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Fighting fire with action

guest column

Fires are blazing across the globe. From Alaska to the Amazon Rainforest, millions of acres rich with people, plants, and wildlife are burning. In recent months, Australia has been devastated by some of the worst wildfires in the continent’s history. It is now estimated that over 1 billion animals have been killed due to the devastating fires. In New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s two most popular states, nearly two dozen people have died and 1,500 homes have been destroyed. As of January 7, 32,400 square miles had burned since the blazes began.

Bushfires in Australia are not new. In fact, they have been occurring for thousands of years—small-scale natural burns can be healthy for forest ecosystems by clearing excess fuel and making room for growing plants. However, climate change has created significantly more hot and dry conditions, making the fire season much longer and more severe. Rather than promoting forest renewal, the immense strength of these fires are driving entire species toward the brink of extinction. The bushfires in Australia are also believed to have spewed as much as two-thirds of the nation's annual carbon dioxide emissions in just the past three months. Absent significant decarbonization efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, the devastation being experienced in Australia will occur more frequently in many locations across the globe,. ironically “spreading like wildfire.”

As an animal lover and environmental enthusiast, I have felt an awful sense of helplessness these past couple weeks. It feels as if all I could do was read news articles as the death toll skyrocketed and habitats burned. I became really frustrated as people would discuss the fires, convinced that there was nothing I could do being thousands of miles away and started to disengage.

However, I quickly realized that ignorance is not bliss. While American citizens were putting their lives on the line to fight fires in Australia, I was doing absolutely nothing in the face of one of the most tragic environmental disasters in recent history. I knew that I needed to take action. But, I wondered what I could really do to help.

Fortunately, upon searching this question online, I came across many answers. From a financial standpoint, there are dozens of organizations working to assist victims of the bush fires. For example, Australia’s largest wildlife organization, WIRES (New South Wales Wildlife Information, Rescue, and Education Service Inc.) is seeking emergency support to increase its capacity to help affected animals; the organization is receiving between 600 to 1,000 calls every day for assistance rescuing or caring for sick, injured, or orphaned animals. There have been lists compiled by CNN, Animals Australia, Charity Navigator, and a variety of other sources which includes organizations in need of donations to help in the face of the Australian fires.

However, there are many other ways you can protect forests and wildlife more generally. With just a free click at therainforestsite.com, you will preserve part of the Amazon Rainforest, another ecosystem which has been devastated by recent fires. Administered by the organization Greater Good, the program helps to fund 130 charities across the country. In addition to rainforest protection, your clicks can help provide food for people in poverty, veterans, and animals in need and fight diseases such as breast cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.

Another way you can help is by offsetting your carbon footprint—reducing your contribution to climate change. 

To help achieve Duke’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2024, the university has partnered with a climate action platform called UCapture. By going to ucapture.com/Duke and downloading the browser extension, you will be funding carbon offset projects just by going about your normal online shopping. UCapture is partnered with over 25,000 online stores such as Target, Walmart, Vistaprint, Fandango, and Enterprise, meaning that when you purchase items on any of these websites with the browser extension, a portion of the proceeds will fund forest preservation, renewable energy, and landfill gas capture projects in the United States and across the globe. Through the 300 new users I registered as a former UCapture Brand Ambassador, I facilitated the offset of over 45,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. You have the ability to combat the impacts of climate change right from your computer.

Amazon Smile provides a similar opportunity to support important causes through your Amazon shopping. You have the opportunity to choose from over one million charities for a small percentage of your purchases to help fund. For example, my family’s account contributes to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a sanctuary dedicated to preserving Alaska's wildlife through conservation, research, education, and quality animal care. Whether you choose a choose an organization dedicated to forest preservation, wildlife conservation, or an issue outside of the environmental realm, this is an easy way to give back without any added costs.

Furthermore, you can show your elected officials you care. The United States Department of the Interior and the Forest Service have been sending wildfire personnel to assist with ongoing wildfire suppression efforts in Australia. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there are 142 U.S. personnel currently assigned to Australia. In addition to calling your Congressional Representative and Senators to support taking action on climate change and promoting wildlife conservation domestically, you should ask for their continued support of these collaborative cross-border fire management efforts.

It may feel like the world is on fire, because unfortunately, far too much of it is. It is truly tragic. Yet, things will only get worse when we project hopelessness, stagnation, and despair. One billion animal lives have already been lost as the bushfires rage on. Instead, we must act. Now is the time to stand up for those who don’t have a voice. Fortunately, we can make a difference right here from Duke’s campus. The question is, will we?

Elliott Davis is a Trinity senior and the Duke Lead for the Citizens' Climate Lobby. He previously wrote a Chronicle column called "The Optimist."

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