International Policy Digest

Fire and Rescue NSW
World News /09 Jan 2020
01.09.20

Australia Is Burning

The television coverage of the Australian wildfires is horrific. Local and international press have captured the human tragedy which is dislodging hundreds of thousands. We see the fleeing families, the burning houses and the obvious and imminent danger to so many. It’s horrific and at the same time terrifying because those Australian families remind you of home, wherever you are from.

In addition to that strike-to-the-heart image is the wildlife catastrophe. Half a billion could die and many of that half billion are only found there. Tens of thousands of koala bears could die. Reporters film them in their dying moments.

I spent a year doing a walkabout in Australia and it is truly magnificent. The news media is catching that magnificence and describing the disaster with powerful words and images.

But there is more to this tragedy which is even more tragic, even more terrifying and potentially even more destructive.

For the most part, it’s agreed that the destruction is the result of climate change but the cause gets very little airtime when compared to the terrible images. Those images, and journalistic soliloquies, seem part of a standard news genre – the Disaster Genre. But there is another story, or should we say the story has another profoundly important element that is hardly even mentioned.

The savagely destructive weather is not really weathering in the old sense. It’s not the indiscriminate, never quite predictable phenomenon of our forefathers and though the news media feeds it to us on the same old well-worn plate, it’s not the same thing at all.

The Australian catastrophic wildfire is not a happenstance just a little more costly than the one a few years ago because that was the result of happenstance but this one was the direct result of the hand of man. I find it very worrying that the news media avoids this and maintains the failing traditional trope.

The margin of difference comes from climate change and the effect on the weather as a result of man’s production of carbon dioxide. So the koala bears are dying not by chance nor because of something the Australians did but something mankind did that has a global generalized effect. But it’s not fair to just leave that statement as an endpoint because the effect is generalized, but the degree of contribution is not.

The Chinese have the highest total and the Americans are by far the greatest contributors per capita. These facts the media does not report: the American industrial and economic dominance supports a lifestyle that consumes more than its share and charges the rest of the world to pay the bill. In Australia, the koalas are dying in the arms of rescuers and kangaroos are literally being roasted by the destruction of their own habitat as a direct result of dominant economies pursuing the interests of the few.

A minuscule number of people own and control the vast majority of resources in the United States and the kind of change needed to address an issue like global climate change needs those few corporations to lose control of the system. It’s not only American democracy that is in hock. It’s the beauty, the hope, and the future of our home, our planet. We get the news but the cause is lost in the messaging. If we were more aware we could rise up and demand change. Meanwhile, Australia burns and the koalas die due to no fault of their own.