By Colin Murphy
In the wake of catastrophic bushfires that decimated swaths of Australian ecosystems and communities, socialists must stand in solidarity with the affected communities and firmly denounce the Australian government’s vacuum of leadership on the climate crisis.
Compared to other countries that have recently suffered climatic catastrophes, such as Mozambique and India, Australia has likely received a disproportionate amount of attention and support regarding its bushfire crisis because it is a wealthy, mostly white, English-speaking country.
Drought and record-breaking heat drove this season’s bushfires to burn with unprecedented ferocity, causing staggering destruction in the continent’s southeastern provinces. According to the Associated Press, “Australia’s forests are burning at a rate unmatched in modern times and scientists say the landscape is being permanently altered as a warming climate brings profound changes to the island continent.” Human health took a toll as well, as roughly 33 people perished in the fires. Massive, toxic smoke clouds smothered southeastern Australian cities, causing an air quality crisis. The province of New South Wales has lost 10 times as many homes as it did in 1994, its worst fire year on record.
But by far the greatest damage thus far has occurred in non-human communities. Scientists estimate that anywhere from one to several billion animals perished in the fires, which destroyed 10 million hectares of forest — an area the size of the U.S. state of Ohio. There is concern that the affected forests may never fully recover as the changing climate continues to reshape landscapes. Some scientists argue that the bushfire crisis is a sign we’ve passed a global heating “tipping point.”
The bushfires were a prime example of a climate crisis-caused catastrophe that itself worsened the climate crisis through a “positive feedback loop.” The more trees that burn, the fewer trees are left to absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.
Australian governments, especially the federal government, can and must do better to address the crisis at hand. Most importantly, they must work to end their status as the world’s top exporter of coal and gas. The Australian government should mandate Indigenous representation on the national Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Center, whose board is currently all white. We socialists must lift up Aboriginal voices calling for governmental adoption of Indigenous fire management, whose efficacy is time-tested over millennia, to mitigate the severity of future bushfires. We must echo the words of Greg Mullins, Jim Casey, Emergency Leaders for Climate Action and others urging the Australian government to take, among other things, “urgent action on emissions and [put a] stop [to] the lies about the current ineffective response to [Australia’s] climate emergency.” We should hold up the just demand to #StopAdani, a coal mine that would lead 500 tankers a year to wreak havoc on the largest coral ecosystem in the world — the Great Barrier Reef, which is already endangered thanks to human activities.
Capitalism is fundamentally ecocidal, and so are the literal infernos it stokes through global heating. That so much destruction is already taking place with a global temperature rise of less than 1.5 degrees is highly disturbing, especially given that it is only 2020. This catastrophic wildfire season should stoke our resolve as socialists to realize an ecosocialist Green New Deal, which will expedite society’s transformation beyond capitalism and amplify international solidarity with all people struggling for climate justice and an equitable transition.
As democratic socialists committed to helping birth a just, ecological civilization, it is vital that we stand in solidarity with Australian bushfire victims, Aboriginal peoples striving to preserve their cultures, and join all Australians demanding that their government do its due diligence to tackle the climate crisis.