As we travelled the familiar route from Sydney up to the New England region just before Christmas – my heart slowly filled with foreboding. We’ve driven this route many times before – through times when the countryside was lush and green. And through times when the droughts seemed never-ending. But as we drove under the eerie light of the smoke-covered sky this year, my sense of sadness and grief grew stronger and stronger.
And the thought that kept going through my head was the phrase I’ve heard over and over again since then – about both the drought and the fires:
“I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s never been this bad.”
It wasn’t the drought-ravaged ground – dirt with scattered patches of dead grass – that shocked me. I’ve seen drought many times before. It wasn’t the empty paddocks – which at this time of year normally contain suckling calves and prancing lambs. It wasn’t that the limited stock you could see was skinny and gaunt.
What really shook me up was the dead and dying trees.
At first, you don’t really notice them – at least the dying and newly dead ones. Their leaves are brown and their trunks often black, so they blend into the green and brown landscape. But when you start to look more closely – you realise just how many trees are impacted.
As we continued to drive, it was often difficult at first to distinguish between areas of bush that had been hit by fire and those that had been hit by drought. Trees and plants that die from lack of water look like they’ve been burnt – their bark blackens and their leaves brown.
Further, it’s not just young trees that are dying – the trees that haven’t yet established deep roots. It’s also old trees. Trees that have been there for more than a hundred years – whether native or introduced. And it’s not just one or two – they are dying in droves.
It felt like the trees are giving up…
While it might sound strange – at the time it felt like these old trees were giving up – that it has all just gotten too hard.
I was reminded of this feeling when I read the following tweet from Phillip Adams this week:
kangaroos are laying down and dying in the garden. Unharmed by fires they’re simply giving up – like scores of beautiful old trees that have shaded the homestead for many decades. Drought is a bushfire in slow motion
— Phillip Adams (@PhillipAdams_1) January 10, 2020
As Adams points out, it’s not just the trees that are giving up – it’s the wildlife as well – dying of hunger or thirst. The fires are horrendous – but as Adams points out, in many ways they have just sped up what was already happening as a result of the drought.
And now, for wildlife impacted by the fires, things are even worse. For those that somehow survived – their already diminished food supplies have now reduced even further.
What have we done to our beautiful country?
Australia has always had droughts – just as it has always had fires. But as anyone who lives in the drought-impacted countryside will tell you, they’ve never been this bad.
Why? Because Climate Change leads to an increase in the severity of ‘weather’ events. And despite Morrison, this week suggesting that drought and climate change are two separate drivers behind the severity of Australia’s ongoing bush fire crisis – the impact of the former is made much greater by the later.
Australia is the continent most at risk from impact by climate change, and it seems the issue many have argued we have time to respond to – Climate Change – has hit us first, and it’s hit us hard. If we can’t find a way to reverse the impacts of Climate Change soon, then this is our new normal – not just these types of fires, but extreme drought, the loss of the barrier reef, the death of our wildlife and trees, limits to our food supply, more severe cyclones and floods and much more.
For some species of Australian wildlife – it is likely already too late. While it’s too early to tell the exact number of species that will never exist on this planet again, we know that many are at risk, if not already gone.
You can’t fix an issue until you agree what the problem is
You can’t fix an issue if you can’t agree exactly what’s causing it. That’s a basic truth. If you go to the doctor with a health issue, the first thing the doctor does is diagnose what is wrong. They can’t prescribe treatment until they do this.
The biggest challenge we as a country face – and we are far from alone with this – is gaining consensus on what the problem is that should be fixed.
On the one hand, we have qualified scientists telling us that climate change is what is creating the new normal – not creating the fires or drought or cyclones – but making them infinitely worse.
And on the other hand, we have the Climate Deniers, Hoaxers and Trivialisers – those for whom the truth is ‘inconvenient’. So instead of acknowledging it they deflect, cherry-pick and distort facts to suit their needs, tell outright lies and possibly worst of all, trivialise the seriousness of the problems Climate Change pose to us.
We’re in a war right now – and the fight is literally for the future not just of our country, but of our planet.
And we can’t win this war until we unite around the truth – so that we can galvanise around what the real problems are that need to be solved and come up with solutions.
There will always be Climate Deniers, Hoaxers and Trivialisers – just like there will always be Flat Earthers. It’s unrealistic to expect that everyone will align around the one perspective.
But it’s time that those of us who believe in acting on facts, not lies – who believe that the only way to respond to the challenges we face right now, stand up and unite around the truth.
(This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.com)
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