To Scott Morrison: Can you hear our country weeping?

Can you hear our country weeping?  

‘Only 1.3% of global emissions’ you say,
Yet we are only 0.3% of the world’s population,
Include coal exports, our emissions jump to 4%,
Doesn’t look so good then does it?
But ‘Jobs and growth, jobs and growth’

Fires looming behind the treeline CC-BY-NC-SA

Our country burns, homes destroyed, people dead,
Precious habitat lost, wildlife devastated,
Farmers despair, livestock starves,
Rivers run dry, dams are empty,
But ‘Jobs and growth, jobs and growth’

‘Building our economy, securing your future’,
So how’s that going?
Businesses struggling, people angry,
Firefighters exhausted, ‘Quiet Australians’ protesting,
But ‘Jobs and growth, jobs and growth’

Can you even hear our country weeping?

By JCL, Denmark WA

To Scott Morrison: The scars will go deep, and many will remain unseen

Dear Scott Morrison,

“We’re still waiting for the Earth to start simmering, but by 2020 the bubbles will be appearing.” Science editor Tim Radford, 2004.

Smoke and fire fill the skies. CC-BY-NC-SA

I write from smoky Cunjurong Point, 25 days after the fires first descended upon us. Some days are like this, others are clear. There doesn’t seem any rhyme or reason. But we are the “lucky” ones, there is little active fire in our locality. For now. Our race with the calendar is not yet over.

Following a monumental fire fighting effort, 8 days without power or road access, and countless acts of generosity and hard work, services and routines are gradually returning here. What remains is the daily reminder of the impact.

All 13 kms of our access road are burnt on both sides, and the damage continues up and down the Princes Highway. The roadside is littered with the carcasses of massive trees, deemed too dangerous to be left standing. In places, the scene is like a cross between a construction zone and a post apocalyptic wasteland.

Glimpses of regeneration. CC-BY-NC-SA

Green shoots are appearing on the verges. In time, they will spring from blackened trunks, where the fire was not so hot that it killed the trees. We wait with a mixture of hope and trepidation for animal life to follow and re-establish. This could take years, but no-one knows for sure. The Australian bush recovers from fire, but it’s not usually required to do so over such a large area at the same time.

Currently, the animals are seeking refuge in our remaining patches of green, two of which are soon to be developed. We are doing our best to support these de facto sanctuaries and to raise awareness of their significance. Not only have they become crucial for the recovery of our local ecosystems, they are mental oases on our daily travels through a landscape of charcoal and ash.

Waves of ash remain as the tide recedes, and smoke blankets the sky. CC-BY-NC-SA

We see many reports of communities looking after each other, of how we are a nation that comes together to overcome adversity. This is certainly true. But the scars will go deep, and many will remain unseen. Every day we tell stories – our own and those of others – to share the burden, provide support and attempt to come to terms with our experiences and their implications for our future.

In our neighbouring communities, lives and scores of houses were lost. Two people remain critically injured. Recently, we met with a group of friends; the usual crowd from school and sport, only this time things were very different. One family had lost their home. A beacon of sustainable living, the product of years of careful planning and execution, the house had fallen victim to the fire’s speed and ferocity. Others told of stamping out fires on their driveway so they could evacuate, driving along the highway between walls of flame. One received a life-saving phone call while defending her home, imploring her to seek shelter. Having retreated to the pool, where she had previously stowed her SCUBA gear, she spent anxious minutes under water while the fire passed over her property, emerging to find the house intact.

Leafless and lifeless. CC-BY-NC-SA

This is just a fragment of our local experience. So many other places and people are still facing this threat, many months after it first began. The scale of the emergency defies comprehension. And it is the latest in a string of catastrophes from FNQ to Tasmania in the last 12 months alone, amassing against the backdrop of a long and crippling drought.

I feel an obligation to keep people’s stories alive, because I am scared. Scared that communities pulling together in the wake of natural disasters is no longer enough, either in a practical sense or as a defining narrative. Scared of the relentlessness of the news cycle. Scared of the intransigence of governments that ignored experts in their field who had been trying to send warnings for months, even years, about the likely danger of coming fire seasons, due to prolonged drought and high temperatures. And scared that, in the face of the unfolding disaster, tenacious ideologies are preventing the complex issue of climate from being addressed with requisite rigour and integrity.

