We need to talk about wildfire

Amid a pandemic that has dominated news coverage for six months, two things have masterfully stuck their heads through the noise. The Black Lives Matter movement, and the breathing space the pandemic has gifted to the natural world, while manufacturing and travel went into hibernation. Both necessary conversations; both conversations that now need action. As reported by the BBC, how we emerge from lockdown could give us the edge in the fight against the climate crisis – but that doesn’t mean we can be passive in reacting to threats to the natural world.

Unfortunately, as cities open up, many have begun climbing to pre-pandemic levels of pollution swiftly. Now that we’ve proven we can survive with less impact to the wild, it’s time to stop advocating for change, and get on with the actual changing. The need to balance economic and environmental need has never been more critical – or more achievable.

A fire razes through a forest

So, what does this have to do with wildfires? 

Well, everything. They’re already here, but because of Covid-19, government resources have been stretched, bent, and changed. This means we’re heading into one almighty collision without the one thing that can help both – money. The position in every country that experiences a wildfire season is fraught – they are being ravaged by coronavirus, and the world is, literally, on fire. In California, recruitment for firefighters has been slashed from over 500 to just 172. Fires this year have been consistently worse in terms of scale, duration and damage. 

Where governments are, necessarily, in many cases, tightening the purse strings or reassigning funds, why should we, the people on the ground, do anything? Well, because if we can, we’re the only ones able to do so. The world has spent 2020 talking about coming together, and this is one way that we really can come together to build a better future. 

Conservation charity, World Land Trust has launched the Wildfire Appeal, not just because of fires already raging, but because there are conservation organisations around the world who are prepared to be prepared, to act before not after, who don’t want to see the habitats they care for, and the species they protect, gone. But they can’t do it without support. Many of us are not in places where the effects of climate change are vividly apparent yet, but we are the ones driving consumerism and demands for deforestation.

This is not a local struggle – it is a worldwide, international, let’s Avenger Assemble, situation. 

It’s no good reacting once the fires begin. Having the right personnel, the correct equipment and the proper knowledge in place gives firefighters a real fighting chance at stopping these fires while they are small, manageable embers licking at the edges of trees. One strong gust of wind could take out acres upon acres of forest. One ranger could put that fire out before it travels through the undergrowth. If we let them get out of hand, we’ll see more images like those of Siberia from recent weeks, or of the Amazon Rainforest and Australia from last year. Fundraising after these events is a disaster relief fund – and these usually happen after cataclysmic events we can’t have anticipated. If we know something terrible is about to happen, doesn’t it make sense to give money before, relieving the risk of an unfolding disaster that leaves us asking, what could I have done to help?

We need to talk about wildfires, because if we don’t talk about them, they’ll keep coming, only they’ll be even worse than the ones that stunned us the year before. And then once we’re done talking, we need to support those who can make the difference on the ground. 

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