Dear Ms Wells,
I’m writing to you about the fires we’ve seen ravaging Australia for the past seven months.
I’ll be blunt: I’m terrified. Climate is changing now in ways that have been predicted by scientists since I was a kid in the 1970s. Global temperatures are heating[i]. Polar ice-caps are shrinking[ii]. Sea levels are rising steadily[iii]. The ocean is becoming more acidic[iv] as it absorbs atmospheric CO2. Here in Australia Ross Garnaut reviewed the climate data and in 2008, wrote,
Recent projections of fire weather (Lucas et al. 2007) suggest that fire seasons will start earlier, end slightly later, and generally be more intense. This effect increases over time, but should be directly observable by 2020. (Garnaut Climate Review Final Report, 2008, p.164)
Can you believe that? They knew. Even with a good, strong understanding of how science works, I can scarcely credit how devastatingly accurate that prediction has turned out to be.
And yet, here we are. Suffering through the first, catastrophic results of climate change: the fires have already killed upwards of a billion animals – a billion! (more, if we include frogs, insects and other invertebrates) – and are driving many species towards extinction[v] through the sheer scale of habitat destruction. The communities wrecked, the lives lost, the animals screaming – it’s unthinkable. My lungs burn, my throat aches, a crushing weight of grief settles on my shoulders, as I witness the horrific stories of suffering and survival emerging from the fire zone.
Awful as the fires are, however, they herald another, even greater, fear: in 2016, Forbes (you know, the rich list people? – yeah, them. About as far from a left-wing paper as you can get) predicted that unless capitalism changes drastically, humanity will be starving by 2050[vi]. And given the scale of this bushfire season’s ongoing destruction, and the knock-on effects that mass deforestation will have on insect populations and the water cycle, and thus, our crops and herds, alongside the extinctions and ocean warming/acidification, I can well believe this will come true, too.
Consider that: 2050. That’s just thirty years from now.
I will be in my early 80s; you, I’m guessing, in your 60s. My beautiful, big-eyed children will be in their early 40s. Your own beautiful daughter will be in her mid-thirties. How will they cope? How will they live? Some of our communities ran out of water, fighting these fires, and the next thirty years will bring more and bigger fires. More drought, more extinctions. Will our children have food? Water? These thoughts terrify me. They make me nauseated, sick with fear and grief.
And under and alongside that terror, is a huge, roaring fury. A profound, burning rage that in all that time, nothing has been done. That politicians of all stripes have just carried on business as usual – opening sports halls, supporting big coal, sledging the other side, like it’s a game, a matter of opinion, a matter of politics whether we act or not. Like it won’t hurt each and every one of our children. Not future children, imaginary ones, but the ones we have, right now. Mine. Yours.
This rage – I’ve never felt anything like it. I have to tamp it down hard, to write a coherent and civil letter like this. If I let my mind linger, I am wild to act – to get politicians’ attention, to stop this unfolding nightmare. I never went to a protest or a rally in my university years; such behaviour always seemed faintly alarming and unnecessary. But now, at 50, I find myself thinking that the Extinction Rebellion people have it right. Are, in fact, the only people who have it right.
I’ve played your game, you see. I did the high-achieving, “change the system from within” thing. I got my PhD and I taught at various Universities for over a decade, teaching students to read and think critically, to participate usefully in democracy, to be good, contributing citizens.
But now I see that good citizens have allowed you people – politicians – to make decisions of convenience, to land us in this hellish firestorm that’s burnt even 145-million-year-old rainforest, for god’s sake. We have allowed you to ignore forty years of ever-increasing warnings from climate scientists. We have allowed you to take funding from those who poison our environment, to support damming our biggest river systems and draining our water basins, to log our national parks, to dig yet more coal from the ground and pretend that sending it to be burnt overseas somehow mitigates our culpability. We have allowed you to fudge numbers and lie relentlessly about Australia’s emissions. We have allowed you to get away with thinking that asking one, polite question about reducing emissions is somehow meaningful. (Hint: It isn’t.) 2050, remember? It will be too late, by then. Far, far too late.
The fear is an emotional reaction, sure, but it isn’t irrational. It is based on hard science. It is based on reading accounts of scientists saying, “this is going even faster than we thought”. It is based on the evidence unfolding right now, here in Australia.
And the rage – well, I’m sorry to say it, Anika, since you’re young and female and supposed to be our hope for the future, but it’s for you. It’s for every time you don’t speak out against the inaction and the hypocrisy, both of our government and our so-called ‘Opposition’.
It’s for allowing party bulldogs on your facebook page to attack anyone who asks Labor to do more.
It’s for posting about taking your daughter to a football match (a football match – why not the bloody cricket, while you’re at it, eh?) when you could be sharing information that would lead your electorate to better understand your party’s policies – or indeed, agitating for stronger policies.
It’s for giving speeches about women in politics (a thing I would have cared passionately about, before) as though our children will be free to worry about jobs instead of food and water.
It’s for smiling nicely about your business, playing the exact same game that is already bringing so much hardship, pain and suffering, to so many people.
It’s for not appearing to give one hot damn about the world outside Lilley.
If you want to understand why people glue themselves to roads, Anika, look in the mirror: it is not just our government’s corruption but also your party’s mealy-mouthed inaction that drives us to such acts, in the desperate hope of conveying our need for you to act urgently.
Oh, relax. I’m not inciting anyone to violence and I haven’t participated in any myself. I’m just saying, I understand it, viscerally. I can absolutely see why so many have lost faith in ‘the system’ and feel they have no other choice but to behave thus. I’m lucky. I’m well-educated, highly literate. I can put my rage and grief into words and I am hugely grateful to the wonderful women at FireFeels.wordpress.com for creating the space and encouraging us to share. To be anything but ‘quiet Australians’.
I have so much fear and rage, I cannot be quiet. As I go about my daily chores – caring for my children and my elderly, demented mother – my heart aches and the words boil in my head. I am so angry – so bloody angry – but I know exactly what to do with my anger. I will use it to speak for others, the ones who cannot put their rage and fear into words. I will use it to get your attention.
So here’s my challenge: Stop being a good girl, Anika. Start behaving like a grown woman with a child to protect. Speak and act like you believe in the thousands of scientific papers, over forty years’ worth of evidence, showing that we are on the brink of irrecoverable calamity. Show us that you understand. Show us that you care. Make a noise, Anika. Be a leader, not a party puppet.
I’m doing this, and oh, so much more. What are you doing?