Fighting Fire with Ire

Australia is burning because of the climate emergency. The best way to combat it? Taking climate action.

January 6, 2020

9:39 am

How destructive are the bushfires currently raging in Australia? A sign outside a bookstore in the  devastated village of Cobargo in New South Wales reads: “Post-Apocalyptic Fiction has been moved to Current Affairs.

Cobargo has under 1,000 residents, but the fires are not simply affecting tiny hamlets — practically the whole of Australia is in flames. A map of the affected areas recalls a Johnny Cash song, as the entire continent looks like a burning ring of fire.

Map via https://myfirewatch.landgate.wa.gov.au/

Nearly half a billion animals have perished since September alone, and there are fears that some species will be wiped out altogether. As reported by News.com.au, “Koalas have been among the hardest hit of Australia’s native animals because they are slow moving and only eat leaves from the eucalyptus tree, which are filled with oil, making them highly flammable.” The Guardian is reporting that up to 30% of the koalas in the mid-north coast of New South Wales (NSW, the province most heavily affected by the bushfires) have been killed.

On New Year’s Day, the air quality in Canberra, the country’s capital, was the very worst in the world, 15 times greater than hazardous levels.

As of this morning, there were 136 fires burning across NSW alone, 69 of which were not contained. And 24 people have been killed nationwide.

Richard Flanagan (a Man Booker Prize-winning novelist from Australia) thinks that his native country has set itself up for this destruction. Australia, he wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed, is “committing climate suicide.” The country today, he notes, “is the world’s largest exporter of both coal and gas. It recently was ranked 57th out of 57 countries on climate-change action.”

When there is such widespread ruin, it is difficult to see any silver lining. (And we must bear in mind the suffering of the people and other species of Australia when we do.) But what we can glean from these catastrophic fires is the sense that so much more must be done to combat the climate emergency to prevent it from destroying other parts of the world, as well.

One of the first tasks in that endeavor is to raise public awareness about its necessity. A poll of Australians in November — before the worst aspects of the fires burned into public consciousness — already showed a large majority of respondents (60% — up from 51% in a March poll) believed the Australian government should be doing more.

Meanwhile, Murdoch-owned media in Australia have been accused of downplaying the story. The Guardian noted how the Australian fires received front-page coverage in newspapers around the world — but that the Australian, Murdoch's flagship paper down under, instead featured a front-page story on New Year's picnic races.

Activist groups have put a focus on the fires, with some astounding infographics, including one noting that the combined areas facing fires in Australia are larger in size than 113 countries.

Image from Anti-Speciesist
Image from Anti-Speciesist

Global climate strikes have helped focus attention on the issue, and these climate strikes — led by youth, including Future Coalition — will continue to keep the pressure on heads of state and the private sector. The biggest action of 2020 at the moment will culminate in April to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

And that is fighting fire with ire.

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