People have watched in horror as images of Australia’s iconic wildlife being burnt in bushfires have been beamed across the world. Over a billion birds, mammals and reptiles are estimated to have perished. Huge numbers of insects and other animals have also been affected.
These images have shaken people and brought the stark reality of climate change into full view. People have felt compelled to open their wallets and donate to various wildlife organisations who are working tirelessly to save what they can.
The sheer scale of animal deaths has posed the question: could this have been prevented? One of the features of this crisis has been the fact that fires have burned areas previously untouched by bushfires, or at least not on this scale.
Kangaroo Island, named after its unique subspecies of kangaroos, was a wildlife haven before fires tore through. Over a third of the island has been burned.
Kangaroo Island is also home to a sub species of the glossy black cockatoo. The glossy black cockatoo is feared to be extinct due to its other native habitat being areas such as near Mallacoota which have also been at the epicentre of fires.
After the 2009 Black Saturday fires, strike teams were set up to protect native wildlife from bushfires. But these teams were scrapped without explanation. While Scott Morrison is busy trying to pass the buck onto state governments for the crisis, it is clear that not enough was done from the federal government despite overwhelming information being available.
It has also been reported that a top-secret team was deployed to protect some ancient trees. This is of course welcomed, but begs the question why were these sorts of teams not deployed to save other trees or wildlife?
There already exists at least some capability to carry out specialised protection tasks but it is clear the government has not taken a serious planned and coordinated approach to this disaster.
All the funding cuts that were previously made need to be reversed. But it’s also clear that much more funding is required to do what is necessary to ensure that devastation on this scale never happens again.
The death of wildlife on such a scale is not just a tragedy, it has repercussions for the broader ecological crisis the world is facing. The increase in the severity and frequency of bushfires due to climate change has to be part of a conversation about what is happening to the Earth’s biodiversity.
Animals and plants all play a role in the make-up of the Earth’s environment and what makes it habitable for humans. The United Nations has warned that there are only 10 years left to save much of the world’s already fragile biodiversity. Scientists have been frantically issuing warnings that the window for change is rapidly closing.
Just last October, before the bushfire crisis really took hold, an open letter written by more than 240 Australian scientists warned of the looming threat of mass wildlife extinction due to weak environmental laws. In the last decade alone, three species have become extinct with the possibility of 17 more in the next 20 years.
All across the globe, the picture is the same. Mass extinctions, deforestation, commercial fishing and so on are threatening the very viability of the planet. With this being the case, many people are wondering how we can continue down this path, aren’t we all in this together?
The truth is that we’re not all in this together. The super-rich elite will find ways to shelter themselves from the worst of the ecological crisis. For example, already the number of inquiries into private jets and hidden bunkers has gone up.
It is the working class and poor across the world who will be hit hardest by the damage done to the environment. The fight to save wildlife must be linked to the fight for an immediate and just transition to renewable energy that protects jobs. For example, many jobs could be created in the wildlife protection sector.
Unfortunately, none of this is possible under capitalism, which has shown its inability to react in a meaningful way to the bushfires and the global environmental crisis. Working class people urgently need to get organised to fight for a new society based on co-operation and planning. We need socialism, a system that protects animals, people and the planet.
By Kat Galea