Australia is experiencing the most devastating bushfire season on record. Millions of hectares of bushland and forest have burned. Thousands of homes, over a billion animals and many human lives have been lost.

But behind the fires are waves of kindness, courage and resilience. People coming together, opening their homes to strangers, cooking meals for firefighters, and tending to injured wildlife. 

We’re seeing more and more people speaking up about climate damage and demanding our leaders do better. It’s up to all of us who care to rise with the swell of public support for climate action and provide pathways for people to take action and build the movement.

Unfortunately, we’re also seeing the spread of misinformation – both on and offline. From the causes of the fires to mitigation tactics and finger-pointing, a range of conspiracy theories and lies have begun to pop up and rapidly spread.

Much of this misinformation is an attempt by the conservative media to deflect the conversation away from climate change and action. For example, articles published by Murdoch-owned The Australian claim arsonists are the cause of many of the fires, and ‘greenies’ have blocked backburning efforts. Both of these claims are demonstrably untrue. 

What we can do

Let’s use this moment as an opportunity to connect the dots between burning coal, climate damage, and unprecedented bushfires. Many Australians don’t yet fully understand this crucial link, so it’s up to us tell that story.

We can also help prevent the spread of misinformation – on and offline by telling the truth about the connection between climate damage, coal and the unprecedented bushfire crisis. 

How we can do it 

  • Speak about the link between burning fossil fuels, climate damage, and unprecedented bushfires. 
  • Encourage people to to advocate for stronger climate action, like emailing their local MP or signing the open letter to all Members and Senators in the Australian Parliament.
  • Correct misinformation using helpful language and frames. 
  • Never repeat misinformation or frame your responses using our opposition’s rhetoric. 

When and where 

  • On social media. Wherever you see misinformation or an opportunity to tell people about the link between burning fossil fuels, climate damage and bushfires, do it! 
  • In conversation with friends and family. Check out this handy conversation toolkit for tips on how to talk about bushfires and climate change. 
  • In the media. Call talkback radio or send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. 

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Image: Jess Harwood Art

Guiding principles

  1. Stay focused on our goals – to connect the dots for people, draw attention to the damage big polluting corporations are doing, and the need for all of us to come together and demand climate action. This image beautifully demonstrates the causal link between burning coal, climate damage and bushfires. You can also use some of our pre-formulated responses below. 
  2. When correcting false information, it’s important to strike a healthy balance between ignoring and correcting misinformation, myths and lies. By commenting on misinformation online, we actually push it up in “the algorithm,” making it more visible. That said, we still need to correct misinformation – especially when it is coming from a place of genuine curiosity – so use your best judgement on when and where to intervene. 
  3. Never repeat misinformation. By repeating misinformation we indirectly contribute to its spread, even if it is in opposition or shared as a quote. We can avoid this by only using our frames that don’t perpetuate the spread of misinformation. See our pre-formulated responses below to guide your framing. 
  4. This is a difficult time for many people so we want to make sure we’re striking a balance between empathy and pragmatism. We need to be respectful that many people have been affected by these fires, but we also want to be explicit in our calls for climate action and connecting the dots between climate damage and burning coal, oil and gas. 

What to say – sample messages 

The unprecedented bushfire crisis is fueled by climate change – caused by digging up and burning coal.

Burning coal is heating our planet and causing record-breaking drought and heat, making bushfire conditions more dangerous than ever. Coal is the biggest cause of climate damage in Australia and the world.

Coal, oil and gas companies have donated big money to Australian political parties to distort the political process and block climate action. 

For too long, our federal government has put the interests of coal billionaires over people and our planet. In return for political donations, the coal, oil and gas industry in Australia received $29 billion of public money last year. 

Enough is enough. Our federal government must end their relationship with coal, ramp up renewables, and make polluters pay for the damage they’ve caused. 

We can, we will, we must solve the climate and extinction crisis and create a better world for everyone and every living thing.

What to say – correcting misinformation

Use these responses to guide you. 

THEY SAY

WE SAY

SOURCES

Australia has always had bushfires 

This unprecedented bushfire crisis is a result of climate damage – caused by burning coal, oil and gas. Severe drought, very dry fuels and soils, and record-breaking heat have all contributed to the severe fire conditions. Even rainforests that are normally too wet to burn have dried out and burned for the first time on record. 


