March 13, 2008 | Ronda Jambe

The only pub in the only town

Walking to the shops in my Canberra suburb this afternoon, I wished I could communicate the sadness that greets every dry crunch under my feet. Supposedly it was a moist spring and summer, but here we are in autumn, experiencing that dessicating dryness that brings drooping spirits along with leaves. It is still very warm, and the condition of the plants is much worse than normal preparation for winter.
How many of the good burghers around me really grasp the significance of this Big Dry? The girl in the shops said she knows it, without seeing any movies about it. ‘It’ of course is climate change. What we take in through our senses is more important and meaningful than what newspapers tell us about science or what the movies show us about politics.
When you think about it, how would you describe the difference between science and art? Maybe science tries to determine how the world really is, the the rules that run it, while art highlights how different our individual and social worlds are. The rules of society are fantastical, hardly linked to any objective reality. What other conclusion is possible, when you see people observing obscure rituals in obeisance to religious traditions?
Last year we were on a tour along with a woman who kept vanishing and reappearing a few days later. Turned out her bad dress sense was not coincidental; she is orthodox Jewish, and cannot travel on the sabbath. Going on a bus tour would seem a bit impractial, but with great restraint, all I said to her was ‘People derive comfort in different ways.’ Yeah, I hope your god notices and appreciates, is more what I was thinking.
If we can’t make sense of each other’s religious practices, can we even agree on what is physically happening to us? Is there sufficient overlap in our views of reality to take action? That’s a tough one. More critical is that we get beyond our parochialism and realise that there is nowhere for us beyond this sphere, and our impacts on each other are not trivial. It seems that climate change scored 21 out of 22 on a survey of important issues for US citizens. However, in Australia it ranks quite high, possibly because it is obvious that we are indeed, as Garnaut presaged, in for it.
Adelaide has just set a record for an Australian heat wave: 11 days in a row over 35C. People are being admitted to hospital with heat stroke, in March. Our capital cities (are there any exceptions?) have water storage capacity under 50%. In Canberra electronic road signs tell us daily what the goal for water consumption is, and how much we used the previous day. It is always alarming.
Americans are less conscious of climate change, according to a Lateline interviewee, because there is so much more variability across their big continent. Certainly, people I talk to over there don’t seem to have consistent observations that the weather is changing. Still, issues of fire and water in the southwest and the Colorado River aren’t going away. The 10 odd million people who live around Los Angeles, including those in the film industry, must surely be aware of the direction of change, and that it is coming to a screen near them, soon.
But while we are seeing lots of movies about the politics of oil and the Middle East, we are not seeing much about climate change. The Day After Tomorrow is an exception, but it has a twist that contrasts with the accepted narrative of climate change. To me, movies about terrorism put the cart before the horse, as climate change will drive terrorism, and when the oil runs out, who cares who is in charge of those tribal patches of desert?
As likely big losers in the biggest gamble of the most extensive network of civilisation this particular planet has known, Australians have a big stake in climate change. It is certainly high on our news coverage, despite problems of concentration of media ownership.
Americans will wake up soon to the scientific reality that their patch of paradise, that lush spread between two oceans that was once covered in rich soil and forests, is under a different kind of threat from the one their politicians talk about. And weapons won’t solve it. In fact, they are part of the problem. According to media I have seen: the US military is the greatest generator of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet – that’s one problem that could be ameliorated with LESS money. Their art and movies may follow, but by then, the only pub in town, planet Earth, may have membership restrictions that exclude them.
CODA: As I write this, my 31 year old son is in intensive care with septic shock. The break at the coast with him was a disaster. Without a serious commitment to rehab and the miracle that would entail, he will surely die within the next few months. Why am I bothering to blog, exhausted and distressed, or do anything in fact? Who can say? Maybe because despite knowing what probably lies ahead, for me, for us, and for him, there is still a dream of a different future. And I can’t stop myself from believing in and loving this crazy planet and its stupid, exciting, self-destructive life. It’s the only pub in town.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 2:10 pm | Comments Off on The only pub in the only town |
Filed under: Environment

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