VISITING AUSTRALIA DURING A FIRE CRISIS
Updated: Jun 29, 2020
Coming to Australia has been on my bucket list for years. So when I was finally able to take this trip and have it last a few months, I jumped on the chance to do so.
I started planning my trip to Australia in early 2019, before the bushfires started. Once the fires began, they were not international news until hundreds of acres had already been burned down.
FLYING TO OZ
The timing of this was about one week before my scheduled flight - at which point I began to second guess getting on the plane.
I spoke to family and friends in Australia who assured me that the areas of Victoria I would be visiting, were safe. Yet, even when I was at the LAX airport ready to get on my flight, I had doubts.
Apparently so did other people, because groups of families were lining up at the service desk to cancel their seats within an hour of boarding.
When I voiced my concern to a United Airlines Attendant, I was reassured yet again that it would be safe to land.
At this point, I am not sure I understood the gravity of the bushfire situation, what it meant to people, to Australia as a country, or to the rest of the world.
LANDING IN MELBOURNE
I landed about 16hours later and found myself in a very hazy city, inhaler ready in hand.
In the coming days, I searched for tours outside the city, and spent time in museums - often avoiding fresh air.
I took a tour down the Great Ocean Road and Phillip Island, went to the National Gallery of Victoria, and spent some time at local beaches. I went to sanctuaries where I met Koalas, Wallabies and Kangaroos - making me thankful I got on the plane.
I spoke to locals about the fires, spent time with friends who were patient enough to explain the gravity of the situation, and began to truly understand why these fires are a crisis.
After being in Australia for a few weeks, I have gained a greater insight as to why these fires are out of the ordinary, and how they are directly related to climate change.
WHY THESE FIRES ARE DIFFERENT
Australia has always had bush fires - yet none have ever been this big, lasted this long, or created their own wind patterns. Not only this, but the timing of these fires is not normal, These are huge pieces of land burning - in only the beginning of summer.
HOW ARE THESE FIRES RELATED TO CLIMATE CHANGE?
Temperatures around the world have been rising due to greenhouse gas emissions.
Rising temperature creates a drier climate, encouraging fires, floods, and thunder storms - all of which have somehow affected my trip and countless people’s lives.
"Scientists have long warned that a hotter, drier climate would contribute to Australia's fire becoming more frequent and more intense." (BBC, 2019)
Long term effects of the climate change we are already seeing include more frequent and larger fires, greater floods and even cyclones.
Numerous scientists have pointed out how these fires are a clear example of how climate change (drier and hotter weather than usual caused by human action) is having consequences on the natural habitat.
These fires caused a ripple effect of catastrophic events.
In creating their own wind patterns and thunder storms - the fires expanded and areas not normally under fire watch, are burning.
This caused human fatalities, wildlife loss, and uninhabitable homes.
At this point in your reading, I want to point out that often we hear the word fatality in news outlets so much, that it’s easy to be desensitized and forget its meaning.
The dictionary definition:
fatality [fey-tal-i-tee, fuh-]
noun, plural fa•tal•i•ties. 1. a disaster resulting in death.
Yet fatality is so much more than the above. It is loss of a life. A loved one who should have lived, and didn’t. Someone with dreams and aspirations, gone. Family members and friends grieving, all lives changed forever.
It’s not only about the person lost, but all those remaining. Similarly, when we hear of how much wildlife and animal life has been lost, the numbers are so large, that it is hard to fathom how “1.25 billion animals have killed in Australia to date.” (WWF, 2020)
CONSERVATION CENTERS AND ANIMAL HOSPITALS
I’ve gone to about 5 different wildlife refuge, conservation centers and animal hospitals. I’ve had close encounters with Koalas, Wallabies, and Kangaroos. At one point in the midst of the bushfire madness, I was at a conservation center watching in awe as a koala bellowed, looking for its partner. The people near me began to talk and make comments about how amazing these animals are. When all of a sudden someone says "If only he knew what was happening to his buddies a few kilometers away."
Each center I went to had something to say on the current bush fires. They advocated for preservation of land and animals. Some even encouraged pledging to make changes in our daily lives. One of the major changes encouraged was to use recycled paper instead of brand new - which is something you can see on the label when purchasing. Why? Because it is unnecessary to deforest eucalyptus trees (which koalas would eat) when there are tonnes of used paper that could be repurposed.
A COUNTRY UNITED
Going to Australia knowing that the fires were going on, was a bit scary - yet it also encouraged me to look deeper into our climate crisis and learn what one of the most distinct countries in the world is doing to support it’s habitat.
What I have seen is people trooping together to pull in money for the animals, families and habitat lost. Almost every bar or restaurant I go to has some sort of sign for donation or information about a percentage of proceeds being donated.
Through speaking with people, I began to understand that there are numerous climate and environmental initiatives throughout Australia, which have been encouraged by citizens changing their consumer demands. These amazing climate warriors have been able to enact political change within their cities.
SUSTAINABILITY AND MELBOURNE
Some of the things I noticed throughout my stay includes the reduction of plastic bags, plastic straws, and campaigns promoting sustainability.
There is a ban on lightweight plastic bags in the city. This means that you have to bring your own reusable bag to the grocery store - and less plastic bags are created and disposed of inappropriately.
The city is committed to helping reduce food waste. The Love Food Hate Waste challenge addresses the amount of food Victorians throw away. The campaign confronts the loss of resource, production, time and money that goes into the creation of food. In doing so, Melbourne aspires to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases often caused when food is thrown out in landfills.
Electronic Waste (e-waste) is not allowed in the trash bins. Instead Melbourne encourages its citizens to recycle e-waste. In recycling your old phones or computers, the city is able to reduce the greenhouse gases that are created in the production of these items. It also diminishes the hazard caused by electronics in landfills.
Environmental sustainability is at the cities forefront. Melbourne has several initiatives to reduce waste, emissions, and adapt to climate change.
WHY WHAT WE DO MATTERS
Not all of Australias government has been in support of climate initiatives or conservation goals. The Australia bushfires have caused an uproar in the public uniting citizens around the world. These fires are the epitome of the horrors that will continue to happen if we don't act on climate change.
It’s more than just about the fires... it’s sustainability throughout the country and the world and there are about a million and one contributing factor with the number one being human action. We have the power to help our cities and enact change. We can do this in the choices we make every day.
Transportation: carpool, take public transit or walk whenever possible. When you drive your car every day, you are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
Industry: make changes in your consumer choices. This is about what you buy and how you buy. Everything that you utilize has an environmental cost associated with it, and this is greater when you are buying something brand new where raw materials are needed.
Agriculture: Make changes in your eating habits. The more fruit and vegetables you eat, the more you are helping the environment. The more meat you eat, the greater your carbon footprint is due to the greenhouse gas emissions created in the process.
CALL TO ACTION
Question: So what can you do?
Answer: There are changes you can make in your everyday life to improve the environment, the above are just some ideas. Rehabilitating the Australian habitat and wildlife will be difficult and time consuming. Many people are volunteering their time, but for quick and impactful effects, donations are important.
Where to donate:
Want to learn more about Australia? Keep a lookout for upcoming posts on my time here and the various cities I’ve been visiting.