by Silke Müller

When talking about climate change in class, we soon realized that no matter how much knowledge we acquire about this subject, there will not be any considerable changes. Change will start happening when people start acting. Even though a small part of the world has done so, the majority is still ignoring the issue of climate change. I decided to write the following poem in order to shine light on this situation.


We used to be creatures in the dark,

lighting our world with a single spark.

It gave us warmth, it kept us alive.

It was the reason we were able to survive.


That spark was the beginning of life as we know it,

developing each day and learning bit by bit.

We started domesticating nature all around,

invented the devil, called it dollar or pound.


Fast forward: we’re living in big cities.

Eyes glued to our phones, laughing at pictures of cute little kitties.

Rushing through life without ever stopping to take a breath,

relying on computers to take care of the rest.


Your Instagram account is more important than a tree,

the first thing you ask: Is the WiFi free?

They call it intelligence, progress maybe,

but I believe it’s getting worse with every baby.


Our children won’t ever see the sky,

in just a few years and I don’t get why.

They are born and raised in plastic.

The effects of a childhood spent online will be drastic.


Nature is not considered sacred anymore.

We just turn our head, walk on and close the door.

Everyone knows we’re destroying our earth,

it’s a fact we have known since the day of our birth.


Yet no one is willing to make a sacrifice

and let go of the luxury we’ve come to expect in our life.

It’s a shame that everyone’s just standing by,

while we’re watching our planet slowly die.


“It doesn’t concern us,” most will say.

“We’ll be long gone, come that day.”

But think of your children, who will one day say:

“Mom, it’s not our fault. Why do we have to pay?”


You walk around with your eyes fixed on the screen,

while beside you nature tries to impress with its green.

It could be the prettiest bird of them all,

but you won’t see it, until someone posts a picture of it on your wall.


You’re always looking for the latest trends,

to try and keep up with the people you call friends.

You call yourself normal, same as everyone else.

Never stop to consider that there might be something wrong with yourself.


We’re flying high, high and proud,

but who’s going to catch us when we fall through the cloud?

The cloud we created to protect our mind.

The fear of tomorrow made us decide to stay blind.


It’s easier to pretend that we still have it all,

escaping into a world where we no longer feel small.

A world without limits, a world without war.

It seems to be endless: one click and there’s more.


But reality is way more complex than fantasy.

There is no button no skip catastrophe.

We have to start acting to save this world in time.

This world full of beauty is our responsibility: yours and mine.

Nothing Other Than Grass

Mirko Bonné, September 2015

Since June 2012, I’ve been keeping an online notebook, a poetic blog in which I combine everyday impressions and those from my various trips with comments about what I’ve been reading and ideas for texts and poems. Since the start of the Weather Stations project in February 2014, my entries have changed: weather observations have become more numerous, as well as remarks about politics, the climate and the environment. I’ve written down many quotes from the books and magazines I’ve read over the last one and a half years because they seemed to be making some sort of contribution to the climate change debate, in particular those sentences or verses written 20 or even 200 years ago. The overriding question raised by the following selections from my blog “The Grass” is however aimed at the poetic, that is, the part of language and the world that I see as living heritage and that does not seek answers and solutions, but is rather intrinsic to both, both question and solution.



Yesterday and today, I looked at a squirrel, in two arboreta far apart. Both were looking for something, both brown, yet the one from today had a grey chest and stomach. The one from yesterday scuttled away, its legs far apart, like a rabbit with a big tail, while the one from today was swifter, perhaps akin to a bird, leaping from the bush on to the tree. What knocking and gnawing sounds they made! The alert, yet still seemingly pensive way they looked around them. The way they appeared so suddenly, like a squirrel materialising from the ether, then how they stayed for such a surprisingly long time before disappearing equally suddenly, like squirrels gone without warning. The beautiful red-brown: trees on to which the evening sun falls. (17.2.2014)


Summer in March. A summery March, a March summer: “When the forsythias bloom, winter is gone.”


Watch out! Roof avalanches! Between Untereinöden and Überruh, maybe also near Oberholzleute, just past the Spitalhof: snow on the side of a valley in Oberallgäu. And the snow poles are still stuck like toothpicks in the roads that lead up the valley to the tidy farmsteads. We’re prepared for any eventuality here. (Isny, 6.4.)

In the morning, the child says he couldn’t sleep, as the window was open. “All the birds flew back and talked and made loud music in the hedges that grow up alongside the house.”


A young American author living in Australia and writing a novel about Atlantis said to me at Melbourne Art’s House, the old Meat Market, that it’s only tales, stories of experiences and individual people’s ideas that enable her to grasp something so inconceivable as climate change. Some time ago, she met a taxi driver in Mississippi who told her that she was putting aside as much money as possible in order to move to Florida with her family. She and her husband planned to buy a house on the beach for them and their children so that they would be among the first to be washed out to sea by the great flood, all the way to Atlantis.

Nocturnal gusts of wind in the courtyard, they pass over the dunes and strike the palms. An invisible bird answers each gust with a loud wailing cry that is joyous nonetheless. (Port Douglas, 4.5.)

Clouds that stay still for hours above the Coral Sea. They carry slowness in their very form and are bordered by black and white. If you pass beneath then, they do not conceal their volume. Each is, as Dylan Thomas once said of radio, “a building in the air”.

A green sea turtle in the waters of the reef, nearly the same size as me, yet with the eyes of God. Does it know I’m observing it?

The skin of many Australian women is as red as the earth, reddened by the blazing force of the sun.


104-year-old Lizzie Davies of the Coranderrk people was asked how she predicts rain. Lizzie Davis replied: “I touch the mountains”.

The bricklayers’ laughter can be heard in the courtyard, as they stand around in the open garage below, smoking and looking at the sky, where there’s a mid-May hailstorm. Minutes later, the warm sun shines once again and swallows swoop though its light in great arcs. The English, the Australian of the past weeks is still in my mind, I still dream and speak to myself in the foreign language – I think Burundjeri, Brunswick Street and Yarra River to myself on the bank of the Danube. It’s like something is melting away inside me, like the snow left behind in a forest glade. (Ingolstadt, 13.5.)

When I took the umbrella out of my suitcase, it seemed damp and when I opened it out to dry, it was full of drops that had travelled across the world: Australian rain.


This question is also of key significance in the climate change debate: how can you make something real (once again) that seems unreal? The question is how to bridge the gap. You assume that they, “the people” want reality. But is that really the case? (18.5.)

Up on the roof of their tower, the meteorologists measure how much sunlight there is on each and every day. A narrow strip of black card with an hourly scale within a semicircular housing is concealed behind a glass sphere that focuses the sun’s rays and directs them on to the strip. When I look at the scale, I see a tiny sun glowing yellow there that has been eating its way through the card since 6am this morning. I see how time passes, time made of light, the illumination of time.

