Climate Change: Hope and the Young – 1, Crap and Tony Abbott – 0

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This will be my final entry for globalweatherstations. In some ways I will unfortunately end where I began, as a citizen of a climate change backwater that goes by the name Australia. But I am also heartened by many aspects of the project. No more so than in the pride I feel for the young people involved. They have become the project’s life-blood. This morning at the Berlin Literature Festival students from the four European schools we worked with presented their views on climate change. They were magnificent; creative, energetic and provocative. I spoke with several of them after the performance. They are thoughtful young people. They want a future for themselves, and their families and friends. I am convinced they will work for a future that accepts climate change as a reality. They won’t become us; the older generations of global citizens who simply have not done enough to seriously tackle the issues we need to address.

The future is now in the hands of the generation who will need to clean up the mess they have inherited from us. Unfortunately, we seem to have convinced ourselves that the young are apathetic, disinterested and cynical. What a convenient lie we have created to get us, older people, off the hook. The young may be confused at times about climate change. And I am sure that they sometimes feel despair. But we should never mistake this for apathy. Armed with information and guidance from some older people who are committed to being good teachers and working with the young, those that we have worked with on the weatherstations project have become passionate and innovative champions for both their own communities and the planet. What we need to do now is continue to invest in each other, the older with the young, local and global communities, people who produce more energy than they expend. We need each other. We need to refuse the rhetoric of some governments that prefer that we see ourselves as individuated subjects, sapped of energy, creativity, community and ACTION.

In the last few days we have discovered that members of the Australian government, including the prime minister, Tony Abbott, has moved from believing that ‘climate change is crap’ to sharing in jokes about it at the expense of communities (in the Pacific) who are already being dramatically impacted upon by climate change. The communities that he and some of his ministers were laughing about, produce some of the smallest carbon footprints on the planet. Their homelands are threatened by rising sea levels as an outcome of the excesses of those who do nothing to alleviate the situation. People will soon lose their homes and lives in the Pacific partly as a result of the lifestyles of Australians.

And yet Abbott cannot get that stupid, infantile grin off his face. For those who do not think climate change is not the major issue facing Australians, and believe that policies introduced to deal with it will adversely impact on the ‘Australian way of life’, I can only say that such thinking could not be more narrow-minded. If we do not proactively deal with climate change now, life as we know it will alter dramatically. We need to get rid of politicians that continue to avoid the issue, or spend their spare time in bed with industries that continue to wantonly attack the planet. And we need to realise that if change for the better is to happen with have to act for ourselves, on behalf of our communities. 

I will become a grandfather for the first time in less that 3 months. I refuse to believe that I have the right to do nothing, and to leave my grandchildren with nothing but crap. I could not be a more irresponsible person if I were to allow that to happen.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-11/dutton-overheard-joking-about-sea-levels-in-pacific-islands/6768324

Guyana, Plaisance & Maxine Beneba Clarke

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Plaisance 

When the old folk talk about Plaisance, Guyana, they sing-song the word: plaay-zarnce. Plaay-zaaarnce. My great Uncle, he tells me about catching the railway from little green Plaisance, into  big-big grey Georgetown, when he grew old enough for the city school. Like he can still feel that big-boy pride even while he’s standing here at eighty five, telling the story to me. My great uncle says Plaisance is not home anymore, not that place, hasn’t been home since he left, and he was still a  very young man back then.

But I can see this kind of lovely-but-aching look, right inside his eyes.

This is what I think about, every year during hurricane season as the wind  whips white caps across the  blue-back Caribbean sea. Plaisance. Plaay Zaaarnce. This is what I think.

Maxine Beneba Clarke is guilty of over-loving her vegetable garden.

Emily’s Stones

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I know we are intimate with this place because of the way we have named its parts: good hill; the finding stones; acacia flat; the bracken. I walk around my uncle’s studio, past the water tank, and see the den between two rocks where I used to lie for hours as a child, watching the adults through green wattle branches. This is granite country; time passes here in glittering dust or sheers off the sides of boulders in fire season. The bird my aunt named for its strange call whistles out as we near the dip where the bracken starts: purple dream, purple dream.

