We can learn a lot about resilience from communities impacted by the summer fires.
As cities, towns and entire countries endure lockdown due to COVID-19, most of us are coming to terms with the fact our lives have significantly changed — that possibly things won’t ever be the same.
But communities always look after each other in times of crisis and uncertainty. Whether it’s bushfires and droughts, or a global pandemic, we see amazing generosity and kindness. We also witness incredible resilience, with many people reflecting on how they want to live.
Just a few months ago, people around Australia were still reeling from the devastation and destruction of the summer megafires. Many are still recovering. We cannot forget their experiences.
Read and watch their incredible stories of resilience, recovery and community.
For even more inspiring stories, listen to the Surviving Extremes webinar on Wednesday 13 May with bushfire community members Dan, Michelle and Don – plus TV presenter and podcaster Osher Günsberg.
Being witness to the megafires rip through my community really impacted my thoughts and my practice. I've been criticised for speaking out publicly about what's been going on and its links to climate change. But it does matter to us doctors about what's going on in the environment today. The health of our environment is directly linked to our health, and healthy environment means healthy humans.
Doctors care about saving lives. That is our business. So this is my job. I need to speak up about these issues because the public should be aware of this. Clean air, clean water and a liveable climate underpin our very survival and I feel as though these basic rights for us humans are being eroded before our very eyes.
My future vision is to see Indigenous ranger groups working back on Country … on public lands and private lands. For us to get healthy Country back, it could take a generation. It could take two generations. Country's been mismanaged for 200 years and it's not going to be an overnight fix.
A lot of scientists want to measure cultural burning. But the benefits are also socially within our community. It's connecting our community back to culture, back to Country and that’s measurable straight away. We've got a lot of problems in our community. I think it stems from not being connected to culture and not being connected to Country. By connecting us back to traditional burning it will connect us back to all of those things and it'll create a healthy community again. There's a saying, you know, 'healthy country, healthy community'.
Part of resilience means you've got a financial base and the [community] capacity to respond to crisis. We need to urgently decarbonise our economy … this does not need to be ‘economy wrecking’ — indeed we think in this region it may well revive our regional economy. We just need the collective will power to do this.
I feel politicians who are promoting coal mining in Queensland and new coal fired power stations are denying our local economy. We can design an orderly transition to more sustainable industries that build a stronger, value-adding renewable economy that is better than what we currently have. The more solar and wind we have down here, the more money could stay in our community. That becomes a really important part of our future resilience. Why would you blow against that?
Communities are coming together. We're helping each other out. And that's important. But that doesn't absolve governments of responsibility. This shouldn't be political. You either believe the science or you don't. And I think the fossil fuel industry spends billions of dollars on propaganda denying climate change. And some people are still sucked in by that.
We need to move into renewable energy and away from fossil fuels quickly. I think that's what we have to do. It's about getting big companies onside, the banks onside, banks not giving loans to coal companies. I think what's happened is proof that it's urgent and I know some people still don't believe that. And we need to keep telling these people how our rainforests that haven't burnt for thousands of years have been permanently damaged.
European honeybees and native Australian bees have been hugely impacted by these fires, not just the bees, but all the insects. Every insect that we can think of that lives in that forest has been impacted by the lack of food and habitat. If you think about what native bees and European honeybees do to our environment, they're the pollinators. Without bees, we don't have trees, literally. So we need to act quickly and think about what we can do to help our bees re-establish themselves in our forests.
I'd like to see more work being done for the bees and for the little native insects by putting feeding stations out for them, and by planting pollination patches. If we can plant pollination patches right up and down the coast we're going to quickly re-establish the forest.
I think there needs to be a very significant role within faith communities. We've seen a failure of political leadership and to some extent we've seen a failure of faith leadership, because I think the church could be more vocal about this.
One of the interesting things about what's happened is that it might, for some people, be tapping into the fact they actually do feel a strong connection to nature they haven't really been paying enough attention to. And seeing the damage is kind of a reawakening of that. There's a place for engaging with people in a way that really brings them into actual touch with nature … just go down the road and look at this tree that's burnt, and look at what's happening here and and feel what this is about. This is our life.
There's been an absolute lack of federal leadership in the climate breakdown and in what we've faced in drought, fire and flood. I'm finding in the regional communities, where we're actually facing it, we’re coming together. We’re recognising we have to do something. We have to act. Otherwise our communities are going to be broken. We're not going to be here as rural communities anymore or regional communities.
We've got to start looking to support ourselves and one of the initiatives might be that we set up our own solar farms with battery packs to guarantee that any future natural disasters whether it be flood, fire or drought, where power lines are cut, we have our own resources. We can start looking after ourselves. We need the federal government to start funding activity like this so regional communities are able to be sustainable. Climate action isn't just about emissions, it's about supporting and looking after regional and rural communities.
The need for solutions to the climate and extinction crisis will not go away. These are uncertain and challenging times, but now is not the time to stop our collective work creating a kinder, fairer and healthier world.
Photos: Annette Ruzicka/MAPgroup