Pyrocumulonimbus clouds fill the sky. CC-BY-NC-SA

It is in our nature to see disaster as an aberration, from which the pendulum will swing back to a stable centre. In many ways, this has served us well. But the game has gradually been changing. What was once a coping strategy may now prove an Achilles heel – economically, politically and existentially.

Many people in our community share these concerns, and this is adding to the collective mental health burden. Commentators and first hand accounts have used words such as grief, trauma, anguish and fury. This is not hyperbole. This is lived experience.

We can’t change where this all started. What matters now is what happens next. May people’s stories not be forgotten, diminished or distorted. May expertise and experience be valued. May we listen, learn and adapt.

Corinna

January 2020

To Anika Wells: Under and alongside the terror, is a huge, roaring fury. I’ve never felt anything like it.

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?

Rebecca Farley


[i]https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/details.cgi?aid=4626

[ii]https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/145641/2019-arctic-sea-ice-minimum-is-second-lowest

[iii]https://www.science.org.au/learning/general-audience/science-climate-change/6-how-are-sea-levels-changing

[iv]https://news-oceanacidification-icc.org/2019/12/19/an-annual-update-on-the-state-of-ocean-acidification-science-in-alaska-2019-update/

[v]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/04/ecologists-warn-silent-death-australia-bushfires-endangered-species-extinction

[vi]https://www.forbes.com/sites/drewhansen/2016/02/09/unless-it-changes-capitalism-will-starve-humanity-by-2050/#481412317ccc

To ScoMo: My grief is large, expansive and desiccated. I’m dried out and cried out.

Dear Prime Minister,

In the decade of my birth, governments around the world became aware of an issue known then as ‘global warming’. In the early 1990s, the issue was of such concern that an international framework agreement was negotiated, which recognised the long-term and incredibly serious nature of this issue now called ‘climate change’. In the decades that followed, successive Australian governments had the opportunity to show leadership on this issue – to find new and better ways to power our communities, to find better ways to relate to the more-than-human world (sometimes called ‘natural resource management’ or ‘biodiversity conservation’).

At the same time, people were waking up from the colonial dream and realising the horrific impacts of invasion, colonisation, genocide, successive policies of dispossession and assimilation directed at Aboriginal peoples. We stole their Country, we stole their culture, we stole their children – and yet they are still here working to protect, love and restore Country and broken families.

These issues are very much connected – our disavowal of the Country that supports us is very much linked with our postcolonial disavowal of the peoples whose culture is so strongly centred around connection to this Country.

I write about these issues as facts, but it is the feelings connected with them that I really want you to take on board today.

As a nation, we knew better – and we had the opportunity to do better; instead, we let racism and greed reign supreme. The efforts of elected representative after elected representative was to ridicule, ignore, dismiss and deny those who care about these issues. You kept so many of us quiet – fearful of the ridicule.

Today, we see on a large scale how our way of living – and our denial of others’ ways of living – are so connected to the unfolding tragedy of climate crisis. The scale of drought and bushfire we are currently experiencing is the direct result of centuries of denial – of Aboriginal culture and proper relationship with Country.

I’ve been concerned for decades now and somehow that concern has made me a pariah. I used to care what people like you thought; I used to want to ensure my actions were ‘calm’, ‘measured’ and ‘socially acceptable’ – now I see that such responses are hardly reasonable in light of what we are collectively facing. I’ve carefully studied environmental law and policy and applied myself diligently; I’ve worked hard to contribute to the community in a range of ways. And yet, in my experience, these years of living diligently and quietly are wasted – perhaps because of the diligence and quietness (the desire not to make a fuss) of myself and others, those in power still don’t take the science on climate change seriously. With all those false emissions reductions, post-Kyoto credits and business-as-usual measures disguised as climate policy, we are the laughing-stock of the planet.   

I am deeply ashamed to be an Australian at this point in time – and I don’t want to be. So, you must know that I won’t be fearful anymore.

I won’t be calm, measured or socially acceptable anymore.

Here is part of my story, and why I will be taking direct action for my future and my children’s future:

On 9 November 2019, my partner’s family lost their home – now his father (in his early 60s) lives in a tent facing the prospect of rebuilding a home that took him over 20 years to build, a home that has been retrofitted for his physically disabled wife, who has spent the last three months in a rehabilitation facility over two hours away, because there is nowhere else for her to go.

