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

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