Whose emergency?

You often hear the word ‘inaction’ when people talk about climate policy. Last week, thousands of school students threw excellent shade at pollies while protesting that inaction, demanding far-reaching responses to the climate collapse we are all living through, and that they’ll live through the longest.


Days before the kids went on strike, the UN released a report saying that Australia was on track to miss its Paris targets. The day of the strike, quarterly figures showed emissions had risen compared with the previous year. According to the UN, the current policy is only a little better than doing nothing at all.


You could be forgiven for thinking “business as usual,” Scott Morrison’s oxymoronic methodology for dealing with climate change, is to blame. But policy stasis is the least of it. The government is in a state of emergency. Parliament House is pinballing off walls like a teenager drunk on Red Bears (or whatever is current these days). And it’s the self-declared political emergencies that are enabling the actual emergency of climate change to escape unnoticed.


Last night, Scott Morrison called an emergency after-hours meeting to pass new rules ensuring that Liberals could no longer chuck sitting leaders so easily. That’s right, an emergency night-time meeting to vote that the very circumstances that led to him being able to call that meeting could never happen again. (Except that they could. The new rules will require two-thirds of the party to agree to a leadership change. Party rules themselves can be changed with a fifty-percent majority, as Amy Remeikis pointed out in The Guardian).


What made this meeting so important that it couldn’t have been put off till, you know, daylight? Some are reporting a rumoured challenge from Julie Bishop. Some are saying it shows the Liberals are getting serious about signalling stability.


It doesn’t matter. The point is, at the very moment people are demanding politicians spring into action and enact drastic responses to the climate crisis, we find them fully occupied with crises of their own making.


The cynic in me expects nothing less. Historians will draw a direct line between leadership challenges over the past ten years and rising emissions already pushing the earth toward irrevocable damage. Human beings were tiny, squabbling, unable to see the bigger picture while everything around them burned. Self-interest got in the way of self-preservation.


But really, I don’t have a lot of time for that narrative.


That narrative says that for some reason, climate change runs on a parallel track to everything else. We’re told so often that social issues like gender, race and sexuality discrimination are “getting better” (whether you buy that or not), but for some reason climate is different – primordially linked not to a desire for justice or equality, but to the very worst human qualities. As if we are so psychically hobbled we just can’t help it.


I don’t think that version of events is fair to those kids who demonstrated, and it’s not fair to most people. Most people are perfectly capable of acting responsibly in circumstances that are difficult. That’s how life works. You don’t get to have a tantrum if something doesn’t go your way.


What we need is less moral signalling about climate change, and more concrete solutions to what is primarily an economic, not a spiritual, crisis.


Even Malcolm Turnbull, who keeps bobbing up to offer his “belief” in climate science, against the conservative right faction of his own party, isn’t being helpful. All he’s doing is inflaming an interminable Liberal war and I’m sure he knows that. I want to say to him: you don’t work here anymore.


When Turnbull was deposed, it was, like Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott before him, over energy policy. Climate has become a proxy war in this country. Who cares if it’s a war between climate sceptics and sympathisers? If they hate each other, it’s on a cosmetic level. Like our refugee policy, the terms of the debate are being increasingly dictated by conservative infighting.


Climate policy does not have to look this meagre. In the US, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is proposing a Green New Deal, modelled after the post-Great Depression economic stimulus packages, and aimed at radically de-carbonising the economy. It sounds big because it is. These are emergency measures, appropriate to the scale of the science, and while support is by no means guaranteed, at least this type of holistic, far-reaching action is being talked about.


In Australian politics, no one has put forward that kind of leadership. Not even Labor, who have said it would be difficult to “tear up contracts” on a self-funded version of the Adani mine, so as not to dint foreign investor confidence. Even if that is the case, I don’t see why it would be more difficult than, for example, interfering in the energy market to engineer cheaper energy from coal, which has also been floated. It’s the same logic.


As we’ve seen, “emergencies” require all kinds of changes to normal procedure. What’s the point in stabilising investment prospects if the coal industry is a ticking time-bomb?


And besides, wouldn’t you rather be the incumbent who took a stand on coal-fired power than the opposition who said, “we’ll let anyone can suck anything out of the ground, if the price is right”?


If there’s one thing you learn from following Australian politics, it’s that pretty much any reality can be willed into existence if you believe it hard enough. In this world, Craig Kelly’s preselection for a safe seat at the next election ranks as a higher governmental priority than the G20, where the world’s largest economic powers meet.


(If you don’t regularly watch Sky News, you might be thinking, who is Craig Kelly anyway? Trust me, it really doesn’t matter.)


The kindest reading of all of this is that it signals the death throes of a certain kind of conservative magical thinking. But my hunch is that the internal crises are yet more attempts to deflect from being fundamentally unable to offer credible policy on climate.


The real emergency is not Liberal chaos, it’s climate change. I’d say it’s time to start acting like it, except that in their own way, they already are.

Boxes on boxes on boxes

You can get cardboard boxes from Coles, Woolworths and Kmart, but not Bunnings. But it always depends who you talk to. On Wednesday night, two women, who looked in their mid-twenties, on shift at Coles, gave us about nine boxes fresh from transporting thick, reusable plastic bags at the cash register.

