Our land and hearts will be forever scarred by last season's bushfire disaster. The only possible response is to act now to protect our devastated places and bereft communities—and give them the chance to heal and renew.
Along with her mother, Wilderness Society campaign manager Elle Lawless found herself right in the midst of the bushfire disaster, witnessing firsthand the devastating results of climate inaction. We urgently need to build a sustainable future to mitigate the worsening effects of climate change. However, the Morrison Government has announced a gas-led, fossil fuel-powered economic recovery from COVID-19, completely at odds with a safe climate. Now more than ever we must pull together to make sure we build back better for a safe future for communities, forests and wildlife, says Elle.
My name is Elle Lawless and I’m the Newcastle Campaign Manager for the Wilderness Society. Last summer, my Mum and I lived through the terrifying fires on the NSW south coast.
The experience made us both even more determined to care for our communities and nature. Mum has lived in the NSW Southern Highlands for twenty years. In that time, she’s watched the local climate get warmer and drier.
In December last year, the region was choked with thick smoke from bushfires nearby. It was hard to breathe, and it was stressful. I decided to take Mum camping on the south coast for the New Year. We thought we’d escape the fires and get some fresh air.
The bushfires arrived a day after we did. I won’t ever forget how fast the fires moved, how close they got, and how hard it was to know what to do.
With embers raining down on our car, we packed up and took refuge at the Bega showground, along with half of the town. Mum describes that New Year’s Eve as ‘Dante’s inferno’. There was an orange sky, day and night. It was just so awful.
‘‘The bushfires brought the community together, but our community voice is not being heard. Communities want change. Businesses want change. The science is telling us to change. But change has still not come from governments.’’
The only good thing was the beautiful way people came together to support each other. We had people feeding us, and offering showers at their homes. My mother is strong and smart, but she’s upset at the emotional toll those fires took on all of us – let alone the horrendous destruction of wildlife, homes and livelihoods.
She said to me, ‘‘The bushfires brought the community together, but our community voice is not being heard. Communities want change. Businesses want change. The science is telling us to change. But change has still not come from governments.’’
As a young person, I’m angry too. Despite living through the horror of the bushfires, Mum believes we can learn from them. She says ‘‘Elle, this is an opportunity to change the way we think and act in relation to the environment.’’
I’m a climate activist because I’ve seen what happens when we don’t protect nature. I have also seen what happens when ordinary people work together and defend what’s important.
We need to act now
What we’ve lost
The mega-fires that tore through Australia last summer caused unprecedented—and unimaginable—ecological devastation. A fifth of our magnificent, life-supporting forests were destroyed and nearly 3 billion animals were killed or displaced. Our ecosystems were already under huge pressure from years of land clearing and relentless drought. Now habitat for more than 800 species has been further devastated. Their burnt forests will take decades to recover—if they can.
What we’ve learned
To protect our wild places and wildlife from bushfires this summer and beyond, Australia needs a vastly different firefighting response. Protecting nature must be a priority alongside saving lives and property. Firefighters need training, equipment and information to help them defend areas of significant biodiversity. Crucially, Australia needs strong national environmental laws that put nature and the environment before the interests of logging and fossil fuel companies. The Wilderness Society is fighting for a bushfire response that’s driven by science, Indigenous knowledge, local communities, sustainable economic activity, and determined supporters like you.
What we're doing
A push for significant policy change
In our submissions to the Bushfire Royal Commission, the Wilderness Society has
called for seven key policy changes to Australia’s firefighting response. This includes the creation of a national water-bombing fleet equipped to fight remote spot fires, and an end to the destructive logging that makes our native forests more fire prone. Image: Ben Baker.
The fight for better nature laws
Our experts and Movement For Life volunteers have played a huge role in the once-in-a-decade review of Australia’s failing national nature laws. Now we are fighting to stop the Federal Government from handing environment protections over to the States before this critical review has even finished.
Campaigns to end fossil fuel expansion
The Wilderness Society is mobilising community members to speak up against coal seam gas drilling in the Pilliga forest. We are giving a voice to the thousands of Australians who don’t want fossil fuel development off the coast of Ningaloo Reef. Your donations will fuel these ground-up campaigns.
Community-led movements across Australia
Movement For Life volunteers are vital to all this work to protect Australia from future
bushfire and climate catastrophes. We began training volunteers online through the COVID-19 lockdown—and now have more than 200 new activists agitating for change in their communities. Your support will help grow this effective, grassroots movement.
Rise up for nature
It’s time to build a more sustainable future for our communities and wildlife.