Climate Change – it’s been, it’s here, and it doesn’t star Brad Pitt.

P1060770A recent Guardian article (‘Losing paradise: the people displaced by atomic bombs, and now climate change‘, 9 March 2015) provides a sad reading about communities suffering the devastating effects of climate change now. The people of the Pacific Marshall Islands and Kiribati are dealing with ‘food shortages, droughts and floods’ while rising sea levels will ensure that their land and homes face certain oblivion. These are the same communities who have previously dealt with environmental degradation, and the resultant poisoning of their soils and their bodies due to US atomic testing that took place in the immediate aftermath of World War Two. Similar experiences of colonial violence have impacted on Indigenous nations across the globe for hundreds of years (and more). In Australia, for instance, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have witnessed the destruction of land, water systems and the delicate ecological balance of country — across the mainland and surrounding islands from the moment of the permanent arrival of the British in 1770.

For Indigenous people, the impact of climate change is not a future event. It has occurred in the past, and it is occurring now. In fact, it is not a future event for any community — although we know that so-called ‘third world’ nations, and the poor more generally, are being impacted on more severely and immediately as the impact of climate change gathers speed. It is also certain that the same communities will suffer to a greater extent in the near future.

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London Graffiti by Sophie Crook

There is a piece of Banksy graffiti that simply has the statement “I don’t believe in global warming” written on the side of a wall against a London canal. The statement is half submerged by the water itself. IAMS student Sophie Crook came across a photo of it and wrote the following about the image.

London Graffiti

This photo says a lot. A lot about what we as humans are and what we are choosing to believe in the world. To use a word as ‘believe’ says much about how we are too stubborn to admit what we have caused. The problem is not the fact that we have made this mess. The problem is the fact that we are blind to our own mistakes and unable to make considerable changes. We have caused a problem and now it is time to pick up the pieces. All we’re doing is discussing it. Blatantly, the words are right on the wall, sea levels are rising and so is the temperature. A contaminated, toxic sheet has been draped over our eyes since 1901 (this was when climate change was first discovered). We are able to see the problem started in our hands, we are able to spray ‘I don’t believe’ on a wall, but unable to use our hands to do anything. We have closed our eyes, let C02 and the ocean take its toll. There is a difference between truth and belief. You may not believe in global warming, but the facts will one day drown you out. You will be unseen, just like this opinion, on a wall in London.






Thoughts from inspiring quotes.

Martin Luther King JR:’Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter’.

(“Lets be aware of climate change because its real!”)

Albert Einstein: ‘Anything seems impossible until it is overcome’.

(“How do we know that we can’t prevent global warming if we have not tried enough?”)

We should not be afraid of failing the task ahead of us. This fear of failure should not be an excuse for turning away from looking at the problem of climate change. We have to tackle this task and change it for the better. That is why I believe we have to make the world’s leaders and peoples realise that change needs to begin as soon as possible before sea levels rise even higher, before any more species become extinct due to natural disasters, before vast bushfires occur, before severe droughts and floods take place in the next 50 years or even less and before countless more disasters that are just waiting to happen!

Anas Ahmadzai


A Mighty Woman, the 11.15 train to Flinders Street, and thoughts on forgiveness

This morning I caught the train to Williamstown, a western bayside suburb of Melbourne. I was on my way to the funeral of Dot Cannon, an Aboriginal woman of great character. Dot was born in the state of Western Australia. As a so-called ‘mixed-blood’ child, she – along with thousands of other Aboriginal children – virtually became the property of a racist state government. Children were taken from their families, sometimes separated for life, and were able toP1060771 do little in their lives without the permission of the state. That Dot overcame the violence she was subject to is testament to the strength of her character.

Hundreds of people attended Dot’s funeral, each of them touched by her generosity. Most of the people at the celebration of her life were non-Aboriginal, including her husband of fifty-five years, Pat Cannon. As a couple, Pat and Dot embraced each other’s cultures; he her Indigenous story, she Pat’s Irish heritage, articulated through the great poets such as Yeats and Heaney.

I left the funeral and caught the train back into the city, looking out the window and marvelling at what I consider to be Dot’s capacity for forgiveness. I would not be presumptuous enough to say that she forgave those who were directly responsible for the attempted destruction of her family. Perhaps she did? Only those closer to her than me would know this. But I would say, with confidence, that she must have forgiven White Australia for its ignorance and mistreatment of Aboriginal people. Dot was not ‘colourblind’, but she would never let colour, or race, or prejudice of any kind stand in the way of her helping others, of offering friendship, of being there just when we needed her to be.  (As I discovered personally some years ago when I experienced a profound personal crisis).

When I got home, I finished reading a new and important book on climate change: Don’t Even Think About It by George Marshall. The book deals with the peculiarities contained in the relationship between climate change and our ability to think about it, both rationally and emotionally. I also watched a program (on YouTube) where Marshall spoke with an audience and expanded on the issues raised in the book (followed by a conversation with George Monbiot, the environmental writer and Guardian columnist). Marshall is an impressive speaker and writer. He is clear, direct and engaging. While the issue may be difficult to deal with for some, Marshall’s is a guiding voice. Toward the end of the conversation Marshall spoke about forgiveness. I’m not certain about this, but I think that Marshall believes that we, having collectively damaged the planet, feel guilt over this, and subsequently turn away from considering climate change emotionally. I think he is also suggesting that we perhaps should forgive ourselves, and through the experience of forgiveness, turn to engagement and take responsibility for our relationship with the Earth.

