Celebrities rally to Australian fires, decrying climate change

The devastating Australian wildfires have set off a spree of celebrity donations and activism, with Hollywood stars opening their wallets to battle the blaze — and raising their voices about climate change.

Bushfires have burned millions of acres across Australia in recent weeks, killing an estimated 1 billion animals and more than 20 people. On Monday, President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS troops knew about attack on al-Asad airbase, were able to take shelter: report Democrats expand ground game to woo Latinos in Nevada Trump tweets message of support to Iranian protesters: ‘Your courage is inspiring’ MORE offered to assist the Australian government in fighting the fires that have ripped through the continent.

Several high-profile figures are attempting to combat the flames by combining both their massive platforms and their checkbooks. Singer Pink, along with Nicole Kidman and her husband Keith Urban, appeared to kick off the big money donating trend last week. The actress and the country music star — who both grew up in Australia and own a home there — donated $500,000 to the Rural Fire Service. “Bombshell” star Kidman said in a message on Instagram announcing the donation with her husband that the group is “doing and giving so much right now.”

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That same day, “Just Like Fire” singer Pink also said she would be giving half a million dollars. “I am totally devastated watching what is happening in Australia right now with the horrific bushfires,” the Pennsylvania native wrote on Twitter. “My heart goes out to our friends and family in Oz.”

More Hollywood power players — many with ties to Australia — quickly followed suit.

“Thor” actor Chris Hemsworth pledged $1 million to relief efforts, while urging his fans to dig deep into their pockets.

“Hopefully you guys can chip in too,” the 36-year-old Australian performer wrote to his more than 39 million Instagram followers on Tuesday. “Every penny counts so whatever you can muster up is greatly appreciated,” Hemsworth added, including a link to organizations focused on dealing with the massive bush fires. Money raised, Hemsworth said in a video, “goes directly to the firefighters, the people in the frontlines, the people who have suffered, the communities that have taken a hit and are in desperate need of our support.”

In less than a week, a slew of other big names have lined up with financial contributions.

Discussing the fires during a concert tour stop in Sydney, Elton John told the audience, “There are people out there who have lost their lives trying to save homes. There are people who have lost their lives and their homes.”

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The “Candle in the Wind” singer said the “plight of the animals and lost of their habitat” was “on a biblical scale and heartbreaking,” before announcing a $1 million donation to applause from the crowd.

Beauty mogul and reality TV star Kylie Jenner — who faced criticism for posing in a pair of mink slippers on social media right after saying the number of animal deaths in Australia “breaks my heart” — also gave $1 million to relief efforts in the world’s sixth largest country, according to People magazine.

It’s not the first time that the entertainment world has coughed up cash following cataclysmic natural disasters, points out Maria Di Mento. The Chronicle of Philanthropy staff writer notes that several stars made charitable donations after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 and Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area in 2017.

“It’s really crucial that these people who have such visibility step up and give large dollar amounts. I think it probably spurs some of their fans to give likewise,” Di Mento says.

Erica Harris, an associate professor of accounting at Florida International University who’s researched the influence star-studded endorsements have on charitable donations, tells ITK, “Celebrity support for the Australian wildfires has likely generated additional support and attention for the relief efforts.”

While no one would likely argue with giving money to worthy causes, Di Mento says in the larger context of philanthropy, donations from celebs are “comparatively very small when you look at major donors as a whole.”

Beyond the dollar amount, the real value might be in celebrities using their reach to spread awareness and encourage their fanbases to give. “Their platform is huge and deeply valuable,” says Di Mento.

On Facebook, a fundraiser for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund started last week by Australian actress and comedian Celeste Barber became the largest global charitable giving event ever on the site. A Facebook spokesman confirmed to ITK that the effort so far has raised more than $33 million from upwards of 1.2 million donors around the world.

After the Australian fires, other stars are also shining the spotlight on climate change.

Russell Crowe was unable to attend last week’s Golden Globes in Los Angeles last week because he was “at home in Australia protecting his family from the devastating brush fires,” presenter Jennifer Aniston said during the awards ceremony.  

Aniston shared a message from Crowe after the actor won an award for his role as former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes in “The Loudest Voice,” saying, “Make no mistake, the tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate change-based.”

“We need to act based on science, move our global workforce to renewable energy, and respect our planet for the unique and amazing place it is,” Crowe said in his remarks.

Cate Blanchett also took to the Golden Globes stage to urge environmental action, saying, “There are a lot of Australians in the room tonight, and I know we’re all very grateful for the call-outs to our fellow compatriots who are suffering under the bushfires.”

“When one country faces a climate disaster, we all face a climate disaster,” Blanchett said, “so we’re in it together.”

While the government has pointed to a lightning storm for sparking nearly 200 of the fires in recent days, experts say that the flames being experienced in Australia have been exacerbated by climate change. 

A 2018 government report warned that the changing climate in Australia could result in natural hazards occurring at an “unimagined scale.”

Stanford University climate professor Noah Diffenbaugh told The Hill last week that long-term warming has “increased the frequency and severity of severe heat across the world.”

Other famous faces have volunteered their time — and in some cases the clothes off their backs — to aid Australia’s efforts.

“Fleabag” creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge announced an auction for the couture suit she wore to the Golden Globes.

“The money that is raised from it will go towards relief in Australia,” Waller-Bridge told reporters. “It’s a beautiful idea from the team, so I’m really excited to be part of that.”

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Lizzo was also eyed packing hampers at an Australian food bank this week for communities affected by the fires. The “Truth Hurts” singer had performed at the Sydney Opera House earlier in the week.  

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