My country is burning.
The Australian bushfires have turned the skies from blue, to a deathly black, to a scorching red. The fires have killed 25 people since September 2019, as well as 500,000,000 mammals, birds and reptiles – the equivalent of burning down the Bronx Zoo 125,000 times.
Yet, despite the 5 million hectares of land burning in the country, the Australian government’s response has been tone-deaf, unsympathetic and - most importantly - too late.
In the midst of multiple international news stories, the Australian bushfires find themselves repeatedly fighting to hold onto their presence in domestic and international media. Critically, both the government and the media continually forget this natural disaster in their discourses. This is not coincidental. The bushfires are suffering the same treatment of irreverence that most climate issues receive in political arenas. And, as we enter a new decade, it seems timelier than ever for political actors to break their silence.
We have all seen the heart-breaking pictures of the Australian bushfires reposted over social media. However, we scarcely see the impact of the fires in print media and journalism. How can we feel outrage towards our governments about an issue that we do not understand? It seems more than overdue that these statistics are put in print, and I feel I cannot make a case for Australia’s suffering without presenting them.
According to the Associated Press, about 12.35 million acres of land have burned across Australia. This is Belgium twice over, or Paris and its Metropolitan area 40 times. Or how about 70 Greater Londons? With 5 million hectares of land burning, the fires have so far released 250,000,000 tonnes of carbon emissions into the air. This is already ⅔ of Australia’s usual yearly carbon emissions, all within the first week of January. The smoke emitted currently covers 5.5 million km2, which would take us from Scotland to Tangier, Africa. These air pollutants also create their own weather patterns; temperature inversions are causing the warmer air sitting above to trap the smoke from above onto the burning land, creating fire tornados that have completely flipped some service trucks. But how does this affect us? The baseline air quality index reading for hazardous air is 200 micrograms. Monash, Australia is at 4,650 - this is the equivalent of us each smoking 211 cigarettes in a day. All of these statistics highlight the incredible damage that Australia is suffering to her ecosystem, and not to mention to her image as a country.
Yet, perhaps the most upsetting fact is that this situation was foreseen by experienced fire chiefs last April. Fire chiefs made a case 2 years ago for more federal resources in response to the threat of looming disaster in the current world climate. This was ignored by the Australian government. But it is the driest inhabited continent on Earth, with an outback which takes up 70% of the country’s land mass. These issues do not just disappear, and these bushfires are proof of that.
Despite all of this, Scott Morrison’s team have been reactive rather than proactive. Indeed, the whole disaster has been treated as an exercise in “issue management”. In the face of a natural disaster, Morrison has responded by reiterating carbon reduction policies that are manifestly inadequate, and his blatant unwillingness to deal with the climate change realities presented to him by fire chiefs is palatable in every public appearance and response. Indeed, Morrison could not even stomach the distressed complaints and pleas from the representatives of the small towns and regions who delivered him his election victory, as he walked away from the questions of victims in Cobargo, New South Wales.
Whilst my government has been silent, it is important to remember those who have spoken out. Many charities, celebrities, and members of the public have come to the forefront to raise money, awareness and resources for the bushfires. Even international businesses such as AirBNB (who are offering free rehousing to victims of the fires) are being seen to do all they can within their power to play their part. Yet, all of these efforts are futile if the politicians in power, who pass the bills and hold the purse strings, continue to view issues of climate change as “absolute crap” (Tony Abbott).
Much to the surprise of Tony Abbot, we are not being taken over by - what he likes to call - a “climate change cult”. The Australian Bushfires are a massive natural disaster, but if we do not change soon, I do not doubt that there will be many more in this century. Citizens, charities and celebrities must of course continue their amazing work, but without the support of those in power, our efforts will remain unreciprocated and futile. We must fight against the mindsets of ignorant and insensitive politicians, for the sake of the future of our home.
Climate change poses one of the biggest security threats to states and citizens of this century, and it is about time everyone started regarding it with the urgency it deserves.
So, Morrison, stop hiding from your people behind rhetoric and policy. Our country is burning. We do not need public relations facades. We do not need your fake empathy. We need emergency housing, better equipped and funded fire services, and funding for wildlife rescue. Much more, we need our planet to be taken seriously.