Climate change and the Australian bush fires: the need for a
new Earth ethic
The devastating bush fires in New
South Wales and Queensland Australia are a catastrophe that
has far reaching consequences – for people and animals.
Bush fires are a regular seasonal occurrence in Australia.
But what is unique about these latest bush fires is that
they are occurring very early in the season on an unprecedented
The bush fires have ravaged 2.5 million acres
of land killing at least four people and destroying over 300
The screams of animals dying in pain are echoing
from the bush. It has been reported that koalas are being killed in the hundreds and
colonies are being wiped out. One major colony in the
Lake Innes Nature reserve has been razed by the fire – and
it was once home to over 600 koalas.
Koalas are one of
life’s many marvels. They are not bears (who are mammals),
but rather they are marsupials and have pouched young. They
have evolved alongside the Australian Eucalypts for millions
of years. They rely on these trees for their survival,
having a multi-lobed highly efficient liver and gut system
to eliminate the toxins in the Eucalypt leaves.
I saw the
recent video of a koala limping out of
the raging fires before being rescued by a passing motorist,
who must be commended for her bravery. The koala’s cries
as she poured cool water on him and gave him a drink
devastated me. While this koala was saved, hundreds of
others have perished. Imagine not being able to be evacuated
from your one and only home, a source of both shelter and
food. Imagine burning to death.
Like many people I have
thought about the link between climate change and the bush
fires. The science suggests that while climate change may
not be the cause of the fires, it is almost definitely
contributing to them because of the hotter, drier climate.
Scientists have long predicted that that Australian bush
fires would become more intense and frequent due to climate
We are now living through those predictions and,
in my view, it should be a wake up call for those people who
still deny anthropogenic climate change.
change is hurting animals is evident. It hurts wild animals
like koalas. It also kills domesticated animals that cannot
escape extreme weather events. For example in the Queensland floods in February this year
600.000 cattle were killed. Flood waters rose up to form a
wall of water 70km wide.
These floods also devastated
native species such as marsupial mice and birds. Floods
cause disruptions in gene flow in native species, as their
range gets limited. Basically the cycle of regeneration of
biodiversity is being messed with due to the effects of
extreme weather events – the hall mark of climate
The loss of diversity of life and consequent
extinction crisis we are currently experiencing has passed a
tipping point. Koalas may now end up on the endangered list
due to the bush fires. They have been in Australia for
30 million years according to fossil records. Humans have
been on Earth for 300-200,000 years only. And, according to ninety seven percent of climate
scientists, it has only been since the mid twentieth
century that human activity has caused climate warming
trends. We came, we saw, we conquered.
Basically, in just
under two hundred years humans are causing mass destruction
and suffering. It is no wonder that David Attenborough calls
humans a plague on Earth.
Yet Attenborough is wrong in one
sense. We shouldn’t label all humans with the same brush.
Aboriginal Australians have been in Australia for at least
60.000 years. The koalas were fine under their stewardship.
Yet it has only been the arrival of Europeans and their
quest for economic dominance through global capitalism and
industrialized development that has caused our current
I’m not trying to single out Europeans –
but it is true that many indigenous peoples have lived in
sustainable ways with the Earth before European
I once had hope, and I still do, but it is
now infused with terror. I am hopefully terrified. I love
life – it’s called biophilia. This term refers to an
innate affinity with nature and life. Most humans are born
with it, but for many it is lost due to cultural
socialization patterns that distance humans from nature.
Watching that koala limp out of his home, his body singed
and burning reminded me of some kind of hell on Earth. This
kind of hurt you cannot put a band aid on and you cannot
stop it – at least not while we feed the engine of
capitalist market economic growth which is at the root of it
all. And while capitalism still keeps churning away, run
away climate change is fast on its heels. It will overtake
capitalism soon, bringing it to the ground, causing untold
suffering of animals and people.
Capitalism and its
handmaiden industrialization have been packaged together in
the term ‘economic development’. This has been trotted
out as an unqualified good. Yet it’s really a monster
devouring whole ecosystems and killing life.
sinking ship planet Earth is now struggling to support life
on board. The most vulnerable, those without the means to
escape, both animals and people will suffer first.
Correction – are suffering first. Media showcases the
suffering. We watch through screens – seemingly distanced
from the horror unfolding.
Our minds may find it difficult
to accept the reality that life as we know it is changing
forever. The latest conspiracy theory that Greta Thunberg is
a time traveler come to warn us are not only ridiculous, but
distracting. We’re always getting distracted. We’ve been
warned for years before this – before Thunberg was even
There are things you can do now to stop the screams
getting louder as forests burn. Stop supporting the
industries at the root of this destruction. The animal
industries are a main culprit but there are others. In other
words, as Thunberg advises, eat plant based. Become a
But mostly, be kind. Be compassionate. Plant trees
and not walls – unless it’s a wall for a climber with
passionfruit for the bees. Don’t use insecticides. Nurture
biodiversity on the Earth, grow your own food and give some
to your neighbors. We need to be guided by a new ethic of
care for Earth, people and animals. We need to scale down,
even halt, economic growth. It is the only way we will
The Earth and its beautiful and wondrous life is
in danger. It’s hurting. We’re all on the same ship and
there is no lifeboat.
Be the lifeboat.
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