Tag Archives: government

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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Resuscitating Australia’s Floodplains: Environmental Water

On the left, a thriving wetland. The right, an arid forest.

On the left, a thriving wetland. The right, an arid forest. (Image Credit: Sam Perrin, CC BY 2.0)

I’m standing on the dry side of the Murrumbidgee floodplain in country Australia. I say dry side, because whilst I’m standing on the harsh, dusty platform of soil and desiccated leaves that is pretty standard for this area, 15 metres away there’s a thriving wetland environment. It boasts waterbirds, a flock of emus, thirsty kangaroos, and fish. All that’s separating the wetland and dry land on which I stand is a road, only about half a metre above water level.

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Costa Rica: Sustainability in an Animal Paradise

Costa Rica has taken huge steps forward in the last 30 years to save their ecosystem, with the tourism industry benefiting enormously

Image Credit: Sam Perrin, CC BY 2.0

I’ve just returned from a two-week vacation in Cosa Rica. While ostensibly a holiday, if you’re an ecologist in a country where ecological conservation forms the basis of their tourism industry, it can be hard to switch off. So amongst a plethora of monkeys, iguanas, basilisks, hummingbirds and crocodiles, I noted a few things which are worth briefly discussing before we get back into our regular blogs next week.

A warning though. Whilst a fair bit of well-researched content appears on this website, the observations here are much more general, and by no means applicable to the whole country.

The Plastic Addiction

I know this isn’t exactly a hot take. Plastic consumption is one of the world’s foremost environmental catastrophes, and if the enormous soup of plastic in the middle of the Pacific wasn’t enough to ram the point home, the four others forming around the world should be.

What surprised me here was that despite the emphasis the Costa Rican government places on the conservation of biodiversity, there appears to be no effort in the tourism industry to shy away from easily avoidable plastic use. Plastic straws and cups were in abundance, but the real mind-boggler was the use of small plastic bags to contain cutlery. Having knives and forks handed to me in new plastic casing at half the restaurants we visited was an odd experience, and one which seems easily avoidable.

However we encountered a few places which eschewed the plastic wrapping and provided cardboard straws. Hopefully this is a growing trend.

Animal Sanctuaries

One thing Costa Rica was far from short on was recovery centers for injured animals. We visited one in Cahuita, and were impressed by the number of volunteers they had managed to attract, most seemingly without any background in zoology. Other centers had one-day volunteer programs advertised, which were often tailored to getting children involved. The centers require government permission to release any individuals back into the wild, which seems to be an effective communication pathway. Yet like all dialogues between organisations with different priorities, it produces disagreements. We heard many examples of rehabilitated animals that the government considers too used to human exposure to reintroduce.

The center we visited did seem to focus more on animal welfare than population conservation (though they certainly did not ignore the latter), and associates who have previously volunteered at these centers seem to agree. There were several examples of animals who, even with rehabilitation, were incapable of contributing to population viability, or whose injuries were not directly or indirectly caused by humans, some whose removal from the population could be considered important contributors to genetic and behavioural evolution. However staff made the excellent point that with the number of these species that receive injuries from human activity every year, the least they could do is try to treat a few injuries that weren’t.

Whilst iguanas used to be a food source for the locals, local hunting is now restricted

Whilst iguanas used to be a food source for the locals, local hunting is now restricted (Image Credit: Sam Perrin, NTNU, CC BY 2.0)

Conservation Laws

Costa Rica’s conservation laws prohibit the killing of many species found throughout the country. No complaints here. Many of these species are integral parts of the Costa Rican ecosystem and tourism industry. However a guide from the Caribbean side of the country was discussing his family’s traditions of hunting many of these animals, and how the government provided no alternatives to these traditional food sources when the laws were introduced. Whilst I am all for criminalising the killing of endangered species, having a government tell your family to change their lifestyle, whilst they continue practices that have a much larger impact on the native ecosystem (ongoing deforestation and commercial harvesting amongst them) must rankle somewhat.

Having said this, I live in a country where hunting quotas are strict and easy to monitor, and contact between hunters and the government is frequent. Commercial harvesting is potentially an easier way to manage sustainable population of harvested species, and a source of employment for families in need of new income.

 

In conclusion, I’ll reiterate that much of the above may be a product of observational bias. Bias also leads me to suggest that regardless of your thoughts on the above, you go and check out Costa Rica for yourself. It’s marvellous.

Bringing Back the Wolverine

The Swedish government changed tactics at the end of the 20th century, giving incentives to farmers when there were successful wolverine reproductions in their area

The Swedish government changed tactics at the end of the 20th century, giving incentives to farmers when there were successful wolverine reproductions in their area (Image Credit: Vojtěch Zavadil, CC BY-SA 3.0, Image Cropped)

Paying for an Endangered Predator Leads to Population Recovery (2015) Persson et al., Conservation Letters, https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12171

The Crux

Humans have a long history of driving dangerous predators out of their backyard. Wolves and wolverines have been driven out of different parts of Europe at different points in history at the behest of farmers looking to protect their livelihood, and the Tasmanian Tiger was driven to extinction for the same reason. But with the realisation that these predators bring enormous ecosystem benefits, governments have been searching for ways to bring about co-existence between predators and locals.

This study looks at a scheme introduced by a Swedish government in 1996, where reindeer herders had previously been compensated for any wolverine related losses. The new scheme introduced compensation for successful wolverine reproductions in the area. Persson et al. decided to have a look at how it fared.

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Defining an Invader

The Northern Pike. Although it's native to Norway, it has been moved around since and is now classified as 'regionally invasive'.

The Northern Pike. Although it’s native to Norway, it has been moved around since and is now classified as ‘regionally invasive’. (Image Credit: Jik jik, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Two weeks ago, Norwegian Science Institute Artsdatabanken (ADB) announced that they would be changing the name of their invasive and alien species index. Formerly known as the Black List, the institute decided to use a name with less negative connotations, “Fremmedartslista“, loosely translated, the Alien Species list. Given this series’ focus on species from that list, it seems like an appropriate time to look at how we define the terms ‘alien’ or ‘invasive’ species.

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Bringing Back Carnivores

Image Credit: Per Harald Olsen, NTNU, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped

In my previous posts on rewilding and wild boar, I talked about the effects of reintroducing species that were previously found in Norway. Now, I want to talk more about the large carnivores in Scandinavia which serve as protection against invasive species. This opinion piece is coming from an ecologist and a foreigner, so treat this like a Scandic breakfast buffet and take what you want.

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