My partner had spent a lot of time on the north coast, supporting his father to clean up, supporting his brother with autism to manage with the stress, visiting his mother in hospital – at a loss for ways to help. They are poor people, you see, and have used a meagre inheritance to buy a house for their son with autism in South Grafton – and they pay the mortgage for this house with their disability and carer’s pensions. They don’t really have the money or capacity to rebuild. They’ll probably never recover – and they’ll definitely never forget the funding cuts to the Rural Fire Service or the decades of disappointing climate policy that has put them in this difficult situation.

On 29 December 2019, my partner returned home from visiting his family on the north coast to our home on the far south coast. On 30 December 2019, we packed a few things and fled our home in the bush – prepared to lose our meagre collection of furniture and possessions, but not our lives. That evening, the so-called Badja fire destroyed a large portion of places known as the Wadbilliga National Park, localities of Upper Brogo (where we live), Verona, Quaama, Wandella, Yowrie and the town of Cobargo. For the record, I support the people of Cobargo – you should have listened to them, their anger and frustration. You shouldn’t walk away from the people you claim to represent.

Our contributor’s home. CC-BY-NC-SA

We’ve now been displaced for six weeks – we’re not quite sure how long we’ll be displaced. We are currently staying with some very generous friends and often feeling physically and emotionally shattered by the heat, smoke and chaos. Our little cottage was burnt but not destroyed – everything else on the property where we live has been totally destroyed, including another family’s home. They are utterly devastated, as are we.

Fires are still burning – so many rainforests that never burned have been lost, so many animals (those that didn’t burn alive) now hungrily wander the match-stick hills towards starvation. It’s crushing. Last night some more friends lost their homes – some of them Rural Fire Service members who put their lives at risk to save the homes and lives of others in their communities. So many forests have burned. So much life, gone forever – and that is the fault of the successive governments over the past few decades (including yours) that have failed to take climate change seriously.

Ash and smoke blanket what remains of our contributor’s home CC-BY-NC-SA

It’s not really the personal tragedy that I want to convey here. Sadness is more than a deep well for me – it is a large, expansive dam imposed upon my inner landscape. It is all dried up and full of animal skeletons. My grief is large, expansive and desiccated. I’m dried out and cried out. I’m devastated with the scale of the loss – and devastated with the scale of the loss in other parts of the world where the effects of greed and racism are also being felt – where communities are starving because of drought, because of climate change.

Remains of a burnt dwelling at our contributor’s home CC-BY-NC-SA

Despite my sorrow, I am experiencing this crisis in a very privileged way – with a place to stay, food to eat, clean water to drink and, sometimes, there’s even clean air to breathe too.

What you need to know is that I’m so angry. I’m furious. My anger is explosive, suppressed by years of being acceptable and being so immensely frustrated by the democratically elected representatives who carry lumps of coal into parliament and laugh – who blame Aboriginal peoples for the poverty and related effects that have befallen them. How fucking dare those so-called representatives? How dare YOU? How dare you allow this to continue?

As a nation, we have known for years these bushfires have been coming – and all the associated impacts.

And we did nothing to stop it – in fact, we’ve continued to accelerate these impacts.

We allowed successive governments to pretend that their actions around the edges were enough. We knew they were lying.

We’ve known for years that we need a new way of living – a new way of being with the world. We’ve known for years that Indigenous ways of being can work with Country and not against it.

It can’t all be about mainstream ‘jobs and growth’ – that approach leads to tragedy and, ironically, causes a massive loss of ‘jobs and growth’.

We need to see ourselves as connected to the more-than-human world. We breathe because of healthy forests and oceans. We eat because of healthy rivers, and healthy forests that bring rainfall and the diverse lifeforms that nourish and pollinate. These aren’t simply ‘ecosystem services. This life is our life. If we care about life and want to live, it’s not optional whether we protect life and it’s not about the ‘inner city green vote’.

It’s about life. It’s about respecting life, loving life, allowing life to continue.

How dare you – or any elected representative – take such decisive action against life? How dare you allow large-scale mining operations that will pump more greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere and drain our waterways? Knowing all that you know, with your CSIROs and scientific reports – how dare you? How can you even fathom such things?

