From late 2019 to early 2020, Australia endured one of its worst bushfire seasons on record, with more than 20% of the country’s forests burning over the summer months.
Obviously, it's going to take years to truly rebuild, and while the global community has proven to be incredibly generous with providing assistance, the concern is that the fires may fade too easily into memory. Now more than ever, with the novel coronavirus dominating headlines, it is important to remember that recovery from the 2019/20 bushfire season is a marathon, not a sprint, and that those communities most harshly affected are far from back on their feet.
While tourism was touted as one of the best ways to help these communities — Tourism Australia even launched the Holiday Here This Year campaign to entice Australians to spend their vacation dollars in their own backyard — new government regulations about social distancing mean that even domestic travel is taking a hit. The question becomes: how can we all pitch in this year, and in the coming years, to help our environment, our native wildlife, and our regional communities to regenerate?
Make a donation
It’s the obvious road to go down, but still an incredibly important one. Australians and people from around the world were quick to open their wallets in support, with an estimated $500 million donated by the public at large. However, even with the Australian government pledging $2 billion over the next two years, community donations are still of critical importance. While numerous charities popped up during the bushfire season, including many celebrity-lead initiatives, some key organisations to donate to include:
Volunteer with Conservation Volunteers Australia
If you’re itching to do more than simply make a donation, another option is to volunteer with a relief organisation. While there are numerous ways to go about this, one option is to register with a group called Conservation Volunteers Australia. Established in 1982, this initiative exists to protect and nurture ecosystems, which it does by connecting volunteers with important environmental projects. In the wake of the bushfires, they have set up a dedicated recovery effort to help make it easier for individuals and organisations to stay informed about how they can best use their skills and passions for good. Simply sign up on their website, and you will receive regular e-newsletters detailing the latest projects they have on the go and outlining ways you can get involved.
NOTE: while travel and social distancing measures are in force, in-person volunteering has been suspended for Conservation Volunteers Australia. However, staying informed with their updates will help give you goals to look forward to in your conservation work when current restrictions are eventually lifted.
Get out in your own backyard
Even without teaming up with an existing charitable organisation, there is plenty you can do on your own and within your own community to make a difference. For instance, Zoos Victoria recommends adopting “wildlife-friendly behaviours”, which include things like planting native species in your yard, using wildlife-friendly fruit tree netting and keeping your cat inside at night.
One of the easiest actions you can take is to provide water for wildlife by placing containers of water around your yard for birds and animals to drink from. Be sure to keep the containers clean and change the water daily, and ideally place them in the shade.
You should also consider placing some containers around the perimeter of your property to ensure reptiles are well watered while also deterring them from approaching your house in search of water taps.
Once social-distancing restrictions are lifted, you will be able to go one step further by organising events in your community, such as tree planting initiatives in your local areas, building nest boxes for displaced wildlife or fundraising and awareness-raising. Considering the strong links between these extreme weather events and climate change, you can even consider researching the various climate and environmental policies in your local communities and advocating for improvements.
Planning for these events over the coming months will again shape your goals and improve your mental wellbeing over a challenging period for societies and economies.
Campaign for corporate change
Another way you can have an impact on Australia's recovery is to campaign your workplace to make environmentally-friendly changes. Or, if you are the business owner, consider taking a close look at your supply change and business practices, and finding ways to introduce more sustainable practices.
For instance, this could mean finding ways to influence employee behaviour norms to be more eco-conscious, such as by setting up a four-bin system to try to achieve zero waste in the office, or eliminating plastic bottles and single-use coffee cups in the workplace. You could invest in green energy for the office, purchase only wildlife-friendly coffee and commit to dealing exclusively with companies who also practice responsible behaviours.
If you think that it is all too tricky to shake up your business model, consider this: about a year ago, Zoos Victoria removed Cadbury products from their shelves because they didn’t approve of the chocolate company's supply chain for palm oil. This was a bold move that sent a strong message, but instead of simply shrugging it off, Cadbury decided to take a good look at the way they operated. Then, a few months ago, they approached Zoos Victoria with a desire to change, and now have a strong commitment to sourcing sustainable palm oil. In addition, Cadbury is dedicated to supporting frog conservation, a message heroed through their iconic Freddo Frogs.
This goes to show that it is possible for any company to set up ethical procurement strategies. It just takes a strong commitment. And if you need a little advice to get there, it’s worth noting that Zoos Victoria also runs consultancy workshops for other organisations that want to adopt more ethical business practices.
We know that it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of such widespread devastation to our natural environments as well as economic and health challenges posed by COVID-19, but there is always something you can do to help both yourself and your community. Even if it’s only changing your own behaviour, every choice made in the name of environmental sustainability can and will help Australia to recover from bushfire seasons.
Plan your next adventure
Setting out plans for your next hike into nature, road trip or camping adventure will not only give you something positive to focus on but can indirectly help the natural environment.
When economies bounce back and social restrictions are lifted, people are going to rush to get back outdoors. As long as we manage our parks responsibly and how we enjoy them, such a renewed love for our collective backyard can increase awareness of the need to promote its rejuvenation and protection.
Plan your next trip and let your friends know. The more people get excited to eventually experience the outdoors, the greater their awareness of its worth and fragility.