Stop, Look, Listen and Breathe
Turn back the clock. It is 1988. Switch on your television, sit back and be fearful – for the world as we know it is coming to an end. David Suzuki says so. And others. Global warming is upon us. Scientists, deeply green environmentalists and traditional communities knew well before this moment in time. Now its our, the public’s, turn to be informed and not a moment too soon. Called to take some kind of action I immerse myself in research, enter the tunnel of despair until a glimmer of light sees the publication of my small contribution in the form of a book called ‘Earth Alert’.
The forces gather and names come to the fore. Along with David Suzuki who gives us ten years in which to ‘turn it all around’ and offers us practical solutions, Paul Erlich warns of the dangers of over population, over consumption and finite resources, James Lovelock, originator of the Gaian theory, woos us with the idea of the earth as an interconnected living wonder and some of us re-read Diet for a Small Planet and Small is Beautiful. I read Bill McKibben’s ‘The End of Nature’ and dismally intuit that every sunset, wind, ocean, stream and drop of mother’s milk is forever sullied by some human made contaminant. I am deeply saddened, write a novella ‘The Ball’ but no one wants to publish a modern parable tinged with fear. ‘Not sexy enough’ my publisher tells me!
I surrender my car. Build a bigger compost heap. Leave notes all over the house to remind us of waste, energy, pollution! We invest in jute shopping bags. Exchange ball pens for pencils. Eat organic. The lists endless! Names, theories and ideologies emerge and flower briefly, global heroes ride on green tinged waves and as the nineties roll on we continue to march, make banners, write to politicians and hound local government to take action while we think globally. Environmental Education is introduced as a curriculum subject into our primary schools. We celebrate. Hold conferences. Self congratulate.
Leaders and activists gather on the edges of a turning tide in Rio de Janeiro – the Earth Summit is a new high in our dreams of salvation. At Rio Centro and at Global Forum I mingle with monks and mystics, prophets and profiteers, activists and actors, journalists and jolly green giants, politicians and protestors – the full spectrum of humanity as the planet gathers for change. In lighter moments we samba to save the planet. I witness a moment in Australia’s history when I am invited to take the official photograph of Ros Kelly as she, one of the first, signed the Climate Change Convention that preceded the Kyoto Protocol. Paul Keating was notable by his absence. I rub shoulders with the likes of David Suzuki, Shirley Mclean and Paulo Freire, arrive home armed with Agenda 21 firmly in my grasp in the belief that we, the combined we, can make it happen.
Turn the clock forward by 25 years – one entire generation. In a terrible moment of Déjà vu I listen as Robert Manne informs an audience at the recent Sydney Writers Festival that Global Warming is a fact, it is too late to turn the tide, we have overstepped the boundaries and we are indeed doomed. I also learn that Bill McKibben is coming to Australia – soon. They still come, the canaries we do not heed and whom the media stubbornly ignores. ‘Not sexy enough?’ Paul (and Anne) Erlich came in March and said (and I quote)‘Now, for the first time, a global collapse appears possible and at the same time avoidable. Population growth supercharged by significantly increasing consumption interacting with our choices of technologies are major drivers. Dramatic cultural change provides the main hope of averting calamity.’
Big words. Are they telling us that over consumption combined with over population and finite resources will bring about our demise? David Suzuki sits in Canada resolutely educating the public with simple everyday solutions and James Lovelock sadly stated last year that he is ‘James Lovelock, scientist and author … environmentalist and founder member of the Greens’ who now bows his head in shame at the thought that their original good intentions should have been so misunderstood and misapplied. Ecologist at heart he is deeply disappointed in a movement that has failed to understand that the needs of the Earth are inseparable from human needs. My mind is filled with the image rendered when he asks us to ‘take care that spinning windmills do not become like the statues on Easter Island – monuments of a failed civilisation.’ Who mentioned nuclear power?
Environmental Education right across the board is diluted down to gardening, cleaning up and avoiding plastic bags. My environmental educator friend *Annie is told not too mention sea level rise or global warming when she runs her EE programs for fear it will frighten. We did not notice that the turning tide of Rio was really a sea of shit. Agenda 21 moulders in the waste bin of time and we fiddle with the controls of the air conditioning while home planet burns!
Déjà Vu. The little publication Earth Alert sits on the shelf waiting for me to dust it off and re-read (I note I changed my name in 1994). I suspect the scientific evidence on which it was founded remains pretty much the same although the statistics will have worsened. I might attempt to launch ‘The Ball’ again but how to make it ‘sexy’? In the meantime I grapple with the terrifying lack of political and public commitment to the future of our planet and our continued profiteering from the life force which sustains us.
In the meantime please …
STOP and take stock of the current state of the planet
LOOK and take real action on its behalf
LISTEN to its heart beat and make it your own
BREATHE deeply and make every waking breath really count
Please contact me if you want to know how to – or get a recommended reading list.
‘Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.’ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
NB *Annie is not her real name. Changed to protect privacy.