The beauty of the orchard: the dark and light greens, the trees and the grass, the free interplay of the two.


A roaring heat. Flies on the window sill, gleaming motionless, dying motionless. The people moving slowly. Haze over the Burggasse. (Vienna, 11.6.)


When you run your fingers through the fronds of the Persian silk tree above you in the bright green light, it’s like you’re stroking an animal that’s standing upright in the wind and is compelled to be a tree. The silk tree’s fronds tell of their sex, of the house of the silk tree, of its history stories. (Ellerhoop Arboretum, 5.7.)


“There are also seagulls that bite”, says the child.


You’re alone with this silence and in it, you encounter yourself as a child once again, the boy that marvels here at the joy of the world for the first time.


In spring, travelling beekeepers trek over the island of Fehmarn and put up hives in the blooming rape fields. Intoxicated by the abundance of yellow, the bees collect nothing but rape nectar for weeks, pure rape honey.


Of Bojendorf at the northwestern tip of Fehmarn, they say that the boys from the village used to capture the sun every evening and imprison it in a barn overnight. (Fehmarn, 24.7.)


The row of plum trees between the S-Bahn tracks – I look into the summer light that remains and I’m close to tears. How long have they been there already? They are still here!


The shelf life of a plastic fishing line: 600 years.


The wind in the treetops does indeed tell a story but not about itself. It tells you about yourself.


After the animal captures and kills a young wren in the early morning, it crawls into a dark, silent corner for six hours, dejected. Then it comes out again, examines the scene of the crime and looks out of the window for a long time at where the bird appeared and will maybe appear again. The animal is ready to forget, ready to repeat. Life continues, killing continues, death continues.


In Kalathos, I saw an olive tree growing up through a red Toyota.

There are only dried-up riverbeds across the whole island – or have the rivers just dried out and silted up? There’s red rowing boat half in pieces right in the middle of the Loutan’s pebbled hollows. (Rhodos, 17.10.)


The sound of the wind moving into the dried out leaves of the plane tree, a papery rustling or rather a rattling, a cracking. It’s almost like a fire, a fire made of air. (Akra Ladiko, 19.10.)

“Be the rain.” Neil Young


You open the door and it’s autumn. (You shut your eyes and summer is there).


It’s not the world that is ungrateful, it is I.


Sitting by the Salzach on a November day so warm I can’t remember another like it: a warm November wind, the suburbs enveloped in the warm autumn breeze, the mountainside is yellow, green, golden and brown in the mild pulsations of the air. The birds flutter upwards over the river and women sit on its banks and eat up the light from bright bags. (Salzburg, 4.11.)

November 19th and there are still mosquitoes and wasps.


Every speck, every handkerchief-sized piece of lawn, every piece of soil, as long as it’s just brown or green, must be covered with tarmac so we can then put concrete on top of it. While every other encounter, be it love, friendship or some other form of affection, is an interstellar event.


The entire pain, the entire hatred, the entire fear, the entire greed. The entire destruction and annihilation in the name of this God or that. I bow down before anyone who can keep their mouth shut in a conversation about so-called faith. You can only rely on the empty sky, that is full of birds, full of clouds and air to breathe. (January 7th 2015, Paris)


A swarm of starlings flies up into the sky as if a storm had blown apart the top of a huge tree, the birds bursting away across the grey January sky.


As Camus quite rightly remarked, the weather is what every single person experiences and what connects us all. It’s just that everyone experiences it differently (like everything else too). My brother once confided in me how much he loved running through the snowy forest, because “your footsteps then turn silent”. How difficult it is, to tell of your feelings about the weather, your different feelings and the feelings of yours that differ from one another!


In the driving snow, the swiftly fleeing birds are like snowflakes.


“The tree may become a blossoming flame, man a speaking flame—an animal a walking flame.” Novalis


“Why is rain not blue if it falls from the sky?” Sylvain Tesson

A barge travels downstream along the Main river, passing under the Holbeinsteg bridge. It’s a winter day, ice-cold, windy, but without snow. It’s only the boat that’s covered with a thick layer of white snow from elsewhere, shaped into rib forms by the wind.


In the morning, a tremendous light shines over the green hills. It’s dawn in Ireland and the seagulls sail within it above the deserted car park in front of the huge, still entirely empty Tesco shopping centre “The Square”. (Tallaght, 27.2)


The green parakeets are free in the park’s bare treetops, like leaves, a May in flight, trying out places to hold on to. (London, Hyde Park, 16.3.)

Those who make use of the good weather – whom and what do they otherwise make use of?

Beneath the arch of the bridge – a lively green flickering on the masonry, a whirring, a meadow of light on an afternoon just for ghosts that want to stay.


Forty-five million “unusable” male chicken chicks are shredded each year in Germany in plants set up specifically for the purpose of destroying birds – dead wood that is alive. I live in a factory of death – a state in which killing is not a past phenomenon, a state which may pretend to be a socially minded, but in reality subordinates everything to profit and efficiency. The CSU minister responsible for this godless, ruthless mass slaughter rejects any criticism of the procedure, making reference to research that is already working on more effective killing methods.


It’s the fourth of April, and it’s still cold as winter, cold enough for a winter coat. The trees are bare, the bushes pale-green, full of timid buds. You feel startled when the warm spring sun suddenly falls from the cloudless blue. In the afternoon, it shines for a long time, golden, stretching out the spirit, making your eyes widen and recognise what is beloved in everything and everyone standing around in the car park: children, women, men, dogs, trees, old cars, people who laugh in the bright light. Then there’s a twinkling that flashes through the light, blue and gold. The fourth of April? It’s snowing.


As the budding, sprouting and blooming grows quicker each day (and each night), so too does the river become greener with every hour that passes.


You can chat to any blackbird at the top of a tree – as long as you have the time and the inclination to do so and a bit of blackbird patience.


On this small island in the Elbe, every bit of undergrowth seems unique in its form, with an unmistakable shadow, a specific rustling sound when the wind passes over the river, strange blackbirds in its branches. An amazing bush – as if it were itself an island. (Lühesand, 7.6.)


“The people were addicted to hope and blind from it too, that was their fate.” Gerhard Roth


Hot days, close to 40 degrees. In the stairwell, the wood creaks at every step. It seems to want to shout at the top of its voice of hot summer days and weeks in the past, of days free from school due to the heat, of children who sat in the cool shade of the stairwell. But the wood of the dead years is just creaking. (3.7.)


The people sit on the steps in front of their shops and wait for the rain to come. And when it starts, as it soon pelts down, they remain seated. To live so much more frequently! (Fuhlsbüttel, 7.7.)


A rainy day in Jutland. Everything seems slower in a warm wind, even the huge sea gulls over the pillboxes half submerged in the sand.


