The battle against the bushfires should focus our attention on the war against climate inaction
The world has mobilised to support bushfire-affected communities and wildlife, raising almost half a billion dollars so far.
While the fires are a glimpse of the horrors of climate change’s crescendoing impact, the response shows the power of humanity’s compassion and collaboration when activated.
As the outpouring of generosity continues, we’ve seen that when people work together with a clear and unifying vision, we can surmount huge challenges together — and raise the huge amounts of money required.
We need this reminder because the funding challenge posed by these fires goes far beyond raising money for the survivors, who we must continue to support.
While we fight this battle, we need to also focus our attention on winning the war against climate change.
It really is a war
Scientists tell us we have 10 to 12 years at most to turn things around.
I do not use the war analogy lightly. But as a climate campaigner, I see clear parallels with both the impacts of climate change and the required response.
Imagine if it was a foreign power that had visited this devastation on our country: killing 27 citizens and a billion animals, destroying communities, infrastructure and cultural heritage across three states, undermining our sense of safety — with the promise that this enemy would return again, every summer.
Our Government would mobilise all available resources to deal with the threat, and citizens would too — stepping up with courage and determination to win.
Past generations made sacrifices for the sake of their children. This includes fighting in, and winning, wars.
My late grandfather fought in World War II as a fighter pilot based in Britain. He lost his brother in that war.
During and after the fighting, ordinary people chipped in money to support those who desperately needed it — from Holocaust survivors to the widows and orphans who had been left behind when soldiers were killed.
But money was also required to win the actual war.
Politicians only ever aim as high as citizens demand
From scientists to former fire chiefs, the Australian Government has been clearly warned that climate change would create unprecedented hot and dry conditions — the exact conditions that have made these fires so severe.
In the words of former NSW Fire Commissioner Greg Mullins: “We have to talk about climate change because our bushfire season in Australia has changed forever”.
But so few of our politicians are taking this threat seriously — and they need to. Now.
Politicians only ever aim as high as their citizens demand. That’s where advocacy and campaigning comes in.
It’s going to take strategic and well-resourced advocacy to get our political leaders to reduce emissions to levels that will play a genuine part in avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.
We need to support the groups building a social movement powerful enough to force Governments to deal with the causes of the climate crisis, such as coal and gas, not just the symptoms.
People are understandably confused about what to fund when it comes to tackling climate change. It’s not as clear cut as donating to the Rural Fire Service.
David versus Goliath battles
Campaigning, influence and advocacy can seem intangible. But look at the social movements that changed history in the past.
From the US civil rights movement, to ending apartheid and overthrowing brutal dictatorships, it was not enough to fund support for the victims of unjust systems.
Ordinary people chipped in to fund the advocacy groups that provided the leadership, strategy and training for these David versus Goliath battles.
There are dozens of organisations in Australia working on viable strategies to build a climate movement powerful enough to win.
They are all under-resourced — the Climate Council is using research to change the story in the media; Seed and Original Power are supporting First Nations communities to prevent Origin fracking the NT; Farmers for Climate Action is shifting hearts and minds in rural Australia and implementing climate solutions in agriculture.
Research from the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network shows that only 2-6 per cent of Australian philanthropy goes to environmental giving — even less to climate advocacy.
According to Larry Kramer, President of the Hewlett Foundation in the United States, only 3 per cent of giving globally is targeted to tackling climate change.
We are more powerful when we come together
As the fossil fuel lobby knows, shifting public opinion and influencing public policy is possible, but it’s not cheap.
Clive Palmer spent $60 million attacking Bill Shorten at the last election — a key reason behind the Coalition electoral victory.
Now he’s likely to get approval to build a coal mine in the Galilee Basin, conveniently making more than $60 million in profits.
In 2010, the Minerals Council spent $22 million on an ad campaign against the mining tax — a key factor in ousting Kevin Rudd and overturning the tax.
Michael West’s 2017 investigation of the financial statements of the Minerals Council showed revenues of more than $200 million over the past 11 years — spiking at $35 million, $32 million and $37 million in 2010, 2011 and 2012 when the group was busy fighting the mining tax, the carbon tax and the Renewable Energy Target.
A small donation to counter the fossil fuel lobby’s influence may not feel like much, but as the donations to support bushfire survivors have shown, we are infinitely more powerful when we come together.
It’s time to have the conversation
Fifteen years ago, when I was a law student helping found the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, I walked into my first ever fundraising meeting; it was with senior executives at Insurance Australia Group.
IAG saw the risk that climate change would pose to their insurance premiums through increased bushfire and flooding risk. I walked out with a cheque for $10,000 — a donation that paid for the founding summit of what would go on to become the largest climate advocacy organisation in Australia with close to 200,000 members.
Now, the organisation has more than 4,000 donors chipping in small amounts each month.
As the smoke begins to clear on some fire grounds and rain begins to fall on others, we must have the conversation about how we fund the climate movement to build the power we need to win the war.
Whether you’ve donated $10 or $10,000 to support the relief effort, it’s time to support the next stage: the advocacy required to shift governments and business leaders into taking serious action to address the climate crisis.
Anna Rose is an author and campaigner, a board Director of Farmers for Climate Action, and a co-founder of Groundswell, Australia’s first climate advocacy giving circle.
This content was originally published here.