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The new normal: What have we done?

As we travelled the familiar route from Sydney up to the New England region just before Christmas – my heart slowly filled with foreboding.  We’ve driven this route many times before – through times when the countryside was lush and green. And through times when the droughts seemed never-ending. But as we drove under the eerie light of the smoke-covered sky this year, my sense of sadness and grief grew stronger and stronger.

And the thought that kept going through my head was the phrase I’ve heard over and over again since then – about both the drought and the fires:

“I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s never been this bad.” 

It wasn’t the drought-ravaged ground – dirt with scattered patches of dead grass – that shocked me. I’ve seen drought many times before. It wasn’t the empty paddocks – which at this time of year normally contain suckling calves and prancing lambs. It wasn’t that the limited stock you could see was skinny and gaunt.

What really shook me up was the dead and dying trees.

At first, you don’t really notice them – at least the dying and newly dead ones. Their leaves are brown and their trunks often black, so they blend into the green and brown landscape.  But when you start to look more closely – you realise just how many trees are impacted.

Picture was taken near UNE in December 2019

As we continued to drive, it was often difficult at first to distinguish between areas of bush that had been hit by fire and those that had been hit by drought. Trees and plants that die from lack of water look like they’ve been burnt – their bark blackens and their leaves brown.

Further, it’s not just young trees that are dying – the trees that haven’t yet established deep roots. It’s also old trees. Trees that have been there for more than a hundred years – whether native or introduced.  And it’s not just one or two – they are dying in droves.

It felt like the trees are giving up…

While it might sound strange – at the time it felt like these old trees were giving up – that it has all just gotten too hard.

I was reminded of this feeling when I read the following tweet from Phillip Adams this week:

As Adams points out, it’s not just the trees that are giving up – it’s the wildlife as well – dying of hunger or thirst. The fires are horrendous – but as Adams points out, in many ways they have just sped up what was already happening as a result of the drought.

And now, for wildlife impacted by the fires, things are even worse. For those that somehow survived – their already diminished food supplies have now reduced even further.

Image from abc.net.au (August 2018)

What have we done to our beautiful country?

Australia has always had droughts – just as it has always had fires. But as anyone who lives in the drought-impacted countryside will tell you, they’ve never been this bad.

Why? Because Climate Change leads to an increase in the severity of ‘weather’ events. And despite Morrison, this week suggesting that drought and climate change are two separate drivers behind the severity of Australia’s ongoing bush fire crisis – the impact of the former is made much greater by the later.

Australia is the continent most at risk from impact by climate change, and it seems the issue many have argued we have time to respond to – Climate Change – has hit us first, and it’s hit us hard. If we can’t find a way to reverse the impacts of Climate Change soon, then this is our new normal – not just these types of fires, but extreme drought, the loss of the barrier reef, the death of our wildlife and trees, limits to our food supply, more severe cyclones and floods and much more.

For some species of Australian wildlife – it is likely already too late. While it’s too early to tell the exact number of species that will never exist on this planet again, we know that many are at risk, if not already gone.

You can’t fix an issue until you agree what the problem is

You can’t fix an issue if you can’t agree exactly what’s causing it. That’s a basic truth. If you go to the doctor with a health issue, the first thing the doctor does is diagnose what is wrong. They can’t prescribe treatment until they do this.

The biggest challenge we as a country face – and we are far from alone with this – is gaining consensus on what the problem is that should be fixed.

On the one hand, we have qualified scientists telling us that climate change is what is creating the new normal – not creating the fires or drought or cyclones – but making them infinitely worse.

And on the other hand, we have the Climate Deniers, Hoaxers and Trivialisers – those for whom the truth is ‘inconvenient’. So instead of acknowledging it they deflect, cherry-pick and distort facts to suit their needs, tell outright lies and possibly worst of all, trivialise the seriousness of the problems Climate Change pose to us.

#UnitedTruth

We’re in a war right now – and the fight is literally for the future not just of our country, but of our planet.

And we can’t win this war until we unite around the truth – so that we can galvanise around what the real problems are that need to be solved and come up with solutions.