“At one point, the world looked like this”, says the child and shows you it: “there was nothing, nothing other than grass”.

Skóra: It’s better to get tall wellington boots

IMG_20150619_134501Jaś Kapela: During workshops with young people from Hel we were trying to imagine what their life might look like in 50 years time. One of the groups presented a following scenario: Hel is an island. Food is brought over by boats. There is no work. All fish has died. We have no home. Slow death.

Krzysztof Skóra: A rather pessimistic vision.

Will Hel become an island?

Depends on the time perspective we assume. In geological terms fifty years is not much. Right now most of the people are convinced that the Peninsula is dying because the sea is swallowing its coast. And that’s why it gets reinforced – stones are brought here that were never here before, concrete is being used, embankments raised higher. Open sea beaches on the Peninsula – from Władysławowo to the border of Jurata with Hel – are all already artificial. Only Hel itself still has natural ones. The number of natural sections on the Puck Bay side is diminishing as well. What would happen if we didn’t reinforce the coastline? That will remain the area of academic speculation. The boundaries where seas, rivers and lakes meet the land have existed as long as the world we know. Some animals and plants only live on the borderline of land and water. When we reinforce the coastline, many lose their natural habitat and die out. Does anybody care about preservation of natural processes within the coastal ecotone, which the Helsinki Commission has recommended for the last 20 years? I don’t think so.

And can we preserve it at all?

We are delaying the sentence, but the large-scale geological and hydrological processes cannot be stopped. I think it is worth to delay the impact of the environment in a life strategy of any given community. That allows for getting accustomed to a different life in a different place. Various low-lying oceanic islands already face that problem. If climatologists and hydrologists are right, they have to be ready to react accordingly. Here, in our local strategy, immediacy takes over – it is politically viable, but economically and environmentally damaging. Changes, or rather the symptoms of the effects of forthcoming climate change, preoccupy the specialists and a large part of the public to such an extent, that we dismiss current dangers, damaging to the environment. We are getting ready for the changes which will come in 70 or 100 years time, while habitats and species die out now, sometimes due to very trivial reasons.

Are we to allow the sea to swallow the Peninsula then?

Every now and then our road used to be flooded by the sea and it will most likely happen many times in the future. But will a car be such an important mode of transport in 100 years time? Isn’t it better to have means of transport operating a bit higher up? Sometimes it is cheaper and better to get tall enough wellington boots than to raise the altitude of the terrain. And anyway the high water stays here only for dozen or so hours. And when the really high water comes, there will be other problems anyway. Hydrotechnical companies can be sure to get large commissions paid for by the state budget – our descendants will again reinforce the coastline, they might also elevate the altitudes of the road and railway.

They say that Hel was once a number of small islands…

Yeah, that’s what they say and that’s we used to be taught. Me too.

And what was it really like?

A few years ago geologists compared all historical maps of the Hel Peninsula. And they found out that it is difficult to create such sequence. Hel is not made of islands even on the oldest maps. Perhaps those showing water passages across the Peninsula were created to show the water levels when the sea joined the bay? It used to be much easier than now. For two reasons: there was no railway embankment and there was no road embankment – those two parallel mounds which even out all decreases in the ground level where water could travel freely. The road with hardened surface leading to Hel was only built in the 1960s, while the railway was constructed dozen or so years before World War II. Earlier than that you could reach Hel by water, by a dirt road or along the seashore.

In the past nobody built buildings as close to the water edge as they do now. Tourist race for the better view from the window pushed investments towards the coastline. It’s a trap. The Helsinki Commission pointed it out as early as 20 years ago in Recommendation 15/1 “Protection of the Coastal Strip”.

Today people can afford such risk. They are not afraid to lose their assets, because the state insures them. Confrontation with the nature of the sea still takes many by surprise. They say it is getting worse, but they don’t realise that our ancestors’ cabins stood further away from the sea, that they used carts and then drove Warszawas or Polski Fiats 125p. Nowadays that same water will easily get into our low-hung “wheels”. So we raise the road. The houses are separated from the coast by embankments or some other reinforcements. And then, when another storm “of the century” comes, it takes us by surprise that the physics of environmental phenomena are adverse to human “necessities of life”.

So will Hel be an island or not?

And do we want it to be an island?

Is that really up to us?

We live in a democratic state. The majority of the society decides what to spend the money on. For example, should we concrete the peninsula over to reinforce it or not? Some people might also want to dig across it, for example when Puck starts fighting for access to the sea. A lot of private and public money has been spent on the coastal line of the Peninsula. Even more public money will have to be spent, because according to the law, whoever invests can expect the state to protect his or her assets. So if somebody gets permission from the local government or appropriate public institutions and, for example, builds a hotel very close to the seashore, the taxes paid by all of us will have to be spent on protecting the hotel from the water. It doesn’t work like that in other countries. There the risk is on the investor’s side. And some countries simply don’t allow building so close to the shore.

I’m not sure we are aware of the fact that we pay for such protection.

I don’t think we are. It’s the legacy from many years of technocratic approach in water management. Nowadays, though on a small scale, rivers start getting renaturalized. Though when it comes to coastal management, I think we are still stuck in the old paradigm. The old approach of melioration and strengthening the banks gets transferred onto the Baltic coast. A Polish person still hears that the Baltic Sea takes away his or her homeland.

That’s why he or she looks favourably at the widespread projects of reinforcing the coastline. The Pole knows that the state border at sea is far away from the coastline, that our Exclusive Economic Zone reaches even further out and that waves and currents can’t move those lines. There are investments that bewilder with their scope and location. I still can’t understand the sense of reinforcement near Ostrów. To protect woods and rabbits? That usually results in a beach disappearing or only existing in a rudimentary form. But local governments demand the reinforcements. And the state pays for them. Nobody is responsible for failed investments worth millions, which didn’t prevent anything. Cliffs and flood plains are still the areas where people want to carelessly invest and they still get permission to do so. The HELCOM’s Recommendations from the mid 1990s: 15/1 on “Protection of the Coastal Strip” and 16/3 on “Preservation of Natural Coastal Dynamics” should be on compulsory reading list in many coastal local governments. Perhaps they should even be discussed at high schools, for example in the context of the story of the church in Trzęsacz which collapsed into the sea even though at the time it was built it was 2 kilometres away from the shore.

So there are recommendations, but we don’t pay much attention to them in Poland?

Because for a Polish person his or her homeland is the land: fields, woods. We don’t have much consideration for the sea. We’ve wedded the Baltic Sea quite recently and the awareness of its dowry, its environmental richness, is low, therefore also the responsibility for its state is poor. Perhaps being in the European Union will help us to grow up faster and start sharing the responsibility for the environment of all of its seas and oceans. If not, then after reinforcing the coastline we will push for tiling it, I’m afraid…

But crowds still come here.

