Climate change

Climate Change Stories From a Nation on Fire: Australia

The result of climate change denial

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It is an incredibly helpless experience to watch the news on Australian TV right now. Today as I listen to the warnings to evacuate areas that are specifically threatened, I remember heart-breaking stories of the relentless drought and devastation of unstoppable bushfires:

A coffin-shaped kiln

Before Christmas one of many communities was overwhelmed by the viciousness of flames. Bewildered survivors, smeared with ash and looking in need of comfort and care, rather than questions by the reporter, described how they had lost everything they owned. Some were too shocked to display emotions.

A man who claimed how lucky he was to only have himself to think about, had the day before built a place of safety where he could hide for half an hour while the fire passed through his property. As he described it, he broke down in tears: it was a coffin-shaped kiln, enough space for one.

Farmers struggle

The drought isn’t new or recent, it has lasted for years. Hundreds of farmers have run out of both grazable pasture and water holes for their cattle. Now selling their livestock, they no longer have a way of making a living. Arable farms have not had a yield that could provide them with an income for a couple of years now. Farmers are forced to sell up and move out, not knowing what to do or expect next.

Some of these farms have been in the same family for generations and the thought of leaving has a deeper meaning than simply moving to a new house or changing career. They leave behind a community, their history, their ancestors. They leave behind a part of their psyche and emotional connections, an aspect of their soul and their life’s purpose, a future they believed had stable roots in the land they had worked on since they could walk.

But these are the lucky ones. Some choose a more permanent exit that I guess will give them relief from the extraordinary pain they must be feeling: they choose suicide.

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The koalas’ plight

At Port Macquarie, north of Sydney, a large area of eucalyptus trees burnt down in December. It provided vital habitat for a colony of the endangered koala. Because of the essential oil in these trees, once burning the fire is incredibly difficult to extinguish.

This is a marsupial mammal only found in Australia’s woodlands and koalas are incapable of moving very fast.

Firefighters and residents alike described the distress and helplessness they felt on hearing the koalas scream as they burnt.

We were at Port Macquarie over Christmas and visited the koala hospital. There were precious few koalas saved from the colony that burnt and being far too traumatised, they were not on view to the public.

The hospital does an incredible job and thanks to them, these few koalas are getting 5-star treatment. How many will survive I’m not certain, but with any luck the hospital with time will be able to establish a new, smaller colony.

Leaving the men behind

Today residents of communities where the bushfires are predicted to reach are making decisions of whether to stay or leave all their possessions and evacuate. Many families have decided that women and children should leave, seeking shelter in one of the many “safe” camps provided and protected by the authorities.

Leaving the men behind to defend their properties, the fear of what the day will bring is tangible. But these people have experienced these unprecedented fires before during this season when the flames narrowly missed their homes. As the women try to describe the intense heat and the wall of explosive, roaring flames, the children look down while the adults helplessly search each other’s faces in vain for words they are struggling to find.

Only time will reveal the fate of these families’ future.

Climate change refugees

The navy has now provided ships to evacuate Australians from areas that are predicted to be engulfed by fires. This essentially makes them climate change refugees in their own country.

The ABC News continues day after day with warnings and reports from the devastated regions, showing pictures of homes destroyed, looking like war-torn areas. Yet, the conservative government presently in charge in Australia is still refusing to engage in the worldwide efforts to alter the direction of climate change. Using past data of emissions to calculate Australia’s present CO2 output, they are committed to fossil fuels and determined to focus on the financial health of the country. They are neglecting to look at the obvious opportunities of large-scale alternative energy generation in a country where the sun and wind could provide the majority of what’s needed.

In the meantime, Australia is burning and taking lives and the economy with it, and unless a change in attitude is realised, very soon, there will be only financial hopelessness for politicians to focus on.

Unfortunately there are still some who don’t believe that climate change is with us. For more information, please read this:

If you encounter a climate change denier, this will help you:

Psychosexual and relationship therapist. Author of The Essential Companion to Talking Therapy, Watkins Publishing. Tea, cats and travel.

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