Throughout the past month, social media has been saturated with pictures of koalas and donation pages for the Australian bushfires, however very few are talking about how they actually began, and where reputable donation spaces are. As an American, here is a rundown of the basic factors leading up to and resulting from the flames, so we can all be a little more informed and educated about a major crisis facing one of the most ecologically vibrant countries in the world.
How it all started:
Australia is no stranger to natural bush fires. Every year they have a "fire season", much like how we in the United States have hurricane season. The specific fires Australia is experiencing now started in September, and the most prominent reason to why these are so prevalent is that the heat provided from increasing climate change has allowed the bush to become much drier, the driest yet on record, and therefore more susceptible to being used as kindling. In addition to this, arsonists have further aggravated the fire, the New South Wales police department having charged 24 people since November over alleged "deliberately-lit bushfires".
What are the consequences?
Professor Chris Dickman of the University of Sydney, professor of Terrestrial Ecology, estimates that 480 million animals have been effected in New South Wales since the beginning of the bushfires. This is only an estimate for New South Wales, and not one on the overall effect of animals in the country. He released a statement in early January detailing how that number was reached, and in that remarks that "the true loss of animal life is likely to be much higher than 480 million."
The prime minister notes that 30% of the koalas on the New South Wales coast have died as a result of their habitat being destroyed, and further the World Economic Forum states that "the damage to the environment and native Australian fauna is colossal."
In addition to the mass environmental destruction, the Australian people have been unfortunately effected as well, their homes and communities having been devastated.
CNN reports that, "In total, more than 7.3 million hectares (17.9 million acres) have been burned across Australia's six states -- an area larger than the countries of Belgium and Denmark combined." This is over 17 times the amount of land that was burned in the California wildfires last summer.
Aboriginal people are losing sacred spaces, as well as already limited land. An article from new website The Conversation notes that Aboriginal peoples' "identity comes from the land." Losing this in addition to food sources and ancestral and totemic plants and animals is the decimation of thousands of years of cultural identity. Lorena Allam, a writer for The Guardian says, "It's a particular grief, to lose forever what connects you to a place in the landscape. Our ancestors felt it, our elders felt it, and now we are feeling it all over again as we watch how the mistreatment and neglect of our land and waters for generations, and the pig-headed foolishness of coal-obsessed climate change denialists turn everything and everyone to ash." You can read more about her testament of First Nations people and how the fires are effecting them particularly here.
How can we help?
The Australian government is spending billions putting out these fires, so one of the best ways to help on an individual level is by donating to local fire departments:
New South Wales: https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/volunteer/support-your-...
In addition to this there is a Go Fund Me page to support relief for First Nations communities:
As well as various wildlife donation websites and local zoo hospitals:
One of the best ways to help, however, is simply being educated about what caused these fires, and how to prevent it from wreaking so much havoc in the future.