The Baltic is our national bathtub. But holidays by the sea don’t make us a sea nation. There are very few legendary sea heroes in our national pantheon.

Joseph Conrad…

Where did he create? Where did he write?


We have conquered the world on horseback, while others did it on boats and sailing vessels. This resulted in a different mentality, different attitude to sea, to people living overseas. It is field (!) marshals that we had plenty of. We find it difficult to comprehend what goes on by the sea and in the sea, because the vast majority of us don’t live near the sea. What’s more, amongst the community living on the Baltic coast many come from elsewhere and local minorities – Kashubians or Slovincians, for years isolated and distrustful – didn’t like to share their cultural know-how stemming from living by the sea.

And what’s the life like here now?

Hel has been gaining and has gained a lot in the military period of the European history, starting from the 1930s. It’s been given an urban infrastructure, a new harbour, hospital, schools…

IMG_7863-2But young people from those schools don’t see any future for themselves. Will they be able to be fishermen here in 50 years time? Supposedly 95 per cent of fish in the Puck Bay are three-spined sticklebacks.

There should also be fry of other kinds of fish. It isn’t there, because somebody has concreted over the coastal ecotone or cut coastal reed beds. Fish has nowhere to shelter and grow. No species can function without a habitat. Fish must have a place where they can spawn and hide from predators, they need something to eat and they can’t be fished out in excess or too early. If we get rid of underwater vegetation because we are building camping sites, those “cash hunting grounds”, then where should fish live? We either hunt for tourists or for fish. If we want to have both, we have to manage the space and its functions appropriately. And in this respect we have chaos. Local development strategies are just wishful thinking and not analyses of possibilities and realistic objectives.

But there is no noticeable conflict between tourism and fishermen.

That’s because fishermen themselves invest their money into tourism. A fisherman has a fishing boat, but often also a guesthouse, a shop or a chippy. It’s apparent that the flair for overexploitation gets transferred from fishing to tourism. To get more and more tourists you need more and more space. There isn’t much space on the Peninsula. And nature needs some for itself. You could assume that the hunt for tourists will go on until the bait runs out. And the baits are the beaches (less and less natural), the original landscape (which degrades year in, year out), and the local fish (diminishing, for obvious reasons). There is also the evident deficit of peace and quiet, so desired by holidaymakers from large cities.

I don’t like coming here in the season either.

And you are not the only one. But there are still plenty of fans of summer Władysławowo buzz and stalls.

The marketplace?

I think it makes the town ugly. Other people see it differently. It might be a new disco aesthetics. Perhaps it will become fashionable one day. But for now more and more postcards from our area are bird eye view photos. Close ups are dangerous. Here, in Hel, we still make the huge effort to preserve some originality; sometimes we succeed in preserving historical authenticity too. We are in the process of organising another Day of the Fish. This edu-eco-art event is different to anything that goes on in other coastal places. This is how we attempt to show others that the prosperity of many people from Hel depends directly or indirectly on the size of population and health of local fish. And they, on the other hand, depend on the quality of environment which we, people living in the catchment area of the Baltic Sea, have in our care and which we affect so heavily.

Hel has another advantage – it is a partially student town, and it has the Seal Sanctuary, which made it very popular. It is a side effect of our research and educational work, we didn’t plan it, but it happened. We are a powerful “extension” to the tourist season and the target of weekend and educational tourism. Another touristic but also pro-environmental product is the Dune Park with around 270 thousand visitors per year. Based on this experience we prepared the foundation for a similar park at the Hel Tip. It channels the movement of 490 thousand people. If not for this investment, some of them would most likely venture out onto the protected dunes. And if we lose grey dunes we won’t fulfil our obligations to the European Union in respect to nature protection in the Natura 2000 areas.

We don’t seem to worry about it too much for now.

But one day we will feel it. We won’t avoid fines if we don’t improve things. We have to know how to make civilizational progress without destroying species and habitats considered valuable for the whole community.

According to what I’ve read, it’s getting worse and worse: diminishing numbers of storks, overfishing, habitats getting destroyed.

Well, yes, there are more and more negative examples. But the numbers of grey seals have gone up to 32 thousand. We have been working on it with other Baltic states for over 20 years now.

And what about harbour porpoises?

The situation is not too good.

But there is a programme for harbour porpoise protection.


It hasn’t been put to vote yet?

It hasn’t been officially dealt with as yet. The specialists did everything that was needed. We have run an enormous Sambah project. Three hundred detectors have monitored porpoises all over the Baltic.

And you found out that there are 450 of them.

Yes. The size of the population got confirmed which means the species is critically endangered in the Baltic. Now we also now where they gather. They visit our waters mainly in wintertime and in spring. And? The EU has paid, we have data to manage the protection of the species and work towards removing the dangers. And not much happens. WWF appealed to the Minister to start further work on the national programme for the protection of harbour porpoises. A hundred thousand signatures were collected. It was promised that the case would soon move forward. But what if the Ministry of Agriculture takes a different stance, as it often does, assuming, for example, that the programme would limit fishing? The Ministry of Infrastructure might be against it too, because of something else… Everything will get delayed again. And it still needs to undergo public consultations. When everybody had their say, the Minister will make a decision whether to accept the programme or not. As it is or in a different form, because he can also modify it. It will take at least two more years. And let’s not forget that the species we are talking about has been under strict protection for years.

What about the Porpoise Sanctuary project?

That also is a long way away. The University of Gdańsk owns appropriate location. We will soon start discussing this project. It has to have the acceptance of the community. The experience with seals and the Seal Sanctuary encourage us to follow the same road. But in contrast to our ideas, there are also plans to build commercial dolphinaria for entertainment. Despite the fact that nobody in Europe builds them anymore, just like there are less and less circuses with live animals. Robert Biedroń hasn’t allowed a circus into Słupsk, I think the same happened in Gdynia. As long as Wojciech Szczurek and Jerzy Zając govern this city, animals won’t be the source of entertainment.

There are new rehabilitation and research centres in Europe which – though only as a by the by – also exhibit certain species that require more public attention. These are usually animals that cannot be released into the wild anymore. They suffer chronic diseases and have to be provided appropriate medication on a daily basis.

But it seems that local governments are quite eager to support water circus investors and they want to make money on it at the same time. Haven’t they learned that it is ethically questionable?

Let’s go back to the world in 50 years time. What trends do you see?

I think that for another 30 years we will continue to destroy the environment and then we will start spending huge amounts of money to rebuild it. After crossing a certain line we will understand that we have created unnecessary things and we have destroyed the necessary ones. We will try to renaturalize the environment. We will close camping sites on the Peninsula, we will buy out the land to revitalise it, in hope that the natural habitats will return. The entrance onto the Peninsula by car will be limited. People will need to book parking spots the same way we now book rooms in hotels. Only the richest will be able to afford proper holidays in the wilderness. Poorer people will be crowded into tourist camps. To go on holidays they will move from a gated residential estate to a gated tourist estate. And the only difference will be not having to go to work when on holidays. The rest of Europeans, the more wealthy ones, will prefer to holiday in the wilderness of Siberia than here.

