A couple of weeks ago, I was scheduled to catch up with my friend James for a drink. He’s originally from Canada but forty years in Australia have worn the edges off of his accent.

It was a Friday, and the forecast was 45 degrees Celsius. We were going to meet about halfway between us in Birdwood, a tiny town in the Adelaide hills. 

That day, a fire started in nearby Cudlee Creek which nearly destroyed James’ home at Woodside. One person was killed, 80 homes destroyed, and 57,000 acres were scorched. 

He texted me, “Sal, today is not going to work. Fire coming. Call u later.”

Instead, we met up yesterday. Like many Australians, our conversation dwelt on the fires that are ravaging the east coast of our country, their causes and the (in)adequacy of the political response.

James took a sip of shiraz. “It’s kind of like our own version of 9/11.” 

“Yeah, except there’s no enemy for us to blame and hate, except for ourselves and the politicians,” I postulated. 

Walking the dog on dusty Australian backroads this morning, I reflected on this idea, that when tragedies occur on a scale or of a nature that defies our comprehension, our human instinct is to blame someone or something. 

Partly to prevent similar incidents in the future, but also, if we’re honest, to feel some moral high ground over who or whatever caused the tragedy. To paint them as bad or evil (or, like, for instance, an axis thereof) and to therefore place ourselves in the category ‘good’ or at least ‘not as bad’. 

The Christian notions that ostensibly underpin our western society, such as understanding, compassion and forgiveness, seem to fly straight out the window as we look for vengeance. And rather than stepping back and putting aside our biases, we cast quick and heavy judgment through the lenses of our own ideas about the world.

It’s no wonder, then, that many of those who follow the right-wing Australian media have embraced the idea that the fires were caused by ‘greenies’ preventing hazard reduction. 

And the lefties among us apportion blame to climate change and denialism and ineffective leadership from the current government, including failing to acknowledge the impact of climate change on Australia and its fragile (and dying) ecosystems. 

The fires are unequivocally a tragedy and it will take decades to recover. Australia will never be the same. These fires are a wound that will leave a permanent, nasty scar on our national identity. 

As I grapple with the constant stream of news, I’ve had to think hard about how not to let myself slide into misery, disillusionment and despair.

These are six ways I’ve found to cope effectively: 

1. Read less news reports about the fires and more articles about the science behind the fires, and climate change. Rather than exposing myself constantly to every painful latest update (which I did all day Saturday – NOT A GREAT IDEA), I’m going to bring myself up to speed with the latest information from scientists on what is actually happening to our planet. The news media tends to add a dramatic twist to every fact – I want my information without a side of drama for now.

2. Not do stupid things like Google image searching ‘injured koalas bushfires’. I’M A MASOCHIST. DON’T DO THIS. Between injured koalas and the image of the kangaroo fried onto a fence that’s been doing the rounds, I need a break.

3. Follow some satirical news to occasionally lol in between the tears.

4. I researched organizations doing important work on the ground (which wasn’t hard, heaps of celebrities are posting these all over Instie), found a couple that resonated particularly strongly, and made donations.

5. I applied to become a volunteer for the Country Fire Service and Fauna Rescue SA. My travel schedule doesn’t facilitate long-term involvement at this stage, but I’m determined to give something of my time and energy.

6. Just temporarily pretending the whole US-Iran thingy isn’t happening, because, one ridiculous tragedy at a time. 

How are you coping? What are you doing to stay positive amid all the bad news?

image credits 7News Australia