The term “climate change” is often associated with a far-off, distant time in the future where apocalyptic things will happen — rising sea levels, bizarre weather events, and staggering loss of life. But as 2020 dawns upon us, so does the unimaginable reality of our global climate crisis. Recent floods in Jakarta have displaced 60,000 people and left dozens of others dead. The fifth straight year of drought in Central America is affecting migration patterns. And, as we speak, Australia continues to burn.
For months, the continent has battled some of the most destructive wildfires it’s seen in decades. As of Monday, a rising rate of 15.6 million acres have burned, 1,300 homes were lost, and 64 brush fires remain uncontained. Australia now enters an immense crisis — so far, 25 human lives were lost so far along with millions of animals at danger with no signs of this stopping. And, this comes at the heels of the blazing Amazon forest fires just last year.
The U.S. Embassy in Australia has instructed tourists visiting the South Coast of New South Wales to leave. Millions of wildlife are feared dead or, worse, extinct. Glaciers in New Zealand have turned brown from the bushfires’ smoke, ash, and dust. And by all accounts, the situation is likely to get much worse.
“It’s going to be a blast furnace,” Andrew Constance, the transport minister of New South Wales, told The Sydney Morning Herald. Mike Kelly, an elected official whose constituents live in much of the South Coast area currently under threat, said the reach of the fires has been about as bad as it can get. “There is nowhere in my electorate that isn’t being touched,” Kelly told the publication.
As the world continues to watch, and many public figures use their visibility as a call to action, the heartbreaking fires that spread across the continent, many wonder how they can help relieve the ongoing horror. For residents and bystanders alike, we’ve outlined all the ways you can help.
Hold politicians — and ourselves — accountable.
2019 was Australia’s hottest and driest year on record, and many climate experts are pointing to a warming planet as the cause. One climate scientist vacationing near the affected area wrote an op-ed in The Guardian, bluntly titled: “Australia, your country is burning — dangerous climate change is here with you now.”
“The brown skies I observed in the Blue Mountains this week are a product of human-caused climate change,” writes Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University. “Take record heat, combine it with unprecedented drought in already dry regions and you get unprecedented bushfires like the ones engulfing the Blue Mountains and spreading across the continent. It’s not complicated.”
Holding the right people accountable, though, can be complicated. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison abruptly ended his visit to a fire-affected town on Thursday after local residents criticized him for not doing more. Morrison is a climate change skeptic who has downplayed the role that it’s played in the fires.
“There are some fires that have been started by just carelessness, others sadly have been the result of direct arson, many have been created by dry lightning strikes,” he said at a news conference in December. “The drought conditions have certainly been a big contributor in terms of the dryness of the fuel load. There are also many other issues.”
But it’s not just politicians and lawmakers in Australia who need to be held to a higher standard. It’s us, too.
“Right now, on the outskirts of a hyper modern first world megapolis, at the end of a year in which the public seemed finally to wake up to the dramatic threat from global warming, a climate disaster of unimaginable horror has been unfolding for almost two full months, and the rest of the world is hardly paying attention,” writes David Wallace-Wells in New York Magazine, who argues that our collective “global apathy” toward the disaster is an eerie sign of the times. In short: We’re becoming desensitized to the devastation that the climate crisis is causing, which isn’t good because the worst is still to come.
Sign a petition.
According to the ongoing petition from Change.org, this catastrophe needs awareness and presence on another level: a national emergency. Signing this petition calls for Morrison to officially declare the Australian fires a national emergency and ignite a movement toward real change against these hazardous brushfires. One way to jolt yourself back to reality is by getting involved — no matter how seemingly small or inconsequential your contribution might feel. Petitions can enact real change.
Donate to organizations doing the hard work on the ground.
To have a more direct impact, you can reach out to local groups who are accepting donations and raising funds. (A local Australian news outlet has compiled a longer list of organizations to donate to.)
New South Wales Rural Fire Service: On behalf of three volunteer firefighters killed during this fire season, they will accept donations for their families. The organization is also actively helping relieve victims of the fire financially with collected donations. A separate GoFundMe page has also been created for the families, and you can donate on Facebook, where Trustees have collected $26 million in donations so far.
Salvation Army Emergency Services: The local Salvation Army in Australia is also accepting donations to provide meals to evacuees and frontline responders.
Help protect animals and wildlife.
Currently, an estimated half a billion animals and plants have died in the Australia brushfires, according to ecologists at the University of Sydney. Eight thousand of those were koalas. Viral videos of badly burned and dehydrated koalas have sparked concern for the beloved and uniquely Australian species. Donating to koala conservation efforts is more crucial than ever. An emergency fundraiser for the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has raised more than $2.5 million, while the University of Sydney is crowdfunding to create more koala drinking stations to cope with rising temperatures.