by Diana Ellis
I spent some time this morning thinking about what I, as a concerned world citizen, am learning from this year’s Australian bushfires.
There are three sets of people I know who live there – in Sydney, Melbourne, and in a small town further south on the east coast. Up to about a week ago all, when I asked them, would downplay the situation, (“Just a bit of smoke...”) I am assuming that’s because of perhaps a deep fear (What IS this really?) and/or denial that the fires are more of a problem than in years before (We’ve always had fires...).
As things heated up this week, so to speak, one family whose parents had to evacuate but were unable to get out, were quick to blame the government for not “helping” enough – but did not (yet) mention climate change. Another family, with a newborn child, noted that the smoke was a problem for them, “but we aren’t in the fire area so we aren’t in danger.” The third family (one of whom is from BC), with a toddler and pregnant with another child, spoke only about how they are thankful that BC firefighters have come to their aid. Neither of these two families seemed aware of the impact of smoke on their lungs and especially those of their infant/toddler.
I also viewed a moving, but I also thought quite nationalistic, video that contained footage of burned Koalas etc – with the background choir singing “We ARE One – We Are Australian.” No mention of or shots of Aboriginal people …all the “we” were white.
What did I learn from my thinking?
I wonder if denial, fear, playing down impact, being quick to blame government for not keeping people safe, and turning to prideful nationalism, could be basic, simple, coping mechanisms? If these good folks are “just” trying to cope, how do I/we respond to them as fellow world citizens trying to make sense of, to make meaning out of, this fearsome situation? And, while Australia has a long history of bushfires (including the historic setting of such fires by Aboriginal people apparently exacerbated by the arrival of Europeans with different ideas for forest planting/use), will today’s generation connect the “new” dots and relate the increased bushfire intensity/size to climate change’s extreme droughts and higher temperatures… and then take action? Will the climate-denialist government change their policies about coal, fossil fuels, bushfire mitigation and fire protection adaptation at all?
I think about these things as I communicate with the few people I know in Australia. Saying “We told you so!”, “It is only going to get worse you know!” or “I/we are grieving for you and all the wildlife” doesn’t really cut it as a useful compassionate response. Not for my/our Australian friends, nor anyone else for that matter.
What do you think?