Published 08 January 2020
At the dawn of this new decade, few words sound so hollow as ‘Happy New Year’. Over the past few weeks, the fires that have torn across Australia have left in their wake hundreds of lost homes, thousands of displaced people, millions of dead wildlife, billions of decimated trees.
Here in Sydney we have grown used to the smoggy grey skies, the ashes lining every tide and the blood red setting sun. We are growing used to each headline seeming worse than the last. It’s hard to know what to do, how to turn our responses from abstraction into action.
One of our key researchers, Professor Danielle Cellemajer, has published two moving articles for the ABC speaking to her own personal experiences over the past weeks and the difficulties of abstracting loss: The tragedy of two Australias: A lament for New Year’s Eve and Omnicide: Who is responsible for the gravest of all crimes?
In Dany’s words,
“When I was growing up, my parents used to play a Bob Dylan song called “Who Killed Davey Moore?” about a boxer who died in the ring when he was just 30 years old. Each verse begins with some party — the coach, the crowd, the manager, the gambling man, the boxing writer, the other fighter — answering the title’s question, “Who killed Davey Moore?” They each respond, “Not I …” and then explain that they were just doing what it is that they do: going to the fight, writing about the fight, throwing the punches and so on. And of course, they each told the truth.
We too are just doing what it is that we do: ensuring that the largest political donors support our political campaigns; maximising profits; ensuring a high share price; living a comfortable life style; avoiding change; lazily buying back in to the conceit that we humans are special. But sometimes, just doing what it is that we do is sufficient to kill, not just Davey Moore, but everything.”
Whatever metaphors lie beneath the ashes — that destruction is necessary for renewal, or that only with fire can the seeds of new life emerge — this moment in Australia’s history doesn’t need to be claimed as some inevitable and tragic consequence that happened to spark a change in national consciousness. The lives lost shouldn’t need to be offered up in martyrdom for some greater fight. Because after all, it was avoidable, these fires are the result of decades of specific, deliberate, human decisions (or lack-there-of), not immoral natural forces. It was an act of omnicide, as Dany writes, and those responsible should absolutely be held to account.
Over the next few weeks and months the SEI will be sharing a series of articles from our community of researchers, policy experts and industry leaders. As public backlash towards the federal government gains momentum, it is critical that we keep this conversation going. We hope that by continuing to shed light on the ecological, economic and social consequences of this crisis and the failures in governance that enabled the scale of the destruction, we can hold those systems accountable as we rebuild.
Our heart goes out to all those who have been affected, and we send more than just thoughts and prayers. We promise that this year, 2020, will be one of continued action and lasting change.