Youth for Our Planet | News

The Australian Bushfire: lessons for moving forward

By Varsha Yajman, Mobiliser,Youth for Our Planet 

The Black Summer; that is the name that the catastrophic months of fires in Australia now claim. From June 2019, Australia suffered the most brutal bush-fires in the country’s history as the country reached record-breaking temperatures and saw houses and wildlife wither away. 

On December 18th, Australia suffered from its hottest day on record, reaching a national average temperature of 41.9 degrees Celsius (107.5 degrees Fahrenheit). These unprecedented bushfires peaked in December and resulted in 1 billion animals losing their life. Australia is already considered to have the highest rate of mammal loss for any region in the world, thus, the bushfires are disrupting an already fragile ecosystem. Many scientists are saying that the fires have pushed at least 20 threatened species closer to extinction not only due to the heat of the fires but also the pollution. The ash from the bushfires containing nitrogen and phosphorous allowed for the growth of algae which can produce harmful chemicals that can choke off marine ecosystems, ruin freshwater supplies, and kill of sea-life. 

These fires have had an impact on Australia’s biodiversity however approximately 50% of Australians have been directly affected by the bushfire crisis, with millions suffering health effects. These fires have worsened global carbon dioxide emissions and have released 400 million tons of carbon dioxide which is equal to Australia’s annual human-caused emissions. Many Australians, due to the inhalation of smoke have suffered from several health issues such as reduced lung function, bronchitis, asthma, and even premature death. The agricultural impacts of the fire have seen pastures, vineyards and grow yards decimating and has resulted in the country’s farming industry devastated. The loss has had and will continue to have significant impacts on food security in Australia, and a time to recovery will likely be a long and arduous process. This brings up another point of eco-anxiety which has recently become a more prevalent topic. Eco-anxiety is known as the fear of environmental damage or ecological disaster is mental health and needs to be taken more seriously. All around the world we are seeing the climate deteriorate and the 2019-2020 bushfires in Australia were a wake-up call for the need for counselling and support for those experiencing the psychological impacts of the fires. These effects result in a not only effect on the environment but also the mental health of individuals with many Australian’s pre-existing conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorders worsening due. The government placed $76 million into funding to providing distress counselling and mental health support for individuals, families and communities affected by bushfires. People; especially many young people are fearing for their future, the uncertainty embracing every aspect of their lives and the thought having a family becoming more terrifying as the experience of these fires brought the devastation of lives. 

With these catastrophic fires blazing over Australia there is a lesson to be learnt. The first and foremost is that we cannot ignore climate change, although we may try to stay away from the exhausting heat by using the air conditioning the excruciating heat outside is unbearable. Although we may try to stay away from the news of the polar ice caps melting, the burning fires and floods and rising sea levels are destroying lives every second. This is an indicator that climate change is not normal - the climate is changing and we are the cause of it. Many people claim that this is simply another ice age but with these bushfires were exacerbated by record-breaking drought, very dry fuels and soils, and record-breaking heat. These fires have shown us that climate change does not discriminate, that many times the people who contribute the least to climate change are the ones affected the most. This is injustice and the only way to prevent this is to start taking action now because the devastation of the loss of lives due to climate change is much more than the money required to prevent the catastrophes. 

Moving Forward
Living through this frightening period of the pandemic as the corona virus takes over every social media platform and every channel on TV, the question arises as to how do we move forward? Right now, the Australian government is still pursuing operations in mining which brings about a sense of hopelessness for creating a sustainable future. It seems that the government has been able to exploit people’s lack of engagement with the climate movement during this period due to the fears of Covid 19 to avoid any questions regarding their climate change policy. However, the Bushfire Royal Commission has also already begun to create a plan to deal with the expected heat of the Australian summer this year. While being prepared sounds promising to the general public, the prevention or slowing of climate change is better than the cure itself. 
The Australian bushfires have shown the entire world that if we do not change the climate will continue to. It is our responsibility and our fight.