It all makes sense to me now. Just staring into my coffee, I see it all clearly.
The Worm and the Salmon of Knowledge. Knowledge is not Wisdom.
My dog and my cat. Love and Loyalty are all.
Yin and Yang. There is a Tension and a Balance between Down and Up, Movement and Stillness, Entropy and Enthalpy, Chaos and Order, Cruelty and Kindness, Anger and Generosity, Pain and Cheerfulness, Sorrow and Laughter.
Here in a galaxy of crema and cocoa I see the Ornstein-Zernike relation of life.
I was in the economy shop to buy a device for picking things up, and a lumbar support, I knew I’d find them there at a fraction of the price at a pharmacy. I was not wrong.
I found the picky uppy thingy, which I usually refer to as a gotcha. As I took it from the shelf, I dropped it. I said aloud to myself. “Great. Now I’ll have to buy two”.
A woman standing behind me broke into a fit of giggles as she bent down to pick it up for me. The giggles redoubled when she saw I had already selected another one, and then I tucked both that, and the one she handed me, under my arm.
I thanked her sincerely for the assistance, and for the amusement, which brightened what was threatening to be a bleak day in more ways than the weather.
I had just come from a visit to, of all people, a podiatrist. My health care planner had thought maybe one could help me with my back/leg problem, seeing that I could no longer wear shoes with heels.
I met with him at 08:45. I apprised him of my current condition, and told him it seems to be getting worse lately, despite the walking, cycling and swimming. He listened. He asked a few pertinent questions, mostly about when the pain was worse, what activities made it flare up. He examined my posture.
At last he told me he did not believe that as a podiatrist, there was much he could do for me except provide a little arch support, which he promptly affixed to the jandals (thongs, flip-flops) I was wearing, after I told him they were what I wore most of the time. It may or may not help. He was not hopeful.
However, speaking not in his professional capacity, but as a person still recovering from a broken back, he felt he should pass on the information he had received from the surgeons and spinal specialists who had treated him.
What it amounted to was that riding a bicycle is not a good thing to be doing. Swimming and exercising in water is. So is losing weight. The first I had already begun to suspect. The latter two I already knew. When I mentioned having recently bought a boat, his look of dismay told me all I needed to know. He advised me to get a seat with suspension fitted. He also told me to get a lumbar support for when I sit, and gotchas for picking things up.
So I headed out into the rainy weather with an outlook bleak indeed. The bike had not been a good idea at all. Maybe the boat also. Though that yet remains to be seen. However, no matter how I looked at it i thought perhaps I had not been making sensible decisions lately. Most of my not-good ideas were costly. Either financially or in other ways. For example, my decision to work in the Kimberley had broken my heart, and my spirit, for a time , and did no good to the rest of me.
I tried to think back to the last time I could say I had chosen to do something that had really worked out well.
By the time I got to the economy shop I had progressively thought all the way back to 2009, and my decision to take that well-paid job in Fiji, without having identified anything positive at all. The black dog was circling me, ready to lunge.
Then I dropped the gotchas, talked to myself, and made someone laugh. That made me smile. I headed for the pool and swam in the rain. Swimming is Good.
I swam an extra half hour to make up for the cycling I’m not doing. I also solved the problem of water infiltrating my earplugs as I swam. The rubber bits that go into my ear canal are left and right handed. Somehow I had transposed them after washing them. Something I could have sworn I had taken great care not to do each time. I should have realised straight away.
Dave. My mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it.
I shall continue to use the bike, for short trips to the local shops and for transporting my washing to and from the laundry, but I’ll not be pedalling so much.
In Australia there is now widespread public acceptance of the reality of climate change; we seem to see its effects almost hourly.
But the electorate still votes for political parties with environment policies that I would call recalcitrant, and with significant groups of climate deniers in their ranks.
The issue of climate change has become a battle of ideologies, values and worldviews, something that has become much more pronounced in the last decade thanks to our political class and to parts of the media.
Knowing what we know about human beings, our psychological and evolutionary makeup, there’s no evidence that these divisions are going to be broken down by more scientific evidence or just the passage of time — not that we have much time to spare.
