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by Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg

Since September 2019, fires have raged through my home country of Australia. At first, Prime Minister Scott Morrison would simply not allow the words, “climate change,” to be used in any public discourse associated with the fires. Even yesterday—after thousands of homes had burned, twenty-seven people had died, half a billion helpless animals had been burned alive in flames (some of which raged 6 meters high), and half a billion more herbivores face the prospect of starvation, Morrison said that it was “disappointing” that Australian citizens were conflating the ongoing fire crisis with Australia’s emission reduction targets.

Is the man mad? No—he is attempting to dramaturg his own story in relationship to climate change, which had its public “premiere” on February 9, 2017 in Parliamentary Question Time in the House of Representatives, when Morrison brought in a lump of coal.

“This is coal,” said the then-treasurer. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared.” The coal was passed from hand to hand by bewildered parliamentarians until Morrison made his message clear. The Labor opposition party, he claimed, was “drunk” on the fear of climate change and the theme of renewable energy. If the Australian people rejected coal, said Morrison, soon all the lights in Australia would go off. Keep the coal. Climate change was just a buzz word. Let’s all laugh at it, together, with our lump of coal. And in a stunning coup in May 2019, Morrison was chosen by his own party to replace prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull—for the very reason that Turnbull had pressed the urgent need to impose a carbon tax to address climate change.

Now, under Morrison’s leadership, Australia is burning. Everywhere. It can be argued that it’s not just climate change—but it cannot be argued that climate change has not had a huge impact on the nature and spread of these fires, unprecedented in their timing (the “fire season” should not even have started), range and ferocity.

For an interactive up-to-date map, see the Google Crisis Map here.

As of Thursday, January 9, the fires have destroyed 17.9 million acres (almost 28,000 square miles, over 14 times the damage of the last two years of wildfires in California). Friends of my family have lost their homes all over Queensland and New South Wales. Next week it’s South Australia’s turn for searing temperatures and fire threats. But somehow my heart breaks most for the animals, who don’t know the words, “climate change,” and who are fleeing for their lives before walls of flame.

Next week we will publish a piece by Philippa Kane (also an Australian) on how we in theater can address climate change. Look out for Philippa’s piece in the next installment of New Directions in Dramaturgy.

Here are ways you can support those affected:

WIRES: The New South Wales-based Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc., Australia’s largest wildlife rescue organization, is accepting donations to fund the rescue and care of animals affected by the fires. In December, WIRES received more than 20,000 calls and volunteers attended more than 3,300 rescues, according to the organization’s website. All animal rescuers are volunteers. Learn more at wires.org.au.

World Wildlife Fund Australia: This chapter of the international wildlife conservation organization is accepting donations to care for injured wildlife and, when the fires clear, to plant 10,000 native trees in critical koala habitat, including in “koala triangle,” the heartland of Australia’s healthiest wild koala populations. Donate at donate.wwf.org.au.

Animal Rescue Craft Guild: This volunteer-run group with participants worldwide is knitting and crocheting protective pouches and blankets for animals displaced by the fires. One organizer told Reuters that the group has supplied thousands of rescue groups around the country. Check out the group’s Facebook page.

GIVIT: Australian nonprofit GIVIT is collecting donation items requested by people affected by the fires. Items range from dog food to fencing materials. Read about what’s needed and donate at givit.org.au/disasters.

Housing: If you live in Australia, you can offer up your home as emergency housing for people displaced by the bushfires. Learn more at cfa.vic.gov.au.

Fire departments: In both Victoria and New South Wales, two of the states hardest hit by the blazes, you can donate directly to the state fire authority or to a local fire brigade, many of which are volunteer-based. “Experience tells us that donation of money is much more effective and provides more flexibility than the donation of material items or pre-loved goods,” the Victorian Country Fire Authority says on its website. For fire departments in Victoria, donate at cfa.vic.gov.au. For departments in New South Wales, donate on the government’s website.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service has also set up bank accounts to collect donations for the families of volunteer firefighters who have been killed while on duty. Donate at rfs.nsw.gov.au.

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