How dare you call yourself a leader and not show leadership? How dare you lie to the people that you represent that what you are doing is enough? How dare you smugly refer to climate adaptation – as if it’s a simple matter of hazard reduction – when you have had scientists, experts and informed policymakers tell you otherwise for years? You knew about the problems on the way, and now unfolding – and we all know about the solutions. How dare you not embrace those solutions? How dare you do anything other than support live, respect life, and love life? How dare you not tell the truth? How dare you dine with Rupert Murdoch, such a devious disinformant on the climate change issue, while our Country burns?

You won’t get away with this. We will hold you accountable.

And I won’t be quiet anymore.

Sincerely,

Anonymous contributor from Brogo, NSW 2550

To Zali Steggall: I had hoped never to experience this fear and grief

I have been a climate activist and working in sustainable development for over a decade. The scenes from the bush fires have brought out fear and grief that I had been hoping never to experience – and fighting for others not to experience – for so many years. I attended a climate grief workshop to help me start to address these feelings, during which I drew the following two pictures.


One is the scene I just can’t get out of my head of standing on a fairly isolated beach in Broken Bay with my two year-old son as the sky was golden-orange and ash-flakes snowed down upon us. There were children in the water who were laughing and playing, trying to catch the ashes with a goal of catching the biggest one possible. Did they know what it was? It was a very apocalyptic scene. It was very hard to accept that it was really  happening, and we were not even in the worst of the fire zones.

CC-BY-NC-SA Lisa Heinz


The other is a representation of how I feel – sad and frozen, but also angry. I’m just waiting for that anger to thaw me out of my frozen state so I can start flowing and acting (and activisting!) again.

CC-BY-NC-SA Lisa Heinz


I know that you are committed to climate action, I voted and campaigned for you because of it. I am writing to remind you of how urgently Australia needs to take bold action. I will stand behind your climate efforts, but also push you for more brave and robust efforts for the sake of the future and younger generations.


From Lisa Heinze

To Dave Sharma: There is a feeling of determination in me that would like to persist

A picture drawn by Catherine in a climate grief workshop
CC-BY-NC-SA Catherine Sarah Young
Artist, Scientia scholar UNSW, Obama Leader: Asia Pacific

I feel like I moved to Australia to escape some of the world’s worst crises only to realise that it wasn’t possible. I feel the same level of anxiety that has plagued me through all the apocalypses I have had, and yet there is a feeling of determination in me that would like to persist despite all these.

Catherine

Letter from an expat: Australia has become a place where we fear to bring up our two sons

Dear ‘Albo’, Tanya Plibersek, Peter Khalil and possibly Ged Kearney,

I have lived in each of your electorates for a stage in my life but as I’m an Australian expat now please forgive me for addressing this to you all. Below is a letter I sent to my colleagues last week in anticipation of the conversations I would inevitably have.

I just have one question for you.

IS now a good time to work WITH the Greens for the good of the country?

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I write this letter with a very heavy heart to briefly outline the terrible bushfire crisis that continues in my homeland of Australia. I have (thankfully and gratefully) been on leave for a couple of weeks, but I fear when I return to work I will have trouble talking about this when, and if, people ask. So this note is to let you all know what I can tell you- without choking up and bursting in to tears.

Firstly, I should let you know that our immediate families are safe and relatively unscathed. But we have had friends who have been evacuated from fire effected areas, dear friends fighting the fires in NSW, families of friends who have lost everything and yet others who have lost pets and had their property significantly damaged.

I’m sure you have seen some of the apocalyptic images circulating in the media and, yes, as they show this is a very real climate crisis. As of today January 9th, a total of 15.6 million acres of Australian ‘bush’, temperate Eucalyptus forests and ancient unspoiled rainforests have been burned. To get a sense of this scale, I have mapped this area onto Southern Sweden – you can see the area is bigger than the entire nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania!

The extent of Australia’s 2019/2020 bushfires if mapped onto Sweden

It has been estimated that up to a billion animals have been killed by the fires, 24 human deaths to this point (this only includes those directly killed by the fire), over 1000 homes lost, crops decimated, millions of litres of milk spoiling because of lack of refrigeration and transportation, the greater part of Kangaroo Island razed and approximately 1/3 of South Australia’s wine grape crops destroyed. It is a truly desperate situation.