Emily Bitto is a writer and bar-owner. Her debut novel, The Strays, was awarded the 2015 Stella Literature Prize.

Emily

An Irish tribute to Aboriginal country – Chris Flynn

Wilson’s Promontory – Chris Flynn

Every March I go camping, hiking and swimming on Wilson’s Prom, a national park peninsula four hours from Melbourne. The Gunaikurnai and Bunorong people call this beautiful place Yiruk and Warnoon, respectively. As an old Edgar Rice Burroughs fan, I just love the name Warnoon, as it reminds me of one of my favourite books, A Princess of Mars (made into the unjustly maligned film John Carter in 2012), wherein Earth is called Jarsoom, and Mars is Barsoom. There’s something otherworldy about the Prom, and when I’m there it feels like I’ve been transported to another planet, or into the past of our own.

Chris Flynn is an RSPCA animal handler and author from Ireland.

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Lorna’s stone travels the world

My ancestral stone

LornaIn my hand is a small grey stone, about the size of a 20-cent piece. It comes from the tiny village of Luib on the island of Skye in Scotland. To be specific, it is from the ruins of the croft where my great-grandfather was born 140 years ago. Each of my four cousins also has one – the plan is that the last one standing returns all five stones to Luib. I have never been to Skye. I left Scotland when I was seven. I’m not wishing ill on my cousins, but I really hope it’s me.

Lorna Hendry was born in Glasgow but has lived in Melbourne for most of her life

 

‘We Are Still Here’: remorse, the national psyche and country

In recent times I have been fortunate to have experienced the friendship and wisdom of other Aboriginal people working for the recognition of our culture and history, in concert with environmental protection for both Aboriginal people and the wider community. In a recent conversation with my good friend, Bruce Pascoe, he spoke of the absence of any genuine sense of remorse within the colonial psyche. He was not referring to the momentary guilt that some white Australian experience in relation to the theft of Aboriginal land and a history of violence against our people. I believe Bruce was considering something far deeper. Inhabiting a relaxed and comfortable view of colonisation in Australia requires little thinking at all, let alone responsibility for the sins of the past. True remorse, while asking more of people, would produce invaluable outcomes for all Australians. With remorse comes reflection. With remorse come recognition – and with will – mutual respect. This was Bruce’s point.

[map 22 - Hanging Rock, Victoria, Australia]

[map 22 – Hanging Rock, Victoria, Australia]

I see strong connections between this lack of remorse, the subsequent absence of thought and Australia’s regressive stance on climate change generally and the degradation of our environment more specifically. I also see a clear connection between a lack of will to protect the environment and the Australian government’s abuse of Aboriginal country. Equally, an abuse of Aboriginal cultural and sovereign relationship to country is ultimately an attack on all Australians.

The Australian government is currently attempting to reverse the World Heritage listing of 74,000 hectares of old-growth forest in Tasmania, in order to allow logging to recommence. Within the World Heritage area, important Aboriginal sacred sites will again come under threat if the heritage listing is reversed. This is a shameful act. Considering the history of violence and repeated attempts of dispossession and extermination that the Tasmanian Aboriginal community have faced, one would hope that the wider community would not allow this violence to continue. If we were a truly remorseful nation, hopefully due consideration and thought would result in a more informed view. But in a country that plays lip service to Aboriginal rights, such reflection is not possible.

Reading the newspaper yesterday morning (Age – 14 June 2014), in an essay by Andrew Darby, I read about the courage of Ruth Langford and Linton Burgess, two Aboriginal people, amongst many others, who are fighting to save their country and protect the World Heritage listing of the rain forest surrounding important cultural sites. On a visit to the area recently, the couple ‘called to the old fellas … we let them know we are still here.’

We are still here

Please consider for a moment the deep courage of this act. Consider that the Aboriginal nations of a land that came to be called Tasmania by British colonials, have resisted proactive attempts of genocide for more than 2oo years and today stand tall to protect both their ancestors and their children. Ruth Langford, Linton Burgess and the Aboriginal people of Tasmania are heroes to Aboriginal people throughout Australia. They should also be regarded as heroes to the nation, as they are fighting to protect their country and environment. In doing so, they are protecting the planet.

