Flight Shame

This was going to be the year that I finally took some long service leave and went to visit old school friends in Canada. I suppose I don’t need to explain to anyone why this is no longer going to happen.

However, even before COVID, I was wrestling with my conscience. I have just lived through fires so widespread, so unrelenting, so terrifying that I couldn’t even imagine how we would live again on the other side of them. I’ve also been aware for many years now that hopping on a Boeing 747 and flying to the other side of the word is the single greatest way for me to personally raise my carbon emissions. If I take a flight from Australia to the northern hemisphere every year, it really doesn’t matter how much I cycle to work, turn off light switches, reduce my food miles or recycle my clothes and furniture. In relation to carbon emissions, that flight negates any other actions I might take.

I don’t fly every year, not even domestically. In 2018 I flew overseas twice, for the first time in many years, and it was life-changing. Most of my colleagues, who are academics, do fly all the time and consider it necessary for networking, for research, for professional coordination and for personal development and growth. I’m a bit jealous – my children’s needs have meant very few trips for a very long time – and I also don’t usually have research money and scholarships to fund it. I’ve also refused to junket , which is what some conferences are unashamedly about, but it’s not that I haven’t wanted to.

As far back as I can remember, probably from the time that I could read, and certainly from the time that I went to school and met kids from other cities and other countries, I’ve wanted to travel. I had a strong case of Eurocentrism and cultural cringe as a kid: it was only once I was at university and read The Empire Writes Back that I understood the common colonial issue/delusion of always imagining that ‘real’ life and culture and art lies elsewhere. Even taking this into account, I’ve rarely not been consumed by a hunger for experiences – for other languages, people and landscapes.

I recall this now because I’m realising that this hunger might never be satiated, or at the very least I’ll need to re-channel it. I got stroppy in an academic seminar at the beginning of this year – when fires were still burning to the south of us – about a student ‘cultural immersion’ trip to China that was being planned. Of course, it didn’t happen anyway, and I fear that I came across as bitter and unreasonable, or just plain mean. Again, I think that I need to take into account that at the root of my frustration with the cavalierly attitude towards long-haul travel that I see in colleagues and friends is that I’m always a little envious: I would love nothing more than to devote a month to exploring China.

But that’s not all that’s at stake for me. I’m glad – really relieved in fact! – that research trips, study exchanges, holidays, tours and cruises have been cancelled for the last couple of months. I’m aware that the consequences of continuing this pause on travel and flight will be dire, far-reaching and often very negative. Many places and countries depend on tourism and there are undoubtedly positive things about understanding the lives, the places, the languages and the cultures of other peoples. The consequences of returning to a time when a good portion of the world’s population are also on the move, largely for their own pleasure and edification, is equally dire.

I see such a denial, and a huge, unspoken tension, at the heart of all of this seemingly justified travel. So much of first world travel says to everyone else on the planet that the education, development, enlightenment and health of a privileged individual overrides the well-being of the place they are visiting and the well-being of the global environment. The cultural enrichment of the wealthy is directly damaging the lives of the powerless. Perhaps it always has.

I still want to see my friends in Canada. Desperately. I want to return to Vanuatu, Hawaii and Bali. I miss Hong Kong. I long to explore South East Asia, China, Japan, Korea and the Phillipines. I would like to see the Swat Valley in Pakistan and the mountains of Kathmandu. I want to see so much of Russia, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. I’ve never been to Germany or Switzerland or Austria. I wish I could explore the Mediterranean.  I have a longing to spend time in Cape Town and I would also like to see Morocco. I’ve read so much about Nigeria in the last couple of years: I want to experience life there. I wish I could see South America, the tops of the Andes, the Amazon, the beaches of Chile and Brazil and Argentina.

I want to return to the lands of my ancestors in Ireland and England. I want to see Caernavon Castle again and visit friends in Wales. I want to experience the wild Scottish islands and visit the ancient sites of worship in Malta. I want to see everything, know everything, to celebrate my own wild and precious life and to have the stories to tell about it.

But I’m slowly, painfully, coming to accept that I’ll never do most of these things. Thirteen years ago I spent the day walking with a dear friend near Websters Falls in Southern Ontario. At one point, crossing through a path boundary, I experienced a sharp stab of what I’ll call anticipatory nostalgia. I thought to myself: I will never pass this way again.

I was thirty-six at the time. I won’t know until my death if I was right, but I’ve never forgotten the feeling. The pain has been tempered, though, by realising that there are many places I’ll only ever pass by once, and millions more that I’ll never pass by at all. I suppose this is a realisation that most people have at some point in middle-age. My mourning around this is quiet and bearable, but it’s ever present.

