Why don’t we care about the Australian bushfires?
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you may have heard that Australia is currently on fire. Australia typically experiences every year what is known as “bushfire season” during the winter and spring for northern Australia and summer and fall for southern Australia. The hot, dry weather that is characteristic of Australia’s climate creates the perfect environment for fires to break out and spread across the continent. The reason that these bushfires are receiving so much media attention is the sheer, almost unparalleled destruction these fires have caused. As of right now, at least 31 people have lost their lives, over 27 million acres of land have burned and around a half of a billion animals have been affected, according to the latest CNN report. There seems to be no end in sight.
The bushfires are a natural feature of Australia’s climate. Most of the time these fires are due to natural causes, like a lightning strike. When lightning strikes the dry, water-deprived forests, a fire will break out, spreading rapidly given the abundance of kindling. Unfortunately, 24 people so far have been arrested for starting fires deliberately. This still does not account for the ferocity of this year’s bushfires. What has changed this past year is the severity of the droughts. This past December, a heatwave rocked Australia, breaking the record for the highest nationwide average temperature. Coupled with the fact that this past spring has been the driest ever recorded, it makes sense that the Australian bushfires have been so deadly this year. There are many reasons why the fires are so bad this year, but all of them lead back to climate change. Ultimately, our earth is warming due in no small part to human pollution, which has affected our environment in catastrophic ways, including an extended and more severe Australian bushfire season. While climate change is scary enough, what is truly terrifying is the fact that people do not seem to care.
Now, before people get offended, I am measuring public concern about climate change by looking at the reaction to climate change induced disasters, like the extended Australian bushfires, by the United States government. While I understand that there has been increased awareness over the past few months by people protesting in favor of climate change reform, I would argue that it takes the power of a country’s government to incite real change. If the public puts enough pressure on our government to take measures to fix climate change, eventually it will. The history of the United States has proven time and again that when the people put enough heat on the government, no matter how reluctant it is, it will bend to the will of the public, like during the Civil Rights Movement.
Why is the vast majority of the public not rising up and demanding change? There are four broad reasons why climate change does not invoke the same response as other threats. The first reason is that climate change is not a personal threat. Climate change does not have a face that we can plaster on every news outlet and demonize.
For example, look at the public outcry following 9/11. Not only did many Americans feel a loss of security within our country, we had someone that we could blame. The second reason is that climate change is slow. It is easier to identify and solve a problem when you can actually see it with your own two eyes. Although we are seeing some of the consequences of climate change now, none of them have appeared out of nowhere. For example, if you have lived in New England for an extended period of time, you may have noticed that the winters are becoming more erratic.
Many may remember that a few years back in Massachusetts it snowed on Halloween. This was major news at the time. Now, as the winters are slowly becoming more and more abnormal, when it is 50 degrees out in the dead of winter nobody bats an eye.
The third reason is that people tend to respond to immoral events. Remember the public outcry when the accusations started coming out against Harvey Weinstein? People pay attention when an event or a threat invokes an emotional response. Climate change just does not inspire those same feelings. People feel sorry for those affected by the Australian bushfires and act upon those feelings by sending aid. Climate change is too abstract to create a visceral reaction from the public. Furthermore, climate change is not an immediate threat. There are too many issues facing Americans in the presently in order for us to worry about the future.
So, back to the main question at hand: Why don’t we care about the Australian bushfires? We don’t care because we don’t have to or want to. Climate change is a problem that we can put out of our minds because, quite frankly, many Americans will die before it has any major impact on our daily lives. Unfortunately for the younger generation, older individuals have decided to ignore this inconvenient truth. So, we have to do something before it is too late, whether that be voting out of office those who choose to ignore us or taking up the mantle ourselves. The time to act is now because climate change is a threat that, if left to kindle, will be our destruction.