Next week, Ruth Langford will join scientists and environmentalists at the annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Doha, Qatar, in an effort to stop the Australian government’s move. I wish her, and her brave people every success – always was, always will be.

Tony Birch

 

G’day from Footscray City College, Australia

Image: Footscray City College - oh so cool (so says Tony Birch)

Footscray City College – oh so cool (so says Tony Birch)

G’day from Footscray City College, Australia!

Footscray City College is a state school in the inner west of Melbourne, Australia. We have 46 different nationalities at the school, and almost 1,000 students. We overlook one of Melbourne’s great waterways, the mighty Maribyrnong River. We are an excited bunch of 14 and 15 year old kids with some great, committed teachers. We are exploring the city of Melbourne as well as the natural landscape that surrounds the city.

Here’s a film we made on our first day with Weather Stations

Our group are working with Tony Birch and the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas to improve our own writing and knowledge about climate change. Tony has written multiple fiction books including Shadowboxing and Blood. The Wheeler Centre is an organisation that organises talks and events for the public about lots of topics including writing, climate change and more.

Our goal is to get people talking about climate change and how it might impact on us in our own suburbs, streets and homes. We want people around the world to know that we’re thinking and uniting around the issue. Not only do we want people to think about climate change, we want to provoke them to action.

We look forward to sharing our work with all of the other Substations in Berlin this September!

– Students of Footscray City College Substation

Broken Angel

[map 10 - Broken Angel, Carlton Cemetery, Melbourne, Australia]

[map 10 – Broken Angel, Carlton Cemetery, Melbourne, Australia]

I walked to the cemetery today with my dog, Ella. She’s eleven years old, has a bad hip and prefers her bed to a good walk. We were off to visit my grandmother’s grave. She died in 1996, at the age of 88. She’d led a full life, as they say. Born of Cape Barren Island, in the Bass Strait, between Victoria and the island of Tasmania, my grandmother was sent to an orphanage on the Tasmanian mainland as a baby. At the age of twelve she jumped ship across the strait to Victoria. She married twice, had seven children and did Al Jolson impersonations when she was drunk.

She is buried with her husband, my grandfather, Patrick Corcoran. An Irish Catholic, he was a hard-working man who came home from work one afternoon in 1953, walked into the bathroom, cut his own throat and bled to death. Also buried in the grave is my uncle, Michael Anthony Corcoran, who was murdered in 1963, when he was only eighteen. I never met my grandfather, of course, but I clearly remember Michael. He was happy, cheeky and my grandmother’s baby.

At the cemetery I let Ella sniff around the tombstones as I tended the family plot. I weeded, changed the murky water in the vases and replaced the worn-out plastic flowers with newer ones that blew across the cemetery grounds, separated from the graves they’d been originally placed on. Many years ago I filled a jar with the stones, shells and beach glass I’d collected from around the world; from a river in Scotland, a beach in Chile and the streets of New York. I filled the jar with water, sealed it and placed it on the grave. Today I emptied the jar, cleaned it and replaced the water.

I sat on the grave and thought about them, my family – down there. I know that my grandfather cared for his family. And he was a very protective man. No one knows why he took his own life, but my mother believes that he was afraid that he could never care for his children enough. I’m not sure what that means. When I think of my own children – there are five of them – I’m never sure if I worry over them too much or if I don’t worry enough. I sometimes think it is my job to save them – an understandable but ludicrous proposition.

Is any of this relevant to the issue of Climate Change? I think it is. My grandmother lived her life in hardship. Her daily concern was finding enough food to feed her family; to walk the inner city streets during winter, pushing a pram in search of firewood to keep the house warm. We were close when I was growing up. She taught me that unless we provide our families and each other adequately with the basics of life – food, warmth and shelter – everything else is worthless. Further, if we did not provide the basics equally across society, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

Alma Corcoran was no Marxist economist or political activist. She’d hardly been to school and was a direct and unromantic woman. But she knew a lot about excess – and hated it. Whenever she was travelling well, when the cupboard was full and the fridge was stacked, she would open her front door and invite her neighbours in for a special meal. She taught me that it is not my job to save anybody, let alone my children. She also taught me that I am only a small part of a greater whole.

