Weather Stations: The Current Climate

Few contemporary issues present us with so much information, speculation and polarity of opinion as climate change. While many in the scientific community argue that the planet is headed for environmental disaster, equally determined sceptics dismiss such concerns. Elected officials and the media have taken sides and fiercely defend their often contradictory positions.

As part of the Weather Stations initiative, the Wheeler Centre presented a conversation that provided you, the audience, a chance to ask experts in the field what’s really going on. All five of the Weather Stations writers in residence from around the globe, including our own Tony Birch, were amongst a participatory audience.

Guests on the panel included Amanda McKenzie, CEO of the Climate Council, the independent body that was crowdfunded after the Climate Commission’s government funding was withdrawn; Environment Defenders Office CEO Brendan Sydes; and David Karoly, a Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Melbourne.

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

 

Maribyrnong River

Image: Hot air balloons over Melbourne

Hot air balloons over Melbourne

The road tips downwards, hurling me towards the silvery body of water. Straightening my legs, I stand on the pedals and let my bike gather speed, whizzing through the freezing air. The river releases thick columns of morning mist, spiralling into the air in curling tendrils. Towering sky scrapers are silhouetted in the distance, backed by the slow turning of the Ferris wheel. In the icy water, two hot air balloons are reflected, catching the marmalade rays of the morning sun. The air is silent, the world still asleep. It’s just the river and the morning and me.

– Maxine / Footscray City College Substation

A man’s home is his bike

Image: The Brophy Machine (bicycle)

The Brophy Machine at rest

I’m at home on the saddle of my bicycle, pushing up a hill or gliding down one. My bicycle creates a circumference of reachable places along routes that squeeze through Brunswick lanes, skim across Parkville parklands, slip under bridges on bike trails in Fitzroy or dodge pedestrians on footpaths in Carlton. I’m at home with my bicycle’s gentle call to exercise, the timing of its low gliding. You can park it anywhere. You can keep it by your desk or by your bed. It’s slow enough and fast enough. It has no fear of rain or wind, and there’s that fizz of air as I push off.


 

Kevin Brophy is a writer and teacher.  He lives in Brunswick, Victoria, Australia.

Remembering a boy in a tree fishing for carp

The dam is at the bottom of the street where I lived as a teenager. This Christmas, I went for a walk and ended up here, ambushed by nostalgia and belonging. I escaped from this daggy Adelaide suburb as soon as I could.  I stood at the dam, now landscaped, with a fountain and a boardwalk for birdwatching. Back then it was a pool of muddy water where the boy I liked would sit in a tree and fish for carp.  I was reminded of the simple consolations that this suburb and the water and trees nearby will always be a part of me.

Wynn%20Vale%20dam copy

Jo Case is a writer, editor and festival manager who lives in Footscray and grew up in Adelaide.

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

Boab Dreaming with Stephen Muecke

The Sydney City Council cleared some trees at the end of our street, opening a space right at the beginning of King Street, the main drag. On impulse, I wrote to the council suggesting they plant a Boab tree. I said this tropical variety could be iconic; it might become the ‘Newtown Boab Tree’. It would welcome strangeness while also being a sign of global warming. Andrew from the Council rang me within a couple of hours. He was sympathetic and said he’d put the idea to a meeting – though of course, those responsible for streetscapes had a master plan … Master plan? I should have known.

Boab Dreaming - Words Stephen Muecke, image Joe Muecke

Boab Dreaming – Words Stephen Muecke, image Joe Muecke


Stephen Muecke lives in Newtown, Sydney. Young Joe lives in Copenhagen.

Bishop Blows Hot Air

An unfortunate but accurate summary of Australian Foreign minister, Julie Bishop, and her performance in Lima. We may yet win the title of the dumbest government in the world. A ‘first world’ country with a ‘fifth world’ mentality.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2014/dec/10/foreign-minister-julie-bishops-speech-to-lima-climate-talks-annotated

Watch discussion: The Current Climate

Few contemporary issues present us with so much information, speculation and polarity of opinion as climate change. While many in the scientific community argue that the planet is headed for environmental disaster, equally determined sceptics dismiss such concerns. Elected officials and the media have taken sides and fiercely defend their often contradictory positions.

As part of the Weather Stations project, the Wheeler Centre presented a conversation that provided a live audience with a chance to ask experts in the field what’s really going on. All five of the Weather Stations writers in residence were amongst a participatory audience.

Guests on the panel included Amanda McKenzie, CEO of Australia’s Climate Council, the independent body that was crowdfunded after the Australian Climate Commission’s government funding was withdrawn; Environment Defenders Office CEO Brendan Sydes; and David Karoly, a Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Melbourne.