The New Normal

By: Valentine and Sara

Australia has always experienced bushfires – it has a “fire season.” But as we know, when it comes to climate change, everything begins to get “worse than normal.” This will be increasingly apparent as we venture into a catastrophe-riddled world created by a worldwide economic system built upon exploiting the Earth. 

What’s more concerning, however, is the normalization that occurs as climate-related disasters become more common and severe. 

1.5 Million Acres (so far)

As Australia further resembles a scene out of a dystopian film set in the distant future, Prime Minister Scott Morrison took a family holiday in Hawaii after declaring a seven-day state of emergency. Despite this emergency mobilization to address the devastating impact of climate change, the prime minister claimed that there would be no change to the government’s climate policy.

Understandably, Australia has been criticized by climate change experts for cutting corners when it comes to addressing climate change. Australia used carry-over credits from the Kyoto agreement to meet its Paris targets, effectively using an “accounting loophole.”

Morrison did not attend the UN climate summit in September and the country is well below its target to reduce carbon emissions to 26-28% by 2030, predicting emissions will be reduced by 16% since 2005 in 2030. Australia is the world’s fourth largest producer of greenhouse gases and the second biggest exporter of coal. Fossil fuel exports account for 7% of world emissions

Al Jazeera reported in an interview with the head of research at Climate Council, Martin Rice, that, “The European Union, New Zealand and Pacific Island Countries have already criticised the Australian government for wanting to use dodgy accounting tricks to meet its 2030 Paris targets, claiming it is against the spirit of the Paris accord,”

“What we won’t do is engage in reckless and job-destroying and economy-crunching targets which are being sought,” Morrison told local broadcaster Nine, in response to cutting the nation’s coal industry. 

Despite Australia riddled by severe bushfires and the country setting the record for it’s driest and hottest year in 2019, Morrison refuses to acknowledge the severe impacts of climate change. 

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Morrison stated, “There is no argument … about the links between broader issues of global climate change and weather events around the world,” he said, speaking from the Rural Fire Services headquarters in Sydney. “But I’m sure people equally would acknowledge that the direct connection to any single fire event – it’s not a credible suggestion to make that link.”

Australia’s neighbor, New Zealand, has taken a more radical approach in mitigating the effects of climate change. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern celebrated the passing of the Zero Carbon bill last November with the goal of New Zealand becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. 

How People are Affected

Throughout social media feeds, the focus on the death of billions of animals in Australia has led to global outreach and support. 

Valentine: I recently moved to New York City, where the weather has been surprising in different ways. Last week it was sunny and in the mid 60s, causing Central Park to be overrun by people picnicking, running, and wearing short sleeves in the middle of January. This is a stark difference from the ignited lands of Australia. On the streets with people bustling place to place, illuminated advertisements, and countless other things grasping for the attention of New Yorkers, I saw plush koalas were fastened to poles. A statement mentioned the thousands of animal lives lost and a QR code for people to donate.

Ecologists are saying many animals and plants face extinction. There is a severe threat to biodiversity, which will continue the more temperatures rise and disastrous effects occur around the globe. 

Although, we should not forget the impacts on people’s homes and livelihoods. Already the fires have claimed the lives of 26 people and has destroyed nearly 3,000 homes. 

As written by Lorena Allam, an Indigenous Australian, “Like you, I’ve watched in anguish and horror as fire lays waste to precious Yuin land, taking everything with it – lives, homes, animals, trees – but for First Nations people it is also burning up our memories, our sacred places, all the things which make us who we are.”

Attention is often deflected from the traditional owners of this ignited land; however, thousands of indigenous people call it their home. The fires disrupted their lives and they were forced to flee, just as their ancestors had hundreds of years ago when European colonizers came to massacre their people, steal their land, and separate their families.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reported that around the world the climate crisis is threatening the very existence of indigenous people, just as colonization did. It was reported that the lands in which large populations of aborigional people live are the ones heavily impacted by the fires. 

Francis Markham, a research fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the Australian National University told Earther that, “These impacts are both on people in terms of the kind of direct impacts of fires: property loss and even loss of life. But they’re also about impacts on country and impacts to sacred sites and heritage sites, and that’s sometimes missed in this coverage.”

Apparent in the United States analogous colonial history, indigenous knowledge is often ignored. Not only has severe drought led to the bushfires, but also mismanagement of the land for hundreds of years. Before the occupation of convicts from Britain in the 1700s, aboriginal people populated the land. Through an intimate relationship with the environment, there was a clear understanding of how to mitigate large wildfires: Aboriginal burning practices. Depending on the types of grasses and time of year, First Nations people have the knowledge on how to manage the land to then control the severity of fires. This is not only a solution in Australia, but in North America as well. 

The horrific situation has led to a large amount of global support. Firefighters from California and Canada flew to Australia to assist in controlling the blaze. Tens of thousands of Australians have taken part in demonstrations, demanding climate action.

We need to focus on structural causes and consequences. This is just the beginning as climate change takes its toll. There is hope. As the world watches disaster after disaster, the notion of a climate crisis is becoming a priority. 

In the United States, the presidential election is this year. The candidate who will stand up for structural change and lead the world in tackling the climate crisis should be the best and only option. As citizens of this global world, we have the right to use our voice to demand such changes and hold the officials we elect accountable. This will not be an easy fight, but it is one we can – and must – win.

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