For now holiday tastes of Poles are formed mainly by TV commercials.

Hel cannot afford such adverts; there are only about 3 to 4 thousand of us here. But you can be popular even without advertising. The problem is the number of visiting holidaymakers. “Ecological capacity” of the Peninsula seems to be depleting and the number of tourists still grows. Hel itself is in a better situation than other places on the Peninsula – it has plenty of wonderful, natural spots and loads of ex-military land for urbanisation (let’s hope it’s done with taste). Making money in summertime was always exceptionally easy here. The tricky bit is earning on tourism in the period between September and June. I think the educational tourism has the biggest potential. More and more often children and young people come here for trips and nature schools. We have Blue School here, we teach about the sea environment. There are also wonderful museums in Hel. You can educate yourself in history, ethnography and patriotic traditions. I hope that in 50 years time Hel will be a synonym of such tourism (and not necessarily just one-day tourism), as well as of health tourism. We have the foundation for it; we just need to develop it further. There will be more and more people needing a place to get their health on track. Young Hel residents should get the right education for it. Work guaranteed.

And perhaps finally Hel will become part of Gdynia administrative district. We are the most natural and closest year-round development supply base for each other. It’s time to increase the public transport across the bay all year round. And then make corrections on the administrative map of the country. For hundreds of years we were part of Gdańsk and now we are part of Puck. Gdynia has lost its fishing port, it needs larger beaches, because its own are located along cliffs, so they won’t get any bigger. People from Gdynia can see us and we, too, can see Gdynia’s growing potential on the horizon pretty much every day. I think that people from Hel working in Gdynia can be something natural, same as specialists from Gdynia working in Hel. These are our perspectives.

Are we mentally ready for it though?

I don’t know. Changes are in the hands of politicians and their voters.

Professor Krzysztof Skóra – biologist, specialist in ichthyology (biology and ecology of fish of the Baltic coastal zone), biological oceanography, protection of marine environment and marine mammals. He is the head of the Hel Marine Station of the Institute of Oceanography at the University of Gdańsk.

Substations in Berlin for Literature Festival say hello to Australia!

Substations groups from Berlin, Dublin, London and Hel in Poland are preparing to share a sample of work they’ve created as part of the Weather Stations Project for a closing event in the International Literature Festival in Berlin.

On the first day, the groups created a world map and reflected on their relationship to different parts of the world. They discussed how different continents feel the impact of climate change differently.

As part of the process, the group couldn’t help give a shout to their friends in Australia! We miss you!

Reflections of an Environmental Refugee

c Xianyi Shen

c Xianyi Shen

Most of my days in my twenties were spent alone writing in a rented one bedroom apartment on 15th floor in Beijing’s Wudaokou District. Fast and furious, I wrote on a first generation PC which only had one function – Chinese typing software for Word. This workaholic life continued until one morning my mother called me requesting that I return home immediately: ‘Your father has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, the final stage of throat cancer.’

With the guilt of not having made a visit to my parents in a number of years, I instantly stopped everything in Beijing and flew back to Zhejiang, which now had a brand new airport near my hometown. In terms of the Confucian tradition, I was not a good daughter. Fulfilling filial duty had not really been the focus of my attention for a long time. At that time, I thought the demands of being a dutiful daughter were purely an ideological tool for suppression of women. (Years later when I read English feminist writer Juliet Mitchell‘s Women’s Estate, I thought how accurate had been here analysis that the patriarchal family order created women as secondary people.) No wonder her work was not promoted in China! But setting aside all these reservations born from my political stance, I decided to give in to my mother’s request. My father was the only person in my family I respected. Not because he was my father but because his artistic spirit was something I valued and had modeled my own artistic life on. So I left Beijing, taking all my film script work and unfinished novels with me. When I finally got to the hospital in my hometown, I saw my mother’s darting, sometimes, frantic blood shot eyes and my brother’s sallow, depressed face. I knew the situation was bad. That night, my father went through a seven hour operation – because of the spread of the cancer cells to his neck and lymph nodes, they had to remove his larynx entirely. We stayed outside of the operation room, weary and on edge, waiting for what felt like a delayed death sentence. Next morning, when my father woke up, it became apparent to both us and him that he would not be able to speak again. This was a shocking reality, as bad as his not being able to swallow water or to urinate or engage in the simplest physical tasks. He lay on his bed, staring blankly at the food tube fed through his nose and into his stomach.

My father lay on his hospital bed for three weeks. He shared his room with four other patients. During that time we saw two cancer patients die in front of us. The nurses came to remove their bodies, while the remaining family members cried in their devastation. One of the patients who died was a very young girl. She was only 12 and she had had neck cancer. She died two days after her operation. This case especially shook my father, who always believed that the mind was stronger than the physical body. He thought a body would follow the will of a mind which would prevail through any condition of physical weakness, something very much in line with Mao Zedong’s way of thinking. But the cancer ward taught him a heavy lesson. Mind is powerless when it comes to a certain illness.

My mother tried everything to improve my father’s health. Apart from the mix of western pills and traditional herbal medicines, she regularly brought him a turtle to consume, to improve his nutrition. Chinese believe that turtles are long-lived creatures and there are some organic materials in their bodies that can enhance a human body’s strength. First she cooked a turtle soup for a long time with all sorts of herbs. After my father drank the soup she would then take the turtle shell to make plastrons. He would eat the shell powder. I didn’t know if that way of eating worked for his illness. But with all the radiotherapy he did later on and the western medication, he nevertheless survived for another thirteen years.

During the days we stayed in the cancer ward, we were quite troubled by seeing so many new cancer patients being carried into the hospital and dying on their beds. The wards were full, the new patients had to sleep on makeshift beds in the corridors as well as the narrow space in between the staircases. Nurses and doctors were bombarded by demands from the patients and their families. The invalids puked, coughed, and howled, seemingly, at every possible moment. The place was like a hell on earth. There was no human dignity in a Chinese hospital like this one we stayed. Zhejiang was a fast developing industrial province with many large-scale factories, there had been lots of talk about water and soil pollution, that the factories released chemical waste into the rivers. But no one could really conduct a thorough investigation provide clear evidence of the links between heavy pollution and bad effects on human health. All the big factories were state backed. For example, many women and young kids who had never smoked, nevertheless died of lung cancer. Why was that? Some doctor theorized that airborne particles known as PM2.5 (meaning they are 2.5 micrometers or smaller) contributed to many death cases of the lung cancer patients. When inhaled, these tiny and often toxic particles would pass through lung membranes and enter the bloodstream. While they didn’t always cause cancer, they were a ubiquitous byproduct of burning coal. But in China, PM2.5 has become a part of life.

