It’s summer in Australia right now, but what should be Santa hats at the beach is, instead, a state of emergency—two, in fact. (The state of New South Wales has declared two state of emergencies.) Australia is burning. Over 15 million acres of land across the continent have burned due to the wildfires (“bushfires”) that have swept the country. A conservative estimate of one billion animals have died, including at least 25,000 koalas in South Australia—a number that significantly affects the survival of the vulnerable species at large. That also includes dingoes, the native wild dogs of Australia. “It’s a biological Armageddon rarely seen,” ecologist and botanist Kingsley Dixon told the New York Times.
In 2018, I spent one month traveling across Australia, getting to know the continent’s unique animals. I hugged a baby wombat named Tory, fed a kangaroo joey from the palm of my hand, petted a koala, took a selfie with a quokka, and admired the stigmatized “bin chickens,” white ibises that have been displaced from their natural habitants by development and now forced to scavenge in the rubbish bins. (“An allegory for the homeless,” a classmate from Sydney remarked. “We create the conditions for their misfortunate and we shun them for it.”) Australia is so proud of its marsupials that instead of an Easter Bunny, they have an equally adorable Easter Bilby, a rabbit-eared marsupial that digs burrows at night.
My former anthropology professor, Paige West of Barnard College/Columbia University, sums up the loss:
When I think of the creatures, I think of their kinship networks. Their relationality. Their care for their young. And I think about the worlds that they know and make and live. A billion souls gone. It is too much to hold in my heart. #AustralianBushfire https://t.co/YOnNaL8dUo
— Paige West (@PaigeWestNYC) January 7, 2020
This is not deniable: The devastating bushfires of Australia are happening because of the climate crisis. Climate change is happening, and it is killing people, killing entire ecosystems, and killing animals. Another thing that is not deniable: Humans, and in particular, corporations and complicit governments run by humans, are the cause of climate change.
Climate change is not the fault of animals. And yet, one billion animals have died in the past month in Australia due to climate change. They are suffering the consequences of humanity’s deeds.
When you have a dog, you start to see—if you didn’t see it earlier—that we are all connected on this planet. You and your dog, despite being from two different species, share a life and an ecosystem together. Your dog wants the best for you, and you want the best for your dog. And that means, we have to wake up to our responsibility to help the animals devastated by climate change.
When I read this story from the New York Times today, I was left feeling hopeful by the decency and kindness of everyday people. Australians are leaving out seed, food, and water for dehydrated animals. They’re knitting mittens for the burned paws of koalas. They’re checking the pouches of dead kangaroos for still-alive joeys. We’re not leaving each other behind.
Here are several things you can do to help the animals of Australia:
- Donate to the Australian Red Cross to help the people who have lost homes, loved ones, and suffered injuries. Some of them have been out there trying to protect the animals.
- Donate to the Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service (WIRES). They are rescuing thousands of native animals and providing care to the injured ones.
- Donate to the local fire departments of Victoria and New South Wales, the areas that have been devastated the most.
- Donate to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Australia (RSPCA Australia). They are supporting companion animals and livestock on the ground.
- Knit protective pouches and mittens for animals. The Animal Rescue Craft Guild on Facebook has information for sending and collecting these donations.
- Speak out to the corporations and governments in power! Write to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who demonstrated a lack of urgency in this national emergency: The Hon Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister, Parliament House, CANBERRA ACT 2600. Or just Tweet at him.