Tony Birch

The Tern

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For more than a year now my elderly neighbour, Jack, has been sorting through his life and getting rid of some of his stuff. While we’re not family, and have known each other for just a couple of years, a lot of what he has no more use for has come my way.

He began with hardback copies of The Encyclopaedia of Australian Tractors and Tractors and Modern Agriculture. He offered them to me one sunny morning as we were talking across the scraggy hedge of lavender that passes for the fence separating us. Read more

Returning [again]

The Yarra River at Collingwood

The Yarra River at Collingwood

As part of the Weather Stations project, in September and October of 2014, I visited the cities of Berlin, Dublin, London, Warsaw, Gdansk and Hel, working with school and community groups. I learned a great deal. Some of the knowledge I came away with surprised me. It was most common for people to tell me, ‘of course, you have it much worse out there,’ (climate change); a reflection on the issue as a visible catastrophe. Everybody knew about the experience of bush fires in Australia (which we are again experiencing), drought, and the damage to the Great Barrier Reef, reflecting an understandable but severely limited engagement with the issue.

Historically speaking, bush fires in Australia have little to do with climate change and have been, and are, a natural environmental phenomenon. Certainly, with the planet getting warmer (and 2014 may be the warmest year on record), fires will occur with both greater frequency and ferocity. And while some in Australia accept the link between climate change and the increase in bush fire activity, at a psychological and intellectual level we respond to fire as a disaster to be fought, conquered and overcome – even in grief. Even when the immediate disaster is associated with the broader issue, the language used to describe our response is couched in militaristic language. We battle and defeat the enemy. Confronted by widespread flood, caused as much or more by irresponsible urban planning than changes in weather patterns, we are Queenslanders, as if the heroic label somehow grants special status to a group of people hardy enough to defeat all – until the next flood visits.

The negative impacts of climate change on the environment do not manifest themselves in sudden bursts of meteorological activity alone. Climate change is not simply a recent phenomenon or future event. Its impact is both gradual and profound. The effects of climate change on the planet should not be reduced to a sound bite or dramatic image, such as the devastation caused by a bush fire. Remembering back to the catastrophic Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009, the weather conditions leading up to the weekend of the fires were extreme. What most people do not know, or have forgotten, is that more people died in Victoria as a consequences of extreme heat before the fires than those who died in the fires themselves. Without doubt, the trauma and violence wreaked by the fires had an immediate and shocking impact on the lives of the people who experienced them. But, as most of us know little or nothing of the many hundreds of deaths that had nothing to do with the fires, but everything to do with the warming of the planet, we do not give enough thought to an issue that does not abate between fire seasons, being the impacts of climate change that are ever-present. While people in other parts of the globe watch images of fire in Australia on their TV screens and regard this country as a Global Warming Horror Story, they, like us, will have their lives changed, not by shock and awe, but stealth. For instance, the Arctic Circle is melting – melting too slowly to produce a 30 second YouTube clip of any consequence, but changing the planet in a way we have not known for thousands of years.

Yesterday I again walked the banks of my river – the Yarra, in Melbourne. I have written about the river several times now for the Weather Stations project; I have behaved as provincially, ‘non’ global, and perhaps small-minded as I can get. I’m not sure why as yet, but I think my understanding of the issue of climate change has to be found here, on the river. I’m reading as much as I can about the politics and science of climate change. I speak to as many people as I can about the issue. I came to this project as a writer and teacher. And yet, increasingly I have become interested in not the power of language, but its limitations. The planet is more powerful than any words or narrative that humans ascribe to it.

As I was about to leave the river yesterday, I walked by a favourite bend. At a particular moment, lasting no more than a second or two, I could smell the river the way I did over forty years ago. I could feel the memory of the river in my body. It was as much a physical as a psychological reaction. My next thought was that there were no words, not a single one available to me to describe the feeling.

I was content with that feeling.

Tony Birch