And we should not assume that as climate change becomes worse, these divisions will start to heal.
For these reasons, I have long been keen to understand the ways people respond to climate change — and the language we need to use to convince people to take action.
Much of what they do is informed by the Six Americas study, a segmentation first conducted in 2009.
It measures the American public’s climate change beliefs, attitudes, risk perceptions, motivations, values, policy preferences, behaviours — including voting patterns and media consumption — and underlying barriers to action.
It groups the public into six different segments, varying in size and well differentiated in terms of their attitudes to climate change and their views about action.
The Alarmed: This group is fully convinced of the reality and seriousness of climate change and already taking individual, consumer, and political action to address it.
The Concerned: This group is also convinced that the globe is warming and that it’s a serious problem, but have not yet engaged with the issue personally, including not always voting for political parties with strong climate policies.
The Cautious, the Disengaged and the Doubtful: These groups represent different stages of understanding and acceptance of the problem. None are actively involved.
The Dismissive: This group is very sure that climate change is not happening, and often actively involved as opponents of a national effort to reduce emissions. Some of them are in significant positions of power in government, industry and the media.
As someone who has spent about 15 years listening to Australians talk about climate change, this approach immediately resonated with me. It made sense.
The qualitative research I’ve done has revealed the extent to which attitudes about climate are informed not by an understanding of science, but by world views, values, political identification, social and cultural conditioning and gender identity.
As I contemplated this Six Americas study, the mammoth task of the climate change movement was taking shape in my mind.
We need to increase the Alarmed cohort, absolutely no doubt.
But we also need to develop and hone their skills of talking to others not of the same mindset.
We need to shift more of the Concerned group into the Alarmed group.
We need to find a way to convince the Cautious that urgent action is necessary.
This, very difficultly, often requires language that isn’t fraught with tones of crisis. More on this in a moment.
We need to engage the Disengaged — probably the hardest task of all, because it requires us to rebuild their faith that our democratic institutions are capable and willing to do something about it.
And finally — in my opinion, and I say this with no trepidation whatsoever — we need to drive the Dismissive group out of positions of power in our government, stop the flow of their donations into our political parties, and find smarter ways to engage with them in the media, including social media.
What underpins our response to climate change?
There is an Australian version of the Six Americas study, led by Donald W Hine from the University of New England.
It took a similar approach and came up with five groups — which echo the Yale segments but without the Disengaged.
It was conducted in 2013 — a relatively long time ago given all that’s happened since — but remains highly valuable because it takes into account a broader range of cognitive and emotional factors that underpin human responses to climate change.
How close do people feel to climate change effects?
Do they see local manifestations or not, and do they identify them as being connected to climate change?
Do they feel an emotional connection to nature?
How much do they trust climate change authorities or authorities in general?
How much do their self-reported feelings of shame, guilt, anger and fear condition them to respond in certain ways to the climate change issue and remain open or closed to solutions?
These people can have a strong belief that the issue is overplayed by the media and “politicised”.
They dislike the gloom and doom tone of the debate, its remote and inaccessible language, and the fact they feel guilty and depressed when listening to climate change messages.
They rightfully question whether our political and business leaders have the capacity or the desire to ensure that any transition to an economy built on renewables doesn’t penalise already struggling groups in our society.
My research has taught me important lessons about climate change communication: be solution-focused and positive, understand the values of the people you are trying to convince, do not fuel division and conflict, and relate solutions to our sources of happiness and common concern.
The challenge is how to activate cooperative values rather than competitive values.
In my view, we must stress what we have in common: the desire for secure work, safe neighbourhoods, a good standard of living, security and happiness — whatever that might look like for different groups of people.
A transformative moment
We also need to find ways to shift those in the large Concerned segment into the Alarmed cohort.
A moment from my own recent past shows it is possible.
In December 2018 I woke up, made myself a cup of coffee and turned on the TV.
I saw hundreds of teenagers skipping school and protesting in the streets about climate change, with handmade signs that spanned from the serious and angry to the humorous and profane.
“There are no jobs on a dead planet.” “You’re burning our future.” And my favourite: “Why should we go to the school if you won’t listen to the educated?”
