“I want you to act as if the house was on fire, because it is,” Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg urged at the World Economic Forum in Davos in September 2019.
At the time, she used the term metaphorically, referring to our planet being threatened by the consequences of human intervention and climate change. Since then, our house has not only been in flames, it’s been burning in hell. In late 2019, the seasonal fires of the Amazon raged on abnormally longer and were more intense with over 70, 000 single fires breaking out. The Amazon fires raised international concerns about the fate of the rainforest, and the important role that it plays on our planet. It is often considered the Earth’s “green lung”, crucial in reducing CO2 emissions and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. It is also one of the last remaining carbon storehouses of our planet. In Australia, the bushes on the south-east coast of the country are being destroyed by devastating flames, assumed to have killed half a billion animals, according to the estimation of a Sydney-based university professor.
The two fires in Brazil and Australia have more in common than what we are witnessing. The link between human intervention and those fires is no longer deniable. Despite the fact that wildfires are a seasonal phenomenon in both countries, the scale and intensity of the recent ones is deeply concerning and a direct result of human action.
Every year, from June to December, the southern Amazon Basin dries out, but what accelerates the fires and makes space for them is the clearing of land for farming, especially for the cultivation of crops and cattle, where Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef. Oftentimes, fires are set in lands that were previously cleared to get rid of any plants that are still left.
In Australia, fires are also seasonal, but they don’t usually start as early as this year or go on to this extent. Since October, the bushes on the south-east coast of the country have been burning. This summer recorded the highest weather temperatures since records began. High temperatures are in a deadly combination with strong winds. Coal, due to its high CO2 emissions, is the main contributor to human-made climate change and Australia is the largest exporter of coal worldwide.
In both countries, economic interests dominate politics and environmental policies. Their economic activities explain why their leading policy-makers and politicians are so reluctant to make more sustainable choices or deviate from existing practices, despite the fact that their countries are on fire. British newspaper, The Independent, reported Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro stated during a trip to Saudi Arabia in October 2019 that the “Amazon region is not on fire”. They also reported that Bolsonaro is assumed to have encouraged farmers and illegal loggers to clear the land.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a strong supporter of coal, announced before Christmas that Australia would not commit to climate goals or give up traditional industries, if this would cause the loss of employment, as the Australian news agency AAP reported.
Both presidents have not understood that climate change is a global issue, one that affects each and every one of us. Due to this indifference, they choose isolationist approaches when it comes to their environmental policies, prioritising their economic interests. During that same trip, Bolsonaro announced that “The Amazon region belongs to us.” Morrison framed the same sentiment in his New Year’s speech by saying “Australians have never been fussed about trying to impress people overseas. …We have always made our own decisions in Australia.”
When it comes to global issues such as climate change, policies based on state sovereignty do not work. They fail because even though we are talking about different parts of the world, we are still talking about the same house. Imagine the rainforest in Brazil being the chimney of our house, while the Australian bushes are an important wall. If one part is on fire, it will automatically affect the other parts of the house. If too many parts get destroyed beyond repair, the whole house will crumble. We need to understand the vehemence of what is happening, and we need to understand the severity of the consequences now. We have to act like our house is burning, because it literally is. Nobody would just watch their own house and all their belongings burn down, so let’s treat our planet like what it is, our shared home. Rest assured that even if we could buy all that we want with all the profit in the world; it would all mean nothing without our home to enjoy it in.
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