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Scott Morrison going on holiday as NSW burns is indicative of a common delusion I see, one that favours denial over action.
David Bowie’s album The Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars opens with the end. The first song, Five Years, articulates the hopelessness the average person feels when they realise doomsday will occur in their lifetime.
The song came to mind recently as the state caught fire. As the sky turned black, we struggled to comprehend what we were seeing. We’re equal parts furious, guilty, and clueless. At the top, we’re steered by official delusion, as at the time of writing, Scott Morrison has apparently buggered off to Maui on holiday, while exasperated fire officials have reconciled to hold a crisis meeting with themselves.
At the height of the haze, I crossed paths with an angry older man on the phone, voice wafting through the bushfire smoke, yelling at whoever was on the other end, saying that this wasn’t acceptable, and how he shouldn’t have to put up with it.
It’s fair to say that we’ve taken climate change seriously, but from a place of comfort. Some tethered themselves to Queensland bitumen, others have constructed a platform to yell from. The scientists told us it was serious, and our politicians told us it wasn’t. The media sat on the fence. We knew we had to do something, so we got together to elect a leader who brought a lump of coal into parliament.
But I’d wager it took a fire as big as Sydney itself to truly understand. Suddenly, the sun was pink, respirators appeared on the street and our previously safe suburbs were on fire lists.
In Bowie’s world, the knowledge arrives via an oddity from elsewhere, the eponymous Ziggy Stardust. In ours, you could argue that Greta Thunberg is our Ziggy, a soothsaying otherworldly interloper, offering truth and fielding criticism.
News guy wept and told us,
Earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet,
Then I knew he was not lying.
As far as apocalypses go, the average Sydneysider is navigating it with the power of denial. I found myself at a roundabout, stuck behind a person who decided a catastrophic fire day was the best time to take his Sea-doo out for a spin. On the radio, two identical glossy voices vibrantly spoke about being unable to buy a mask, before cueing up Sade, before giving props to the ‘smooth operators’ who would make a ‘motza’ selling them to those who missed out. When I got home, I was greeted by the genial wave of the elderly babu next door, who was blithely hosing down his property, as the pink sun angrily shook its fist through the blackening pall above.
I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour,
Drinking milkshakes cold and long.
Smiling and waving and looking so fine,
Don’t think you knew you were in this song.
As far as I can see, we’re split into two camps. The angrily worried, and furiously inactive. You could probably place me, and every other journalist, writer and whoever, in the latter column. This piece serves no purpose. It’s telling us what we already know. We know that 11 times the safe range is not normal. We know that politicians should have listened. We know that we’ve placed greed over money.
But to those who want to boot Morrison out for dereliction of duty, we should note that his opponent toured the Queensland fossil fuel belt in order to keep his job in three years’ time. I don’t know what that change looks like, which is the problem. Fossil fuels are indelibly linked to the kings and the kingmakers of this land, and true change results in either the tearing down of democracy, or a significant wounding of it. We’re relying on those in power to bow to the polluters, before removing their heads. We’re relying on a significant part of the country to suddenly change their minds. We’re leaning on people to make the correct choice, one that directly impacts their own personal experience.
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot. Five years, that’s all we’ve got.
While some minds have figured the tipping point to be 2050, or sooner, it’s fair to say that we’ve had enough warnings. We may not be at the hopeless crossroads Bowie found himself at, but we’re not far off. I fear that we’ll readily squander the freedom of this window by our angry inaction and indeed, the hope of a better day in the near future, one where those in power who ignored us before will suddenly listen and do something.
I fear we’ll only truly have this conversation when it is too late, and the only thing left to do, as Bowie noted, is indulge ourselves and turn to the binary of common violence.