You have probably also already seen the very politicised debate these fires have triggered and I would like to make short mention of this as well. But before I do a little bit of personal history for context. My partner and I are what you might call pretty sincere environmentalists. Apart from trying to live sustainable home lives and all that involves with a small family, I have spent my adult life teaching. This teaching at both school and university has been in a very broad sense focusing on the ‘big ideas’ of environmental sustainability, social justice, Geography, Indigenous knowledges, civics and citizenship and intangible cultural heritage. However, around 2013 most subjects and courses in the teacher education school of the university in which I worked began to be cut. Focus shifted to how the faculty could rise to the top of global rankings and there was less and less opportunity to continue having conversations with new teachers about any of these issues. This chipping away of important subjects and opportunities for beginning teachers to engage in these issues and assist them in learning how to teach these issues was a catalyst to look overseas for a position in the area of sustainability education. Classic Aussie ‘brain drain’ I’m afraid and one of the main reasons we are here in Sweden now. As you know, most of my work here in Gothenburg is in our Education for Sustainable Development program which I am passionate about.

My partner on the other hand, spent over a decade in alternative energy research (solar cell development), and was really at the forefront of global R & D in the area. Also around 2013 there was a very large shift in government policy in relation to scientific research funding and priorities. It became untenable for him (or indeed anyone) to continue researching in the area of renewable energy. The conservative government that remains in control of parliament today, although having one leader that at least paid lip service to climate change, was increasingly controlled by a group of far-right climate deniers and the ubiquitous (and quite frankly, evil) Murdoch media. These two groups have been able to stifle any advancement of climate policy and were able to oust the one leader that even recognised climate change as a thing.

The current prime minister Scott Morrison has come under severe criticism during the fires, which is not really surprising given his actions both before and during them. This man has a shocking track record of DOING NOTHING in relation to climate change. Actually he has done something – like taking a lump of coal onto the floor of parliament and taunting (laughing at) the opposition about being scared of it.

Video footage of Scott Morrison’s lump of coal performance

He continues to approve large scale coal mines that not only ruin the environment in totality but also ‘steal’ the scarce and precious water resources of the country that is on fire. One of Australia’s great living treasures author Richard Flanagan wrote this piece in the NYTimes which can give you a much better (and poetic) sense of the political problems than I can……

So the shifts in Australian society towards a meaner, less accepting and egalitarian place have been occurring for a while.  The lack of climate and environmental policy, when added to increasing and continuing cuts to and polarisation of education, widening of the gap between the rich and poor, and the abhorrent treatment of asylum seekers and refugees made Australia a place that we feared to bring up our two sons. It is truly awful to watch what is happening in that beautiful country now, but I hope that it is the ‘kick up the bum’ Australia needs.

Sally

To the ALP: I have never grieved like I am grieving now

The following is an email sent to a federal Labor MP in regional Victoria. The contributor who wishes to remain anonymous originally emailed her MP regarding her ‘concerns about this catastrophic fire season, the whole mess about Adani’, and her ‘grief regarding the tragic loss of our wildlife and birdlife’.

Her MP’s response included the following:
‘Coking coal is needed to produce steel to assist the transition to renewables.  It’s an essential ingredient to building new wind turbines and solar farms.

Our contributor says she ‘didn’t argue that point because I am not a scientist. But I did respond to the effect that nothing whatsoever justifies Labor’s support of the Adani Coal mine’.

The following is the subsequent letter our contributor sent to her MP:

‘Yesterday morning on the ABC (thank God for the ABC!) there was an interview with Professor Ross Garnaut who is a well accredited economist with a credible understanding of the scientific alternatives to the use of coal to produce steel. Professor Garnaut made it clear that the technology for producing renewables without coal has been suggested several years ago.

I think that it’s simply expedient for politicians (both Liberal and Labor) to continue to make claims about the need for coal as a transition to renewables. And it isn’t true. Whatever the science says, what I believe is that if there is not currently a way to do so then we have to STOP what we are doing RIGHT NOW, not in 2 or 3 years from now, I mean RIGHT NOW, and pour our scientific pursuits into developing these alternative processes, again RIGHT NOW!

I think it is despicable for the Labor party to support Adani, no matter what the proposed justification. Because there is no legitimate justification. To those of us out here who care and care deeply, it just confirms in our minds that the Labor party is just like the Liberal party – the only thing that matters is money – the unholy $. For the Liberal party is big business $, for the Labor party it’s union $. When Albanese came out and made those ridiculous statements about Australia’s coal being superior to other coal and therefore we are doing the right thing by selling coal I just laughed at the pathetic rationalisation for appalling leadership and political behaviour.

