The recent bushfires around Australia have left a lot of people wondering what the future is going to look like in the face of climate change. Jade has some ideas about how we can give back to our communities to ensure the future is promising for everyone.
I’m not big on the New Year. There, I said it.
The whole thing is hyped up more than a new sneaker drop from Kanye (is that still a thing?) and the pressure to suddenly have it all figured out gives me a headache. When the year ticks over and the pledges of self-improvement start coming in fast, you’ll usually find me curled up in my swag in the bush somewhere.
I get it though: the promise of a new beginning is alluring. If we navigate the transition with intention, the arrival of a new year brings a chance to regroup. It welcomes us to reflect on our triumphs and adventures and, inevitably, the ways we’ve failed. If we’re lucky, it fills us with gratitude and inspires us to imagine what an ideal future might hold.
For me, this usually includes a non-linear career win, more adventures, and enough self control to stop admiration-stalking my boyfriend’s old lovers on Instagram (hey cuties). Yet, as I watch helplessly as millions of hectares of wilderness catch alight, it feels uniquely selfish to focus on a future that holds me at the centre.
Before the bushfire season started, 77% of Aussies reckoned the effects of climate change are already happening and there wasn’t enough national action to lower the country’s impact on global warming. Fast forward a few months and our leaders still DGAF*. It’s pretty clear that a conservative, pro-fossil fuel government doesn’t represent the kind of future most of us hope for, so why should we rely on it to get us there?
*don’t give a flip.
We’ve gotta do this ourselves, and we’ve gotta do it together.
Over the last few months, my social feeds have been littered with warnings and updates, devastating images, and unfathomable figures tallying the loss of lives, ecosystems, and the adventure spots I call home. Yet, interwoven with despair is an overwhelming sense of generosity and community spirit. So much so that I’ve had tears streaming down my face on the reg because the feels are real.
This visceral sense of shared humanity marks the beginning of a future worth celebrating. It’s a future that extends beyond ourselves and our immediate circles; a future where each of us feels empowered to take action; and one where collective survival and shared experience outweighs the desire to hold ourselves at the centre of pretty much everything.
I reckon it’s time we gravitate towards each other with courage and intention so we can figure out what this future looks like when it starts right here in our community.
Have a bushfire survival plan
Being an active citizen isn’t just about political engagement, protesting, and impassioned letter writing. These are all important ways to rally for broad systemic change, but for me, active citizenship is much more locally-focused: it’s about each of us taking responsibility for our place in civic life. Developing a bushfire survival plan is a really relevant and tangible way to do this.
Our emergency service personnel do an exceptional job of keeping us safe, despite what has been an unprecedented fire season and many working on a volunteer basis. They’re stretched to capacity and exhausted, so spending some time putting together your bushfire survival plan is an easy way to help them out. It’ll empower you to take responsibility for your own safety and lower the likelihood you’ll get stuck in a bad situation and need to call out the firies.
Your bushfire survival plan should be clear and easy to follow in a stressful situation, and it should prioritise leaving early and staying safe. And for those of us who jump in the car to reach adventure spots or commute through at-risk areas? Put together an emergency car kit and stash it somewhere within reach.
Get to know your neighbours
If you think about it, it’s likely the people living on your street have a wide range of interesting skills and experiences that could come in handy in an emergency. It’s also likely that some people are socially isolated, lack access to critical safety information, speak english as a second language, or have mobility considerations. None of these represent inherent weaknesses, but they do make people more vulnerable in a crisis.
Getting to know your neighbours creates a fuller picture of the people in your community. This is as simple as sticking your head over the fence to say hi and hoping they don’t scurry away in fright. Given how widely these fires have affected us, it’s likely they’ll be grateful to see a friendly face and know they’re not alone. Over time, you’ll build trust, and this is the glue that holds communities together.
Get involved with your local council (and actually go to meetings)
The level of systemic change required to mitigate the effects of a warming planet can be overwhelming and we can’t all rally and protest (hello, anxiety in large crowds). Political change is deeply necessary but aside from successfully toppling the PM and convincing NZ to take over, relying on government action is a fairly top-down way of thinking. For change to meaningfully reflect the future we hope for, it needs to start with us.
Until recently, I thought my local council was made of prehistoric country-folk berating me for crossing the double lines when I park at the coffee shop. Turns out I’m MAD RUDE and, also, totally wrong. With a little research, I learned they had a resilience committee that meets monthly to figure out how to embed resilience into the community. It’s made up of the emergency services, parks and wildlife, local community organisations and now, me.
Getting involved with council is actually pretty easy and they’re often looking for young people with a diverse range of skills. Give them a call and see how you can represent your community.
Start (or join) a community network
So you’ve stuck your head over the fence to say hi to your neighbours and they’ve received you with open arms (and maybe some weird looks). That’s great! Now what?
You know when you’re out on a hike with your mates and you look around at them stumbling and cracking jokes and being stoked on the adventure, and you’re flooded with love because they’re beautiful and sweaty and you’re all in it together? Try transposing this sense of connection onto the people in your community. You could start by reaching out to local organisations to see if there’s an opportunity to use your skills to volunteer, or create a micro-network with the people on your street, so you can check in on each other in the event of an emergency.
If you don’t want to go out on a limb and connect with strangers, start with the people you know. Get together with your mates and decide on a rotating schedule for checking in on each other, knowing where everyone will be on the weekend, and staying on top of emergency updates so everyone gets a break from the crippling anxiety of checking apps. Times are tough and we’ve all been affected but sometimes all it takes to feel better is a safe space and a heart-to-heart, so make an extra effort to just be with each other.
Support regional economies
The financial impact of the bushfires on regional economies is likely to be felt for years. Even in communities that were spared the worst, thick smoke and public safety concerns have left tourism-reliant towns deserted in one of the busiest seasons of the year.
You don’t necessarily need to travel to fire-affected communities to help them out, and you definitely shouldn’t while it isn’t safe. What you can do is jump online and do some of your shopping from the vibrant local businesses trying to stay afloat – from bookstores and quaint soap shops, to organic skincare and locally made gin (hello and sign me up).
If you get your adventure content from WAE, you already know how beautiful our backyard is and how heartbreaking it’s been to watch it catch alight. While I don’t advocate for people being reckless with their safety, I do strongly encourage all of us to get back out there with full wallets and open hearts as soon as it’s safe to do so.
Head to our Explore page to inspire your next adventure.
In the meantime, lace up your shoes and head out your front door; you won’t have to go far to find somewhere worth exploring.
You might even want to stick your head over the fence and invite your neighbours.