The reality is that bushfire conditions are now more dangerous than in the past. With drier and hotter conditions – plus major disruption to the highly sophisticated management of land by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people since European colonisation – the risks from bushfires on people, property and wildlife is higher than ever before.

Australia had its worst fire conditions on record in December: www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jan/09/bushfires-crisis-more-than-75-of-australia-had-worst-weather-conditions-on-record-last-month


RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said this is "absolutely" the worst bushfire season on record in NSW: www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/three-possible-fatalities-on-south-coast-in-state-s-worst-fire-season-on-record-20191231-p53nva.html

No-one could have prepared for this 

Scientists have warned for years that climate change would increase the risk of extreme bushfires in Australia. This warning was accurate – and largely ignored by successive federal governments.  

Scientists expect fire weather will continue to become more frequent and severe without substantial and rapid action to reduce climate pollution from burning coal, oil and gas. 

If we want to continue enjoying life on our beautiful continent, the Morrison Government must act now to phase out burning coal and gas and switch to clean energy. And they must strengthen our laws to protect nature, which can play a huge role in stopping further damage to our climate – if only ruthless corporations would stop destroying it. 

The scientist who predicted the bushfire emergency four decades ago: www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/nov/17/what-could-i-have-done-the-scientist-who-predicted-the-bushfire-emergency-four-decades-ago

Former fire chiefs warned our federal government about heightened bushfire risk and asked for more funding. They were ignored: www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-14/former-fire-chief-calls-out-pm-over-refusal-of-meeting/11705330

www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/we-saw-it-coming-former-fire-commissioner-says-government-was-warned-on-bushfires-20191114-p53agj.html

www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/apr/09/former-fire-chiefs-warn-australia-unprepared-for-escalating-climate-threat

www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/nov/14/former-australian-fire-chiefs-say-coalition-doesnt-like-talking-about-climate-change

Greenies are to blame – they stopped the burnoffs

Most “greenies” - including the Australian Greens - actually support hazard reduction burns. This mis-information campaign is a worn out and obvious attempt to deflect the conversation away from climate change.

The fact is that higher temperatures and drought as a result of climate change is making the window for standard burnoff measures during winter months increasingly small. This has been expressed numerous times by fire authorities. 

NSW Fire Commissioner debunking claims that backburning is the silver bullet: www.theage.com.au/national/hazard-reduction-burns-are-not-the-panacea-rfs-boss-20200108-p53poq.html

Greens party official statement and policy on backburning: https://greens.org.au/bushfires

We need coal for a strong economy 

If Australia keeps burning and exporting coal for other countries to burn, we won’t have a liveable planet, let alone an economy. We need good industries that are good for our planet, the air we breathe and  the water we drink.

With some of the best wind and solar in the world, Australia is well placed to become a global leader in renewable exports – particularly the emerging renewable hydrogen and ammonia export industry, which is basically liquid sunlight!

If Australia manages the transition to renewable energy in a proactive, smart way then we have massive potential to attract new industries that are hungry for cheap and clean power. 

The business case against coal, including the impact of coal/climate change on tourism, a much more lucrative and job-heavy industry:

www.smh.com.au/national/the-business-case-against-coal-20200108-p53ps7.html



Arsonists are the real cause of these fires

It’s understandable that people are hearing this message because it’s part of an organised campaign to spread misinformation and direct attention away from how climate change has exacerbated these bushfires.

The fact is that higher temperatures and drought as a result of climate change is making bushfire conditions much, much worse. So however a fire is started (and only a handful of fires this bushfire season have been deliberately lit – the vast majority were in fact a result of dry lightning strikes), climate damage is making bushfires more severe. 

Victoria Police quash rumours of involvement of arsonists in state’s fires: www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jan/08/police-contradict-claims-spread-online-exaggerating-arsons-role-in-australian-bushfires

Bots and trolls spread false arson claims in Australian fires ‘disinformation campaign’: www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jan/08/twitter-bots-trolls-australian-bushfires-social-media-disinformation-campaign-false-claims

How Rupert Murdoch Is influencing Australia’s bushfire debate: www.nytimes.com/2020/01/08/world/australia/fires-murdoch-disinformation.html

Additional resources

Bushfire crisis: Frequently Asked Questions

Download: Personal bushfire reflection worksheet

Download: Open Letter (physical copy)

Download: Bushfire response conversation guide