Upon hearing that the planet had warmed by one degree Celsius, a conservative politician said that he could get on a plane in Melbourne and get off in Sydney an hour later and find the temperature higher by a comfortable six degrees, so what’s the problem?
In fact, a global rise of one degree has increased the incidence of extremely hot days in southeast Australia by a factor of ten. It’s because temperatures, like most natural phenomena, arrange themselves along Bell curves. And a shift to the right of just one degree has massive ramifications, not at the height of the curve but at that very low, very sensitive-to-change high end. If it seems that bushfires are starting earlier in the season and becoming more frequent lately, that explains why.
Since I was 28 I have worn a ring on my right hand, a cabochon star ruby set in a gold band. Also known as corundum ruby, this complex, plum-coloured stone is the bedrock that nurtures ruby crystals – the bright, red, glassy stones more common in jewellery. In sunlight the hexagonal crystal structure shines a six-pointed star.
Similarly, my recent regime – the probiotics, the supplements, the gym routine, the three symptomatic treatments I was on – was feeling like a bedrock of stability. Not a cure, but a rich, strong foundation from which stars sometimes shine, from which crystals can grow.
Recently I heard the story of an American social worker whose job in the 1990s was to scour the mountains of Alaska, seeking the bolt-holes of Vietnam veterans who had decided to remove themselves from society, living off the land in isolated shacks. In the 20 years since the Vietnam War, more and more American vets had come to the grim realisation that they were now unable to coexist with their families and friends; to hold down jobs; to partake in society in any meaningful way.
Post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD.
The social worker’s task was to bring the vets into Anchorage to live in a halfway house and receive psychological therapy until they were willing and able to re-enter society. Of the degree of his success, I’m not sure.
My friend – I’ll call her Jane – was at the bottom of the driveway as I was leaving to take the dogs out one day. She’d just pulled up.
‘It’s time,’ she said, climbing out of her 4WD and crossing the road. ‘Some people know, and some people think they know, and there’s all kinds of Chinese whispers going on. It’s time to lay it on the table.’
I’ve stopped driving. Funnily, or not, the impetus happened one day when I almost didn’t stop. I was heading towards the turnoff out of Quaama onto the Princes Highway, saw a car coming from the north, went to brake… no response. Went to brake again… still rolling down towards the highway. Looked down to check where foot was: not on brake. Planted foot on brake, stopped car just before give way sign.
I might have gushed a little last year about Canadian guitarist-singer-songwriter Scott Cook, so when I heard he was back I went along to make sure. In 2014 he was a last-minute entry and they stuffed him into the tiny Narira shed up the back, where a heads-upped crowd sweltered through a heart-on-sleeve set of blues, folk and country, more than tinged with sardonic enviro-politics. We loved him then, and we loved him again in 2015, when the organisers got wise and put him on the main Gulaga stage. At least it was a lot cooler.
The world’s sluggish response to climate change is a mystery to many. After all, overwhelming evidence of a problem usually results in mitigation of the problem. Witness the global response when scientists suggested in the 1990s that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) might be busting a hole in the ozone layer, leading to high rates of skin cancer, amongst other consequences. The reaction was swift; CFCs were banned from aerosol cans. In America, consumers voluntarily switched away from aerosol sprays, resulting in a 50% loss in sales even before legislation was enforced.
It was an unseasonably balmy night at the Bermagui Hotel. The speaker was Ken Henry and the subject “The Economics of Climate Change”. We’d all been congratulating the Bermagui Institute’s Jack Miller on his orchestration of the China-US emissions reduction deal just in time to create a dramatic backdrop for the talk, when Henry told us, “it won’t make any difference” to Australian government policy on climate change action.
It seems these days of political spin that you only find out what’s really going on from those outside the fray. Be they an ex-security advisor, or an ex-department head, or an ex-parliamentarian, at last they don’t owe any favours to anyone and can speak their mind.