Tag Archives: australia

5 Stages of Grief and the Australian Wildfires

Image Credit: Bert Knottenbeld, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped

In case you’ve been living under a rock (in which case, stay there, there’s probably less smoke), you’ll know by now that Australia has experienced wildfires over the last couple of months that dwarf what California and the Amazon went through last year.

The Australian bush fires have been widely covered in the media, but let’s do a quick summary of the stats^. Earlier this week, approximately 73,000 square kilometres – around the size of Belgium and the Netherlands combined – have been burnt and over a billion mammals, birds and reptiles have likely been killed. Tragically, 24 people have died as of Monday, three of whom were volunteer firefighters.

So how has the nation – and the world – reacted? The spectrum has been vast, making analysing the reaction no easy task. So today I wanted to have a look at Australia’s (and in a sense the world’s) ongoing reaction to the Australian bushfires as per the Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief.

^Alternatively, check out this link for a more comprehensive overview.

1. Denial

Ok, this one’s obvious. Climate denial is omnipresent in our world, and although Australia’s current government doesn’t exactly deny the effects of climate change outright, they have massively downplayed the role that climate change has played in exacerbating the bushfires. Australia has experienced nine of its hottest 10 years since 2005, and December 18th last year saw a record daily average temperature of 40.9 degrees across the nation. Yes, climate, like any other aspect of the natural world, will have random spikes and troughs, but this goes well beyond that. You can read a pretty comprehensive timeline of our current government’s stance on climate change and bushfires below:

Morrison’s government on the bushfires: from attacking climate ‘lunatics’ to calling in the troops

We’ve had some incredible levels of denial lately though, with the fires being blamed on arsonists to the Australian Greens. Whilst arsonists have probably started a small proportion of the fires (in 2018/19 they started around 1.3% of the blazes), the accusation that the Greens contributed to the fires has been labelled ‘simply conspiracy stuff’ by fire experts and former commissioners alike.

2. Bargaining

In the context of the Kubler-Ross model, bargaining often refers to the need to regain control as a reaction to helplessness. In the case of the bushfires, the efforts of Australians to regain control and have some sort of impact on their fate make a very real difference. Volunteer firefighters have been using crowdsourcing to gain access to better equipment, as the states’ equipment hasn’t been good enough. Australians have been frantically donating anything they can, to the extent that many charities have begged people to stop donating material goods, since it’s taking them too long to sort through. And whilst this sort of response is beyond encouraging, as this anonymous NSW firefighter puts it, it shouldn’t be necessary:

At the end of the day, it shouldn’t be up to the public to be providing funds and equipment for the state’s firefighting services. You wouldn’t expect nurses to start buying their own nitrile gloves or disinfectant if the hospital ran out and this is no different.

Constant pressure from the Australian public has recently led to the deployment of the Army Reserves and other army specialists to help affected areas. The public’s pleas for more assistance seem to be getting heard, but whether the response will be adequate we’re yet to see.

3. Anger

Far from being a progression from denial, the anger sweeping the nation has in this case been a rather natural response to it. Some of it has been misdirected (see the attacks on the Greens). Yet some of it is warranted. Images of Australia’s Prime Minister lounging in Hawaii while the nation burned can’t be forgiven easily, nor can the reluctance to deploy the military reserves until a week ago. The anger shown by locals affected by the fires has been searing, and there’s no better example than the below video, which shows Morrison feeling the wrath of a group of people he’s visited.

The anger hasn’t just been a product of the government’s immediate reaction to the fires, but to the long-term inaction on the part of Australian governments (again, see the article linked in ‘Denial’), especially seeing as scientists have warned that this would happen for years.

Luke Skinner, Secretary of the Climate Justice Union WA articulates how is organisation feels that Australians should channeling this frustration in the link below.

In the face of despair, grief, anxiety.. We bring action, planning and implementation.

4. Depression

It must be hard for the victims of a bushfire to not feel depressed. Australia has been wracked by drought, heatwaves, and now bushfires this summer, and its only early January, with the worst likely yet to come*. People can lose not only their homes in these blazes, but their livelihoods, and at worst, their loved ones.

Early last year the 10-year anniversary of the 2009 Black Saturday Fires took place, in which entire families were lost, and I’d advise reading the retrospective below on some of the emotional impact they caused.

‘We can all recover’: bereaved families remember victims of Black Saturday

Whilst the number of people lost to the blazes is at this point much lower than in 2009, knowing that it could get worse must be draining the mental health of all those involved. That constant threat can lead to anxiety, depression, and general distress. Anyone suffering mental health issues can read more at Australian Psychological Society website (link below).

Australian bushfires 2020: Psychological preparation and recovery

5. Acceptance

Our concept of normal shifts all the time, so it’s important that we remind our kids that we did not grow up with bushfires of this intensity, and we should not accept that there’s nothing we can do about them. Species, habitat and community loss cannot be normalised. The government has already tried to sell events like these bushfires and mass coral bleaching as a regular part of living in Australia.