I’m not saying that if the opportunity came up to teach or to study or to work in another country that I wouldn’t seize it with both hands and an open heart. I’m not saying that I’m resigned to never seeing friends and family members again. But I’m coming to terms with the fact that I can’t personally reconcile air travel with a commitment to doing what I can to fight climate change and to lower carbon emissions. Yes, individual efforts are never enough and yes, it’s corporations that are the real villains here.  But for me it’s in a similar bracket to eating meat and seafood and drinking alcohol: yes, it’s pleasurable and there’s personal benefits and fun and I’ve indulged many times – to excess – so it’s not about criticising myself or anyone else. It’s just that, knowing what I know, I can’t keep on being such a huge hypocrite. I have to stop, because the world is not all about my personal pleasure.

I’m not much of an ascetic either. I don’t want to live a life of denial. But I think I finally have to see my life here as my home and my community, and to think really carefully about the energy I consume when I leave it. I can’t just fly or even drive at whim. This city and this place is large enough to sustain me and my family. We still have so much to learn about where we live, coming as we do from other places. This is also a good base from which to build and support relationships with people from everywhere. Zoom, Skype, Facebook Chat or whatever are not the same as being there. I think we all know that. But with books and film and a vast array of communication tools at my disposal, I’ll continue to connect as best I can.

(Update: here’s another good take on this issue).

Webster's Falls
Webster’s Falls. Dundas, Ontario.

Fires Near Me

It’s so long since I’ve written here. I’ve struggled with words all summer. I rely on words to process my experiences. But words have abandoned me often in recent times.

I’m still working out the meaning of this summer in the most fundamental of ways. Actually, there was no meaning: I’m constructing it. I felt inevitable horror in realising the fragility of my reasonably privileged life. I felt fortunate and unfortunate. I realised how painfully small and insignificant and helpless I was – and yet I still had people and animals to protect, a job to go to, routines to maintain.

And always, always the knowledge that however bad it was here, it was worse elsewhere. People on the front lines didn’t get any time to reflect on their place in it all: they were too busy surviving. We were just trapped inside, for weeks on end. (A dubious advantage could be that coronavirus quarantining doesn’t seem like a scary prospect  at all, as long as we still have clean air to breathe and some food and water).

Also, the knowledge that life has always been like this, for many: people and animals suffer and life is often very uncomfortable. The majority of people are at the mercy of the powerful few, we create purpose and meaning with what we have but it can always be taken away.

But I did learn, perhaps, a sense of balance. A deep love and awe for this country. Aching grief at what we have done.

I’m struggling to find humour, lightness and joy in the daily-ness of life again.  I think I’m depressed – a little – but most people around me seem under similar strain. I don’t give a shit about coronavirus and hope it stays that way. I’m painfully aware though that once again the poor and powerless will suffer. I do hope it might buy some of us some time for contemplation: a planetary pause so that the trees and more-than-human life can recover a little.

Below are some snippets of emails I wrote to a friend in Canada. I wrote quite incessantly, insistently, to a few people. I wanted them to know what it was like here. I desperately want to visit Canada again: I think my sense of how finite accessible travel might be has dovetailed with a mid-life crisis. I no longer have all the time in the world and there are people I urgently want to see and things I urgently want to do

And yet who am I – to think that my personal bucket list overrides the need of everyone to stop taking flights for pleasure? I feel that the everyday middle-class values (it’s good to travel, to take holidays, to visit friends) is now at loggerheads with what the natural world needs humans to do.

I’ve got an idea for a new blog: “Dear Friends, Beloved Planet.” Not a very funny or catchy title. Perhaps I’ll change it again. I’m dreaming up ways that I can connect with those I love without trashing the atmosphere with carbon emissions while I do it.




There’s not much reprieve here, although we are fairly comfortable – we got a new air conditioner installed three weeks ago. It’s a slightly guilty realisation, but air conditioners really do change lives. We can sleep, we’re not exhausted and hot. We’re almost completely trapped, however. There’s fires on every side of us and there’s no way down to the coast.

I just wrote to A and H to reassure them that we will be safe. You might see that conditions deteriorate around us in the next couple of days and there might be fires closer to us but we won’t be at any risk personally (and will evacuate well ahead of time if anything gets close). I’ve actually just completed some community fire training but am not yet fully qualified – we will get out! And we’re fully insured.

