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  • Richard Plumpton | ii |

If This "Summer of Fire" Doesn't Jolt Australia into Action, What Will?


[Image: Bushfire near Black Head Beach in NSW | © Martin Von Stoll]

Waking to the smell of ash every morning. Receiving the latest fire update from the Fires Near Me App. Explaining to your kids why the sky looks so different. Hoping no more firefighters lose their lives trying to protect their community. Deciding to stay indoors for yet another day as the air quality plummets. Looking (despairingly) for political leadership from people who are too busy denying the problem to even trust their own eyes.

Welcome to Australia's unforgettable 'summer of fire'.

When I look back at this bushfire season (that still, unfortunately, has many weeks left to run), I think it will be the sense that it seems never-ending that will come back to me first. Day after day the fires keep smouldering or blazing depending on where you are or what the weather happens to be doing that day, as the tally of hectares lost (6 million and counting), lives taken (32 since the start of November 2019) and animals burnt alive (estimated at over 1 billion) continues to rise.

The psychological impact on the whole country is also apparent, with people talking of their shock at the scale of it all and helplessness in the face of this potentially becoming 'the new normal' for life in Australia.

And don't get me started on how Australia's Prime Minister has gone about addressing the crisis facing the country. Better to head over to Google and see the articles on his holiday in Hawaii, insults to the grieving people of Cobargo and continued vocal support for fossil fuels to understand the kind of leadership he has been showing everybody during this terrifying summer.

But beneath all the fear and sense of human history unfolding before our eyes, sits a fundamental question: will this year's bushfire catastrophe actually jolt Australia into action? After decades of inaction and fossil-fuel funded climate denial, will Australia finally step up and start to act as the climate change solutions leader that it has always had the potential to be?

As we take the first tentative steps into a smoke-filled new decade, I would be lying if I said I felt wholly optimistic that the country will be able to shake off its history of climate denial and become a key player in the climate solutions we need to find.

However, I also head into the 2020s knowing that we are rapidly running out of time in the existential fight climate change has brought upon us. A fight that, if we are to even stand a chance of surviving, needs us to make use of every single shattering event like the Australian bushfires to jolt us into far greater collective action, rather than just letting this smoke-filled summer sink back into our collective memory as something that happened, but didn't really mean anything.

In the words of John Lewis (words that I have been reminded of a few times this summer):

"If not us, then who? If not now, then when?"


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