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Where were the celebrity pledges when the climate emergency hit Malawi? This crisis can’t be solved by handouts

Climate change is not an Australian problem, even though it is a problem for Australia right now. It’s a global problem – and it needs a global response

Kuba Shand-Baptiste
Wednesday 08 January 2020 17:52 GMT
Jennifer Aniston reads message from Russell Crowe who is in Australia fighting bushfires

The emotional impact of the climate crisis is spreading as fast as the wildfires blazing across southern Australia‘s bushland. It’s a right and proper response to witnessing such devastation and understanding what it symbolises about the future of our planet. But I’d be lying if I hadn’t also noticed something more worrying about the trend that follows events such as these: a flood of charitable donations from celebrities such as Elton John, Pink and Kylie Jenner.

While their motivations are laudable, how much do these philanthropic acts help the global climate crisis? Not an awful lot, unfortunately.

According to the UN, we’d need to find around $300bn (£229bn) globally to ease the effects of the climate emergency, giving us about 20 years to fix the crisis. At the time of writing, celebrity donations to wildfire relief in Australia have surpassed $32m, a mere 0.01 per cent drop in the fast-warming ocean. The money may help with short-term relief effort, but if we’re going to really solve the greatest issue of our times we need to start examining ourselves and our actions a little more closely. And that starts with how – and where – we and our public figures (including our favourite celebrities) express solidarity.

Let me start by saying that I am not calling for a climate pity Olympics over what is clearly a global problem. Lives have been, and sadly will likely continue to be, lost in these Australian bushfires. Entire communities have been left to fend for themselves; animals are perishing in the heat and flames of uncontainable blazes; people are desperate and furious. It’s only right that people are moved to action in response.

Sadly, however, when the effects of climate devastation are felt outside the Caucasian west, the response is muted. Basing our support on kinship or nationalism won’t help solve the climate crisis. We need to think and act as a global collective. Whether it’s flood-hit Bangladesh or cyclone damage in sub-Saharan Africa, these countries deserve action from those who can make change happen: governments, billionaires, oil companies, banks and philanthropic celebrities. A common fund might help; concerted cross-continental political action would be better. It’s just that’s rather more difficult to pull off than a simple cash pledge that generates instant positive PR.

In Indonesia, floods in Jakarta – a sinking city which will no doubt be further ravaged by climate change once Indonesia’s new capital of Borneo is ready for habitation – has taken 66 lives and counting. And that’s without mentioning the effects of president Joko Widodo’s environmentally irresponsible decision to move the country’s capital city in the first place.

Last year, the climate emergency contributed to at least 15 unexpected weather events across the globe, including Cyclone Idai, which in March killed approximately 1,300 people in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi. Elsewhere, more than 1,600 people died in India‘s heaviest monsoon in 25 years, and thousands in the Caribbean were displaced in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. These are just a handful of examples from across our planet.

There is no limit to the shape and form of human destruction of Earth. Suggesting that any one example of climate disaster is more important than another will only leave already poor and vulnerable areas of the world even more exposed than they are now.

The climate crisis is not an Australian problem, even though it is a problem for Australia right now. It’s a global problem and it needs a global response. We can’t rely on the knee-jerk emotions of a handful of benefactors to see us through.

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