Who would have thought that it is so easy to ignore when your country is burning? Living in Australia in times of the 2019/2020 wildfires.
So, Australia is burning. Like literally burning. In all the states, in all the territories. My mom recently left me a voice message, on the verge of tears. It makes her think of the biblical plague, she says. Where god sends hail and fire, droughts and diseases, to punish humankind for misbehavior.
When god sends hail and fire, droughts and diseases, to punish humankind for misbehavior.
She’s not religious by the way. She’s just a mom, worrying about her daughter on the other side of the planet. Every day there is news about the devastation the fires create, about death tolls (primarily animals, but also at least 33 humans), about people losing everything they have – and about people dying on the Australian countryside in the attempt of protecting it. And Sydney, where I live? On the map, it’s encircled by fires on every side but the ocean one. It seems like a death trap.
The wildfires did NOTHING to our daily lives
But when we zoom in on the harbour city? How did the fires change my daily life, the lifes all the Sydneysiders around me, from backpacker to bank director? The sad truth is: they didn’t change them. Yes, sometimes there is a lot of smoke in the air. And yes, in the beginning we found it terrifying when the afternoon sun takes on a crimson glow through layers and layers of bushfire smoke.
In thick clouds of burnt air, the outdoorsy, active lifestyle Australians are known for continues unimpaired.
But now, almost 4 months into the worst fires in history? Well, in Sydney, life goes on. We go out for breakfast. We chill by the beach. Let the smoke in the air mix with the waft of grilled meats during our Sunday barbie. We go watch massive fireworks on New Year’s Eve because the mayor decided they don’t need to be canceled. It’s not like anything serious is going on, right? Some people check the air quality before leaving their house in the morning, few wear face masks if it is especially bad. In thick clouds of burnt air, the outdoorsy, active lifestyle Australians are known for continues unimpaired. A guy jogs through the park, sweat pouring down his bare chest. The Monday morning bootcamp meets for burpees and squats on a hill with view of the harbour bridge, unimpressed by the fact that the Air Quality Index shows numbers four times the “normal” level.
Peaceful oblivion in the eye of the hurricane
I can see myself being the same – ignorant and oblivious in the eye of the hurricane. Yet I struggle to understand why. Shouldn’t I be more worried? Freaking out? In a hurry to leave this place? Crying out loud through sleepless nights for all the victims, all the families that lost their homes, the scared kangaroos, the confused koalas, the terrified possums, the unimaginable large areas of hundreds-of-years-old-forests that have been destroyed so far? It is hard to create such a deep emotion of empathy and fear when the majority of what you see is sober facts and numbers – and those only if you actively search for them.
The Aussie talent to crack a joke in unfitting situations lives on.
A big Australian online fashion store recently had a “shop till you drop and we’ll donate 100 % of our sales to bushfire victims” day. Does no one but me see the flawed logic in literally fighting fire with fire, in raising money for wildfire victims by promoting what caused the fires, the climate change in the first place – mindless consumerism, unnecessary transportation, Mammut-sized ecological footprints for each one of us?
Raising money for wildfire victims by promoting what caused the fires, the climate change in the first place – mindless consumerism, unnecessary transportation, Mammut-sized ecological footprints for each one of us?
Because it’s not just people’s ignorance. It’s also what is reported in the media. 80 % of what I read and see about the bushfire comes from overseas media outlets, not Australian ones. Others with relatives in Europe and the US tell me the same: While their parents, their cousins and their friends from back home bombard them with questions regarding safety and how living in such critical conditions feels, they themselves stick to business as usual. Sure, you can give a dollar here and two dollars there, and last week, there was a mass demonstration downtown – but not even that was properly covered by media.
Can it really be that hard to help?
With “helping”, it’s the same. Some people donate goods, some people pack them up, others drive them to regions where they are needed. But volunteering spots fill up quickly, are organized via random posts on a Facebook page. If I want to sign up for the next packing day, I need to scroll through masses of “we don’t need volunteers anymore” and “thank you for your help” posts, through pictures of happy helpers and numbers of goods collected. All of those are awesome to see – I just wished it was simpler to find opportunities to do something good. I finally signed up for a “sew pouches for animals” workshop which gives me immense pleasure – fuelled by how hard it was to find “something to do” in the first place. It will take place from 10.00 AM to 12.00 PM on a damn Wednesday. I guess they were really trying to make it easy for volunteers to just drop by in the middle of a work morning. (Yes sarcasm. I can crack jokes too)
Are we training for our "close your eyes and don't look" future?
Maybe it’s on the people of Sydney to report more. To think more, read more, talk and educate more. Do more. Maybe I can do something to help that development, or maybe I can have a positive impact in another way.
A future where some will continue to live in their bubble in the eye of the hurricane, oblivious to the dying, burning, drowning planet around them – and oblivious of the people that die with it.
But maybe we all over here Down Under are just getting used to the future, where fires like the ones we currently have are the norm. Where those that can afford it will continue to live in their bubble in the eye of the hurricane, oblivious to the dying, burning, drowning planet around them – and oblivious of the people that die with it.