Fires Near Me (also the name of the app we used most of the time).

It’s so hard to know what to say. Words aren’t coming easily right now. We are OK – and not OK. We are safe – and not safe. This week the city was hit by massive hailstorms causing millions of dollars of damage and killing more animals. That felt vaguely normal (given that my own car and house didn’t lose any windows and we do sometimes have violent summer storms, though never like this). We had some cool weather, a small amount of rain (there was more rain in some places, but not enough to extinguish fires) and some beautiful beautiful sunny days and clear starry nights.

Our street
Our view at midday on New Year’s Day, as the smoke rolled in from the coast

Today I’m watching a enormous dust storm from my office window. The wind is so strong that it took me twenty minutes to walk from the car park to my office (usually just a quick walk up the path). Two fires have broken out within the city in the last hour – warnings are appearing on my phone again. I’ve contemplated returning home, but I think we’re OK and anyway, I’m behind with preparing classes for the start of Term One.

I see now that this is how it goes – you cope a bit, if you’re lucky you then recover a bit, and then it starts again.

South of the city. Over a billion animals perished in the fires in just over two months.

We’re in the midst of a great unravelling and the sense of rapid disintegration is inextricable from the weather. We’ve had a few lovely days – and then I have hope. On days like today I know that we either get out, or bunker down and come to accept that we probably won’t live that long.

It’s that grim. I’m sorry.

The remains of Cobargo, I think. Or maybe Malua Bay. Or Mogo

Those last lines were too grim – and of course I have no idea if they will prove to be accurate or not. I suppose what I was thinking is that this little area of the world can’t go on like this – it might become very hard to eke out an existence here. I don’t mean that we’ll literally be killed or die as a direct result of all of these horrible natural disasters. At the moment, that doesn’t look very likely. The death toll is low. It’s more that institutions that felt solid only a couple of years ago feel insecure. I think I was also just expressing what I fear.

    . . . It’s just been awful, K. I’m tired – and sick of being afraid.

From my office window

Things that happened today: Three US firefighters were killed when their water bomber went down to the south of here. This is terribly sad – they were defending country that is so beloved around here. Another fire that was about eight kms from us has been contained. It’s still burning but there’s been some rain. There’s some property loss and they had to close our international airport all day but the fire hasn’t made it to the suburbs – fingers crossed.

The South Coast has been bad again. This is ongoing and I don’t have all the news yet but it appears more people have been evacuated to the beach and have lost their homes, including a good friend of N’s.

The dust has cleared for now.

The International Airport


From Facebook, February 4:


