UPDATE ON THE AUSTRALIAN BUSHFIRES
There is currently a major bushfire crisis in Australia. It is centred around the south-east corner of the large continent, but there have been outbreaks in many parts of the country. This includes the south-east Queensland region, near where the 2020 ICA conference is located in May, which experienced bushfires in September and again in late November.
The Australian bushfires have become a global media event. Images of a smoggy Sydney, dead animals, burnt-out homes and weary firefighters have been broadcast around the globe. It was a topic of discussion at the recent Golden Globe Awards. It has of course raised the issue of the relationship of adverse weather effects to human-induced climate change, as well as the inadequacy of responses of governments such as the Australian Federal Government to a looming global climate emergency.
In that light, ICA members are no doubt wondering what they can do to assist, and may be reconsidering their attendance at the 70th annual ICA conference on the Gold Coast from May 21-25. I can comment on whether to attend first, and how you can assist second.
It is very important to be aware that it is now summer in south Australia, the bushfire season. Climate change may lead to longer bushfire seasons and has led to an impact in places that do not typically experience bushfires, such as the forest areas around South-East Queensland which usually experience more rainfall. At the same time, it is highly unlikely that there would be such issues lingering in May, leading up to our conference, which is late autumn leading into winter.
It is hard to predict when a drought will break, but it is notable that the cyclone season is now being experienced in northern Australia. This generally leads to wet conditions in South-East Queensland, which is a subtropical region. It is notable that Jakarta, which is north of Australia, experienced severe flooding in January. So we do not expect the current January conditions to prevail until May.
People have also been concerned about smoke and haze levels in Australian cities such as Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. Many of us have become more engaged with PM2.5 levels, as they are known, and readings in these cities have on some days been at, or above, the levels of cities such as Delhi and Karachi. Having been in Beijing in 2007, when smog levels were at their peak and flights were delayed due to poor visibility at the airport, I am very much aware of the potential adverse health impacts of prolonged exposure to bad air.
Again, this is unlikely to be the case by May 2020. I am writing from Sydney, and it is not the case now. This could change, as fires will not be eliminated in a hurry. But given that the bad air is a consequence of bushfires and wind directions, we would not expect this to be an issue in May. These cities are heading into winter around our conference time, so it is important that you take some warm clothes if going to Sydney or Melbourne, as they are considerably cooler than the Gold Coast at that time of year.
There are a number of ways in which you can support bushfire relief. You can donate to the Australian Red Cross at https://www.redcross.org.au/campaigns/disaster-relief-and-recovery-donate. A range of other ways in which you can donate, including assisting wildlife, can be found at https://www.news.com.au/national/bushfire-relief-donations-pass-100-million-as-celebrities-corporations-and-communities-dig-deep/news-story/88f1d4fbe4798191d6d317ec9f4088cc.
At the same time, I am aware that Australia is a relatively affluent country, where governments can support disaster relief. The bushfires have also attracted a great deal of support from celebrities, philanthropists, sports people, companies and non-government organizations, and many others. It is a photogenic country, with unique wildlife and beautiful vistas, and so does attract considerable international interest. But the Federal government has already committed $2 billion, so there is not a shortage of funds being committed.
A different issue has been raised about visiting bushfire affected regions to help local economies through tourism. This is a good idea, but I would note that the most affected regions are not in the immediate vicinity of the Gold Coast venue. If you are wanting to go to a bushfire affected region, check closely how to get there: they are generally not close to the major coastal cities.
There is considerable interest in indigenous land management techniques and the use of fire to manage country. If you want to educate yourself about these techniques, this resource provides a good place to start: https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/land/aboriginal-fire-management. The extent of the bushfire damage has been particularly traumatic for First Nations people, who have connections to country in many affected places that date back over thousands of years. A fundraising site dedicated to supporting Australian First Nations communities can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/fire-relief-fund-for-first-nations-communities?utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer&utm_campaign=p_lico+share-sheet.
An important way in which ICA scholars can assist is through their own research into the role of communication with regards to climate change and environmental issues. These issues are being addressed in papers and panels at the conference, as well as in pre- and post-conferences. We will advise on other activities that relate to these themes as the conference program is announced.
It is also worth noting that ICA has recently approved a carbon offset program to be employed for all future conferences; after registering, you will have the option of clicking a link to pay a carbon offset fee directly to an organization working on climate change and various environmental projects around the world.
We very much welcome your attendance in Australia at the May 2020 ICA conference, and would encourage you to make your travel plans once the acceptances are announced on 15 January.