Bushfires are currently blazing across an extensive part of Australia. The scale of these bushfires is enormous and unprecedented. For context, the 2019 Amazon fires lost 2.24 million acres. In the past few months, the Australian bushfires across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia burnt over 15 million acres.
This is not normal.
The level of devastation on people, livelihoods, animals and importantly the environment is catastrophic. An article today stated that natural ecosystems cannot absorb the carbon from these bushfires and may take up to 100 years to stabilise.
This is not normal.
This is heartbreaking.
It is easy to feel helpless at this level of tragedy.
Compounding the feeling of helplessness is the fact that the federal government is showing pathetic, ineffective leadership. In these times it is important to channel frustration, anger and passion to bring positive change.
These bushfires are not normal
The scale of these bushfires are unprecedented. Australia has a long and complicated history with bushfires. However, there is no denying the conditions surrounding this season contributed to the scale of the fires. The Climate Council found that the bushfire conditions this season are more dangerous than the past. This is due to record breaking drought, very dry fuels and soils, and record breaking heat. Compounding this, the bushfire season is elongating. This means that it has already reduced opportunities for fuel reduction burnings and other preventative measures.
Our beautiful country is burning. We have volunteers out there, who are facing life threatening conditions. They do this not because they want to, but because if they don’t, who will? Funding has been sucked from fire fighting services. There is no long term government strategy to deal with climate change and adaptation. There is no strategic funding for rebuilding and managing environmental risks.
Unfortunately, this is our new norm. We cannot continue to allow another fire season like this. We said this after Black Saturday, but what changed? There was a royal commission, but what good did it do?
We need to challenge the system as well as provide short term support.
What do we do?
We need to act both tactically and strategically.
The bushfire issue will not resolve itself overnight. Even after the fires stop, the issue continues. Rebuilding homes, communities, natural ecosystems can take decades.
In fact, the long term devastation of the environment and communities will remain long after the media moves on.
So, how do we stay positive? There are a range of things we can do to support those who need it most.
1. We give to those who need it
Whether it is $2 or $200, monetary donations help. It is often appealing to provide food or other items, however this can be problematic. It can cause logistical challenges and inundate people and charities with items that are not helpful.
It is not recommended to give clothes. Giving old and worn clothes to op shops or relief centres is often unhelpful and can cause a major burden to volunteers. They need to sort the clothing and can be time consuming. My mum is a volunteer at an op shop and the amount of sorting they have to do is tiring. Would you give these items to your close friends or family? If not, don’t bother.
If you do want to give items, non perishable food items, tampons, toilet paper and new underwear are often the most needed. Organisations like Givit (below) are coordinating efforts to ensure the right items get to those in need. They have operations in New South Wales and Queensland. However, they are not in Victoria yet.
Although almost all charities and agencies state that they prefer financial donations as they are more efficient.
Check out this ABC article about where to give your money, items, time and resources to help. It’s often a challenge because it’s hard to know which agencies will help the most. But there are established organisations who are experts in emergency relief.
Airbnb also have an Open Home initiative where Airbnb owners can list their property for temporary housing to those affected by bushfires or natural disasters. If you have an airbnb listing that could be helpful or want to learn more you can check it out here.
If you need emergency housing from the Victorian bushfires, you can search here.
My top tip for Victoria is to give to the Vic Emergency Bushfire Disaster Appeal. The appeal provides a formal channel for the public to donate money directly to affected communities and is designed to achieve positive outcomes for the community, by working directly with local recovery committees and structures to inform and drive the distribution of funds.
Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews who has shown strong leadership over the period, recommends the Bushfire Disaster Appeal.
2. We listen to important voices
Indigenous leaders have managed their land for centuries. They burn to prevent fires, not just deal with the aftermath of mass bushfires like we do. They know best.
After this bushfire season we need leaders from all states to meet with indigenous leaders and humbly learn about how to manage our land into the future. Getting local fire brigades to engage in indigenous burns is so critical to our future. It’s already happening in my home region, but it’s not the norm yet.
We need to amplify voices of reason and truth in times of lies and manipulation. Indigenous leaders are just one example of the voices we need to amplify. We also need to amplify climate change scientists and those who have a reasonable voice.
It is also important to call out fake information on social media. Focusing on the facts and not on personal attacks can stop misinformation from spreading.
3. We shift focus from poor leaders to positive leaders
Climate change is not a political issue. It is a human issue. However, it has been politicised. We need to humanise the issue by focusing on the people who need help and praising those who support them. Negative and ineffective leadership are not powerful when they do not have an audience.
Our focus needs to be on the people who are DOING good. Let’s praise the firefighters, emergency response teams, local legends who risk their lives to save others. Let’s praise the people who refuse to shake the hand of our ineffective leader. Let’s praise and get behind the people who are organising bushfire relief concerts. Let’s praise people who are giving money for every ace they serve in tennis.
But most importantly, we need to remember that the rebuild will happen long after the media moves on. We need to continue to praise the people who will be there when the media attention fades.
Set a reminder in your phone for 3 months and 6 months from now to either donate to an emergency relief fund or to check in with your local fire brigade to see what can be done to help. If you hear of something, act on it and then share on social media. And if you find nothing on social media, write about that as well. This needs to be an ongoing conversation, not just a season one. If we wait for the bushfire season to make change, it will be too late.
4. We act for a better future
Unfortunately the new norm is that mass scale bushfires are part of our lives. However, early intervention, strategic planning and challenging old systems need to be the focus. Ultimately the democratic and capitalist systems we operate in are completely broken. There is no quick fix.
But we need to start conversations that address the root cause of the issues we face.
Our collective value system is flawed.
Our leadership is flawed.
Our democracy is flawed.
Our capitalist mindset is flawed.
Our media is flawed.
Our future is flawed… unless we act now.
We need to call out media, government leaders, capitalist leaders and ignorant people.
We can do this by writing letters to government officials. My best friend and I were talking about how it seems so ineffective to write letters. It feels like they go nowhere and have no impact on the issue. However, that just shows how ineffective our democracy is. That is why extinction rebellion began. Governments are not listening to the climate crisis. Although, that does not mean we should stop writing. If we all spent 15 minutes per week writing to our local MP about the climate crisis and how it is impacting our lives, change will happen. It may seem futile. But it will change things if this is coupled with protesting, ethical consumption and bold conversation.
Let’s be part of the positive conversation about how we band together, give generously and pressure our leaders to ensure long term, sustainable contingency plans and policy.
5. Take a breath
This is the thing I struggle with the most. It is hard to take a breath and just have a moment when the world is burning. But at the end of the day, sometimes when you’ve done everything you can, all you can do is laugh. Not to trivialise, but to cope.
However, there are some good memes and pages I have come across that pierce the seriousness with jabs of irony. Here are some of my faves:
There is no quick or easy fix in this time. We need to focus on those who need support and offer it where we can. Donating to relief funds and emergency response charities are the most effective. However, we also need to think about the strategic, systemic change we want to create. When you’re overcome by the heartbreak of the bushfires, think about what you can do tactically and strategically to help solve the issue. Tactical things are sharing posts, donating money and organising fundraisers. Strategic things are organising meetings with MPs, pressuring your council to declare a climate emergency and changing your consumption habits.
We can do this.