Sydney, AustraliaOnly a few months ago, I joked with friends who had just returned from life in the Northern Hemisphere that, with the state of the world at that moment, our distance from the rest of the world felt more like comfort than tyranny. Australia felt like a prosperous and benign island.
Life comes at you fast. We Australians found ourselves at the center of global events when our land erupted in flames. In recent months, fires have burned millions of acres, destroyed thousands of homes and killed at least 30 people. More than a billion animals perished.
In Sydney, it started long before summer with drought creeping up slowly, leaving scraps of yellow grass and dirt where lawns used to be. The government tightened water restrictions, and in my household we shaved our showers down to three minutes. We collected the tepid shower water in buckets, then hauled it out to the garden, trying to keep our sad plants alive.
Then came the fires. Smoke drifted across the city and refused to leave. At first, it was so strong and new that it woke me from sleep, and I wandered the house thinking it was coming from somewhere inside. On my morning walk, the bridges and high-rises in the distance almost disappeared, mere shapes in a fog.
The summer barbecue talk was all cognitive dissonance. “Aren’t the fires terrible? And so many animals lost; it’s heartbreaking. We need to do more about climate change. But anyway, how was your trip to Japan? We are thinking of taking the kids next year — was the snow OK?” Conversations of a country driven off a cliff, suspended in the air for one moment before the fall.
By late January, the smoke cleared a little. It was replaced by what my daughter calls “sky dirt,” blown in from inland dust storms. Sky dirt coated all the cars and houses in a fine, brown layer. Soon after, we swam in the surf and the sky was clear again, but the saltwater was flecked with tiny fragments of burned leaves.
Then came the floods and the heaviest rainfall in 30 years. Rain blew sideways, and the house creaked. We carted buckets in the opposite direction, bailing out our small lawn as it drowned in several inches of water. And it struck me that this — a sudden and opposite problem after months of drought — illustrated the impossibility of simply “adapting” to climate change.
How do you adapt when the changes coming are not simply new patterns but the very loss of a predictable pattern?
The time has come for us to put away childish things and reckon with climate change, to do what we can to prevent a future in which extreme weather is more intense and more frequent. This time around, it was Australia that suffered, that served as a warning of our planet’s climate change future. Many other places will follow in the coming years.
The question I have been asking myself is, what does it matter that I accept the science of climate change if I continue to live my life as if climate change were a hoax?
What does it matter that I accept the science of climate change if I continue to live my life as if climate change were a hoax?
Well my ship’s been split to splinters and it’s sinking fast
I’m drownin’ in the poison, got no future, got no past
But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free
I’ve got nothin’ but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me
Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow
Things should start to get interesting right about now