s Eve in Jakarta, Indonesia flash floods killed 43 people, and mudslides have washed away villages. Climate change is here, and it’s happening now. We are all Australia.
Follow Clare on Instagram @mrspress.
Find out more about the wildfires that ravaged our planet in 2019.
Learn more about The Decade of Delivery for the UN Sustainable Development Goals.