By Emma Campbell
Elm Staff Writer
Roughly three months after the chain reaction of fires in the Amazon Rainforest came to its peak, a bolt of lightning ignited the dry vegetation on Gosper Mountains in New South Wales. That was in late Oct. 2019, and Australia is still burning.
News of the continent’s plight was more widely circulated once the flames made their way to populated areas of Australia. This is not the norm for most other fires of this scale, which typically stick to land that isn’t inhabited by humans.
The devastating effects of the bushfires may have caught the sympathy of everyone from Selena Gomez to the student body of a small liberal arts college in Chestertown, but Australians have yet to have their situation taken seriously by their prime minister. Prime Minister Scott Morrison was criticized for taking a vacation to Hawaii last month at the same time that much of his country was burning.
“The thing that strikes everyone about the present situation is the federal government’s disengagement and lethargy, to put it politely,” said Bill Hare, director of Climate Analytics, a policy institute.
Articles about the dangerous impact create by the bushfires are able to spark interest and empathy, but it seems to be the hundreds of photographs of the crisis that has most effectively alerted the rest of the world to everything at stake. One aerial photo, taken by Asanka Brendon Ratnayake for The New York Times, shows an expanse of brown earth littered with the shells of former trees, now blackened and bare. Many show koala bears, kangaroos, and other defenseless wildlife as they manically flee their burning habitats. Perhaps the most heart-stopping images depict family homes ablaze against sooty skies.
“What we’re seeing in Australia, in a completely different environment, are fires that are approaching or even exceeding the magnitude of things that we only saw in the most remote forested regions in the world,” said Ross Bradstock, the director of the Center for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, to The New York Times.
The weight of this environmental catastrophe has not fallen on deaf ears amongst the world’s most elite in the entertainment industry. Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, whose primary home is in Australia, pledged to donate $500,000 to the Rural Fire Services. Selena Gomez said she donated to relief efforts and encouraged her fans to do the same. Celebrity Australian native Hemsworth brothers donated $1 million to the cause, while “Fleabag’s” Phoebe Waller-Bridge will auction off the suit she wore to the 2020 Golden Globes to raise money for the Australian bushfires.
The frustration felt toward the Australian government is understandable, especially given Prime Minister Morrison’s past stances on climate change. It isn’t surprising that a man who consistently makes climate change less of a national priority would rather wear Hawaiian shirts and sip Piña Coladas than face the state of emergency before him. If Prime Minister Morrison is unwilling to take action, then it is the responsibility of citizens of the world to do what they can to promote change.
Donations are important for reasons other than human decency. They are also vital for the survival of the rest of the world. The fires in Australia, which have so far ravaged 16 million acres of land, are releasing smoke that will eventually travel around the world. NASA tracked a plume of smoke half of the size of the United States around the globe. Everyone in its path was exposed to dangerous breathing conditions that could lead to fatal respiratory illnesses. Additionally, a greenhouse gases expert told NPR the fires have released the same amount of carbon that Australia’s man-made sources emit in eight months.
Australia currently faces fires unlike anything the world has seen before. This is not a national emergency, this is a global catastrophe.
If you can, consider donating to one of these organizations to aid Australia: Australian Red Cross, Salvation Army Australia, NSW Rural Fire Service, Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, and World Wildlife Fund.