Another time I read a report from the World health Organization. It said there were 13 million Chinese people dying from cancer each year and this number was rising. According to this figure, if there were 55 million people in my province, then, one could expect that about 500,000 people were dying of cancer each year. During the last two decades, there were many ‘cancer villages’ and ‘HIV villages’ appearing in China. It said in those villages every family had someone who died of cancer or blood infection. And these cases were directly linked to environmental issues. Now even the Beijing government was quite alert about the problem. They released a report recently saying more than 70 per cent of the country’s rivers and lakes had been polluted. This made me wonder, if that was admitted by the Chinese government through official channels, then what would the percentage be according to independent organizations like NGOs or the World Health Organization? You wouldn’t want to hear the real facts. Was that the reason we Chinese only drank boiled water?

My father’s cancer was the catalyst for my thinking about the fragility of human health in relation to our environment and for an increasing sense of foreboding, indeed, gloom, in particular, about China. I saw my earlier life in Beijing, frantically living within an urban system out of control, trying to meet writing deadlines, running from computer to another job and back again, always catapulting myself into the next project, but all the time surviving with a kind of tunnel vision. My life was run through with this desire for personal achievement at any cost. The phrase rings through my mind, at any cost, which sums up so much of what China is about. My costs were personal but also political. China in the last 60 years has been driven to national goals, at any cost. The cost was becoming more and more apparent. Cancer is eating up the population, even as another industrial park is built, or power station constructed.

My mother died of terminal stomach cancer just a year after my father finally succumbed to cancer. I didn’t know how much her condition was the result of environmental contamination, or perhaps it was just widow’s cancer. But I know she had been suffering from the condition for a while and that the doctor’s had misdiagnosed her ailment—they had given her pills for a heart condition rather than for stomach cancer. After both my parents died, I felt I was indeed an environmental refugee living in western Europe. Is the rain in Spain the same rain as the rain that falls on the Huabei plain in Northern China? Is the snow that falls on a Beijing roof the same that falls on top of the People’s Palace in Warsaw? If so, there are no more places for environmental refugees. It’s the same water system on this planet Earth.

The Lies in the Air

The two detectives stood over the autopsy table, regarding the remains. The dead man had been Caucasian, middle-aged, overweight and balding. The body had a flattened, burst look, the flesh of the torso split in a number of areas. The intestines had already been removed, most of them having to be brought in separate from the body. The left arm was connected only by tendons and strands of muscle. As the coroner sprayed the corpse, cleaning it down, the water ran red with blood onto the stainless steel table and down the drains set into its surface. There were ligature marks on his wrists that indicated they’d been tied, and the man had a strange blood-bruise that circled most of his face, the face itself misshapen as if something had tried to suck it into a hole.

The coroner was a lean man with African features and a bass voice that sounded suitably sombre as he spoke into a recorder about the each step of the post-mortem. He spoke in German, his diction clipped and precise. The room was chilly, its surfaces all white tile, steel work units and painted concrete walls. The coroner said something to his assistant, a sallow, pinch-faced young woman, who handed him a scalpel. He began to make a Y-shaped incision down the torso, preparing to open up the chest cavity.

Unlike scenes in so many films, when a body falls from a great height, it rarely lands intact. It is, after all, a soft container of flesh whose shape is reinforced with rather brittle bone that tends to break on impact. The overall effect is that of dropping a meat balloon full of blood. The two detectives watched with detached interest, as a customer might watch a butcher prepare joints of meat. This was not their first autopsy.

Bill Flynn and Jemimah Hearn, known to their colleagues as Blowfly and Jerm, were part of an international unit attached to Interpol, tasked with investigating crimes with far-reaching consequences. They were in this room in Berlin today because the dead man might have a connection with two open, and possibly connected, cases. Lies-5Blowfly was neat and trim in dress and looks, his Oriental features stretched over fine bone structure, his manner still and relaxed, a faint Irish lilt to his voice. Jerm had a more neutral English accent, was more restless, and taller and more angular, with cropped dark brown hair which was never quite brushed into place. Her face had a subdued, dour expression without seeming cold, though whether that was from her job or because of her character was anyone’s guess.

‘So this guy fell from this building, TV Tower,’ Blowfly said.

He’d only arrived half an hour ago, having come in on a different plane to Jerm. He was still catching up.

‘Yeah,’ she replied. ‘The Fernsehturm. One of their most famous buildings, overlooks Alexanderplatz. His name’s Erich Ulbricht. He was a broadcaster, but he didn’t work in the tower himself.’

‘What’s with the mark on his face?’ Blowfly asked.

‘Oh, you’ll love this. When he hit the ground, he was wearing a gas mask.’


‘You heard me. A gas mask. The guy was wearing it when he was thrown off.’

‘We sure he was thrown?’

Jerm had a picture of TV Tower ready on her phone to show him.

‘Oh yeah, I know it,’ he said, nodding.

It was straight and thin, tapering to a point like a needle. About two thirds of the way up was a sphere, with another, rectangular structure above it. Most of the rest above that was an antenna.

‘See the glass ball?’ Jerm said. ‘That’s where the restaurant and viewing gallery are. Usual deal with these things, great view of all the big stuff nearby, you know; the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz . . . And it turns too. These restaurant places always have to turn now. Anyway, whoever did this to the guy, hung him by his feet down over the ball bit here. He was hanging right down in front of the windows of the restaurant.’

‘Kind of like . . .’

‘. . . A public hanging? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. There’s a definite punishment vibe coming off this thing. So he’s let hang there, his wrists tied behind him, wearing this gas mask and he’s thrashing around . . . Some of the staff think to run upstairs to see if they can pull him up. But when they get to the office he’s hanging from, they throw open the door and it’s . . .’ She paused. ‘The door was rigged. WhLies-6en they opened it, it released the end of the rope.’

Blowfly looked back at the corpse on the stainless steel table.

‘How high?’

‘Two hundred and ten metres, give or take.’

‘That’d do it all right.’

Neither of them spoke for a minute. Blowfly already knew why Jerm had taken an interest in the case. Erich Ulbricht worked for Hewbrys Holdings, or at least, the radio station he worked for was owned by the company. Hewbrys Holdings was connected to two of their other cases; a bush-fire in Australia and a terrorist attack on the Thames Barrier in London. And now this.

‘Different M.O.’ Jerm commented. ‘Completely different situation. Again. But it’s got the same stink off it. Someone’s playing games.’

‘Yeah, I’m having a theory,’ Blowfly said.

‘Great, I’ll call the press.’

