Disaster usually strikes at a distance. I’m not safe behind my screen this time. Smoke is in the air — leaving dead trees in Australia’s regional areas to be inhaled by fresh lungs around the country.
This year’s bushfires have been a wake up call. About both a sheltered individual life and our actions as a collective. Climate change isn’t a new conversation. But what’s changed is those looming consequences are now here to be experienced. One doesn’t need statistics, expert opinions or images of melting icecaps to make a point. They can simply point outside the window. There’s no escaping talking or thinking about it. It’s like that bridge we were eventually going to cross has come speeding towards us engulfed in flames.
The shared reaction was shock and sadness. The enormity of everything lost — the lives, animals, homes, nature — is almost impossible to comprehend. Then as the reports started to be released — about the government ignoring climate scientists, fire chiefs, slashing fire service budgets, permitting the privatisation of water — anger started to rise along with the heat.
In an attempt to be a well informed citizen (and address my guilt over so much happening that I wasn’t aware of) I travelled through podcasts, news articles and online conversations to understand the situation. But with each step another mile appeared. And it didn’t take long for a sense of defeat and despair to come over me.
I questioned what carrying all this information would serve. I mean, I know where I stand. I certainly didn’t vote for a climate change denying government. This sentiment was shared by others. I came across several reminders that it’s okay to switch off and take a break. Especially if you’re a sensitive person. There’s a difference between sticking your head in the sand and self-care.
Also helpful was the advice of Anna Rose. In her viral video encouraging people to express their concerns about climate change to their local MP, she reminded us that action is the only thing that will change anything. Information informs action. And action leads to results — well, hopefully. I’ve always focused on my ‘circle of influence’ — the direct difference I can personally make. But I’m realising that positive change is a team sport. There are many things we can’t do alone.
So I wrote to my local MP. I also found this article encouraging ‘ordinary people to own this problem’ and make attempts to reduce their carbon footprint. It’s inspired me to do more. I’m already vegan (the most direct way to help the environment) and buy as much as I can second hand. But there’s always more that can be done. Long term, I’d love to learn to live self-sustainably. But that’s long term.
For now I’ll focus on what I can do. And on that list is using my voice and presence. I prefer to avoid conflict, but I know there are more conversations around veganism that I could engage in — particularly with people who are open to learning. There are also events and protests I could attend. Last week I joined a major climate action protest in my home city. Being surrounded by likeminded individuals — marching and chanting — is uplifting. It shares the weight one feels under. It reminds us that when we look out the window or into our screens with heavy hearts, we’re not the only set of eyes tearing up.
Political orientation and other differences aside, this isn’t a time to be divided. Even though disinformation campaigns try to achieve this, the circulating images of suffering children and animals have pierced us all the same. And as a result, this tragedy has threaded us tightly together. It’s touching to hear about the major funds being raised as well as the individual stories of kindness on the front line. It’s also empowering… We are so capable when we come together around a cause we care about. I want everyone to see this.
This is why every fibre of my being hopes the Australian Bushfires of 2020 are never forgotten. The fire is what we’re fighting, sure. But let’s remember that fire is also a symbol of transformation. Like the charred landscape where new life will slowly sprout, I hope we do the same. A new way of living has to emerge.
This goes beyond a government that invests in renewable energy and takes climate change seriously. There’s a clear message for us in these smoke filled skies. We don’t just need to repair the planet, we need to repair our relationship with her — Gaia. This connection to the land central to the culture of Australia’s First Nations Peoples. Sadly, it has been severed by colonialism.
This could be another post all together, so I’ll just share a paragraph by Danielle Celermajer who perfectly captures my what I’d like to express:
“We can also identify the humans and human cultures that have told ourselves that we are superior to, and thus have the right to dominate and exploit, other animals and the natural world. That we are the ones who get to flourish, and that everything else that is here, is here for our use. That other beings are not life but resource.”
As I write this on the 17th January 2020, the fires still continue. I am worried about the future. But as I told a friend recently, it’s not a matter of it will be okay. It’s about making a promise to never give up on the world that our hearts tell us is possible. Sure, following generations may look back and criticise our systematic failures. But they’ll still recognise the attempts by the few to make things better… And they’ll find inspiration to march, chant and take other forms of action. Much like we do today.
These fires will eventually go out. This we know. But again, what I’m hoping for is that the desire for change that this tragedy has ignited, never does.