[1/6/20] – Australian Wildfires

In the current wildfire crisis occurring in Australia, some raging since July 1st, nearly 13 million acres of land have burned. That is nearly double that total amount of land burned in the United States every year; every year an average of 7 million acres of land is burned due to wildfires in the United States. Thousands of Australians are displaced and now homeless. Air pollution is at record levels due to the smoke the sky. New Zealanders are living with a cloud of smoke over their heads and affecting their air quality, too. Half a billion animals are dead. 8 people are dead. What is the cause of this catastrophic event? A growing number of scientists and scholars are pointing to climate change, noting the inordinately high temperatures of late in Australia and a recent drought that devastated much of the continent. For this week’s discussion, we are focusing on the experience of living through a wildfire and causes and consequences of human action (and inaction) with regards to our habitat. Specifically, we focus on the concepts of anomie, environmental sociology, and human ecology.

Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for Australian Wildfires

Learning Objectives

LO1: Explain how social group affiliation contributes to the experience of living through a wildfire.

LO2: Identify examples of human causes and consequences of wildfires.

LO3: Discuss how the experience of living through a wildfire could lead one to a sense of anomie.


‘Our lives were in there’: Australians cope with destruction as fires blaze on

Bush fires in Australia continued to burn in parts of Queensland and New South Wales on Nov. 13. Read more: https://wapo.st/34R7sU2.

Bushfire smoke choking cities across the country | 7.30

Health authorities have warned children and the elderly to stay indoors as smoke from bushfires choke cities across the Australia. In some places the pollution exceeds levels seen in Beijing and Delhi.

Australia fires: Morrison heckled by bushfire victims – BBC News

Australia is grappling with massive bushfires fuelled by record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought. In the worst-affected state, New South Wales, fires have burned more than 4 million hectares (40,000 sq km or 9.9 million acres) destroying more than 1,300 houses and forcing thousands to seek shelter elsewhere. Across the country, 20 people have died – including three volunteer firefighters – with most of the casualties in New South Wales.

Discussion Questions

From a social-interactionist perspective, how much one’s social class status influence one’s experience of living through a wildfire? What sorts of practical opportunities for survival are dictated by the disposable assets and resources available to human beings? What social factors might influence folks of higher social status to help those without means, while others refuse?
From a conflict perspective, what groups (or subgroups) of populations living in Australia and New Zealand are at the most significant risk for disease and other illness related to the wildfires? How might these health disparities be linked to macro-level forces such as economy, government, education, and healthcare?
What aspects of your social life do you believe would be most disrupted in the event of a catastrophic wildfire? How might this absence of norms influence your decision making for your own survival and that of your family? What social norms carry such a heavy taboo that you would never consider violating it? Why? How do wildfires disrupt human ecology?
What contributions can sociologists make to the discussion of policy related to addressing climate change at the global level? Why is it important to understand patterns and trends in social behavior, specifically in groups, when attempting to create policy that will help the most amount of people, and hurt the least?
Why might some people be so adamant about denying climate change? What elements of socialization contribute most mightily to one’s denial of climate change as a reality? How might climate denial be influenced by social factors such as gender, race, political affiliation, sexuality, employment status, and more?





Sociology can benefit the discussion of climate-based policy because…
a. sociologists create the most moral solutions to the problems of climate change.
b. sociologists are more politically minded than most other scientists.
c. sociologists bring a critical perspective to the issue of climate change.
d. sociologists are less likely to be biased when looking at the data on climate change.

Which of the following is NOT an example of a sub-group population living in and around Australia that is disproportionately affected by the pollution caused by the wildfires?
a. Homeless populations
b. Indigenous populations
c. Female populations
d. None of the above

Emile Durkheim used the term _______ to describe a state of normless experience by humans during times of rapid social change.
a. Deviance
b. Anomie
c. Egotism
d. Breakage

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/WildandFree

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