I agree people from the mining industry need retraining. But they won’t even consider that until they have to… Don’t get me wrong. I am not blaming specific individuals. I know that none of us are innocent in this. We all use products that rely on energy. I fly in aeroplanes frequently. I sit in office blocks with air conditioning and/or heating. We all know that we have to change our lifestyles so none of us are innocent. But coal mining is particularly at the forefront of the need to change and change NOW.

About me: I am 68 years old. I was born on a wheat and sheep farm out the back of NSW. I vividly remember being about 5 (maybe 6) years old the first time my father gave me a hessian wheat bag and taught me how to put spot fires out. Beside my sister I stood in front of our farmhouse and beat those spot fires with my hessian bag while my father and mother and the other local farmers worked closer to the fire front. I’ve lived through repeated droughts. I moved to the city for employment and spent many years in urban Australia. But I made sure I raised my children within arms length of the bush because I wanted them to know what Australia means beyond the tram tracks and the city lights.  I am what you would call dinki-di, true-blue, ridgy-didge, and I’ve got a Vegemite rose in every cheek. I am Australian to the very core, my roots go deep into this soil of our land.

I have never grieved like I am grieving now. I find myself in tears every day, unpredictable, unexpected, and inconvenient tears when I least expect it. I can’t speak to my husband without crying. For the past 20-30 years I have donated funds to Australian Wild Life causes every week, from every wage I receive (and yes I am still working). Poor Fellow, My Country!!!! And we have our politicians to blame for ignoring our pleas for help. Money, always money, that’s what wins. Development before Environment. Jobs before Environment. Every time. Political gobbledespeak, justifications, rationalisations, denials, placating, and on and on it goes. Now they’re going to blame the undergrowth………and then they’ll burn more of our animals and birdlife out of their homes month after month. There have never been fires like this. And recently I choked when I saw a news article stating something like: “Climate Scientists say Australia has recovered from fires in the past and we can do that again”. Already they’re out there with the political ‘spin’ to try to deflect the anger. It sickens me and I am not deceived.

I am gratified with the youth response to climate change. When I marched in Melbourne against the Adani Coal Mine many of the young people around me thanked me for being there. You know what? We’ve been there for decades before them…….we’ve laid the groundwork….but maybe it’s now that the very real crisis is upon us that our future generations will be seen to lead us forward.

I am grateful for the replies from your office. But if you really do understand and care, then “go gettem girl!” Stop hiding behind the “we need jobs” banner which is just another excuse for doing nothing to govern this land for our future. History will respect you.

To Ged Kearney: These fires feel like the end

Dear Ged

These fires feel like the end.

Teaching climate change, sustainability and environment education over the last 15 years, one would think I would be prepared for this.

Intellectually and politically I understood the science, the statistics and the solutions.

Spiritually I had no idea what to expect, what to prepare for.

Until this moment, I have maintained a level of buoyancy, what some people call ‘active hope’ – not denial of the “potential” severity, not deluded that regardless of what we do everything will essentially be alright, but up until now, not despairing. Now, my tone and tenor in talking about the climate crisis has changed irrevocably.

It’s so hard to concentrate on work when fires rage, smoke engulfs our bodies, becomes our breath. So hard to focus, when the atmosphere is so thick with smog seeping into everything, every body. This sounds trivial when compared with people dying, others losing everything and an estimated 1.25 billion – BILLION – animals dying.

After three weeks of being alert, consuming an endless stream of news updates, engaging in ongoing conversations, teary hugs, consoling, distracting and caring for children, I am spiritually and emotionally exhausted. And yet I’m in no direct danger of the fires, so comparatively, I am fine, and immediately I think of those who are in the direct line of danger. My heart goes out to all of the people, animals, ecosystems and whole communities who have been killed, displaced, pushed to extinction or the edge of extinction and who will never really recuperate.

And yet, when I say I’m in no direct danger, that is of course not entirely accurate. My 11 year old (like many millions of people) has asthma. The air in Melbourne (Wurundjeri Land) last Monday was hazardous. This affects us all long-term; it affects asthmatics and others with depleted lung capacity, imminently. This does affect me directly.  Confusion and listlessness abound.