There will always be Climate Deniers, Hoaxers and Trivialisers – just like there will always be Flat Earthers. It’s unrealistic to expect that everyone will align around the one perspective.

But it’s time that those of us who believe in acting on facts, not lies – who believe that the only way to respond to the challenges we face right now, stand up and unite around the truth.

(This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.com)

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22 comments

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  1. Kate M

    Exactly. That’s the real battle right now – the battle between truth and lies. We can’t fix the problem unless we unite around the truth and fight back.

  2. New England Cocky

    Here is the link to the press release by Australian Academy of Science President Professor John Shine.

    https://www.science.org.au/news-and-events/news-and-media-releases/statement-regarding-australian-bushfires?fbclid=IwAR0rhXccPNYeN3k8VdUKtpI56CYOQYuFYf2V31HhbcThnaVQ5HTPS8PfVfc

    Now is there a COALition policy for reducing CO2 emissions and also reducing the risk of catastrophic bush fires in the future?

    Did you know that NSW is the only state that limits the amount of electricity you can feed into the grid, generated from your roof-top solar panels, to 5 Kw?

  3. Judith W

    Today I have written 2emails and shared a post, yesterday I spoke to the media, Friday I wrote on every Twitter feed that looked relevant, Thursday I spoke to DELWP & Vicforests, Wednesday I spoke to the office of the premier, Tuesday I called his office and that of the minister for eye environment, and in between times I made bat wraps, marsupial pouches and bird nests.
    But Vicforests continues to log pristine habitat – even some of the last habitat for endangered species though to be wiped out in east Gippsland like the greater glider – and may be also awarded contracts for “salvage logging” which only salvages the bank accounts of Vicforests!
    We let these fires happen – we must put a stop to any more devastation and call for the precautionary principle in the aftermath of these fires.
    The pm says he’s not interested in knee jerk reactions – if only we could INSIST that policy makers take note of the SCIENCE and not just their bank managers.

  4. Judith W

    Today I have written 2emails and shared a post, yesterday I spoke to the media, Friday I wrote on every Twitter feed that looked relevant, Thursday I spoke to DELWP & Vicforests, Wednesday I spoke to the office of the premier, Tuesday I called his office and that of the minister for eye environment, and in between times I made bat wraps, marsupial potuches and bird nests.
    But Vicforests continues to log pristine habitat – even some of the last habitat for endangered species though to be wiped out in east Gippsland like the greater glider – and may be also awarded contracts for “salvage logging” which only salvages the bank accounts of Vicforests!
    We let these fires happen – we must put a stop to any more devastation and call for the precautionary principle in the aftermath of these fires.
    The pm says he’s not interested in knee jerk reactions – if only we could INSIST that policy makers take note of the SCIENCE and not just their bank managers.

  5. Kate M

    Exactly Judith. We all need to do our bit to make sure that we are making decisions based on science and truth. If we all do what you’re doing – we can make a difference.

  6. Egalitarian

    Kate – It felt like the trees are giving up…

    Yes Kate you can feel it and see it with your own eyes.

  7. Andrew Smith

    Desmog blog does a good overview of deniers including conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Abbott, Murdoch’s NewsCorp including Bolt

    https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/01/09/these-climate-science-deniers-are-spreading-misinformation-about-australian-bushfires

    Worse than public figures and MPs are those in society amongst us who are influenced by climate science denialism armed with a portfolio of one liners, half truths, half baked beliefs etc.

    How to counter this in social narratives? Highlighting how the powerful deniers in the public eye have an agenda, yet are blindly supported by those round us who view themselves as independent (thinkers) and/or informed.

    Ask whether their non science beliefs apply to vaccination and lastly, suggest religious belief and a place of worship is more appropriate for their views (evidenced by Cardinal Pell getting a place in the DeSmog database); can be confronting for secular denialists.

    Overall, there needs to be much more done about encouraging critical thinking and media analysis (NSW/VIC had in English curricula in ’70s but disappeared in ’80s?) but mainstream media (except maybe ABC) rely upon wooly thinking led by PR, to support their commercial model including overt commercial and covert nudging of political attitudes.

