Living in Australia from a young age, you grow up knowing bushfires are just a part and parcel of life. You’re taught about them in science or geography, you drive down roads that have undergone backburning, you pass a ‘Fire Danger Rating Today’ sign and check where the arrow is pointing. You know that sometimes plans will be cancelled and events will be missed because bushfires have closed roads off.
And then 2019 rolls around, and the fire season started earlier than normal. Over 100 blazes were raging. Workplace fire alarms were going off because of smoke infiltrating highrises, ferries were cancelled, and communities stockpiled face masks.
Australians have lost their homes and their lives, an estimated billion animals are dead; we’ve lost firefighters. It’s apocalyptic, and it’s not like the ‘part and parcel’ of Australian life you were taught about.
Why is it so apocalyptic? Climate change. I’m not saying climate change is the single reason for the bushfires — they’re seasonal; we can set our watches by them — but you can’t deny its impact. Australia’s average temperature is rising, and 2019 was Australia’s warmest and driest year on record. This bushfire season is far worse than previous seasons — and in turn, people are responding more strongly than they have before.
Let’s pivot to Mr Fred Rogers (from Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood) for a second (it makes sense, promise!). One of his famous quotes reads: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
And as the bushfires continue to blaze on, we’ve seen exactly that. Celebrities from all over the planet have donated millions to bushfire recovery, and we’ve even seen The Naked Philanthropist raise over $1M AUD by selling nude photos (legend).
Fashion brands are also finding ways to help, donating proceeds of products purchased to the bushfire relief efforts. Which is lovely, in theory. Raising money for the bushfire relief is good! But is consuming more fashion really the best way to help those affected by bushfires?
Fashion is, as the wise Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl once said, “the most powerful art there is; it’s movement, design, and architecture all in one.” But fashion is also, as the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe says: “an environmental and social emergency.”
The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions — more than the emissions of all international flights and maritime shipping combined. If you want an actual figure: 1.2 billion tonnes annually.
A lot of these fashion brands have set a limit on how long proceeds will go to charity: 24 hours, a few days, a week. Not only are they implementing cause-related marketing (research has found 55% of men and 75% of women prefer to purchase a brand that supports a charity), but it’s also utilising the ‘see now, buy now’ strategy. Or ‘see now, buy now, help now’.
See now, buy now works – limited availability is key to creating a sense of urgency. And when you’re given a date in which the cost of your purchase will no longer be donated to charity — well, you’re encouraged to consume quicker. And in the simplest terms, more consumption = increased carbon emissions.
Companies shouldn’t be encouraging more consumption — by doing so, it’s attempting to profit off of natural disaster. It may come from a good and genuine place of wanting to make a difference, but at the end of the day, it’s marketing. With some brands, it’s virtue signalling, and people are questioning brands as to why they aren’t just donating direct.
“Buying a product where a level of profits goes to a cause will never do as much benefit as giving all that money directly to charity,” says Rawnie Whittow-Williams, a sustainability professional based in London.
“If you’re trying to justify your shopping by making it cause-related, is it truly selfless? Does it justify the environmental impact that purchase will have? There are better ways to help relieve a tragedy than getting a new top.”
One of the best things you can do is donate direct. Whether it’s money, food, clothing, furniture or time. If you do need (not want, need) to purchase something, and also want to make a difference, there are accounts like Spend With Them, which help you to buy products online direct from businesses in fire-affected towns across Australia.
Yes, the bushfire season will continue to be part and parcel of Australian life. But if we don’t act now, this apocalyptic season will be our new normal. We need to stop contributing to that, in whatever way we can.
If you can, please consider donating to one of the organisations below — your donation will directly benefit bushfire victims, communities and animals affected.
Donate to the NSW Rural Fire Service
Donate to the Victorian Bushfire Relief
Donate to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund
Donate to the Salvation Army Disaster Appeal
Donate to St Vincent de Paul Society Bushfire Appeal
Donate to WIRES