It is no exaggeration to describe the images emerging from the south-east Australian bushfires over the New Year as apocalyptic: blood red skies, falling ash and fearful families huddling on the foreshore to escape ferocious fiery winds turning their homes into dust. The facts are hard to absorb: an estimated 3 million hectares of land on fire, hundreds of homes destroyed, a mounting number of humans and half a billion animals killed. Yet summer has just begun.
Other more complex social patterns are also revealed by the bushfire crisis. The first is the disconnection of politicians from the people and the subordination of their needs to the interests of economic elites. Prime Minister Scott Morrison ignored the warnings of five former fire chiefs on the significance of climate change for Australia, preferring not to upset the lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry.
And Morrison is not simply a climate denier, he wants to suppress the rights of any citizen who thinks differently. As Richard Flanagan put it:
As Australia burns, what we are witnessing nationally is no more or less than the criminalisation of democracy in defence of the coal and gas industries.
The second disconnect is that of the people from the land. An issue that has troubled Australia’s First People for generations. Bushfires are not a new phenomenon and fires have a deep spiritual significance featuring in indigenous art and stories.
The irony is that Australia’s First People have been using fire stick farming methods for generations as a way of managing the land, an approach that research by the University of Tasmania suggests may well hold some clues for the future of fire management.
Of course, better approaches to fire management alone, cannot shift the course of climate change. That is a problem that requires a deeper change in the way humans connect to the natural environment, a new set of values and a new system based on a worldview that views the natural world as a commonwealth for all living things, not as a source of profit for the capitalist class.
Modern ecosocialist ideas resonate strongly with the views of the traditional owners of the land. In the video below, Bob Randall, a Yankunytjatjara elder and traditional owner of Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), explains his connectedness to the land.
Watch this space for a future blog post from Michele Jarldorn, of Flinders University, on the Australian government’s response to the bushfire crisis.
Feature image credit: John Englart from Frontline Action on Coal blockade of Adani construction works.