Home Environment OPINION: Democrats Discuss — Arson or climate change? Either way, Australia’s on fire

OPINION: Democrats Discuss — Arson or climate change? Either way, Australia’s on fire

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Maddie Kramer is the Ohio University College Democrats’ vice president. She is a junior studying political science. The following article reflects the opinion and views of the author and does not present those of the Ohio University College Democrats. 

Please note that these views and opinions do not reflect those of The New Political.

Since early January, Australia’s wild bushfires have been a topic of discussion. Opening Twitter on any given day could show pictures of firefighters giving koalas bottles of water, kangaroos and camels fleeing the flames or the smoke clouding the sky in the distance. While bushfires are common for Australia’s dry plains and prairies, similar to the California wildfires of 2019, these bushfires are the worst Australia has seen in decades.

For Americans familiar with the northern California wildfires, the symptoms of Australia’s bushfires sound eerily similar. A combination of drought, strong winds and high temperatures are to blame for making these wildfires even worse than usual.

However, there is another unexpected variable at play arson. News spread quickly that around 200 people had been arrested on arson charges regarding the bush fires, causing #ArsonEmergency on Twitter to trend. However, this number is inflated. The New South Wales Police Force released this number in early January, causing climate change deniers to decide the fires were set on purpose and were not a consequence of climate change.

This number is inflated by the number of people arrested for throwing a cigarette or match on the ground, or not complying with Australia’s total fire ban, which does not permit things such as setting a campfire. Only 24 of these 183 people were arrested and charged with purposefully setting the bushfires in New South Wales as of Jan. 6.

Arson is a simple answer to a difficult situation. It would be easy to blame those 24 people for setting a bushfire that has burned over 17.9 million acres, the amount of both the countries Denmark and Belgium combined. It would be easy to put those people on trial, charge them the highest amount allowed under the law and throw them in prison to think about the harm they have caused.

But it is not that easy. We cannot blame 24 people for centuries of human stress on the planet. While 24 people were charged with deliberately setting fires since November, they are not to blame for the weather patterns that have enraged existing small fires into the blaze that is taking over New South Wales. The bushfires are naturally occurring, but have grown in size due to lightning strikes on the dry ground and they are carried farther by the high winds. 

Even the Victoria Police, which has jurisdiction over multiple regions in Australia, issued a statement saying that the fires in their area were not deliberately set, as the Queensland University of Technology called out a “co-ordinated social media disinformation campaign.” This spread of misinformation by climate deniers can lead to confusion overseas such as Americans seeing this news on Twitter and the belief that climate change is not the main reason behind the fires.

The statistics of the bushfires are scary and the pictures are grizzly. Robert Irwin, the son of the late, beloved zookeeper Steve Irwin, sat for an emotional interview on Jan. 6 regarding the state of the wildlife that makes Australia so unique. Alongside his mother Terri, they detailed how koalas may have to be classified as endangered after the fires, as he held back tears. 

The Irwin family explained how hard their employees and veterinarians are working to take in injured wildlife. However, it begs the question, what happens when all the cages in the animal clinic are full? There are only so many individuals like the Irwin family and their staff. What happens when there is not enough room for more koalas, flying foxes and wombats?

Australia’s citizens have been organizing demonstrations against the administration’s policies. Major protests have been erupting in Australia’s biggest cities, targeted at their Prime Minister’s delayed and underwhelming approach to responding to the fires. While many protestors’ signs alluded to the effect on animals and wildlife, protestors were also pushing for more funding for firefighters and moving toward renewable, clean energy. 

The citizens of the U.S. need to band together and stand with Australia in this climate fight. We all live on one planet and one country’s actions, or lack thereof, affect the entire world. Just because the fires aren’t happening in our country does not make them any less relevant to the American people and to our planet.

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