Boy in boat, boat in boy

Five days before Mallacoota was in lock down, I was holidaying in houseboats on Mallacoota Inlet with my extended family. My 9 y.o. (pictured in the image above) was having a turn at skippering the boat. It was so fun, so freeing. He wore a wry smile and emanated a sense of utter joy. The beauty of the world’s light diffractions making it seem like the boat was in the boy and the boy in the boat.  

Not a week later, the now famed picture of another boy in a boat—Finn, fleeing the encroaching fires, driving his family in a tinny to safety (below)—spread around the world, capturing the hearts and spirits in a planetary gasp of ‘FUCK! This is what climate crisis looks like’. The image of apocalypse.

These two very contrasting images ram home the fact that these are seriously precarious times: people and places safe today, can be under serious threat, or gone, tomorrow.

As well as all these seriously grave concerns, my heart keeps lurching to the worry that our children will have less opportunity for this kind of free fun, to play and exuberant joy. Yes, there are many children around the world who already don’t have these opportunities, who already live in precarity. So, as ever, the climate crisis will affect those already vulnerable first and worst. But, like many other parents in this place in time, my heart is suddenly ripped apart not just for the existential threat to our children’s lives, but to their sense of freedom, of play, of abandon. And on this point, I lose it. I just cry and cry and cry.

And yet this planetary moment of crisis, despair, sorrow and fear, also feels like the closest we have come to a sense of collective entanglement on such a vast scale – emotionally, materially and existentially, people (of all persuasions) are coming to finally understand that we’re all in this together.

First Nations people have always known this. This is the knowledge that settlers tried so hard to destroy and in so doing, destroyed not only cultures, languages and homes for very many Aboriginal people, but current liveability for very many millions of people and more-than-human places. Aboriginal people have not forgotten this knowledge. Aboriginal people, like many different First Nations people around the world, have known the end of times, the end of worlds and yet their knowledge persists.

This crisis might just help us finally surrender our savage settler ego and, along with the sorrow and deep, ongoing sorry work that needs to happen, support First Peoples to fully recuperate the knowledge of caring for this place in the ways that they have cultivated for millennia; the ways they know with every fibre of their bodies, works. For everybody’s sake please put your energy into supporting this work.

And more broadly, I beg you now, to seriously act on this crisis not just reactively. This crisis is a crisis of dramatically changing climate patterns but underpinning that, it is also a crisis of (Western, colonial, capitalist) culture and the economic systems that make these climatic and ecological crises possible. You can no longer purport to having a climate action plan with one hand while you recklessly log Toolangi and other old forests, with the other hand.

In the aftermath of fires still burning and the fires yet to come, in tandem with immediately healing communities, please pledge to invest in First Nations knowledge systems as well as other sophisticated adaptation systems – climate and disaster resilience education; exponentially improving building standards; ceasing logging Indigenous forests; investing in Indigenous Ranger programs for recuperating forests and other ecosystems (dune systems, mangroves); talking about climate change ongoingly – increasing community knowledge; building community’s capacity to more than survive through the increasingly dire crises to come; and helping cultivate the best (research informed) ways to talk with and care for children in this seriously changed world.

So, I return to where I began — this feels like the end.

But it’s up to politicians, like you, to finally decide – will it be the end of climate inaction, or will it be the end of our world?

In exasperation and tenuous hope

Alicia

Reservoir, Vic.

To Tim Watts: This fire is different

Dear Tim,

I am writing today to share my thoughts and feelings as well as my outrage about the ongoing bushfire crisis. As a member of your electorate I am not in immediate physical danger from the fires, however I hope that the piece below (which I wrote earlier this week) communicates the significant and very real personal impact of this terrifying, unprecedented disaster.

I furthermore urge you to escalate pressure on your colleagues and the government to act swiftly and decisively on climate change for the health, safety and security of current and future generations of Australians, and for this land we call our own. 

Thank you for reading.

Best regards,

Mandy

Williamstown VIC

Burnt leaves and ash washed up on Kianga Beach, Narooma

For the past couple of years or so I’ve found myself drawn to fire, even becoming a little bit obsessed with the idea of celebrating my mid-winter birthday rugged up on a remote, windswept beach, gathered around a crackling bonfire with my favourite people. There’s mulled wine, moon and stars, sea spray, a symphonic background of crashing waves, the strumming of a guitar, easy conversation and laughter. The fire not only warms us, but encourages reflection and connectedness, with each other and with nature. We’re mesmerised, invigorated and soothed, somehow, by its power and beauty. It’s a tonic, a reprieve from the day-to-day stuff of life that takes a toll on us emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically. It reminds us that we’re in this thing together. It echoes that friendship and love and this planet we live on are precious, inimitable, wondrous. It insists that there is more to life than our frenetic work-focused realities suggest. So much more. Fire, in this imagining, is a force for good.

