At the time I write this, Australia is burning. I’d planned to post on a different topic, but I can’t get my mind off the fires that are eating up our forests, killing wildlife, domestic animals and humans, destroying farms and small towns and livelihoods, and filling the air with choking smoke, even in cities like Sydney and Canberra. This cataclysmic event dominates our media. There are the dramatic stories – evacuations in small boats through a thick smoke haze under a dark red sky; heroic deeds by our firefighters, many of them volunteers; the woman who carried a burning koala to safety, wrapped in the blouse she had stripped off. (The koala was transported to a wildlife rehabilitation centre but later died of its injuries, one of many thousands of innocent lives lost.) There are the tragic stories – a woman dying of a heart attack after being evacuated from the smoke zone; a father and son, both pillars of the community, perishing in their car on a lonely road; a farmer weeping as he shot his burned cattle one by one.
I live on Australia’s west coast. There are fires here too, but (so far) not on the same scale as those in the east. I won’t launch into a political rant about our current federal leadership – this is not the place for that. But people are angry. They’re furious. And people are hurting. Not only those who have suffered personal or business losses, but also those of us struggling to accept the destruction of habitat that will take many, many years to regenerate, if indeed it can, and the mass deaths of our native animals and birds, with some species likely to become extinct. This could have been ameliorated, if not prevented, had our leadership heeded wise advice on climate change years ago. They also might have agreed to a meeting requested by concerned fire experts after last year’s unusually hot summer. That they did neither is hard to accept. I’ll allow a more informed and more fluent voice to speak for me about this.
On the heels of this disaster comes rage, and with it despair, anxiety, and often a feeling of helplessness. The scale of the destruction is so vast, and without insightful leaders I doubt our capacity to prevent a recurrence next summer, and the next, until there’s nothing left to burn. It’s all too easy to lose hope, and with it the will to act. So what can we as writers do to address such a situation?