This is what really terrifies me. The possibility that people will soon accept this as normal.

We need to be not only helping out the victims of these fires, but focusing our energy on the cause of their increased intensity. To quote Professor Nancy Knowlton:

“Social scientists have known for a really long time that if you give people large problems, but don’t present them with ways of coping with them or addressing them then they tend to not care.”

We can’t fall into apathy here and accept that this is how life has to be. This is a Port Arthur moment for Australia’s climate, where we can step up and make immediate changes that will ensure our long-term safety. We used to be told that combatting climate change would ensure a better world for our children. But now it’s obvious that we should be acting for ourselves as well.

*Previous catastrophic bushfire events like Ash Wednesday I and II and Black Saturday all took place in mid February.

If you’d like to help out the affected parts of Australia, please consider donating to victims of the wildfires at either of the following links.

Fire Relief Fund for First Nations Communities

Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery

Sam Perrin is a freshwater ecologist currently completing his PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. You can read more about his research and the rest of the Ecology for the Masses writers here, see more of his work at Ecology for the Masses here, or follow him on Twitter here.

Science in Practice: Highlights from the Ecological Society of Australia’s 2019 Annual Meeting

The Cataract Gorge in Launceston, Tasmania, where the 2019 Ecological Society of Australia Annual Meeting was held (Image Credit: Marina Schmoeller, CC BY 2.0)

I just got back from 10 days in Tasmania, Australia. As a temporary visitor in the country, I extended my trip to attend the Ecological Society of Australia’s annual conference (ESAus) as much as I could, so I could explore the surroundings and get to know a little of the place, its people and its unique biodiversity.

The conference was held in Launceston, the second largest city in Tasmania. With about ninety thousand inhabitants, a rich history with deep roots in its eye-catching landscapes, the Tamar River Valley and the Cataract Gorge, Launceston is a charming place with a lot to offer all visitors. But let’s talk about the conference.

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What Being Functionally Extinct Means, Why Koalas Aren’t, and Why Things Are Still Pretty Dire

Image Credit: Swallowtail Grass Seeds, Public Domain Mark 1.0, Image Cropped

There has been a lot of recent (and well deserved) press surrounding the bush fires in Australia. Because of these fires countless animal and plant life has been lost, and the most visible example of that are the koalas. You probably saw the video of a woman running into a burning area to save a koala from the fire*. Unfortunately, most of the koalas didn’t have people around to save them and over 1,000 are estimated to have died. Because of this a group has claimed that koalas are now “functionally extinct”, and the press has run with this claim. While it is unfortunate that this misinformation spread so quickly and so widely, the good news is that koalas are in fact NOT functionally extinct. Great! But what does being “functionally extinct” mean? 

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The Perfect as the Enemy of the Good in Sustainable Living

Eating beef isn't great for the environment. But ca someone who occasionally snacks on cows still be in favour of conservation and other ecological causes?

Eating beef isn’t great for the environment. But can someone who occasionally snacks on cows still be in favour of conservation and other ecological causes? (Image Credit: Gellinger, Pixabay licence, Image Cropped)

Today I want to talk about a tweet. Or more accurately, the attitude to sustainability that this tweet represents. It occurred during the recent Ecological Society of Australia conference, and went roughly thus*.

Good to see only vegetarian food at ESA2018. We know that it’s not possible to be truly in support of conservation unless you cut meat out of your diet.

Now for starters, I want to make it clear that I am 100% in support of eating vegetarian. For those of us fortunate enough to be living in relative affluence, vegetarian diets are easy to maintain, generally cheaper (based on personal experience), and have a proven positive impact on the climate. I’m not completely vegetarian, but I take a lot of steps to minimise my diet’s climate footprint. It doesn’t take much.

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Lessons From a Long History of Fish Invasions

The European Perch, brought for angling by earlier settlers, has had severe effects on a number of native Australian fish (Image Credit: Karelj)

Transport pathways shape the biogeography of alien freshwater fishes in Australia (2018) Garcia-Diaz et al., Biodiversity Research, DOI: 10.1111/ddi.12777

The Crux

Invasive species are a problem in every type of ecosystem, be it by reduction of local diversity, or negative effects on a region’s economy or human health. Freshwater rivers and lakes are no exceptions to this. Invasive fish have impacts on local habitats which include outcompeting or just flat out eating local species, changing a habitat’s entire structure (say by clearing away aquatic vegetation or increasing pH levels) and the reorganisation of the entire population of a lake or river, from the birds that nest on the shoreline to the tiny planktonic species that are the base food source of the entire ecosystem. Once an invasive species is established, it can be impossible to remove.

So naturally, understanding where and how invasive species are likely to strike is of huge benefit. This paper tries to map that out, using Australia as a case study. It’s a great example; Australia has a long history with invasive species, and this study alone looks at 33 different types of invasive fish.

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