AUSTRALIA – Dealing with climate change is not a choice anymore. My generation must respond — a fact I saw firsthand while studying abroad in Melbourne, Australia, the epicenter of devastating fires that continue to burn millions of acres.
Last semester, I had the incredible opportunity to travel across the world. I learned there that the most powerful learning occurs beyond the classroom, through real-world experience in different cultures.
That lesson was reinforced in September as I traveled by bus up the coast of Queensland. I awoke on the bus to the smell of smoke filling the air. I looked out the window and saw firefighters dousing the flames.
I thought ‘is this a dream?’ If only it had been.
Instead, this was the start of an unprecedented fire season, the worst in decades for Australia.
Two months later, my friend received word that her extended family was evacuating because of the encroaching flames. At that moment, I realized climate change is a global problem of unmatched proportions. While these fires may be occurring over 10,000 miles away from my hometown, this does not mean the effects won’t be experienced here.
Australia has released two times its yearly greenhouse gas emissions, snow caps on glaciers in New Zealand are darkening because of smoke and soot, and South America is seeing red sunsets, according to The Washington Post.
I returned home to Bucks County on Nov. 23. A few short weeks later the international news cycle turned to the fires. The words “Australia Is Burning” were written across every social media platform. It was everywhere.
My family and friends began asking me: “How about those fires?” “Were you near the bush fires?” “I’m glad that you’re home safely before the fires started.”
But what they didn’t realize was the fires actually started much sooner.
When a natural disaster strikes anywhere, I can’t help but ache for the people affected by it, but seeing the place I call home up in flames was a wakeup call. I would scroll through Instagram and see my friends’ posts — cell phone photos of the smoke surrounding Melbourne or the remnants of their burned properties.
The Australian bush fire catastrophe reached its media climax during the winter holidays, but just because it is no longer plastered across your social media feed and local news station does not mean that the fires have stopped. Australia is still burning.
This is the reality of climate change, and it is only the beginning if we do not make a conscious effort to fight back.
It could be as simple as switching to reusable bags and water bottles, carpooling to school and work, or discussing the problem in class and with your neighbors. While these minor changes to our everyday lives are the momentum needed to combat climate change, we also need to hold accountable the politicians and the corporations that can have a much bigger impact with one small choice.
The burden is on my generation if we don’t act.
Our future — the future of youth in Australia, the future of youth in the United States, the future of youth around the world — is too important not to act.
Chalfont resident Erin Ferns is a psychology major and anthropology minor at Widener University.