“We’re still surrounded by fires. But the weather’s cooler now and we’re expecting significant rain over the weekend, which is very promising. If the rain arrives it might mean that this season is nearly over for us. I don’t know about to the south of us – as the Victorian and South Australian fire season would usually go for longer. Are we OK? You asking me that question brings tears to my eyes. It’s partly because not many people in other parts of Australia have been asking that, and I’m really grateful. Probably because for the last week or so I haven’t felt OK at all. I watched Four Corners on Monday – they had to film it in Queanbeyan and not Bega, as planned, because the fires are still active on many parts of the coast. The people in the audience had all experienced the direct impact of the fires. They looked exhausted and traumatised, but some were beginning to talk. Personally, our experience has been indirect, in some ways. We’ve been surrounded for weeks now – and at some points we couldn’t get out of the city at all. I’ve been in here all summer – except for a hot, smoky drive to Braidwood on Boxing Day (empty, except for one open pub and a bakery full of firefighters). I feel like most people in Australia and the world don’t know what’s happened to us and around us. I guess the smoke started rolling in every afternoon some time in early December. Before that we had such a bad dust storm that I remember saying that I would never curse a hot blue summer sky again. I think that was about on December 5 or 6. By December 20 I was telling my brother to pack an inhaler and mask when he visited us for Xmas. He thought I was joking until he arrived. There were some good days – and I remember Christmas Day as actually being beautiful here. The days of high fire threat are actually starting to blur together. I know that after several days of trying to clear around our house before Christmas (we live backing bushland) I developed a wheeze and cough. My chest ached a lot and I remember that at times buying Christmas presents I had to give up and go home because I couldn’t stop coughing. But many people were the same around about that time. After Christmas it got so much worse. I think it was around then that we realised that we didn’t really have any where to go. N made it  to Sydney to visit a friend – then couldn’t get back because the road had closed. Then her friend visited for New Year’s – and of course we were starting to hear dreadful stories of what had happened on the coast. But there was little contact for days so we only started to get a sense of the massacre when the smoke wiped out our sun. I think it was January 2. We needed batteries at one point and I tried to get to Bunnings. The smoke was so thick that I couldn’t find the store. Several times I remember getting lost in the smoke and the darkness. Sometimes it was funny and sometimes it was just. so. grim. I think because I started thinking that I just had to get the kids out. Somewhere. Anywhere. And I didn’t know where I would send them. I woke up one night and our bedroom was full of smoke. I made it to the corridor and struggled for breath so badly that for many minutes I was very, very scared. I guess it was an asthma attack. I’ve never had one before, but since then I’ve carried Ventolin (my chest has since cleared and I’ve felt OK). I think around about that time I started to feel grimmer because I realised that this was what climate change would mean for us. Somehow, stupidly (because I’ve seen the projections for years now and understood how dry and hot and bushfire prone this region would become) I thought we would adapt. We would build houses that could withstand the extremes better, we would recycle our water, we would rearrange some of our rituals around the changing weather (like having holidays in winter, not summer). But I now realise several things more than I did: I’m (personally) neither healthy and young enough to keep surviving here, nor rich and special enough. I understand: most of us will not survive in this climate if we have more than one or two more summers like this. I feel like none’s really listening to this, or taking it in. We are not going to survive. I think at this point (as best I can tell, and I’m no futurist) we will have a little while: perhaps a few milder years of weather, lessened fuel loads, slightly better preparation. But we’re not going to be able to keep living here. What we lived through was unliveable, past a few weeks. Lately, we’ve had a few gorgeous blue days again. Two days ago, we finally hit the trifecta: a sunny, clear day that wasn’t too hot. But then the smoke rolled in again that evening. Again. There’s something about the smoke that’s worn down my emotional reserves. The smoke means death elsewhere, but near us. It means being confined indoors. It means I can’t exercise, the kids and dogs can’t exercise. It means that things will never be quite OK again. It’s very strange living almost at the centre of a crisis, but not quite. There are so many people and animals all around us fighting for their homes and their lives. A billion animals have gone. It’s not an easy number to grapple with but it means WHOLE SPECIES HAVE GONE. In our lifetime, in many lifetimes, they will never return. Their lives and our way of life has gone and we don’t even know what that means yet. I feel like the fires are near me (like the app we use, Fires Near Me) but they’re also in me. I’ve breathed them in all summer. I imagine – though no-one talks about it – that they’ve shortened many lives. In the midst of that, yes, I’m learning that nature is incredibly fucking resilient. My lungs have cleared, I can hear birds calling outside the house, I can see grass appearing where we had rain last week. I don’t know everything that will happen yet. I just know that every time that smoke rolls across the hills again, I feel like I’m at my wit’s end. I don’t know how to live anymore. I don’t know what my life means. I don’t know how to help my community but also stay in one piece myself. I’m a teacher, I work with teachers and I know that the absolutely most crucial thing I can do at the moment is engender a calm, safe, ordered environment, so that students have the ability to learn, and to start to heal. So I’m holding it together. But I don’t think I can normalise, I can’t go back to ‘business as usual’. We’re still in the middle of this and perhaps in time I’ll articulate myself better than this. Thanks again for asking the question. (the picture is one I took out my window at work, seconds after I read you asking if I was OK. not every day looks like this at present, but most do. Today I think my chest was hurting out of sadness, rather than smoke inhalation).”





Now that the election is over.

The federal election was held in Australia this last weekend. Now that it’s over, I wonder why I tied it to political change at all.

I’m an anarchist at heart.  I think our societies need leaders but that we should stop giving them all of our power. We expect too much of them – whether they’re Jacinda Ardern, Scott Morrison, Donald Trump or Greta Thunberg – and thus we expect too little of ourselves.  We ask these chosen people to live our divinity for us.

Political change doesn’t really come from individual people, whether they are inspiring, boring, principled or craven. Change comes from the systems we collectively put into place. At this point in human history, I’m still hopeful that we can behave more like the tribal animals we are – and that we will still instinctively, decisively, turn away from the destruction of our own species as well as millions of others.

I also don’t think my personal opinions are very important. My actions count far more. In this next Australian political cycle I pledge to opine less and act more often. Despair is lazy.  Optimism is not a choice.

(Click here to listen to a new podcast called ‘Outrage and Optimism’. The first episode has an interview with David Attenborough).