But this fire is different.

This fire is violence, writ large. This fire is terrifying. This fire is the antithesis of good. This fire is heartbreaking and sickening and a force of an entirely different kind. This fire is death. More than that, this fire is the epitome of selfishness, bravado, wilful ignorance, negligence. It’s an abandonment of both common sense and good judgment, an unforgivable, indefensible failure to act, to lead, to protect. It’s a catastrophe and a tragedy of such monumental proportions that it will scar us literally and figuratively for years to come. And the hubris and astounding lack of empathy that our PM continues to show in response is an indictment on the toxic masculinity that pervades politics today and fuels the separate spot fires of ignorance, scepticism, denialism, dereliction of duty and accountability. But he and his cronies insist that now is not the time to talk about climate change…

A dear friend asked me last week if my relationship with summer had changed, given the devastation and horror that this summer (and, in fact, spring) had so far wrought. I answered without really thinking, that no, I still loved summer… The feeling of sunshine and warm breeze on my skin, the scent of freshly cut grass, birds waking me at dawn and the cacophony of cicadas at dusk, swimming in the ocean, exploring nature, laying under a tree gazing up at the blue, blue sky. Freedom. These are not only amongst my favourite memories, but an enticement, a light at the end of the tunnel of each bleak Melbourne winter. Waiting for the slow unfolding of mind and body, the luxurious release of tension, the recalibration of my soul. Summer, my happy place.

But…

The season we are now experiencing is nothing like summers past. The blue sky has been replaced by mammoth clouds of smoke and ash, blocking the sun’s rays. The ocean is scattered with the same ash and burnt, blackened leaves. Dead birds, feathers also blackened, wash up on shore. Exploring nature is mostly out of the question, as great swathes of the landscape have been annihilated or cut off, and the simple act of breathing is hazardous. The green, green aroma of cut grass has been replaced by the smell of unimaginable things burning, acrid and choking. And all the grass has died off anyway during the monotonous, relentless drought leading up to this planetary and humanitarian crisis, now right at our doorstep.

Sunrise at Mystery Bay

Today I’m in Melbourne, inhaling drifting smoke particles but safe from serious physical harm, reflecting on the dreadful week gone by. I feel crushed, depleted, dumbfounded and so incredibly, inconsolably sad at the loss and trauma inflicted on so many living beings, on this piece of Earth we call home. Perhaps even sadder because my childhood summer holidays were spent on the south coast of NSW. Perhaps because just over a week ago I was there again, watching the sun rise in angry, brilliant colours through the smoke haze, and swimming in an ash-littered ocean. Perhaps because my partner and I drove through beautiful, historic Cobargo less than 48 hours before a firestorm tore through the town and beyond, incinerating buildings, trees, animals, people. Perhaps because we stopped on a bush-fringed coastal road to let an echidna cross slowly, clumsily in front of us, and I now can’t stop thinking that death by car would have been better, kinder, faster than the horrendous fate it may have since met. Perhaps because I know people who have lost their homes, and others who anxiously await the next onslaught, unable to sleep as they anticipate a change in the wind, or a stray ember. Perhaps because this isn’t an abstract, distant prediction of a changing climate, its cataclysmic impacts, its unknowable ripple effects. This is our worst fears and most terrifying nightmares come to life. This is hell on Earth, here and now. We knew it was coming, but we didn’t stop it.

So, as the fires continue their merciless, deadly assault, I can now say that my relationship with summer will and must change. My hope though is that from the ashes we will rise stronger, more focused, and more fucking determined to effect change and demand action from those in power. I know and must believe, for my sanity and emotional wellbeing, that the devastation and profound, visceral sense of loss felt by so many will fuel a different kind of fire. A fire that channels not only our collective grief, our anger, and our sorrow, but also our hopes and dreams, our ability and responsibility to build a pathway to a different, safer, kinder, more just future.

Fire as a force for good.