This transformative moment, the moment I tipped from concerned to genuinely alarmed, didn’t happen because I read an ICCP report or sat through a presentation from a climate scientist about CO2 levels.
I reacted to a crowd of children holding up signs in the streets, girls who were only a few years older than my eldest daughter. Suddenly it became very personal.
That I can make a contribution to this movement, probably the most important in our history, is such a relief to me and helps me manage the angst that overwhelms me from time to time in the night.
My first task is to understand how we maintain our optimism as we move deeper into a climate change-affected future.
I, we, can protest, change the terms of our super fund, install solar panels, and vote for parties with strong climate policies — or any climate policies, really.
But one of the most important things we can do is understand why other people feel the way they do about climate change, and learn to talk to them effectively.
What we need are thousands, millions, of everyday conversations about climate change.
That will help enlarge the ranks of the Concerned, engage the Disengaged and make the Cautious more convinced of the need for action.
This will then expose those who dismiss both the science and the solutions, the denialists — who are today a minority, albeit a powerful one — as what they are: out of step with the rest of us, determined to put our collective wellbeing and our way of life at risk.
We must not let their voices be the loudest in the public arena.
We must create a chorus of different communities united in asking, indeed demanding, that we act now to preserve a liveable world and a viable future.
This article is an edited extract of the MSSI Oration given by Rebecca Huntley at the University of Melbourne. It was recorded and broadcast by ABC RN’s Big Ideas program.
Dr Huntley is one of Australia’s foremost researchers on social trends. She is an adjunct senior lecturer at the School of Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales. She also presents The History Listen on RN each week.
I see a lot of quibbling on the internet and in letters to the editor about the current bushfire crisis. “It’s not really climate change that is the cause; the fires were started by youthful arsonists; by lightning”. Yeah, whatever.
How the fire starts is irrelevant, whether it was from a badly placed barbecue or a deliberately thrown Molotov cocktail matters not one whit. There have always been bushfires. Sometimes really bad ones. Some deliberate, some accidental, some natural. The point is that the conditions are now more and more such that once a fire starts, it’s increasingly, damnably hard to put out and spreads through the dry vegetation at an alarming pace that much of the wildlife and few humans on foot can outrun. The fires spread further and faster, and it is climate change that caused these conditions. Arguing against this scientifically established fact is not expressing an intelligent opinion, any more than maintaining that the sun, moon and stars all revolve around an earth placed squarely in the centre of the universe.
When science has established facts beyond doubt and has all the data necessary to prove it, there is room only for discussing the finer details of how globing warming may affect different geographies and circumstances. No way to say it is not really happening.
So I feel free to mock the deniers just as I would flat-earthers, creationists and iridologists. Because they are provably wrong. I don’t usually resort to the ad hominem because it is an admission of failure. However, I admit freely that I fail to understand how people don’t understand how science works.
Prove me wrong if you can. I’m willing to change my mind if the evidence is there. Lay it out.
He sits in the dark cave of his cabin, with curtained windows. He is surround by artefacts and nick-nacks collected over eighty nine years.
The only light in the room comes through the doorway where I am standing. It is late afternoon and the sky outside is heavily overcast. I can barely see him, seated in an ancient Lazyboy chair behind a coffee table piled with the detritus of a man who does not move about much.
I knocked twice on his open door. “How are doing mate?” I asked.
He has suffered several strokes. His speech is slow and slurred from myotonic dystrophy. But I could understand him clearly.
He looked at me with clouded eyes, as if he did not recognise me.
“I know why you have come” he said. “You are seeking something you can never regain”.
I sat down on a rickety chair. It creaked under my weight.
“You cannot put the smoke back into the cigarette” he said. As if to accentuate his point, he drew a long drag on a thin, hand rolled cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke into the air. He coughed for a few moments then continued.
“Every experience is a new one. Even if you are doing the same thing again. The Laws of Entropy and Enthalpy will ensure that nothing will ever be the same. If you go back, you will be disappointed until you accept that you must go forward. If you buy a boat, you may enjoy the pleasant experiences it will provide you, but you must understand these are not the experiences of your youthful memory. Those have been guilded by time and fondness until in your mind they are no longer anything like what you really experienced. Go forward. Enjoy new sensations.
