Australian Bushfires: Why is it happening? What can I do to help?

Amy Knowles explains what has happened in Australia, and what you can do to help!

By Amy Knowles

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or you are Jeremy Clarkson (linked below the worst article of 2020), it would seem surprising if you haven’t been saddened by the recent Australian Bushfires. 

At the time of writing this piece, the death toll is at 29, thousands of homes have been destroyed or damaged, and smoke levels reached hazardous levels, engulfing cities in toxic smog.

To put the bushfires into context, in just six months (1stJuly 2019 – January 1st 2020), 10 million hectares of bushland has been burnt; that’s an equivalent of nearly 63 times the size of London, or nearly 120% the size of Scotland. The fires are burning in every state and territory, despite the media focusing on the NSW and Victorian fires – understandably as they are the largest.

A “megafire” on the border of NSW and Victoria came about after two fires merged, spanning over a distance of 2,300 square miles (equivalent to 57 times the size of Paris), and that was just one fire. These statistics alone, make it all that much more disgusting that Notre Dame ‘may have too much money after billionaires and others rushed to pledge’ (Washington Post,2019).

A Catholic cathedral with money to spare and a massive country struggling with resources – a concerning contrast to say the least, even if much of this discrepancy was due to the media coverage (or lack thereof), and loyalty to religious institutions.

It may not be as simple as turning to the default answer of climate change to explain why the country is on fire, but it is important to consider. With Australia experiencing its hottest day to date in December 2019,with an average temperature of 41.9C, you cannot deny climate change is playing an important role; a more credible answer than Jeremy Clarkson suggesting Australia is ‘God’s Laboratory’ or that the fires were caused by ‘out-of-control barbies’. As I am not a scientist, I won’t try to attempt to explain the complications of the sea temperatures rising in the Western side of the ocean, causing the droughts in Asia and Australia. However, this change in climate (morespecifically, a positive Indian Ocean Dipole, or IOD), is likely to be a contributor to the extremity of the bushfires in Australia, as well as flooding and landslides in East Africa.

A major reason the bushfires were so extreme was due to the lack of governance. Jarrod Growse, a Melbourne resident explained how ‘The Australian government failed on multiple fronts over the past few years to prepare the nation for the inevitable catastrophic bushfires.’ He continued to explain how the Australian government failed on multiple occasions to provide appropriate funding and equipment to firefighters, thegovernment did not put in place preventative methods and ‘ignored countless advocates from peak bodies, both the AFAC and FPAA’. Despite all of this, the government still continue to refuse to take any blame.

Australia’s Indigenous solutions to bushfires also comes into play. Bill Gammage (an Australian National University professor), suggests that the Indigenous people of Australia have knowledge of the land, which others do not, and as such should be seriously considered in finding a way to prevent this crisis from happening again. The 50,000-year-old Indigenous fire practices are based mainly on fire prevention, with small fires being burnt in order to clear debris, scrub and more flammable grasses. These smaller scale fires, must be done at the right time of year and right place in order to minimise larger fires blazing. Gammage explains, it is not as easy as lighting small fires and putting them out again, one must have the knowledge of the length the fire will burn for, weather conditions and seasonal effects. Gammage points out that perhaps in the South (where primarily non-Indigenous Australians are in charge), the fires are the greatest, due to the lack of these preventative practises. However, these preventative burning techniques cannot deny the mass power of climate change. Preventative burning techniques are costly, and take significant planning,however are incomparably less costly than the damage caused and the money needed to help extinguish the burning country as we see it now. This suggests that learning the land better, as well as merging Indigenous and mainstream fire practice is really important.

It seems interesting that most articles, social media content and photos circulating in the media are those of the animals affected by the bushfires. Those poor cuddly koalas, or the horribly sad photo of the burned kangaroo clinging to the wired fence… but what about the humans affected? The Australians losing their livelihood, jobs and homes? It seems inherent in human nature that sympathy screams the loudest when those must vulnerable in our societies are hurt, “those” being babies, the elderly and animals. Which, if it raises funds is obviously a good thing, but I think we do need to remember the humans affected too, albeit species chauvinistic.

Many influencers, celebrities and companies have pledged to sell their products in order to raise funds for the fires and those affected. If there is to be any positivity in this cloud of negativity, it is the communities and people who have come together to help those in need, with a particularly extraordinaryeffort from Australian actor, writer and comedian Celeste Barber raising more than £26,000,000 for The Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund. However, this fundraiser is more complicated than it seems. Once donated, the money stays in a limbo with PayPal before they release it to the charity (which can take up to 90 days). However, despite knowing which charity the money is going to, donors are becoming concerned that they don’t know the exact help their money will be used for, and some are asking whether the donations can be split to more than one charity, and in turn, more than one state. With Barber only initially aiming to raise $30,000, one can only imagine the weight she holds on her shoulders after raising, and trying to sort out the colossal amount she has raised as of today. On an Instagram story, Barber stated that she would split the money between the varying states, however this process is not an easy one.In order for the money to be split between varying states, the fundraiser would need to be shut down once the money had come through, or otherwise it may require an act of Parliament.

One final point to leave you thinking: celebrities have received backlash for their donations. Kylie Jenner, whose net worth is $1bn US dollars, donated $1m to local fire services, with Jeff Bezos donating even less. For celebrities so rich, one would think they could donate a lot more to the cause, which in turn would help influence others to do similar. Although I think they definitely could donate more (similarly with companieswho could donate 100% of profits for a set amount of time, rather than a small percentage), would you rather they donate a small amount than nothing at all? Every time you see a homeless person on the street, I’d be surprised if you donated much more than 1% of your money to them, if any at all.

Sources used-––––

How to donate

Celeste Barber’s fundraiser-

Salvation Army Donations-

Rural Fire Brigade Donations, Queensland-

Rural Fire Service, NSW-

Red Cross –

Victorian Farmer’s Federation-

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Amy Knowles explains what has happened in Australia, and what you can do to help!