  8. Vikingduk

    And who is we? The wilfully ignorant, the ones that choose to believe the lies and disinformation over the world wide scientific organisations? All aided and abetted by our traitorous politicians, a completely corrupt media and lapped up by the braindead. We traveled to the New England tablelands last year, the extent of the environmental disaster we witnessed was heart breaking. When we stopped for lunch in Warwick, the immediate descriptor that came to my mind was this is the apocalypse, this is how the world as we know it ends.

    Consumed, ravaged and monstered by the insatiable beasts drought and fire. We certainly saw, without a doubt, hundreds, maybe even thousands of hectares of dead and dying mature eucalypts, not to mention the roadkill, not just roos, etc, but birds as well.

    We don’t have the luxury of waiting for the next election, of hoping for a change of government and hoping that change will give us politicians who are determined to end our obsession with fossil fuels.

    We are, obviously, in horribly deep shit now, a situation that will worsen as time moves on, as the penny drops, as the wastelands being created now show us, scream at us, this is your doing, you fucking humans, now, you fuckers, us fuckers, reap what we have sown.

  9. Kate M

    Good points Andrew

  10. Phil Pryor

    Repetiton, depressing and tiring, suggests we will not achieve anything to save us now, and may never change fundamental stupidities. The British imperial cultural attitudes we brought have endrenched us all and we live at the end of a doomed continuity of environmental stupidities that have ruined this unique and delicate continent, The rural or country party types are mostly at the causal root, as we have had centuries of abuse and mismanagement, overstocking, unsuitable crops and animals, pests, plagues, feral animals, erosion, gullying, water theft and abuse, great abuse in fertilizer, pesticides, insecticides, monocultures, runoff problems, silting, land clearing, deforestation, much of it chronic, stupid, some of it acute in the face of sense and evidence. We have not considered Australia as we should because we were thieving domineering foreigners. The present government of profiteering corporate bumboys will not see any change as essential; it is all too hard, too intelligent, to upheaving, yet now, too obvious. What can we all do now, individually and collectively? Who will give up the routines, expectations, advertising drenched lying promises?

  11. Peter

    I’ve noticed that here too in the city, trees not in peak health, they look stressed from lack of water.
    I recently found that aerosol ‘contrails’ from aircraft appear to be drastically effecting the decline of tree health also.
    Aluminium compounds in aerosols are desiccants and fire-friendly, but not growth-friendly.
    Business people and holiday makers flying through the air with the greatest of ease are an accidental part of the climate change picture. But who dares question that industry? Are you going to cancel your future flights or ban other tourists from entering Australia because of their role in aviation-related CC? Everyone says they want to fix CC but when you get down to it, the list of changes to our Western lifestyle is endless. No flying, no second cars initially, then no first car, no air-con, etc. Who wants to volunteer to live like a monk?
    Chemtrails: What in the World Are They Spraying 2011 Michael Murphy
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iaVdAUhsrE
    Interesting interviews about half way through with organic farmers in Hawaii.

  12. Turts

    Contrails lol
    Where are the giraffe sacrificing Satanists?

  13. Alan Nosworthy

    From watching the much hyped Speers interview of Morrison it is obvious that nothing has, or will be changed in the product the LNp has to sell. The same mumbling about “keeping power prices low” with its erroneous subliminal assumption that they are indeed low, and it is somehow the provably more expensive coal fired generation that has performed this miracle.(perhaps Angus and Peter did the maths)
    No mea culpa, and no realisation that he, or his government had behaved in a less than exemplary manner.
    A royal commission with terms of reference constructed to confirm these assertions will be duly formed.
    It appears that if this is not the new “normal” it is fated to become “the good old days”

  14. Win Jeavons

    Andrew’ I was a secondary pupil in the 50s, and we were required to do ‘ clear thinking ‘ in English .it was replaced by ‘creative writing ‘ in the mid 70s and woolly thinking thrived. Sadly it not only does now, but it is widely disseminated through social media. Even the phrase ‘ to beg the question’ is completely changed in its use.