So, the connection between Dot Cannon and George Marshall? Within an issue of complexity, something simple and instructive, I believe. We sometimes become stuck for ways to deal with problems that perplex us, or frighten us, or stand in the way of us ignorantly having a good time. Sometimes, we stick our heads in the sand. At other times, we look in the wrong places for a easy solution. Today, two people brought a thought together for me: the means by which we deal with one crisis in our lives can aid us in dealing with other issues of difficulty, seeming disconnected, but in fact not.

It’s not surprising that Dot Cannon loved the land – both the red dirt of the desert and the rich loam of her suburban garden. She nurtured her garden and it reciprocated, in its colours, and shapes, and scents, and the birds that found her waiting for them. I had not seen Dot for some time before she died. But I know that if I were to ask her advice on how to think and speak and write about climate change, she’d tell me to get out there … do the best you can.

Tony Birch

Caught between the marches!


It is 8.20 in the morning in Berlin and I’m looking out on the street, to where a few drifters remain after an all-night dance party. I leave for Dublin this afternoon and will not have the opportunity to join the climate change march that will take place here this afternoon. The march coincides with others taking place across the globe today, including a march in New York City prior to the commencement of the UN Climate Change Summit next week. I concur with the comments of Naomi Klein, in the Guardian today, that we cannot rely on talkfests to get on top of this issue. Success will come through the collective effort of communities, of people in the streets, engaging in direct action that will hopefully bring about concerted change.

The march in Melbourne, Australia, has already taken place. (I missed that one as well!) As you can see by the photograph (also printed in today’s Australian edition of the Guardian), the weather was clear and people marched in their tens of thousands. Some claim that the old-fashioned street protest is outmoded. It is not. We need to know that we do not face this issue as individuals, and we need our politicians to know that we are tired of their stalling, inaction and most of all, their complicity in the damage caused to each of us through their relationships with, and financial support of, polluters. I dearly hope that the marches in Berlin today, and other cities are a great success. I also hope that something a lot more than talk takes place in New York this week.

Tony Birch


Shout To The Top?: for World Environment Day

One of the priorities of the Tony Abbott Coalition government (Liberal/National Party Coalition) when it came to power in 2013, was to axe the federal Climate Commission, an advisory body on matters of climate change and the environment more generally. Thanks to crowdsourcing and philanthropic donors, the organisation was reformed as the independent Climate Council.

The Council’s most recent report, Abnormal Autumn, provides sober information for those concerned about climate change. Not only has Australia experienced our warmest two years on record, with the likelihood of an El Niño weather event affecting the continent later in 2014, into 2015, it will only get hotter and certainly drier in the southern half of Australia. As the overwhelming majority of scientists now agree, the Council is telling us that climate change is not a concern for future generations; ‘Climate change is here, it is happening and Australians are already feeling its impact.’ (Climate Council report, quoted in The Guardian, 2 June 2014.)

[map 19 - 'I'm not going to take it anymore' - factory wall, Melbourne, Australia.]
[map 19 – ‘I’m not going to take it anymore’ – factory wall, Melbourne, Australia.]

The Weather Stations project asks creative writers to express our views on climate change. When the four writers from Europe were guests of the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, we talked a lot about the basic question – what can writing and writers do to inform the wider community about the issue? The talk was healthy and helpful, although, not unexpectedly, we didn’t come up with a clear answer (not to my knowledge, at least). I was initially frustrated by my own inability to confidently state – ‘I can make a difference’.

I’m no longer frustrated, because I realise that there is no answer to the question. I do not know if my writing makes a difference or not. But I do know that many writers have had an impact on the way I understand and respond to climate change, including our guests from Europe. The only way forward for writers and artists, I believe, is to do the work and put it out there. Give an essay, story, poem, film or image its life. And hope it connects …

In the meantime, we have the here and now – real weather change – to deal with. Here and now. I’m positive than if politicians and businesses continue to ignore the drastic need for new and assertive policies to deal with climate change, there will be increased levels of protest and direct action across the globe. This is an act of necessity when confronted with inaction.

When I was in Sydney last week for the writers’ festival, I went for a long run around the harbour. The sky was clear and the water sparkled. It was a beautiful day. While running, I thought about what would happen if I were to take a gallon of dirty oil and pour it into the harbour – in front of locals, tourist and the water authority. I expect I would be set upon and arrested (and, possibly, beaten to a pulp).

We are pouring poison into the atmosphere – NOW – and we’re getting away with it. Or so we think. In fact, we are paying a heavy price for our vandalism. And we’re not poisoning somebody else’s water and air, somebody we can forget about. We’re poisoning ourselves and each other.

Tony Birch