Up in smoke

Australia’s wildfires rampage in spite of social activism and government action

Graphic+by+Kaitlyn+Rogers
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Up in smoke

Graphic by Kaitlyn Rogers

Graphic by Kaitlyn Rogers

Graphic by Kaitlyn Rogers

Graphic by Kaitlyn Rogers

Story by Doug Kyles, staff writer

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Australia. The Outback. The Land Down Under. The vast continent is largely seen as one of the last areas of untouched wilderness left on Earth. And now, it’s on fire.

Australia’s identity is intertwined with it’s flora and fauna. For many, the landmass is a mystery apart from images of koalas and kangaroos. And with the current crisis, the environment that brings the country to fame is more threatened than ever.

It would be an oversimplification to say Australia is simply “on fire.” There are a number of proverbial blazes that the country faces. One of course, is the outbreak of recent bushfires that has attracted so much attention as of late. Another burning issue, that makes it so hard for the scorched land to recover is the lack of support from their parliament. The abundance of kind rhetoric (and lack of action) that social media influencers have created has done little for the crisis.

To address the most literal of the fires slowly suffocating Australia, drought and record breaking temperatures have been the catalyst to an unprecedented rampage of brush fires that have made their way to every corner of the continent. And while the first of the fires started as far back as December, the scourge did not fade away with the new year. As of early January, more than 100 separate fires, all large enough to be individually documented and tracked, are still burning.

When the environmental toll is quantified, it becomes abundantly clear that the fires have created a crisis. If figures like 46 million acres burned, 29 human lives lost, and a possible one billion animal casualties so far aren’t enough to spur action, little likely is.

Many are quick to blame manmade climate change for the fires. And while the official causes of the fires are yet to be decided on, arson being one of the most recent possibilities, climate change does have a proven role in adding to the fires. Junior Katarina Jordan has followed the events with concern, but isn’t quick to blame any one factor for the situation.

“Scientists aren’t sure what is causing [the fires] but I think climate change can definitely be a factor,” said Jordan. “But so can people. I think that it’s best that people first research all possibilities of what is causing the fires.”

However, even if who or what is causing the fires was made completely clear, blame alone will do nothing to stop the fires. A decisive, effective course of action must be taken immediately to save what’s left to lose.

Many address the call to action by calling out the Australian government’s ineffective, arguably incompetent, response to the fires. Speaking to the government’s inaction, Australian Prime Minister Boris Johnson was taking a family vacation in Hawaii when the fires were near their worst. This vacation was rightfully cut short when public anger forced the PM back home.

Jordan is one of the many who sees the injustice in the government not doing everything they can to stop the fires.

“It’s their land burning, so it’s their responsibility if they choose to make it one,” Jordan said. “It wouldn’t make sense if your country is burning and the government doesn’t do anything to stop it.”

This sentiment is one shared on social media a thousand times over. On platforms like Twitter and Instagram, it has become a trend for every influencer, singer, or even actor who hasn’t seen the stage in years to “speak out” on the situation. And while “spreading awareness” is one thing, an echochamber is another. The average social media user sees statement after statement made, but little done.

The course of action that some celebrities choose to take, making donations, is a real way to foster change. Jordan and others praise these celebrities, who are willing to sacrifice to see the situation improve.

“Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t necessarily release a statement,” Jordan said. “Instead, he started a fund for relief and made a donation. In my opinion, this helps a lot more than a statement, because it actually helps the situation. He really has a platform, and he chooses to use it for the benefit of Australia, which is awesome.”