After our trial by fire – Australia must commit to the challenge of a sustainable recovery.
𝑇𝑟𝑖𝑎𝑙 𝐵𝑦 𝐹𝑖𝑟𝑒
The year 2020 always sounded like a time for aspirational goals and progress, yet at the start of this new decade, fire, smoke and ash hang heavy over the Australian landscape and in the hearts of its inhabitants.
From devastated natural habitats and funerals for fire fighters to shell-shocked communities picking through ruins, the images of this bushfire emergency are impossible to ignore. For those who have lost loved ones or property the recovery will be long and painful, whilst the still-smouldering fires keep the remainder of the country on edge for the prospect of more damage to come.
For the many scientists, activists and politicians who have been warning of these dangers for decades, seeing the predictions realised is not validation but a painful reminder that pointing to the canary has not yet delivered us from the coal mine. Yet despite the feelings of frustration and disempowerment, this may well be the pivotal moment in Australia’s relationship with climate change.
If these devastating fires have accomplished anything, it has been to unify the nation’s attention. From TV, newspapers and radios, to social media feeds and conversations on the street, barely a word is exchanged across the nation without an acknowledgement of the crisis we are facing. Whilst the public discourse still includes those disputing the causal link to climate change, Australians of all stripes have never been more aware of the importance of ecological stewardship than they are at this moment. Such moments of shared purpose are rare and present an opportunity to engender lasting cultural change of the type we have long needed, but not yet achieved. It is a matter of global significance that we capture this opportunity to ensure 2020 is a turning point in our relationship with the environment.
Climate change has worsened the severe heat and droughts our country experiences. Whilst we have witnessed fires in many previous summers and particularly after El Niño-linked droughts, the unprecedented scale of the current crisis is squarely linked to climate change. The discussion of land management practices and cultural burning are worthy considerations for mitigating the spread of fires, but those measures will not resolve the underlying issue. It is critical to remember that intense fires are only one of the many impacts of climate change, and hazard reduction burning cannot hope to resolve the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, save our pacific island neighbours from rising sea levels or reduce the frequency and severity of cyclones. I will not delve further into the facts of climate change, other than to direct readers to the most reliable source of information I am aware of, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (1).
To date, Australia has failed to address this challenge. Our domestic energy mix is reliant on coal, we are the world’s 3rd largest exporter of fossil fuels, and we have been holding back collective action on the global stage including at the recent COP 25 meeting (2). Importantly, we remain among the world’s highest greenhouse gas emitters per-capita (3), which means you and I are probably not doing our part on a personal level too. If our country is ever to be part of the global solution to climate change, we must first climb our way off the moral low-ground. While this will undoubtedly require personal and economic sacrifices, the fires have highlighted one thing very clearly – inaction will lead to sacrifices too.
Change begins at home.
There are many things we can do as individuals and communities to move the needle towards living sustainably. Here are just a few.
• Reduce the amount you purchase, and reuse and recycle the things you already have
• Eat less meat, reduce food waste and choose local, in-season produce
• Volunteer with bush regeneration
• Migrate your super into sustainable investment options
• Switch your electricity to renewables
• Use public transport, and make your next vehicle electric, hybrid, or even a bike.
• Help make your workplace energy efficient, an champion recycling and waste-reduction programs
• Ask your boss to include environmental causes as part of their corporate social responsibility agenda.
• Use sustainable materials, shipping and packaging for products
• Consider having your company ‘B Corp’ certified
• Write to your local representatives to ensure climate change is part of their agenda
• Cast your vote with environmental and climate issues as a high priority
• Write a post and help change the hearts and minds of those around you
• Attend rallies and support calls for action
𝐻𝑜𝑝𝑒 𝑖𝑛 𝑅𝑒𝑔𝑒𝑛𝑒𝑟𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛
Hope springs eternal, and so too does the Australian bush. Seemingly lifeless trees and barren soils will sprout into life, and our blackened landscape will give way to the vibrant greens as fortunate animal survivors feast on fresh shoots. The forests that regrow will not be exactly the same as the one that burned away, but there will be life and habitats again. Similarly, the phenomenal community response to fundraising drives and the government’s belated but meaningful recovery fund will help ensure that homes, roads and communities will emerge from the ashes as well. But in this phase of hope and recovery, let’s ensure the country that emerges from this disaster is more sustainable than the one that burned away. It is not only the blackened communities that need help and changes, it’s all of us.
We have relied on being the Lucky Country long enough. The time has come to roll up our sleeves and be the deserving country instead.
* Links and data:
(1) United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (https://www.ipcc.ch/).
(2) Australia’s performance at COP25 – (www.news.com.au/…/news-sto…/730cb3aa0db89c0ce495482e3cbf02fa)
(3) Global Footprint Network (https://www.footprintnetwork.org/resources/)
PHOTO CREDIT : Tim Kramer