The Day After Yesterday

I think it was Al Gore who I first heard talk about the oppressive Washington summer of 1988.  During this time James Hansen, the climate change scientist, was finalising his study demonstrating the link between burning fossil fuels and the greenhouse effect on climate change.

Hansen could choose the day to present his findings before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, so he chose June 28, knowing it was likely to be a scorcher. It was 38 degrees Celsius in Washington that day and there are stories about how the windows in the room of the Congressional hearing were kept open, so that the policy makers were visibly heat affected and the implications of Hansen’s findings were given maximum dramatic effect.


I’m coming back to this page after a week. My point about the Hansen story was to illustrate how immediate physical sensations are always going to affect – perhaps erroneously – our sense of what’s real, particularly when it comes to something as ephemeral as the weather.

Anyway, down here in Australia, we have just had two weeks of frighteningly freakish weather. In my home town, it got ridiculously hot. I found my usual coping mechanisms didn’t work – usually I just figure out how to accept and enjoy the weather as it is. I try to move more slowly, I find a way to see the sweat trickling down my back as pleasurable, I take cold showers before bed.  I try to adapt and I try to teach the kids how to adapt.

But this time, I was frightened and as a result I didn’t cope too well. I was frightened by the conviction that this was not normal, that the next decade was going to get hotter and hotter and that no one – least of all me – had worked out how to manage this.  I haven’t even worked out how to effectively cope on a personal level, but it was also evident that if this particular hot spell had gone on for much longer all kinds of mechanisms and infrastructure would stop have working too. As it was, my workplace got daily notifications from the energy provider that the grid was at capacity and the city was in danger of ‘brown outs.’ In response, my work instigated rolling power cuts where rooms and buildings that weren’t being used were left without electricity. Those still in those buildings had to leave: it was too hot to work safely.

Other catastrophic events happened this January in the eastern states of Australia; there are still floods in Townsville and we lost a third of our fruit bat population. We also lost millions upon millions of fish.

Menindee fish
Dead fish in the lower Darling River, killed by a lack of oxygen due to high temperatures and algae blooms.




One febrile, sleepless night in late January, I responded – albeit not directly – to The Orange One’s tweets about the polar vortex in the US:

My tweet


Insomnia made me do it.  But I want to write about how that response led me briefly into a parallel reality, one where climate change really was a hoax, perpetuated by power-hungry, conspiratorial politicians, and fanned by the mass media.

In short, I made contact with Jessie Jay @coopitupanotch. I don’t know if Jessie is young or old, male or female (or other), black or white. If I was going to guess from their profile I would say they were white, heterosexual and probably working class – but all I really know is that they’re American, they support Donald Trump, and that they’re aligned with conservatives on things like abortion, immigration and climate change. They’re also a bit of a troll, but nonetheless our superficial exchange was fairly polite. Here’s some of it (I’m @jackolanternC ):




Tweet response final



I decided to watch some of Lord Monckton’s videos. I didn’t watched Alex Jones, as recommended, and I only had a brief look at Marc Morano, also recommended and conclusively not as classy as Monckton. I lack the energy to respond in any sort of point-by-point manner to the arguments presented. But I will say this:

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how an ordinary person’s belief in climate change depends on whose words they decide to trust. This troubles me – a lot – and not just in relation to climate change. I don’t want to believe that individual attitudes – to LGBTIQ people, or asylum seekers or indigenous rights, for instance – are just a matter of where we are born and what version of authority we choose believe. But a lot of views on identity seem inextricably trapped in sociological bubbles: people’s views are predetermined by where they are born, who they are born as, and how their personal circumstances unfold.

Climate change strikes me as the ultimate challenge to subjectivity, in that changes are objectively, empirically happening. A physical world exists, which is shaped by we humans but it’s not created by us. So the words of someone like Christopher Monckton – erudite despite his quirkiness – depress me. Monckton makes a kind of sense and I can deeply appreciate that someone like Jessie Jay, already inclined to be skeptical of climate change, would grab hold of the arguments that Monckton makes. It makes me realise that unfortunately discussions about climate change are still socially constructed discourses: that is, they are value systems, rather than something human beings are capable of looking at without a particular sociological lens filtering the view. There are still no universal truths.


I can agree with Jessie Jay about the importance of questioning authority and not blindly believing in a position just because most people are following it.  I can also agree that power distribution is desperately unequal right across the globe, both in democratic and totalitarian regimes.  I understand why Australia’s heat and the US’s polar vortex, freakish as they are, will never convince climate skeptics of incoming doom because it’s impossible for a lay person to extrapolate and provide proof that climate change is anthropogenic and that humans have indeed irrevocably altered the climate.

