You know that there are mega-fires burning in Australia.
You know that fires have been burning for months now.
You know that lives have been lost, many houses burnt and huge areas of bush land scorched. If you would like to read more depth about the fires, including the background to the extended fire season and the extent of the fires and scary videos, read this article and/or this one. My heart goes out to those who have lost their loved ones and their worlds. And a huge amount of gratitude to the fire fighters who have done such an incredible job, sometimes sacrificing their lives.
You know too that the generosity of people from around the world has been overwhelming. More about donations later.
So, read elsewhere for the facts and figures; I want to give you my opinions.
There have been horrifying images of injured and dead wild life. Many of them are our iconic koalas, whose population is already stressed by land clearing and disease. The fires on Kangaroo Island have torn through a koala population that was healthier than many others on the mainland. It is tragic.
Australian flora has evolved with fire and many species need it to set seed and germinate. Once the fires are out it will not be long before we see the new growth sprouting out of the epicormic buds of the eucalypts. That will give us hope in the areas of East Gippsland and the Alps, home to the majestic mountain ash gums.
But these fires have been so intense and the land so dry that they have burnt areas considered to be ‘unburnable’ ~ rainforests of Queensland, bogs in the Alpine areas. These habitats have not evolved with fire, and do not rely on it. It is quite possible that they will not regenerate.
We need to think beyond the fauna and the large swathes of flora. Let me give you two examples of how disrupted the environment will be.
There has been research into the amazing Mycorrhizal network under the forrest floor. It has been dubbed the Wood Wide Web, because it is thought to be, at the very basic level, a fungal system that allows the transference of nutrients, minerals, water etc between trees. It may be a system that is so much more than this. There is a short video here, or this TED talk.
Could that Mycorrhizal network have survived? I doubt it, and yet it is vital for the health of our forests.
The second example concerns orchids. Research by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne has shown that our native orchids need two things to be successful ~ a specific pollinator, often a wasp, and the right fungi in the ground (yep fungi again). Again, I doubt whether these would have survived the fires.
It is important to care for our marsupials, our birds, our reptiles, but it is just as important to create an environment for the less glamorous, the unknown like pollinators and fungi.
I started the post with things that we know. Here’s another one….we know that, while there are a number of factors contributing to this fire storm, the underlying one is climate inaction. Climate change is not something that will happen in 10, 20 years. It is happening now. A resident of the little coastal town of Mallacoota, which was cut off by the fires said it best ~ “Climate change, we are standing in it.”
However our Liberal government, especially our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is wilfully ignoring the issue. Just a couple of examples:
- Our previous Prime Minister, Malcom Turnbull, was deposed because he tried to get a National Energy Guarantee. Scott Morrison became the Prime Minister.
- Morrison brought a lump of coal into the Parliament, waving it about, saying “It’s only coal, it’s nothing to be frightened of”. His government has always been a strong advocate for the Carmichael Mine, also infamously known as Adani, which will be one of the country’s largest thermal coal mines. The Coal Industry is a very powerful lobby group.
- At the recent Paris meeting Australia argued that we should be able to use carry-over credits from over-achievement on the Kyoto Protocol as part of our emission reductions. This sleight of hand accountancy means the government can say “We are reducing emissions” while doing nothing of the sort. In fact our emission will probably increase.
- While the country is burning, and in severe drought, we are told that now is not the time to talk about climate change. If not now, when?
This is Morrison’s statement today
“In the years ahead we are going to continue to evolve our policy in this area to reduce emissions even further and we’re going to do it without a carbon tax, without putting up electricity prices, and without shutting down traditional industries upon which regional Australians depend for their very livelihood,” he said.
In the years ahead? What? We don’t have years. But let’s leave that aside, because I want to give you an analogy that seems to make sense to me.
The economy changed drastically at the beginning of World War Two. What’s more it changed because of Government intervention. Manufacturing was turned from domestic to military armaments; fuel was rationed to make sure the bulk was available for the armed forces; clothing was in short supply as the industry turned to making uniforms; food was rationed. The British economy had an even shorter turn-around period.
If changing the economy can be vital to the war effort, why can’t it be vital to mobilise all necessary resources to prevent more global warming? Well the answer is because it is not seen to be in the national interest. As Morrison said above, traditional industries (ie coal) are far more important than the health of the planet.
With the right political will we could become a leader in renewable technologies, electric vehicles, habitat regeneration, innovative solutions to world problems. So, if we can’t rely on our ‘leaders’, we have to look for leadership elsewhere, to look for those willing to be innovative and be change makers.
We also have to listen to our Indigenous Elders. Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders People have been caring for our land for tens of thousands of years. They used fire to manage the land, not burn it to a crisp. Their grief at the harm done to Country is immense. We must listen and learn from them.
I mentioned above about the generosity of so many people around the world. It is truly moving to know that there is so much support and care. There are many worthy organisations to donate to ~ but be very wary of scammers ~ as money is what is needed now. The ABC, our national broadcaster, has an excellent list of links. As you can appreciate, my heart is looking to the environmental future, so I would add these organisations:
- Bird Life Australia, with a little more detail about the work they will do after the fires die down
- Zoos Victoria already have recovery programmes for many endangered species and they will put their knowledge to good use to help wildlife.
But your support doesn’t need to be here in Australia. Climate change is global, and needs a global response. Maybe the best international help is to focus on climate change action wherever you are. Whatever you can do ~ from contacting your local representative to planting more trees to attending rallies ~ helps. If our ‘leaders’ are talking about vague action in the years ahead, we need to take action now.
(BTW, the photo was taken from my local park. If you look closely you can just see a 30 story apartment block behind the spires of the church.)