We at Environmental Justice Australia acknowledge all those in the Australian community who have and continue to suffer pain and distress caused by this summer’s catastrophic bushfires.     

We express our sympathy and support for those who have lost loved ones, suffered injury as a result of the fires and the terrible air pollution, those whose homes and livelihoods have been affected, and the many in our community who have seen places that they love and cherish and have fought to protect destroyed by flames, perhaps forever.     

We particularly acknowledge the suffering and anguish of traditional owners, custodians of country confronted by the impact of these unprecedented fires on their land.  

We acknowledge with gratitude and admiration the work, paid and unpaid, of firefighters, emergency services, government agencies and charities, wildlife carers and many others in providing assistance and support during and after the fires. 

A Rural Fire Service volunteer told me that it’s most effective to fight a fire from burned ground. That will have to be our rallying cry from now on Down Under. Our beloved world is being transformed around us, and to hold those responsible to account, we must move past the flames and into the ashes.” – Georgina Woods, Earth Island Journal    

As the climate crisis unfolds and our landscape is transformed, the crisis in accountability becomes all the more stark.     

Now more than ever we need effective leadership and a strong commitment to tackling the causes of climate change, by rapidly reducing our emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels.  The fact the fires have forced our national political leaders to acknowledge, reluctantly, climate change is a cause for some optimism, but also emphasises the massive chasm between the reality faced by the planet and the vacuousness and inadequacy of current action. 

The fires have brought unprecedented destruction, and will see important places and probably species lost forever.  Communities have been destroyed and will never be the same.  This changed world will mean some of our work will change, and our priorities will need to be revisited. 

At the same time, so much of the work we were already doing has an increased urgency now, whether that’s holding governments and corporations to account for the urgent task of reducing emissions, pushing for nature laws that work, or supporting communities harmed by pollution.  Working now from “burned ground”, we need to redouble our efforts. 

The work ahead

Right now, and in the coming weeks the team at EJA will be working to: 

  • Provide legal support to community groups working to protect forest habitat, so our threatened species have somewhere to live. 
  • Advocate for state governments to take much greater action on air pollution, in light of the bushfire smoke.  We may not be able to stop smoke from bushfires affecting millions of people, but governments can significantly reduce other pollution sources such as coal-fired power stations, which would make the bushfire smoke less toxic and decrease the overall pollution load that people are exposed to throughout the year. 
  • Make sure the federal government’s review of the EPBC Act, which is happening now, fully takes account of the bushfire crisis, the impact on threatened species and habitat, the ongoing impacts of climate change on our natural environment and the need to urgently reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Use all the legal tools at our disposal to hold the federal government to account for their complete lack of action on climate change. 

And much more…

 What can you do to help?    

  • Legal support for bushfire victims.  If we can help, contact us.  For assistance with insurance, social security and other legal matters contact Disaster Legal Help.  Lawyers and legal practices wanting to contribute can do so through Justice Connect.   
  • Provide financial support – with so many requests for support it can be difficult to know where to direct donations. The Australian Communities Foundation is a good source of information. 
  • Support Environmental Justice Australia’s work supporting community groups and citizen scientists concerned about continued logging in threatened species habitats. With so much of Victoria’s forests destroyed by this summers fires, protecting the habitat which remains has become even more urgent.