As if 2020 couldn’t get worse, September has brought a new crisis to add to the list: wildfires tearing through the West Coast of America.
Ravaging communities across California, Oregon, and Washington, the wildfires have burned thousands of homes and resulted in dozens of deaths. According to the American Red Cross, more than 220,000 people have been forced to evacuate their homes, and even more are left to live with thick, smoky air conditions wreaking havoc on their health during a global pandemic.
As the severity of the situation increases and Americans report hazy air and harsh weather from as far as the East Coast, many are left wondering what they can do to help.
While donating money is obviously of great benefit to relief organisations, the COVID-19 crisis has left millions struggling financially, so we’ve rounded up five ways to help the West Coast wildfires even if you can’t afford to donate money.
Educate yourself about climate change
The world is in a climate crisis and it’s imperative we understand how and why we got here. While global warming does not directly cause wildfires, they are certainly exaberated by its effects. According to data from the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity program, wildfires are getting worse— their frequency is increasing while burning more land, and climate change is a key driver of this. Educate yourself on climate change, its effects, prevention efforts, and most importantly, learn about the politics behind the issue. Frankly, we don’t have time to deny that climate change exists, so now it’s up to us to rectify this mess.
If you’re in America, make sure you register to vote and use that vote to make a change.
Use your voice— on social media and IRL
If you have social media — regardless of follower count — you have a platform. Sharing posts, photos, tweets, statistics, and links to donate are all incredibly helpful ways to spread awareness and remind others to do their part. But don’t forget to keep that same energy for your friends and family IRL. Now is not the time to shy away from difficult conversations. Talk about the crisis often and share your knowledge on the politics behind it. Send them fact-based articles, encourage them to follow relief efforts and hashtags, and share with them survivor’s stories to help them understand and empathise. Friends don’t let friends have ignorant opinions about fake news.
Oh and when you see those friends and family, wear a mask.
Write to your local government
If you’re on the West Coast, write letters to your local city and state government saying your upcoming vote will be largely based on how they respond to this crisis. Put pressure on those in power to take climate change and environmental issues seriously. If you live internationally, consider tweeting at American politicians or sending emails urging action.
Donating blood is a great way to support victims of the fires, including the firefighters and relief workers being injured on the job. You can give blood as often as every 12 weeks. Apply to donate blood with the Red Cross here.
Donate cash, not things
As we saw with the Australian bushfire disaster at the start of the year, relief efforts are discouraging people from donating things, such as clothing, toys, and food, and instead are asking for cash. The reason being that many organisations simply don’t have capacity to sort through goods, not to mention things may go to waste depending on resource needs. So if you can afford to donate, we suggest donating cash. Relief efforts will put your money directly where it needs to go and seems to be the preferred method of donation.
If you’re going to invest, the Red Cross is a good place to start. We also suggest looking into local non-profit organisations, which are vital to supporting and rebuilding communities throughout a disaster.