My thoughts on what to write this month have been somewhat hijacked by the unprecedented bushfires that have ripped through the east coast of Australia. It is deeply unsettling to realise that Australia is now experiencing the persistently harmful air quality I had experienced while living in China. There is a sad familiarity about checking the Air Quality Index on Air Visual and donning a special mask to protect my lungs from insidious PM 2.5 particles, which enter the bloodstream and can reduce cognitive function, decrease brain density and lead to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. I was living in China when our benighted leader Scott Morrison glibly brought coal into Parliament, proclaiming “it’s not hurting anyone.” I was incensed at the time, and remain so. If only he could take 5 minutes to see how Australian coal browns out Chinese skies, fills the lungs of expectant mothers, permeating their bloodstream and that of their unborn children, and fills the lungs of young kids when they play outside. I wished he could take a minute to think of his own kids and imagine raising them in such an environment. Jess and I had three air purifying machines running constantly in our apartment in Suzhou. They were a necessity, otherwise we would wake up feeling soft-headed, sluggish or with pain in the upper chest. Pollution hangovers. Perhaps a lot of you have experienced this lately. I guess Morrison doesn’t have to imagine it anymore.
Climate change now seems to be a fait accompli. The question is, to what extent will it affect us? I have very little faith that our leaders will step up to confront what Kevin Rudd called “the great moral challenge of our generation.” He said that 13 years ago, after an election campaign where even John Howard had a policy for an emissions trading scheme. Our leaders have utterly failed to reappraise our economy and were unable to tear themselves away from the addiction of unsustainable economic growth. And our nation has failed to elect leaders who would take real action. What will history say of us?
In this vein, I wrote a poem this week in the form of a letter to my future child.
These fires are bringing climate change into our lived experience in a way that cannot be ignored. It forces us to ask, what will our world will look like in 50 years, or even just 5 years? Given the ongoing inertia and weakness of our leaders, the answers to these questions could well be terrifying. We have been warned of them for a long time. I clearly remember learning about the threat of global warming in 1994 as a grade 1 student. Perhaps in an analogous way to the threat of nuclear annihilation the Baby Boomers grew up with, the slow burn of ever-increasing CO2 levels has been our latent terror. Climate-change-related anxiety and despair is very real and is affecting many of us every day. There is a sense that we are helplessly caught in a swelling wave of plastic waste, coal and chemicals that is about to smash against jagged rocks. Our chances of swimming to safety were squandered years ago. And after protesting this shit for 20 years or more, the only thing that is of comfort now is to anaesthetise and distract ourselves from the dim horror that awaits with screen-time and bingeing endless content. At this stage, perhaps human extinction would be the best thing for our dear Mother Earth. This is how I feel in my bleaker moments.
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But I have also felt true joy recently. I helped to harvest potatoes, which had been grown by my girlfriend Rose. Her small allotment yielded 14 kilos of various kinds of exotically named spuds - Pontiacs, Sapphires, Ruby Lous and Dutch Creams. We pulled them up from piles of straw, like nature’s own Easter egg hunt. They were grown using dear old Peter Cundall’s no-dig technique, which is also incredibly good for the soil. I’d never cared much for potatoes before. I thought them at best, something to bulk out a curry, or at worst, a fairly tasteless lump of starch to accompany a meal. But these potatoes… wow! The most delicious I have ever tasted! I can’t get enough of them! Does home grown veg taste better? Given that supermarket potatoes are often bred for quick growth, rather than taste, that could well be true. Was my appreciation of them affected by the fact that we harvested them with our own hands? Most definitely. For many of you reading this blog, this may be a truism, but for me it is a revelation. Growing your own food changes the way you relate to food. It connects you with the planet and the abundance of riches it provides. It highlights how inorganic our day-to-day lives have become, and how by disconnecting from nature, we disconnect from our source of energy, of life and well-being. Studies show that spending just 20-30 minutes in nature each day will significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. We are nurtured by nature. We are each given natural anti-anxiety medication, completely free of charge.
I hope one day we will stop biting the hand that feeds us.
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ECOSIA - An Easy Way to Make a Difference
A few years ago I came across the search engine Ecosia. Ecosia is a not-for-profit service that uses its advertising and sponsorship revenue to plant trees. For every internet search, Ecosia will use the income generated to plant a tree with one of their reforestation project partners around the world. For example, Ecosia works with Trees For The Future in Senegal, who plant trees in dry, deforested regions of the country. This supports local agricultural and has led to increased water quality and soil fertility. Search engine revenue also goes to Fair Ventures who are planting trees in Sumatra, supporting one of South East Asia’s largest surviving tracts of primary forest - an area that has suffered greatly from illegal logging. This helps to protect local wildlife and biodiversity, including significant Orangutan populations. So far Ecosia have planted over 50 million trees world-wide.
Planting trees is a simple and effective way of combating the effects of the climate disaster. Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot explain that clearly with this great video. But we are not all in a position to physically plant trees all the time. But by using Ecosia for your web searches, you can plant several trees a day for the rest of your life! I find that a source of tangible hope.
It is really easy to make Ecosia your default search engine. In my experience, the search results are not as comprehensive as google. But it’s always my first port-of-call, because even if I don’t find what I’m looking for… I have helped to plant a tree! And by making it your default search engine, the chances are that you’ll end up planting trees without even thinking about it. You can make small differences to the climate crisis with literally no effort at all.
Furthermore, 100% of profit from searches tomorrow (Thursday January 23!) will go towards planting trees in Australia to help with bushfire recovery. This is being done with NSW not-for-profit Reforest Now.
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And speaking of reforestation, I am so excited to have joined Melbourne’s outstanding and innovative music and arts organsation Forest Collective. Founded by Evan Lawson, this group has consistently presented new works and reimagined old works with originality and bravery. They have commissioned and performed numerous works by composers from Melbourne and internationally and offer a unique voice in Australia’s thriving arts milieu. In years gone by, I have had the joy of performing with Forest Collective in their Berceuse, Calypso and Shared Sounds projects, usually during my brief visits back to Australia. To be working with them in an ongoing way is extremely exciting. Watch this space for terrific, eclectic and dynamic events to come!