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Boston residents, let me tell you how envious we are of your “thunder snow” this weekend. We are really enjoying the footage of northern hemisphere residents playing in the snow with their puppers! Why do I say that? Well, aside from the fact that snow puppers are awesome at any time, we’re cooking down here, man.
This weekend, New South Wales has seen the mercury soar for arguably the worst heatwave we’ve ever seen. Today is the final day in a three-day Aussie slow-cook that has seen temperatures of 47 degrees celsius in some areas. Some guy walked up to me yesterday and basted my head in butter and shoved a bouquet garni in my mouth.
Firefighters have described it as the most catastrophic fire weather (combination of heat, dryness, bush conditions, wind etc) on record and the Bureau of Meteorology has had to create a new colour key to chart the unprecendented heat. They used purple for the new category of super-hot temperatures. Which is …weird.
Within about 10 years, there will have to be specially constructed heat respite centres in every community of Australia, just to keep people alive. (Zooper Doopers might be tax-deductible!) New resources and specially-trained personnel will have to be supplied to the already-ailing public health system to deal with heat-related illness, and in massed numbers.
Coal is the driving force behind Australia’s struggling energy supply, which cannot handle the load during extreme heat events and shuts down in some areas, due to a process called “load shedding“. (No I did not just link to Wikipedia. Stop that.)
The mentality we’ve been fed this whole time has been “Coal is reliable, coal is our old buddy who’s always been there for us, there’s heaps of it in the ground and our systems are set up to support coal as our primary source of energy.”
The truth is that coal is actually failing us. It’s not reliable, right at a critical point that we really actually need it to be there to keep people alive. How much do you really love the energy supply system we’ve had for this past few generations? Does it really work, in a world that is literally and measurably changing?
Mining royalties (for the communities) are supposed to trickle down for the people to use, but I think it’s disappeared to an occasional drip. We lost our belief in the concept of “trickle down” a long time ago. And yet these communities still think they’re thriving or at least proud mining towns, too afraid to base their social identities and local economies on anything else.
I had to move somewhere quiet and recover from a massive slide into depression in 2011, and it really allowed me to pursue learning opportunities and whittle my observational skills in what elements build the sociology of a regional town. It almost always links directly back to the very first establishment of industry in the area. Think back on the country towns you’ve come from or visited. Was it a railroad? A specific crop? Cherries? Bananas? Beef? Wool? Gold? People are really proud on a very fundamental level of the industries that allowed their granddads to bring home the bacon. That’s a level of identity and pride that’s really hard to penetrate and introduce progressive principles, in the case of coal mining.
This particular town is also a really good example of a small society that takes different views of its heritage; the younger generations generally feeling quite a disconnect with the previous generations’ stories because they’re so forgotten by the economy. It’s the old Maslow’s pyramid thing, really. The hierarchy of needs. They can’t think about the greater good as long as they can’t afford to feed their children. But it is again due to coal and the ambiguity facing their jobs that they find themselves at a disadvantage. The same thing their parents were so proud of is now the reason there are so many without jobs, without ambition or security. Coal is such a double edged sword, and the CFMEU can only cushion the fall. They can’t stop it altogether, as much as I think a lot of people want a saviour or someone to blame.
Taking it quietly in an old Australian mining town for a couple of years really demonstrated to me how proud the older residents are of those old mining heritage stories; they have museums and monuments to the people who fed their families digging up coal. And that’s ok. But this is where the economical, the fiscal and the social intersects to create a crisis.
For towns like this one, the prospect of moving beyond fossil fuels is just terrifying. We can’t expect their little heads to embrace a future beyond coal until we offer them a real, tangible alternative that will create opportunity for them, and a new heritage, which is of course understandable. But that takes leadership. You can present all the science in the world to them but until they see a social and tangible alternative they will continue to deny climate change because of their highly socialised and contagious fear. I wish someone would address this. Australia is the country trailing behind, kicking the dust and whinging that the start of the race was unfair. Look overseas. Entire cities powered on sustainable energy. Don’t believe politicians who lecture you that it can’t be done. It’s just too big a job and they don’t want to risk the votes by pissing off Gina and the Chinese and restructuring how energy actually works. They’d rather keep talking about Cory and his farmyard animals because it’s inconsequential.
Don’t like the heat? You can do something today. Anything. Do something small like teaching your children to sort the rubbish into compost, recyclables, electronics and landfill. Write a letter to Josh Frydenberg. Do something big like planning a dream to take your house off the grid. Do anything. But most of all, don’t feel powerless, and do put progressives into government. They accepted the science a long time ago and are already dreaming big for your grandkids. Don’t think that politics has nothing to do with this. It is a MASSIVE part of this.
That’s my Sunday morning rant. Coal and climate change. The psychology of heritage. The world on my shoulders. But it is what it is. I hope it can become a positive turnaround for us all, because God help us if we don’t change now.