  15. MikeW

    Three trips to Adelaide last year from the South Sydney area (family commitments) by car, a two day trip, could not believe the dead and dying trees along the road side, stayed at Hay on the way down in a house on the Murrumbidgee river, within a three month period the river had dropped by close to three metres, after traveling this route for thirty years I have never seen this river at such a low level. Noticed a cotton farm in the area went from the side of the road back to the horizon as far as the eye could see and went for four Klms along the road. I wonder where they get their water from.

    At the back of my tiny property there is a large reserve, years ago you couldn’t see five metres into it for trees and scrub, now it is just dead grass and weeds and I can see 100 metres about a third of the gum trees are either dead or dying and rotting away.

    Nothing to see here folks just normal Aussie weather. Hah.

  16. David Evans

    abbott, turnbull, morrison, howard, minchin, hill, and of course murdoch should all be charge with neglect of duty of care to their fellow Australians. There is no excuse for willful ignorance. This country has been “governed” by stooges and puppets for far too long now, it is 2020 and these clowns in the COALition are still beholden to their puppet masters. It is past time to take Australia back.

  17. Vikingduk

    Perhaps hang our heads in shame, donate a minute’s silence, consider how badly we’ve fucked up, consider all that has been lost — love, compassion, care for each other, forgetting miserably that we are the caretakers, all those poor, innocent critters screaming in agony as they fried, adding their screams to that of this planet. Time to take the world back.

    And what am I left with? Revulsion and hate for the destroyers of this most beautiful earth. We can do it. The examples being set by so many, Sikhs and Moslems and so many others, striving to help devastated communities, all showing by their actions how incompetent, how useless are our political class. unfortunately it has taken this major disaster to snap many of us out of our snoozing, complacent lives and simply help.

    Perhaps a positive from this devastation is that it has now captured the world’s attention, focused their attention on the reality of climate change.

    Take the world back, the future may well depend on what we do now.
    .

  18. Henry Rodrigues

    First we have to recognize that we have a problem and that problem is Murdoch and his minions and the rest of the corrupt bastards in the media. How we fix this and how long it takes depends on how desperate we get and how resolute we feel. The climate, not just here, but everywhere in the world, has and is changing. Just look at California, the pacific Islands, the melting ice caps, dwindling forest cover, species distress and then we have Scummo,Trump, Bolsonaro,and Modi are prepared to ignore all the signs and continue to thwart every effort to preserve the balance between us and nature. The stupid dingbats, who listen to Murdoch and the other right wing arseholes, are part of the problem because they keep voting for these vandals, some for some monetary gain, some just too disinterested or ignorant. That to me the biggest tragedy of these last few months.

  19. guest

    Win Jeavons,

    No ‘clear thinking’ these days in ‘creative writing’, reading, speaking, debating, viewing, listening, noting, observing, describing, remembering, reporting, analysing, explaining…?

  20. Andrew Smith

    Guest and Win Jeavons, Vic also had General Studies syllabus emerge in the mid late ’70s as an alternative to religion.

    It revolved round environmental science including ozone, vehicle emissions, urban design and also linked back to the HSC chemistry syllabus (under the Lib Hamer govt.).

    It too was ‘disappeared’ in the ’80s; with the benefit of hindsight part of the long game of dumbing down and science denialism….

  21. guest

    Quite right, Andrew Smith. Any subject with ‘Studies’ in its title has been roundly criticised by the Murdoch education ‘experts’ who refused to consider allowing a range of subjects not regarded by them as ‘traditional’.

    So the subject ‘Studies of Society and Environment’ was roundly criticised because it was a mix of History, Geography and Civics.

    The censoring even went to the level of examination questions, such as one which asked candidates to assemble possible environmental regulations for the building of an oil refinery. The squabble was about the fact the photograph, depicting a refinery, was of one in WA.

    Howard was keen for History and perhaps Geography – but the History that Howard liked was a truncated condensation of just the ‘good bits’.

    We can see that kind of thinking, selected History and neglect of the Environment (it is merely a resource to be exploited for economic gain), very evident in Oz today.

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