Following the New Year’s Eve bushfire that forced most of Mallacoota’s residents on its beach, Nick Ritar of Milkwood, a permaculture smallholding, documented some of the avian victims on January 2, 2020. The images are posted here with Nick’s permission. Thank you, Nick, for documenting this event so that we can all bear witness. Nick’s original Instagram post is here. The Australian fires are a tragedy for all life on the planet, including us humans. While fire is an annual part of Australia’s ecosystems, the scope of the current fires is unprecedented, exacerbated by anthropogenic global warming.
It is no comfort that the species documented here are relatively common or at least not at risk of imminent extinction. More than a billion mammals, birds and reptiles are estimated to have died in the fires so far since September. Will Peischel writes for Mother Jones on the complexity of that estimation. For the animals that remain, there is often little food or water. As Birdlife reports, Eastern Bristlebird, Dasyornis brachypterus (Endangered), and Regent Honeyeater, Anthochaera phrygia (Critically Endangered), are two species at immediate peril because of the fires. It is frustrating; I have followed the recovery efforts for the Regent Honeyeater in recent years, and the fires are likely a significant setback. Coming weeks and months will reveal the scope of the loss.
Birdlife poignantly states: “While unprecedented, these fires were predicted. In 2008, the Governments of Australia’s Federation commissioned a report by Professor Ross Garnaut to examine the impacts of climate change on Australia. The Garnaut report predicted that Australia’s bushfire seasons would progressively lengthen and generally be more intense, and that the impacts would be observable by 2020. The predictions of Garnaut and many other climate scientists have proved right.” Some from the climate denial lobby have claimed that arson is to blame for the fires; this ABC article debunks that. Drawing from conversations with family and friends, I suspect that for some people the scope of climate breakdown and the fact that it is happening now, not in some abstract future, is too much to bear and the denial is a form of mental self-protection. For example, some people I have spoken with who recall the brief cooling after the 1991 Pinatubo eruption, think that another or several volcanic eruptions will somehow undo all of the warming we are already locked into. For many, however, the denial is about protecting self-interest, certainly financially and perhaps now even morally. I have no doubt that there will be a time soon enough when we will successfully prosecute individuals, corporations and perhaps even governments that willfully delayed actions to reduce carbon emissions and/or spread misinformation and doubt for the same reason. Denial of climate change is in part an attempt to postpone the arrival of that time.
These are some of the images of our time. Bear witness and remember that every living being on Earth is a relative.