I began writing this on the hottest July day that I recall – bear in mind that, in the Southern Hemisphere, this is the middle of winter – whereas today is awash with rain. It is not, however, a cold day, and the air has a springtime humidity and welcome mildness. Usually such conditions only prevail at the end of August, when spring announces itself prematurely before falling back into hibernation. Yet, nothing about the weather will surprise me this year, as, under the reign of El Nino, under the carbon loading of the Anthropocene, temperature records fall around us like flies dying from heat exhaustion.
While every part of the Earth is being affected by climate change in its own way, Australia, with its often very tenuous, marginal ecosystems, has already been particularly hard hit. This year has seen unparalleled forest fires raging through the rainforests of Tasmania; not the rejuvenating, replenishing kind of fires either, but destructive and devastating fires in a land unused to such dry soil and conditions. Along thousands of kilometres of the east coast, the Great Barrier Reef has suffered its worst ever episode of coral bleaching, with the loss of huge swathes of diverse marine life in once thriving areas. Along the north coast of Australia we have witnessed the largest ever die-off of Mangroves, hit hard by drier conditions and warmer ocean temperatures, while off the coast of western Australia, thousands upon thousands of acres of sea-grass forest has been lost to warmer waters. El Nino years, by definition, produce anomalous conditions, yet with the atmosphere so laden with carbon dioxide and the ocean being the Earth’s principal heat sink, the extremity of those conditions has gone far beyond any experienced in the past.
It is said that winter in Australia will be shorter and sharper in the future, and just two weeks ago the winter bit in a cold spell that briefly had the east in its grip. Then, like that, it was gone – replaced by an uncanny, unseasonal mildness. Perhaps the winter has come and gone; already the trees are blooming with fresh shoots. Meanwhile, our government ignores the severity of the issue, the absolute priority of climate change, and cuts funding for research and abatement. It is what Shakespeare would call “a tale told by an idiot.” And all of us are, unfortunately, culpable and complicit as hell. And yet, as always, life goes on – with its grand and petty concerns, with its glorious vanity.