Australia has been on fire for months, and the damage is nothing short of dire. Millions of acres have burned, more than 1,300 homes have been lost, at least 20 people have died and dozens more are missing, and millions of wild animals are gone due to the ongoing wildfires, which have been classified as catastrophically dangerous since November 12, the Washington Post reported.
On Friday (January 3), authorities told The Guardian that 3.5 percent of Victoria has been affected by fire. Authorities have asked everyone in New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria to evacuate immediately, the Guardian reports. Every state has been affected by fire; NSW in particular has one of the highest populations of Native people of any state in Australia.
CNN reports that natural causes are to blame for most of the fires — some of which are small neighborhood burns and others are monumental acre-large wildfires. And Austrailians are not happy with how the prime minister, Scott Morrison, has dealt with the crisis, given he both took a trip to Hawaii and later celebrated at a cricket game while large swaths of the country was up in flames. He also maintains that current Australian climate policies are effectively helping reduce the country’s carbon footprint, and asked people to be “patient” in the face of complete devastation.
NSW fire commissioner Greg Mullins said he was “angry” about Morrison’s response, and compared the talking points to the way President Donald Trump often discusses mass shootings.
“It reminds me of President Trump when there's multiple shootings, saying it's nothing to do with guns,” Mullins told ABC Radio Sydney's Breakfast show on January 3. “We have to talk about climate change, because our bushfire situation in Australia has changed forever.”
And weather is likely going to make these fires worse, according to the Washington Post. Temperatures have risen above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) in much of the country, prompting drought conditions that exacerbate bushfires and other burns, CNN reported.
“It’s going to be a blast furnace,” Andrew Constance, the NSW transport minister, told The Sydney Morning Herald. But there are two wildly important ways to help.
If you have the means, you can donate to any one of the organizations helping to support evacuation centers, recovery programs, and firefighting efforts: Australia's Red Cross Disaster relief and recovery fund, the NSW Rural Fire Service, the Country Fire Authority, the Rural Fire Brigades Association, Find A Bed, and Foodbank are all good places to start. To donate to help pets, livestock, and wildlife affected by the fires, you can donate to the RSPCA Bushfire Appeal, the World Wildlife Fund, Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, or Wires.
Responding to catastrophe after it strikes is only part of the equation, and there are ways that communities can be more proactive and preventative in their preservation. For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples around the world have relied on controlled burns to eat through highly flammable vegetation; activists are calling for governments to invest in practices like these in the future.
“The Western mindset is always about dealing with problems while they’re doing damage — it’s reactive,” one Indigenous fire practitioner in Australia told Bloomberg. “If we can use our way, these types of fires will never get the chance to start.”
Look into local groups that are advocating for more sustainable ecological practices — and support them with your time or money, if you can.
The climate crisis is a global emergency, meaning no matter what country you’re in, you can vote people into office who will work to combat the crisis and, in turn, thwart the natural disasters that perpetuate these fires. Voting helps make your voice heard on almost every issue, and supporting politicians who can directly impact global climate policies is a crucial step in widespread change.
Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, was roundly criticized for his lack of focus on the climate crisis leading up to the 2019 election. Morrison has drawn a hard line in defense of coal, Australia’s biggest export. And U.S. President Trump has dismantled climate protections, from pulling out of the Paris agreement to openly insulting teenage activist Greta Thunberg on Twitter.
But both activists and their political allies aren’t giving up the fight. If you’re voting in the 2020 U.S. election this November, you can start by informing yourself on how potential presidential candidates plan to fight the crisis. You can also call your senators or representatives and urge them to make the crisis a bigger priority.