Blowfly didn’t rise to the jibe. He was well used to his partner’s sarcasm. They were both about to say something else, when the coroner lifted his head and pulled down his mask for a moment.

‘I just thought you’d be interested to know,’ he said to them, his English spoken with a trace of American twang. ‘The gas mask had its breathing tube sealed. He wouldn’t have been able to breathe while he was wearing it. My preliminary examination of the lungs confirms it. He was asphyxiated. Even if he hadn’t fallen, he would have been dead within a minute or two.’

‘Any idea why?’ Jerm asked.

‘I believe that would be your job,’ the coroner replied. ‘Though I’m sure the Berliner Polizei will already have a long list of suspects. Mister Ulbricht was a divisive figure in Germany.’

‘How so?’ Blowfly said.

‘He was what you’d call a “shock jock”. Paid to spout offensive opinions. Even the name of the radio station, “Schutzwall“, is intended to get a rise out of people. Strictly translated, it means “rampart” or “protective wall”, but you would just call it, “the Wall”.’

‘That was the name of the Berlin Wall in German,’ Jerm told Blowfly. ‘Der Antifaschistischer Schutzwall. The Anti-Fascism Rampart.’

‘Yes,’ the coroner said.  ‘Though, perhaps it’s intended to be ironic, given Ulbricht’s politics and those of the station generally. He was the poster boy for every right-wing, reactionary campaign over the last few years. Lies-3He would have had plenty of enemies already, but after the guest he interviewed last week, well . . . there are probably thousands more.’

‘Why’s that?’ Blowfly asked.

‘The living aren’t my problem,’ the coroner said. ‘They’re yours. The interview got posted everywhere online. You should hear it for yourselves. You’ll understand.’

Giving them a grim smile, he pulled up his mask and returned to his work.


Erich Ulbricht’s fateful interview had been with a Polish woman named Dominika O’Reilly. She was an environmentalist who had been brought on to talk about the pollution in China’s cities; she had written an article about it in one of Germany’s newspapers, comparing it with the pollution Berlin faced in the seventies and eighties. She was thirty-six years old; a lean, active looking, slightly unkempt woman, her straight blonde hair cut in a bob just below the jaw-line, the features of her face blocky but strong and attractive, prematurely lined by what appeared to some underlying anger or frustration. Her eyes had the intensity of a campaigner.

‘Ulbricht brought me on to his show to make a point,’ she told the two detectives, her accent a light-sharp, chirping mix of Polish and Irish. ‘I was there to talk about climate change, but he wasn’t really interested in anything I had to say. He just wanted an excuse to go off on a rant about China.’

They were sitting down at a wooden table and benches outside a café beside the Documentation Centre at the Berlin Wall Memorial. O’Reilly had chosen the location, saying she did not want to be interviewed in a police station. She had had bad experiences with the police in the past. Blowfly and Jerm were inclined to agree. They had already checked out her criminal record, which listed a series of arrests for various extreme protests, ranging from chaining herself to mining machinery in Australia, to hanging off a bridge in the path of a container ship carrying toxic waste down a river in the US. She was now a German citizen; seemingly the only country she’d lived in where she’d never been arrested. Blowfly had a latte in front of him, Jerm had a black coffee and was lighting a cigarette. O’Reilly had only asked for tap water. She didn’t look too happy about the cigarette smoke, but she didn’t say anything.

‘When we talked on the phone,’ Blowfly began, ‘you said you weren’t surprised to hear Ulbricht died wearing a gas mask. Hearing that someone’s been thrown off a building with a gas mask on would be pretty surprising to most people.’

‘I’m not most people,’ O’Reilly replied. ‘Perhaps I was being insensitive about someone who’d just been murdered. I don’t particularly care that he’s dead, but it’s horrible how he died. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. The reason I said I wasn’t surprised was because of his background. You said you’d listened to the interview?’

‘Yes,’ Jerm said, exhaling smoke, ‘but we’d like to hear the story straight from you.’

O’Reilly sipped her water, tilting her head back to look at the sky. Across from them was one of the last remaining sections of the Berlin Wall, complete with one of the old watch-towers. It was there as a monument now, a reminder. But Berlin had moved on, consigning that part of itself to history.

‘It’s funny, how different things are normal in different places,’ the young woman said. ‘Fifty years ago, that wall dividing the city was normal. Stasi surveillance and all its informers, the horrible paranoia, was normal. Life recovering from the world’s worst war was normal. City streets obscured by a choking smog was normal. Now we think this is normal, what we have now. And yet this has only existed for such a very short time. I like this normal – here, now, in Berlin. The environment is taken seriously.’ Lies-7She gestured over her shoulder at a billboard on the wall. It was for an organization called Naturschutzbund Deutschland, and showed a boat passing through water whose surface was carpeted in garbage. ‘It’s part of normal conversation. People don’t consider you a nut for talking about conservation, climate change, that kind of thing.’

Jerm thought about the other two cases they were still working on; one that concerned bush-fires in the Australian state of Victoria, the other the Thames Barrier in London. Both had an environmental facet to them, though she and Blowfly had been unable to establish that as a solid connection.

‘You very worried about climate change?’ she asked.

‘I should be,’ O’Reilly answered. ‘But I mustn’t be worried enough.’

‘Why do you say that?’

‘Because it’s so serious, I should be out planting bombs to stop all this coal mining and oil drilling. I should be helping to blow up these mines and oil rigs. That’s how serious it is. It’s going to bring down civilization as we know it, so I should be doing anything possible to stop it. But I don’t. I should be willing to go to prison to make change happen, but I’m not. I don’t go far enough.’

‘You’re not going to do anyone any good in prison,’ Jerm remarked bluntly. ‘Tell us about the circumstances leading up to the interview.’

‘Yes, the interview,’ O’Reilly said, grimacing. ‘Not that it was an interview at all. I’d been asked to talk about my article on air pollution in China. In some cities, on some days, they have to wear masks when they go out on the streets. That was what I wanted to talk about. I mean, it’s only a symptom of the level of carbon in the air. You know that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached four hundred parts per million?’

‘I’ve heard it,’ Jerm said, ‘but . . . well . . . I don’t really know what it means.’

‘It hasn’t been that high in the last three to five million years!’ O’Reilly exclaimed, her voice taking on the tone of an evangelist, her hands clasped in the air. ‘Back then, sea levels could have been thirty metres higher than today. The atmosphere’s been doing its thing, changing ever so slowly over all this time and then the industrial revolution comes along and suddenly the carbon levels start rocketing . . . It’s not just a few shifts in the weather we’re talking about here. Lies-2We’ve affected the air and the seas so much, we’ve changed the Earth’s future capacity to support the world as we know it. That’s how big a deal this is. That’s what I wanted to talk about . . .’

Pausing, she lowered her hands, giving the two detectives a sheepish, but bitter smile.

