"Even with problems of this magnitude, each of us can still find a way to make change," Obama wrote on Twitter

By Sean Neumann
January 09, 2020 05:38 PM

Former President Barack Obama is joining the world’s top scientists in urging leaders to seriously address climate change, as unprecedented fires rage across Australia, incinerating swaths of its ecosystem and killing at least 24 people and more than a billion animals.

“The catastrophic fires in Australia are the latest example of the very real and very urgent consequences of climate change,” Obama, 58, wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “It’s on us to stay focused and protect the one planet we’ve got for the next generation.”

He shared a New York magazine article criticizing “global apathy” toward the ongoing crisis.

The essay, written by David Wallace-Wells, describes the fires as a “climate disaster of unimaginable horror” that’s been raging for months, choking Australian cities with smoke, while the rest of the world is “hardly paying attention.” Wallace-Wells called it “disconcertingly familiar” to the 2017 and 2018 California wildfires.

“But the response to what’s transpired in Australia — again, over a period that has stretched into months — is unfamiliar, to me at least, and not in a good way,” Wallace-Wells wrote.

President Obama’s message on Thursday called on the world to pay attention to the continuing effects of climate change and work toward a solution.

“Even with problems of this magnitude, each of us can still find a way to make change,” Obama wrote. “That’s why I’m proud of young people like Alice Mahar, a[n] environmental activist in Melbourne.”

Mahar is the founder and director of the Corner Store Network, an organization “that strives to protect the future for people and the planet through food preservation and climate action,” according to the Obama Foundation‘s website.

Obama also shared a “how you can help” article about the fires.

Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty

Australia is the second-largest carbon emitter per capita in the world, behind the United States.

The country’s leaders have been accused of putting profits and loyalty to fossil fuel companies — including the coal mining industry — ahead of efforts to curb climate change.

Australian Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor told Reuters on Tuesday that “when it comes to reducing global emissions, Australia must and is doing its bit, but bushfires are a time when communities must unite, not divide.”

“Climate change didn’t cause these fires, but it sets the stage for making them more devastating,” Bob Deans of the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council told PEOPLE. “They start more easily. They spread faster. They’re harder to fight and they’re more damaging.”

Deans said that “because of hotter, drier weather, we are seeing the fire season starting sooner, lasting longer and becoming more devastating.”

The Australia fire crisis

The family of late wildlife expert and television star Steve Irwin told PEOPLE they’ve been taking in hundreds of animals and treating them at their wildlife hospital located at the Australian Zoo.

“The bushfires that we’re seeing at the moment are unlike anything in Australia’s history and they’re some of the biggest in the world,” said Irwin’s 16-year-old son, Robert. “For us, with the devastation we’ve seen with wildlife and with habitat, we’re really just doing our best here… to take in as many species as possible.”

Irwin’s widow, Terri, told PEOPLE the scene in Australia is “very dramatic.”

“It’s just heartbreaking watching these heroic firefighters also trying to save wildlife,” Terri added. “It’s unbelievable… when these animals are terribly injured, they’re hit by cars, they’re burned, they’re trying to seek solace wherever they can — it really is heartbreaking to watch.”