BY JIMIN SEO
The fire is larger than the country of Switzerland. Thousands of Australians have lost their homes and at least 20 people have died, with many more injured. A billion animals have died.
This is easily one of the most destructive bushfires in Australia’s history, but it may only be the beginning – in a warming planet, this may be the new norm.
Although Scott Morrison’s Liberal party has enacted some legislation to combat climate change in the past (such as partaking in the Kyoto protocol), it cannot be denied that the world’s largest coal exporter (accounting for 37.8% of total coal exports worldwide) has not done enough to truly address the issue of climate change. Many South Australian residents feel that the devastating bushfires are a ‘manifestation’ of humanity’s collective negligence of the Earth, and feel that drastic action needs to be taken immediately.
Pressure is mounting for Morrison, who many feel has done ‘too little, too late’. Although the Australian Prime Minister has visited the damaged region and comforted many displaced people, the reaction comes off as disingenuous – it seems more like a publicity stunt than a concrete and tangible step that won’t just put out the fires, but prevent them from occurring again.
The image above, from an interactive display from The Guardian, illustrates a red square that represents 4.9 million hectares – the total area of land burnt in the Australian bushfire. It truly shows the magnitude of this disaster; such an area easily envelopes the entire greater Auckland region, as well as completely covering neighbouring cities such as Hamilton, Tauranga and even the Rotorua region.
Due to geographic seclusion, New Zealanders have generally been detached from the crazy political antics of Europe and the US, or in this case, the Australian bushfires. This has led to a sense of nonchalance, or even a sense of apathy among Kiwis, who feel that these global events have no relevance to them. However, New Zealand’s remote geography could not shroud Aucklanders to the unsettling events unfolding overseas, as on Sunday 5th January, thick clouds of smoke and fine ash from Australian bushfires enveloped the Auckland region, casting the city in a depressing orange hue.
It was a wake up call to all of New Zealand, but to young adults in particular. In the hours following the ash cloud, thousands flocked to social media to exchange messages of fear and comfort and messages of thoughts and prayers for those suffering in Australia.
However, wishing our Australian neighbours well is not enough. It is important that New Zealanders realise that the consequences of environmental neglect are felt internationally, and thus, require true global collaboration.
According to The Guardian, Kiwis can help the firefighting organisations by donating here or by hosting a NSW Rural Fire Service approved fundraiser. It is also helpful to organise public assemblies to raise awareness and to deter New Zealand lawmakers from going down the same path.
The orange skies on Sunday were quite metaphorical; orange is a colour associated with warnings and consequences to come. On a traffic light, it indicates that vehicles must slow down, before it is too late.
Likewise, over 70% of climate scientists claim that humanity is also in a ‘Yellow-light period’ and have a very narrow window of time before climate change becomes the new norm. This is the final call: we must act now, before the horrors of the current Australian bushfires become the new norm.
JIMIN SEO is a student in Auckland with a passion for writing prose and journalism. Hobbies primarily comprise of: hitting that diplomatic woah at MUN events, annoying friends about geopolitics, and binging on the Conan O’Brien show.