The molecules of air the breeze blows to touch your face are all new to you, and you will probably never encounter any one of them again. They will go on to touch other faces, to combust in a cigarette or a bushfire, or perhaps to combine with metal as rust, or be inhaled by someone and incorporated in their body, to be released as something new in the crematorium. They carry no memory of you. You, however, can carry a memory of them. That is your task. To experience, enjoy, and remember.”
He took another drag on his fag and had another coughing fit.
His eyes cleared. He looked at me with surprise as I proffered him my offering.
“G’day! How’re ya doin’?”
“G’day to you, O wise one. I thought you might like some of this spaghetti Bolognese I made. It’s low salt. You may want to add some. ”.
I handed him a fork. He started to eat.
“But I’ve been thinking, I live on an island and I should buy a boat”.
“Nah, he said, a strand of spaghetti suspended from the corner of his mouth. “Don’t like boats, rocking and splashing. Don’t even like fishing. Can’t stand the smell. Until they are cooked, with chips”.
He sucked on his cigarette while still chewing Bolognese. When he coughed, a bit shot on to the coffee table. He wiped it up with his handkerchief.
The Seer had retired. The old man was dining.
The old man turned on his television with the remote, and leaned back to watch the football. He had forgotten I was there. He burped contentedly, drew on his smoke and coughed.
In the very early 70s when I was working as a leading hand at the Ceracrete Panel co. In Keeling Ave. one of my workmates invited me to his home for a meal one weekend. He got me terribly drunk, and I think he slipped me a Mickey in my drinks, because I don’t remember much after dinner. Apparently he drove me home. I assume his wife drove my car. My dad says I was really rude when they brought me home, and I went straight to bed, I remember nothing of the event after dinner.
However, I discovered next day I was the owner of a Smith & Wesson model 14 .38 Police Special with a four inch barrel, that I had apparently bought for $50. I knew nothing of its provenance, or how it came to be in the possession of the person from whom I apparently bought it. I don’t know how it was smuggled into New Zealand or whether it had been used in a crime.
All I know is I had in my hands a very illegal double action revolver with eight rounds of ammunition. I recall now that as a person in his early twenties, I thought, at first, this was pretty cool, though I did not ever carry it round tucked into the back of my pants. Not that cool, not that stupid. Even then.
Yes. I thought it was cool. Until the day I took it to the pine forest at Muriwai and tried it out, firing it at a tree. One shot. It scared the shit out of me. It was accurate, it was powerful, and it was fucking loud. The noise astounded me. The recoil shocked me. This was before I bought my (legal) .303 rifle. Until then I had only ever fired an air gun.
I did not know what to do. The enormity if what I had in my hand suddenly dawned on me. An illegal, lethal weapon that could send me to jail. And I had just discharged it for anyone to hear. I quickly skedaddled.
I took it home and hid it. Sorry Dad.
Fortunately, I had a friend who had a friend who was a legitimate gun collector. He took me to meet him, and that person agreed to take the revolver off my hands for the price I’d paid for it. Apparently it’s a classic. Collectible. How he accounted for it in his collection I know not, and care not. It was off my hands. That was all I cared about.
That is my pistol story. I’m drunk right now, or I wouldn’t be telling it.
Just the other day I was discussing this subject with my neighbour. He was horrified and concerned that I put food out for the birds. Never white bread, only small amounts of whole grain bread, mostly vegetable scraps such as lettuce leaves, carrot peel, tomato tops, and bean ends, and the occasional small scraps of meat and fat. Also, proprietary bird seed. Also corn cobs. I clean up anything not taken in a day.
I was really pleased to hear this podcast from the Australian Geographic Society, and to be validated by Australia’s expert on the subject. Even now, though millions of people feed wild birds in Australia, there is a lot of controversy on the subject.
Darryl Jones is a bird scientist who opened up the debate about bird feeding in Australia. He went from anti-bird-feeder to becoming a responsible voice for an activity a large number of Australians enjoy doing. He is also loves colourful Hawaiian shirts.