Our horrific Black Summer: We call on the government for a climate-positive COVID-19 recovery
By AP4CA members Liz Cowan and Amy Blain, Canberra.
Throughout the Bushfire Royal Commission hearings, Australians are reminded that bushfire survivors have not forgotten their terrifying Black Summer. Australian Parents for Climate Action released an emotional video, based on parents’ submissions to the commission. Here are two of their stories.
Nothing pierces your heart more than your 6-year-old looking up at you and saying: “Are we going to be ok?”It was a question my daughter asked me as we fled bushfires to Horseshoe Bay at Bermagui on New Year’s Eve 2019. Now, it’s a question I ask myself every day. Is it too late? Do our kids have a future?
That terrifying New Year’s Eve was a window, not to what’s coming, but to what’s already here. We’d left Canberra for the coast for our usual Christmas break, but as the New Year approached, our safe coastal retreat became a living nightmare. We asked ourselves: what do you need for a 6-year-old and a 10-week-old when you evacuate to the beach? How fast are the fires travelling? How close will they get? When will they burn out? How can we keep our kids safe?
After time on the beach, we returned to the house; it seemed a better option than having the kids out in the smoke. The water was contaminated, the filtration plant damaged, the power and phone network cut, the supermarket ran out of bottled water. The roads home were shut. We had no way of contacting anyone or knowing what was happening. So, we waited. As we bought disposable nappies, we realised how futile our individual actions to ‘save the planet’ now seemed.
Our drive back home to Canberra was smoke-filled. Cooma choked in an impenetrable fog. Canberra welcomed in 2020 with the worst air quality in the world. The air we breathed was hazardous. Our children had ash in their eyes and ears. All our little one wanted for 2020 was no more fires. We were quarantined in a smoke-filled house, knowing we couldn’t get face masks to protect tiny developing lungs. Nowhere felt safe.
I was 38 weeks pregnant on New Year’s Eve 2019. That night, Canberra was engulfed by a thick smoke which smelled like a campfire, as eucalyptus forests burnt out of control along the coast.
I was scheduled for a c-section three days later, the medical professionals keen to have my baby arrive early due to his small size. I’d received steroid injections to supercharge his lungs, as we anxiously choked on smoke, day after day.
On January 2, our tiny baby was born. We spent the first three nights of his life in a hotel, as our home had no air-conditioning or air purification. On January 4, we were woken at midnight by the hotel’s fire alarms, triggered by smoke from that day’s horror fires along the coast. The alarms couldn’t be disarmed, so we returned home. Canberra’s streets were eerily empty and the visibility limited. My partner and I cried in despair for the world that we had brought our child into. We slept that night on the kitchen floor, the only place in the house that wasn’t oppressively hot.
During this time, I heard Canberrans say that we shouldn’t complain, because we still have our houses. We shouldn’t complain that we couldn’t holiday at the beach, that we couldn’t camp in Namadji, that we couldn’t enjoy our green spaces, or eat or exercise outdoors.
But these are things that make Canberra one of the best places in the world. We do have the right to complain that our government’s inaction on climate change is taking those things away from us.
Canberra’s skies are crystal clear once again. But only genuine climate action will give them a chance to stay that way – and give our children the chance of safe, healthy lives.
We deserve a government that directs COVID-19 recovery spending to the many available climate solutions such as renewable energy, electric transport and regenerative agriculture. We deserve a government that rejects climate-damaging fossil gas, coal and oil projects that threaten the safety of all Australians.
We want our kids to grow up breathing the fresh Canberra air we’ve always taken for granted, to enjoy clean water and thriving bushlands. We don't want them living in fear of the next climate-fuelled disaster.
Liz and Amy are members of Australian Parents for Climate Action. Use our easy template to ask your politicians for a climate-positive COVID-19 recovery. The more politicians hear from their voters, the more motivated they are to address the issue.