Landscape from Young, NSW 2011

Slow Train Coming

Back in the seventies there was an oil crisis. People didn't seem to learn. The fact that it was somewhat manufactured by the OPEC cartel seemed to allow us to ignore the fact that one day the oil must run out. People seem to have been in constant denial. As a teen growing up with the predictions of Paul Ehrlich, and in the shadow of Silent Spring, it all seemed rather obvious. There have to be Limits to Growth. But people seeking to develop alternative energy, calling for subsidies, warning about Global Warming, have been ignored or derided at every turn. Australia, to our shame, has sided with that giant of global greed, the USA, in working against the Kyoto Accord.

Now 30 years of denying the obvious is coming home to roost in our own chook sheds. Recently published are papers which show that some data beloved of global warming deniers is wrong- the calibration of instrumentation was wrong. Global warming is a fact, and the vast thawing frozen peats of Siberia will release something like as much CO2 and methane as does the industrial world at present. It is not a question of "if global warming," but of how we survive global warming. The other dingo in the fuel shed is oil. Petrol has gone up 25% this year in Australia. Some fool was on the radio this week saying the state government should take over Port Stanvac and re-open the refinery..... as though there was cheap oil to be had. The party is over, and we have blown our inheritance, and shat in our nest.

One analysis I heard suggested fuel will rise by the same again within months, and that prices will never come down.

Apart from some relief from gas guzzling four wheel drives, this is an imminent crisis. Putting thirty dollars in the car once a week is not much more than buying a multitrip metro ticket. $120.00 a week for the family car is going to be unaffordable. Public transport never looked so good! Except there isn't enough, and sometimes there is none at all. Many of us can't get to work on a bus or a train- unless we leave an hour or more earlier. I drive my daughter to work on Saturday because there's no train early enough.... and even on week days the successive trains and buses many of us need to catch would simply mean we can't get to work on time.

There is going to be a massive redirection of the money flow in this country. Anyone who thinks they can predict the changes in the economic shape of things, beyond bare sketches, is probably kidding themselves. Indeed, since I began to write this piece, General Motors Holden have announced 1400 redundancies at their local plant. My next door neighbour is ok, as he has been there 8 years. But he said to me this morning that there will be another 4OO jobs go soon.

How might one live in such times?

There are some pretty obvious things.... like this is a really stupid time to go and borrow a lot of money to buy a home theatre system. The big consumer stores of the country may yet prove to have been merchandising more misery than the poker machines.

There are some other things, like car pooling, that may well shift from being a good idea that no one does, to an essential facet of working life- if you have a job.

But there is a fundamental choice still open to the nation. We can seek to be a nation of people- human beings- or we can seek to be an economy. Perhaps I am overstating things here, but I will continue for two reasons. I am not sure that I am overstating things, and even if I am, the over-statement makes the choice before us clear.

If we are a nation of people, the key issue is the good of the people- all the people. Whether this is expressed in the Australianism "a fair go for everyone" with it's inherent socialism and distrust of the rich, or in a christian theology of justice and compassion, the important thing is the people.

The really important thing is the Whole; that is, the good of the people is closely linked to the good of the planet. We are not a self contained system. We are affected by the people of China and New Zealand and France, and by the weather and wellness of the whole world. So there is no room for nationalism in the end, or for an anthropocentric bias, yet even to focus on all the people would be a great step forward.

The choice made by the Howard government is different. I say "Howard" government with some caution, because Hawke and Keating before him were headed in the same direction. But this choice has been Howard's distinctive trademark. What counts for Howard is The Economy. You could argue that what counts for Howard is his distinct successfully moneyed electorate. I think it goes beyond this. He is an ideologue; It's the economy that counts. His success is in how well he manages the economy for them, and their success is how well they succeed in that economy. The poor and disenfranchised, in current day Australia, are not an indictment of which to be ashamed. They are an inevitable part, and a necessary part of the economy. They serve as scapegoats, and people we can make an example of... (witness asylum seekers).

So when the crunch comes, how will I live? Indeed, how do I live now? What kind of ethic says, "I will live for myself now, but live better when things get tough."?!! It is past time to live for the whole.

There is a slow train coming, to steal words from Bob Dylan. We heard the train whistle echo in the seventies. In April 2006, when I began to write this piece, as the fuel prices rose, we heard the whistle again. Prices have dropped again. But other faint echoes reverberate in the rails. Suddenly we are afraid of global warming. With drought and an unseasonably hot spring, even politicians are finally listening.

The future will be upon us. Global warming is not "coming.'' It is happening. How will we live? In community, for the whole, with care and compassion... or simply for our own peace and personal affluence? We have a choice.

Posted November 2006. You will find the original version of this page here.


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