I went for a ride the other day. With my mate Andrew, I rode east from Mt Evelyn, through the Yarra Valley to Warburton, and from there into the hills and along the Acheron Way. I'd heard about the Acheron Way, been told that it was nice. But it was more than nice.
A single lane road, first gravel then bitumen, it sloped downwards just enough to give us some speed. We rolled through corridors of mountain ash, whose great trunks vaulted from the forest floor. Ferns leaned out from the roadside and sunlight sprayed through the canopy. The air was shady and cool. A wallaby leapt into the bushes ahead of us in a convulsion of dark fur. My god we have to save this place, I thought as we pedalled along. That thought made me create this series of posts.
Yet I hesitated before I did so. I felt that people might react badly to this ‘political’ encroachment; a complication to a very simple activity, riding bikes. What does conservation have to do with bike riding anyway?
The link is made, in my mind at least, by one immutable fact: as a species and as a civilisation, we are bursting through the ecological limits of the earth, and unless we rapidly and radically change our ways, the places we enjoy riding in—the places that provide solace and enrichment and joy to us—will be gone or irreversibly damaged in the near future.
When I plan a bike ride I usually feel pretty excited, but there is often an uneasiness that bubbles below the surface. I am haunted by a future image of my home state: it is Victoria without the lush forests of the Otways, scorched by extreme heat and low rainfall. It is Victoria without the wide beaches of the Wilson's Prom, inundated by a rising ocean. It is Victoria without the Murray River, reduced to a few stagnant pools by unprecedented drought.
This is not alarmist hyperbole. They are the conclusions drawn from a neutral assessment of the science of climate change. They are the truths that few of us utter out loud, and even fewer really grapple with. And this is understandable. It is uncomfortable to think about because it challenges the core ideas around which our society orbits, and invites awkward questions about the meaning of our day-to-day activities. And dwelling on the damage we are causing is, for many, simply soul-destroying. It easier—sometimes necessary—to go on with out lives, because the problem seems so big, so intractable, that we feel a sense of hopelessness, and we harden our hearts to the destruction of our world.
But we must talk about it. If we are to turn around the Titanic we must have frank, well-informed and passionate discussions whenever and wherever we can. Without this first step we will keep living in la-la land. We will never get to the heart of the problem and we will lose our forest and our beaches and our wildlife forever, not to mention the stable environment our civilisation rests upon.
In this series of posts, I have attempted to start that discussion.
I am the first to admit that I have no qualifications relevant to this. I'm not a climate scientist nor a political theorist. I'm not a billionaire philanthropist or a politician. My only qualification is that I live on planet earth and I care about it greatly. My future, along with everyone else's, is tied up in this most central of questions. I read, I talk to people, I think. And I feel that I have something to say.
And the people who should be talking about this—our elected representatives, our mainstream media—are asleep at the wheel. Politicians rarely talk honestly about the true scale of the climate crisis, and they almost never put forward policies that give us a good chance of averting it. A sizable proportion are actively making climate change worse. Corporate-owned media occupy themselves with small-scale beat-ups that distract from the important issues. It is up to ordinary people like you and me to fill the void at the heart of our leadership; to cure the necrosis eating at public life.
By drawing upon the work of well-respected progressive thinkers, plus my own experience in the climate movement, I have attempted to create a resource that will allow you to first understand the scale and urgency of the problem, the large-scale solutions it demands, and finally, what the most effective actions are—as an ordinary citizen—that you can take to bring about those changes. I've broken this down into five steps, which I'll be publishing over the next month in a series of posts. It's a big task, and a complicated subject, so of course it will be imperfect, and there will always be more to say. But if all I achieve is to start an honest conversation, I'll be satisfied.
Towards the northern end of the Acheron Way, we crossed into an area that was devastated by the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009. The blackened trunks were still visible, but there was plenty of new foliage. Superficially at least, the forest had recovered. But bushfires like this—that will only become more frequent as the world warms—as well as logging, are triggering an ecosystem collapse in Victoria's central highlands. It was a reminder of the impact that humans can have on the places around them. That our choices reverberate well-beyond our line of sight.
To be awed by a place. To feel human again. To have the moist air cool your sweat, and the stress drip from you. What are these things worth? What does it mean to be embedded in the web of life? To be a part of something bigger? To care for one another? To be the custodians of life on earth, and to live among its rarity?
If this post has made you feel terrible, you are not alone. Climate grief is a common phenomena. It's ok to seek professional help. Alternatively, this resource may help you to stay mentally healthy in the era of climate change.