As eco-activists raise the alarm over wildfires cutting through the Amazon rainforest, far fewer have noticed the blazes consuming the Australian countryside. Perhaps some disasters are more politically expedient than others?
An abnormally warm, dry and windy spring season in Australia has intensified drought conditions and helped to drive nearly 100 bushfires across hundreds of thousands of acres of forest and grassland on the country’s eastern seaboard. The weather is unprecedented this early in the season, and has turned swathes of Queensland and New South Wales into a tinderbox.
“We’ve never seen this before in recorded history, fire weather has never been as severe this early in spring,” Andrew Sturgess, an inspector with Queensland emergency services, told the BBC.
Despite the severity of the conflagration and the damage already dealt to Australia’s lush forests, international demands for action have not been forthcoming – nothing approaching the vocal calls, almost in unison, by major world powers to “do something” in Brazil, where fires in the Amazon continue to surge.
The same procession of celebrities and officials who insist on saving the Amazon – “our house,” in the words of French President Emmanuel Macron – as well as the politicized scapegoating that’s been directed at Brazilian leaders, are conspicuously absent in Australia’s case. Lacking a “Trump of the Tropics,” an “Orange Man of Oceania” may be needed to mobilize the effort.
While the eco-warriors who are up in arms over the Amazon have largely pinned blame on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s pro-industry bent, no such fall guy exists to politicize the Aussie fires, putting them beyond the interest of many activists.
For governments, too, the crisis in the Amazon provided a readily exploitable political opportunity, with French President Macron using the occasion to threaten shooting down a trade deal between Brazil and Europe, and to give the Amazon “international status” in order to justify foreign intervention there.
The Australian government itself has been less willing to step into the fray, however. When asked whether Bolsonaro deserved blame for the fires raging through the Amazon, Australian PM Scott Morrison hesitated, stating: “I don’t think it helps to be getting into those sorts of commentaries.”
Helpful or not, it appears that when it comes to international outcry over natural disasters, politics play a larger role than some would like to admit.
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