‘You see how I get. Anyway, I knew Ulbricht would ambush me, turn it into a chance for him to launch into some tirade against China. I’ve been caught out by people like him before. They don’t want real discussion or debate, they’re not trying to draw out the truth. This time, I thought I’d take a different approach. I’d employ some of his own tactics. I’d dig up some dirt on him. I knew he’d grown up in East Berlin, so when I was invited on the show, I contacted someone I know at the Stasi-Unterlagen-Behörde, the Stasi Records Agency, who hold all the old files from the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit.’ She rolled the German words off her tongue, as if tasting them. ‘My friend was surprised nobody had done a search on Ulbricht before, given the number of people who hate him, but there you are. Anyone can apply – the MfS files are all open to the public. Or perhaps nobody had dug far enough down. The Germans are keen to let it all lie, I suppose. It’s taken a lot of tolerance for Berliners, living together in the same city, to get past the suspicion, the paranoia that existed back then. Imagine how you’d feel if you found out that your neighbour had informed on you to the Stasi – or even one of your own family? If its people had looked for revenge on one another, Berlin would have descended into chaos. Instead, they had to forgive and forget, to get on with their lives. It’s so complex, so fascinating. And it’s extraordinary, what you can still find in the Stasi files from that time. Did you know they have an archive of sweat and body odour samples? I think it was for when they needed to use tracker dogs. The bastards even recorded your smells . . .

‘Whatever. I learned that Ulbricht had worked for the Stasi. He was an informer first, in university, then an operative, then an interrogator. The last references to him in the Stasi material were in connection with the South African Police. I kept digging and found mention of him in a report by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Johannesburg. Apparently, when the wall fell, he moved to South Africa, where he continued to practise his trade.’

She paused once again, for effect this time, to ensure she had the full attention of her audience.

‘Ulbricht’s method of choice was the gas mask. He would put it on the prisoner and, if the victim didn’t talk, he’d block the air tube so they couldn’t breathe. He would do this until they passed out, then open the tube again. When the prisoner regained consciousness, he told them he would do it again, but this time he’d let them suffocate. Lies-8He claimed they never failed to tell him everything he wanted to know. After the fall of apartheid in ’94, he ran back to Germany. No charges were ever brought against him in either country. He managed to successfully build a new life in the media, covering up his past.’

Blowfly and Jerm had already heard the story, and Ulbricht’s apoplectic reaction to it during the interview, which had resulted in the show going off the air while O’Reilly was escorted from the building. Ulbricht had been placed on a leave of absence until the issue was resolved. Even a controversy-courting station like Schutzwall FM couldn’t employ someone who might have once been a torturer.

‘So a guy whose job it was to torture information out of people became an interviewer on the radio,’ Jerm sniffed. ‘Nice.’

‘He polluted the airwaves with his filthy arguments and accusations,’ O’Reilly said, scowling. ‘He used his position to humiliate others, to inspire fear and hatred and to denounce decent people with his propaganda and to undermine scientists who were warning against climate change, which was one of his pet hates.’

‘As I said, I’d never wish that kind of death on anyone, but I’m not sorry he’s dead. Whoever did this, they’re making a point. A bit heavy-handed, I’ll grant you . . . and unlike me, they’re not compromising. To be honest, I’m surprised someone hasn’t already claimed credit for it. This isn’t a normal murder, I think it’s the act of a terrorist. And terrorists want publicity.’

The three talked for a little while longer and then Blowfly and Jerm thanked Dominika O’Reilly for her time and she left. The two detectives regarded each other for a moment.

‘Definite pattern around this climate change thing,’ Jerm observed. ‘They’re all aspects of global warming, aren’t they? You get more bush-fires in Victoria, more storm surges along the Thames. And now this: a climate change denier who’s also a torturer, outed by an environmentalist.’

‘There’s something else,’ Blowfly added. ‘I think there’s something here about the classical elements.’

‘The what?’

‘The classical elements, the four states of matter . . . y’know; earth, air, fire and water. Earth is solid, air is gas, fire is plasma and water is liquid. Although sometimes there’s five, if you include the quintessence, or aether.’

‘Oh, sure. Right.’

‘No, listen,’ Blowfly persisted. ‘The first victim, Cameron Davis, burned to death. The second, Antonia Abbot, drowned. This guy, who “polluted the airwaves”, fell through the air while suffocating . . .’

‘Yeah, yeah, I get it. But . . . so what?’

‘So it’s symbolism of some kind. Like O’Reilly said, someone’s making a point. Yes, it looks like the work of terrorists, but where are the claims of responsibility? She’s right; terrorists want publicity – that’s what it’s all about. I’m betting there’s going to be another victim, possibly two. And the next one’s likely to be something to do with earth.’

Jerm slapped the table and blasted smoke from her mouth.

‘Goddammit, Blow! You’ve cracked the case! We just have to stop someone dying of earth and we’ll nail the bastards who are behind this.’

‘You’re such a piss-taker,’ Blowfly sighed.

‘You’re such a bullshitter,’ she retorted.

‘It’s why we make such a good team,’ he replied, grinning.

She smiled back, picking up her case and taking out her tablet. Opening a window, she typed in Ulbricht’s name and the words ‘climate change’.

‘Let’s see if he pissed off anyone special with this denial stuff,’ she said, tapping the screen. ‘The violence against the victims has all been up close; it feels more personal than your average terrorist. I’m betting it’s someone who actually met him – maybe someone who featured on his show . . .’ A photo caught her eye and she stared at what had appeared on the screen. She spread her fingers over it, zooming in on the picture. ‘Well, I’ll be damned.’

‘No question o’ that,’ Blowfly murmured.

‘Smart-arse. Look at this.’

The photo was only tagged with Ulbricht’s name, but the image showed four people. The detectives recognized three of them. The image was a scan of a newspaper article about a group that had been assembled by the CEO of Hewbrys Holdings to ‘investigate the possible effects of climate change on air quality in Central Europe’. The people standing next to Erich Ulbricht in the picture were named in the newspaper’s caption, but it was just part of the image; the words wouldn’t show up on a search of the web. Next to the radio presenter was Hewbrys’ ‘Environmental Affairs Spokesperson’, Antonia Abbot and ‘Atmospheric Chemist’, Cameron Davis. The fourth person was a ‘prominent environmentalist’ named Michal Jánošík. Jerm went on to do a search for Michal Jánošík online, while Blowfly opened his laptop and checked him out on the Interpol database.

‘He’s got a record,’ Blowfly said. ‘Numerous arrests; most seem to be for protests of one sort or another. He’s got a sheet longer – and more extreme – than O’Reilly.’

‘He’s also dead,’ Jerm declared. ‘Murdered last year. Looks like we’re going to Poland.’

‘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


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