After conceding these things I get a bit stuck. I don’t see robust evidence that there’s a planetary Marxist conspiracy to take away the civic freedoms of citizens. I do see many challenges in organising on a large enough scale to halt environmental destruction, climatic or otherwise.



I’m out of time for writing today, so I’m going to end with sharing two ways that I navigate some of these conundrums. They’re only partially satisfactory, but here they are:

First, I try to work on my personal critical literacy whenever and however I can. I work in an academic environment, and so I do have a privileged vantage point.  However, in the last twenty years, like everyone, I’ve had to build on the maxim of “don’t believe everything you read.” When I’m teaching undergraduates critical and information literacy, we use the C.R.A.A.P. test.  Like any acronym, it’s a bit crude and reductive, but it helps. Asking if information is current, relevant, accurate, authoritative and purposeful is useful to any reader trying to determine what is true. I would add to this that it’s important to scrutinise agenda, whether we’re referring to institutions, publications or individuals. And it’s important to follow the money, whether looking at Monckton, Breitbart, The Guardian or Al Gore.

I still struggle to express the other way I try to wade through the mire of words that confirm and deny climate change. For me it’s about returning to the non-human, trying to reengage, becoming aware again of being part of nature.

Yesterday I witnessed cultural training by two Koori men who were gifted in coaxing a diverse group of workers to share their stories about the place that they lived.  One man talked about how the water in our bodies has been part of the water in all of parts of the globe, and that the water molecules we each contain have also been in the oceans, the rainclouds, the rivers and the streams. We know that all the matter that has ever been in this world remains, that it just gets reconfigured again and again. So, we don’t have to reconnect with nature, as human beings. We are nature. And we just need to remember that.


I walked in the bush this morning and thought about how the kangaroos and the rocks and the trees overhead don’t care about human politics. That’s not to say they’re not affected by politics; of course they are. I see everything around me changing: dams drying up, scrub and grasses dying, small animals disappearing and others taking their place. But it’s reciprocal, to an extent; the world also changes the human beings contained within it. So, there’s another way that I might – possibly – have some common ground with Jessie Jay.  Perhaps the politicians arguments about whether climate change is real or a hoax aren’t so relevant, in the end. We could ignore all of these arguments – maybe – if we had more control over the way we care for the land in which we live.  If we could all remember to care calmly and consciously for our natural environment, then maybe I’d worry less. The future might not look any brighter but the present certainly would.



Climate Change is About Everything

I don’t know how many people have been struggling with fragmented thoughts lately, but I have. I’m off overseas in a couple of days, and so far any attempts to summarise my year have been fruitless.  My head’s a mess. So, I’m just going to write in fragments. Perhaps this is counterintuitive, but I want to feel a bit more whole. So, firstly:

Climate Change Not Only Changes Everything: It’s About Everything 

I first remember a teacher explaining ‘the greenhouse effect’ when I was about 14 years old. I find it curious that this lesson sticks in my memory at all. It was about 1985, at the end of the Cold War, and we were taught that nuclear apocalypse was a real and present danger, far more alarming than any other possible catastrophe (movies like Threads and The Day After were made compulsory viewing at my high school). I found out later that my parents had seriously considered building a nuclear bunker in our back yard. Greenhouse gases seemed benign in comparison; in fact, if my memory serves me, my impression was that my arid homeland might become a lush rainforest, which was not an unattractive idea.

There were serious bushfires sometimes. One December afternoon, returning from the city with my parents, we could see billowing smoke over our suburb. As we drove closer, I realised it was the bushland to the west of us burning, but at night I dreamt of running and running from a fire that was always just behind me and always about to swamp everything.


In my late teens, I lived in Canada, and I joined a group at the college called SITE (Students Improving The Environment). I don’t really remember what we did – a lot of recycling, mainly – but I became aware of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste. Canadians sorted their ‘trash’ long before we did. With the confidence of adolescence, and with the backdrop of perestroika, I was certain that my generation were the most self-aware to ever exist: more open and more politically galvanised.

So, I grew up with an awareness of impending global crises, but also a feeling of optimism that I suspect is common amongst colonials in the Antipodes: real life was always happening elsewhere. I also carried with me what now seems a particular sort of privilege: I felt certain that people were good and that everything would be alright in the end.

I also think I was fooled by my morbid, Catholic, literary attraction to apocalypse. At university, I studied both utopias and dystopias, fascinated by Wim Wenders and post-armageddon tunes by Morrissey.