"Just wait like 10 minutes, and you can have all of these", she said, gesturing to the bounty before us.

"Help them out," said Shaw, handing me a box full of bags, "No, no, no... you don't work here," they said.

But I kind of feel like I do. I've been to this supermarket at least once a day for the past year and a half. When people ask where we live, I joke, 'aisle 13 of Coles'. It's not a joke, really. I think the same company that owns the supermarket complex is the one that owns our little low-rise townhouse development. The shape of it is certainly supermarket-esque. The houses line a cul-de-sac on either side, square windows facing inwards like perfectly aligned shelves of breakfast cereal.

We are moving out of our house this weekend, well, Monday is the last day. We nod at our neighbours on the left side, their little white dog escapes sometimes. But otherwise, we don't know anyone. When the left side moved in, I was working in our garage, which about five housemates ago used to be a makeshift studio. My desk was wedged in as far away from the wheelie bins as possible, next to the rainwater tank. But it was the accumulation of bikes that edged me out in the end. And the cold. And our old housemate's yoga zone.

When our neighbour dropped round, I thought it was to complain about the noise of the podcast I was listening to. I turned it down immediately. But it wasn't that.

"I just wanted to say hello," she said, "I'm a teacher and it's the first day of the school holidays. Good time to get out and meet everyone."

"Everyone," as though there was a little group of us. Maybe there is and I'm just not a part of it. But I don't think so. Our interaction with the street is entirely sight-based, looking in through those portal windows. At night, you can see everything, lives unfolding in tiny, well-lit boxes. It would be a great setting for a 90s pop video. Or a horror movie.

Opposite us is a sharehouse of younger girls, maybe early twenties. They had a farewell party the other night, and they'd strung up the most elaborate farewell banner all across one wall. They came in with their Coles bags and cooked a really impressive spread of party food, but then the blinds went down so we missed the surprise. 

Next to them is First-Person-Shooter house, two massive HD televisions linked up and permanently navigating a minefield of grey-blue smudged warzone, the head of a gun needling around the screen, looking for cyphers to kill.

On the other side, there's a home gym in the garage owned by a guy with incredible muscles. We also have a rooftop, but I've never seen anyone up there when I've been up there, in the whole complex. I wonder when they hang their washing out. Perhaps the walls, like Offred's hood, just conceal everyone from view.

I always wanted to meet the neighbours, like our left-hand side people did. I had visions of opening a community cafe in our garage on Sunday mornings and getting to know everyone in the street. It never happened. Because of time. And the bins. And the bikes, and yoga.

Even the bedrooms are stacked like bricks. Our bedroom is on the top level, and we can see the sky through our window. Everyone else's bedroom looks into the house. The bottom floor bedroom looks directly into the garage. I mean, the studio. This is one of the better-designed complexes in our area. It's really not so bad, but you do end up feeling a bit like cargo. Over the past year or so, I've felt myself solidifying just a little bit, like a single-serve packet of easy-mac.

There are more things to habitats than just the space. When Le Corbusier designed the Unite d'Habitation in Marseille, he was working with a 'unit of man' that corresponded to all the places in the house, furniture in-built to these specifications - designed around the 'ideal' - not the typical - human body. It was supposed to be 'a machine for living in', a modernist marvel.

But I remember once reading an interview with some of the original inhabitants, who took a different view. Despite the accolades, they didn't really care for the in-built architecture. One used the bed as a desk, and hung up her fussy, gilt-framed mirrors everywhere; she draped Victorian laces over all the surfaces. Le Corbusier's 'ideal' habitat was not ideal to her; she needed it to correspond not to her measurements but to those things that she loved. Even if they were ugly, useless and old fashioned.

We made what we could out of our boxy little house - food, mostly. We did end up having our restaurant on the rooftop, we made a little pulley-system for ordering which went down to the kitchen. What else did I make there? Two quilt works that didn't fit anywhere, that were too big and completely impractical and a huge pain in the arse, that sprawled.

I think my brain was in some subconscious way rebelling against the low-level, unspoken pressure of it all.

Of rooms that fit single humans, but were no good for groups. Windows that fit bodies but not sound. Rooftops with sunlight but that shut out most of the wind. So many neighbours, but no sense of community. Nowhere for the rain to go but into pipes and tanks. Where is this place? What is this place? Sometimes, it felt like nowhere.


Slice off the silver spikes

All your wild outsides,

The savage glint

of light on the tips and along the edges

Lay them out like the spines of an echidna

Flattened in a sheaf

along the road


Come back the next day

And with your cold morning hands

grind them down to fine silver

Carefully, and quickly

Make a dust and save it

Away from all the hawk eyes,

The jealous eyes

Save the wild parts

Keep your distance


One day you will build a house made

Of grass and reeds, and your own spit

Like a bird

Leave them all be and feather your nest

The time for these wild parts will come

To make a bed

To make a halo


They are still silver

Be patient

You are not tamed, just waiting