Beds are Burning

Aleks Dawson
MFA GD 2020

How can we dance
when our Earth is turning?
How do we sleep
while our beds are burning?
The time has come
to say fair's fair.
To pay the rent—
to pay our share.
Midnight Oil, “Beds Are Burning,” 1987.

I spent almost every summer at this beach as a kid.

Bushfires at Malua Bay, NSW South Coast, Australia. January 2020.
Photo: Alex Coppel / The Herald Sun. Used with permission.

This photo was taken shortly after Australia marked its hottest day on record, and at the peak of its worst fire season in history. In total, 46 million acres burned: the equivalent of Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Maryland combined. In many cases, fires burned right up to the beach, forcing the Australian Navy to evacuate thousands of people stranded on the sand. All told, dozens lost their lives, almost ten thousand buildings were destroyed, and researchers estimate over a billion animals were killed—many of them endangered species.

Simon Adamczyk rescues a burned koala on Kangaroo Island, southwest of
Adelaide. March 2020. Image: David Mariuz / AAP.

From my desk in Providence, I could do little else but look on in despair as my country burned. It was during this time that I began writing my thesis, and it is now in the midst of COVID-19 that I finish it. In both crises it's been difficult to make—much less justify my making—while the world appears to teeter. Countless days I’ve sat to write this, only to lose myself in the horrors of the day, or the injustices of the present. Many times I’ve lost my bearings, and more than once I’ve lost my temper. How do we continue with the pantomime of the everyday while everything around us is falling apart?

All I know is we cannot go on without acknowledging the central and devastating role we are playing both in our own health and that of the planet.