For a while I lost sight of societal/environmental collapse as more than a concept, or an aesthetic. But in 2005, my Canadian English teacher sent me Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress , and this triggered an epiphany about the urgency of climate change: it was not Jared Diamond or Al Gore, as it was for so many others. Now I wonder why my understandings of various socio-eco crises came together after reading this particular little text: it’s a compilation of the 2004 Massey Lectures, and it’s about the collapse of former civilisations. But this was the book that finally sent me into permanent existential foreboding: I remember wandering the streets that Christmas time, thinking of my stepdaughter and my two small children, frustrated by the lack of a sense of crisis in the people around me. I had no idea how to live the rest of my life.

To paraphrase Tracy Chapman, talk of climate change sounded “like a whisper” in Australia, 2005. Environmental destruction was talked about, but only amongst some scientists and greenies. I don’t remember it having much traction in mainstream media.

Even today, I’m often struck by how hard it is for me to refer to climate change in professional situations, particularly as someone who is not a trained scientist. The very subject remains tainted with politics, though I can’t understand why it’s still often viewed as a partisan issue. Outside of Australian cities, as recently as last year, I witnessed tour-guides, geologists and farmers click their tongues in frustration whenever a trendy city person (like myself) brought it up.

There’s another thing  I struggle with, when I talk about climate change. I don’t know if I can articulate this well, but I’ll try.

The thing is: we spend so much time in Western societies, capitalist societies, consciously forming our individual identities. We do Myers-Briggs tests, to see what kind of personality we have. We make conscious decisions about our style of clothing and hair, music, living space, occupation and leisure habits (as well as the more subtly ingrained aspects of gesture, speech and taste – what Bourdieu would call habitus). We assert our sexuality, our gender identity, our alliance with some groups and our opposition to others.

Some of these aspects of self are chosen; many are pre-determined or innate. My attempts to comprehend what is innate and what is chosen is one of the subjects I keep returning to in this blog.

I don’t have a good way to say the rest of it: fighting environmental destruction is now the core responsibility and task of every human being on the planet. But I find the environmental activist aesthetic unattractive and it mucks with my personal identity. I know now that I will spend the rest of my time on this planet being conscious of how my own life reverberates with other lives, and with our shared biosphere.  But I’m no scientist. I don’t much like dirt.  Environmental activism sounds sort of . . . ugly and khaki-coloured. It smells like mould and mud.

I know I’m being petty and these are actually the best kind of people. I agree with their activism entirely.

I’m not good with sweaty earnest tree-huggers.  I like abstraction, poetry, beautiful art, impractical clothing, cityscapes, the exhilaration of air travel.

I’m trying to reconcile myself with environmental imperatives and my personal sensibilities. I suppose part of what I’m coming to terms with, like every living human being, is what is already lost.  I’m also trying to work out what can be saved. I remember reading Station Eleven: at the close of civilisation, people mourn simple things, like orange pekoe tea and warm baths.

Everything around me is so precious. I love our garden (what’s left of it); the bush; the stars at night; the handmade quilt on my bed. Our dogs, my husband, our crazy beautiful, mixed-up kids. I don’t want to let any of it go.

So . . .   Adani Must Be Stopped

 Adani is an ‘energy and infrastructure company’, a subsidiary of India’s Adani Group. Adani plans to build the Carmichael Coal Mine and Railway in the Gallilee Basin in Central Queensland (yes, close to the area last month that had ‘once in a century’ bushfires).

There’s more about this coal mine here, but suffice to say it’s projected to be Australia’s largest coal mine and one of the largest in the world. There are grave concerns about groundwater, the Great Barrier Reef, further desecration of indigenous sacred sites and, of course, the effects of carbon emissions. A Greenpeace report showed the output from Carmichael would exceed the yearly carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion in many countries.

Thirty overseas companies have refused to finance it, but the Australian government has pledged to subsidise two billion dollars to build it.

This is, inevitably, deeply political. Here’s our dickhead Prime Minister giving his infamous ‘coalphobia’ speech (when he was Treasurer):

Yeah. I do have an ‘ideological, pathological fear of coal’ if it continues to be dug up. Thanks for that, Scott Morrison.

Then there’s these pathologically tone-deaf words from Federal Energy Minister Matt Canavan:

Matt Canavan.png
NB: Adani is not ‘a little Aussie battler’: it’s an Indian multinational conglomerate.


