Fumbling But Hopeful In The Dark
by Fiona Crawford - October 11th, 2010
There’s some profound symmetry to be drawn between blindly taking notes in the dark and trying to navigate our way through the darkness of climate change. At least there would be were I able to more aptly articulate it.
Regardless, furious blind note taking was what I found myself doing tonight as I sat rapt in a dimmed theatre listening to esteemed scientist, author, and former Australian of the Year Tim Flannery.
Flannery first came to my (and probably most people’s) attention with his stellar, stellar book The Weather Makers, which burst onto the reading scene and explained environmental issues in terms we lay people could understand. As one enthusiastic question-asker tonight said (flouting the rule that we must ask questions rather than make statements and that questions are the ones that go up at the end. And yes, that declaration drew wry chuckles and mental high fives from those of us familiar with the interminable faux question askers who take a vice-like grip of the microphone and use it not to ask an insightful question but to rant, soapbox-like about goodness knows what)…sorry, I’ve lost my train of thought after that rant-like aside. Where was I? Oh questions. Or more specifically statements.
What I meant to say was that one guy told Flannery that he had a question, but first he just wanted to state—offer reassurance—that ‘even in [Flannery’s] darkest moments’, he should remember that there are ordinary people like him [the question asker] who derive hope from Flannery’s hard work and who are thankful for his efforts. It was pretty touching stuff and was met with plenty of nods from those who’d cynically narrowed their eyes when he’d offered the ‘I’m getting to a question but first I need to make a statement’ disclaimer. And yes, I was in that cynical bunch.
Flannery had spent the preceding hour talking about his new book, the culmination of five years’ work since The Weather Makers. Called Here On Earth: An Argument For Hope*, it was inspired, he says, after he encountered a woman in tears in his local supermarket. He realised that while he and his scientific counterparts have had years to take in details of climate change, for the bulk of us who have gone from ignorance to everything in recent times, it’s difficult not to feel despair. But there is, he says, a light at the end of the climate change tunnel. Advocating hope but not complacency, he spent the hour outlining the reasons why he believes we are starting to move, however slowly, in the right direction.
Over wine—Flannery and his interviewer said up front that this was going to be a ‘relaxed’ evening, and potentially more progressively so—Flannery taught us that 10 per cent of a person is actually other stuff, such as mites that live in our brows and bacteria that lives in our guts. He talked about ants that became slave owners after working out that they could steal pupa and harness a willing workforce. He explained that human brains operate on just 25 watts, or less than most of the lighting in the theatre, and that our brains have shrunk over time as we developing interdependence and no longer needed to be able to do absolutely everything on our own.
He also contextualised the issue of climate change by comparing it to other great challenges we’ve faced. These included being able to manage sewage, which in the past was literally knee-deep and disease-spreading on our streets. The question, he said, was whether we’ll act on climate change before we too far down the path of those post-apocalyptic horrors. Although he deftly and diplomatically sidestepped the question about whether our newly hung parliament (which makes me think it’s a euphemism for…well, this is a family blog so I’ll just say you get the picture) was going to result in proactive, effective climate change in Australia, the sense I got was that climate change—and its solution—is bigger picture stuff than who’s in government here. If I understood him correctly, economic and moral imperatives will drive action far more and far better than any elected officials.
It’s a hopeful message, even if right now we’re still fumbling in the dark.
*I have to say, though, it’s a good thing that Flannery is already so popular and so sought after, because the cover is nothing short of terrible. While The Weather Makers combined both clever title and simple yet effective cover design, Here On Earth is bland in both. I’d walk over hot coals for Flannery, and even I recoiled at the cover. Yikes. I swear I saw almost the same cover during my time as a bookseller. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but mark my words: the preceding, look-alike book was cheesy and self help…