In response, my children, like hundreds of thousands of others around the world have taken to the streets:

children in Sydney

Canavan also had this to say, but he’s already demonstrated his complete disinterest in the future of kids and the climate around the world.


The Personal and the Political: The Big and the Small.

I tweeted last week that articles like this make me consider not tweeting about identity politics – including gender and transgender politics – ever again. How can individual concerns continue to be important in the face of global destruction? How can we care about our own lives and the life of everything on the planet at the same time?

I have a good friend at the annual UN Climate Change Conference at Katowice in Poland this week. She’s a climate scientist and has spent a lot of time in the small, rapidly drowning islands in the South Pacific: the Marshall Islands; Kiribas; Tuvalu. When my friend and I meet, we don’t discuss climate change much, really, but I once asked her how long she thought we had left to avert certain catastrophe. She replied, “Two years. Sorry.” That was a year and a half ago.

The world has already warmed by 1 degree celsius. It’s unlikely that we can prevent 1.5 degrees of warming, though many scientific and environmental bodies are still trying.

Personally, I still struggle with my sense of conceptual dissonance. I’ve lived on this planet for almost fifty years in a manner that now seems stupidly and fatally disconnected from the non-human world; now I, my family and everyone I know needs to figure out how to live in a fundamentally different way.

In the midst of all of this, I have a home to look after, young people to teach, two children still to raise. I have health issues and gender services to navigate. I still have individual aspirations: to learn the violin; to teach yoga; to publish a short story and to be a better cook. And while it sometimes makes me cringe to acknowledge it, I have a lot of personal healing to do, a lot of grief to accept and overcome. Sometimes, keeping myself balanced and functional is a full-time job, particularly when I spend so much time hunched over a computer screen, neglecting my physical health. These efforts makes me drink too much wine and then consult naturopaths about why I’m gaining weight and feeling so tired. But naturopaths and alcohol both cost a lot so then I deal with the residual guilt about my over-indulgent life.

They’re first world problems, but problems nonetheless.

I’ve written before about how the American educator and philosopher, Maxine Greene, made me aware of how we can misconstrue what is ‘big’ and what is ‘small’.  Green regarded ‘big’ things as being about the intricate and complicated lives of individual students. ‘Small’ denoted bureaucracies and institutions that could only conceptualise demographics, not people. Greene wrote:

To see things or people big, one must resist viewing other human beings as mere objects or chess pieces and view them in their integrity and particularity instead.  One must see from the point of view of the participant.

In terms of where I put my attention, I feel I’ve been incessantly zooming in and panning out most of my adult life.  Is the big life or the small most important? I feel giddy, distressed – and unfocused.


How do We All Stop Screaming At One Another?

This is a poem I return to frequently:

The Place Where We Are Right
by Yehuda Amichai

From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the Spring.

The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.

But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.


I know that there’s little to be gained from adopting a hard line and then screaming at all who oppose it. One of my problems with activism is that a position needs to be adopted and maintained, often violently.  I despise ‘us’ and ‘them’ rhetoric – partly because it is never effective. I have never known anyone to shift their position or capitulate when they’re kicked to the corner.

In my climate conversation with my scientist friend she predicted that as global resources continue to be depleted, and to be inequitably distributed, there will be more terrible, unresolvable conflicts like Syria. As I write today, the yellow vests are rioting in Paris in response to Macron’s austerity measures. I fear – I know – my friend is right. Historically, the ability to not choose a side is a luxury. It’s also frequently amoral. Many people – including me and those closest to me – will have to fight. In some ways, we already are.

On social media too, virtual as it is, there’s a lot of yelling. Inevitably, I’m particularly aware of the angry divisions within transgender and feminist alliances and it fills me with dismay. I don’t see how anyone suffering gender oppression will be helped while this polarity runs so deep. I’ve equivocated lately about some feminist issues and I now feel regret, even though I know it was absolutely personally necessary to dwell with my uncertainty for a while.

I’m running out of time today to articulate everything exactly as I wish but finally, I wanted to write that I value kindness. It’s not a soft or a weak emotion: it’s so bloody hard to maintain. I want to be kind – and I want to be unafraid. As well as a bit less earnest, sometimes.


To conclude, for now:

I intend to focus inward a little more in the next year, to pay close attention to my friends, my family and my inner life.  It feels like the right time to reimagine what is big and what is small.

I know this seems like an odd choice, given everything I’ve articulated above. The planet and our lives upon it are tumbling out of control.  But I can do my best and most urgent work by guiding and enabling the young people closest to me, as we head into this unknown, burning, swirling future.