Daily Archives: February 10, 2009

The politics of grieving

There was a letter by my colleague Patrick Wolfe in today’s Age:

Cuddles not required

MY HOUSE was on 4.8 hectares of bush outside Healesville, above Chum Creek. It went up in flames on Saturday. There’s nothing left but some unusable steel framing and a cracked concrete slab. Friends, neighbours, family, colleagues, strangers have all been wonderful. Alongside the sadness and the not knowing what’s going to happen, their humanity has been truly uplifting.

I wasn’t impressed to see the Prime Minister cuddling a crying man on camera. If he’d come across me while I was crying, I would have resisted his embrace, especially if the media had been present.

I don’t need a public show of empathy from the Prime Minister. I need him to do something meaningful about climate change so that fewer of us will have to lose our houses, our animals and each other.

Prime Minister, unless your Government seriously commits itself to a carbon emission reduction target of at least 50 per cent, and within the next 20 years at the longest, then you can keep your arms to yourself.

Patrick Wolfe, Healesville

I, too, saw the footage of Kevin Rudd trying to hug and console a man who had lost his house- and who knows, maybe more- in the bushfires in Victoria this weekend.  What an awkward embrace it was- the small politician reaching up over a huge, broken block of a man, and as I saw it I hoped that it wasn’t just a response to the politician’s antenna for a photo opportunity.  I want to believe that it wasn’t.  His hollow-eyed, tentative piece to the camera later suggests that perhaps it wasn’t, too.

And I watched Julia Gillard, the deputy Prime Minister giving her short, quavery speech in Parliament- and yes, it is beyond words.  But words, words we got from Malcolm Turnbull in response (on the same link as Julia’s) – crafted and polished words, which had no doubt gone through the same drafting process as Gillard’s had, but too many of them, on and on, delivered as a performance fit for the stage or courtroom.  Oh, just shut up.  It is beyond words.

There’s time enough for blame and recrimination and politicization- I note that the same Letters page of the Age made the jump from the fires to the north-south pipline.  But, like Patrick,  I want bigger questions- and responses- to come from this.  I don’t want to experience 50 degrees, I don’t want February 2009 to be followed by January 2010 and February 2011.  I don’t want to see my bush, my coastline, as hostile forces.

Some time ago I read a book by T. C. Boyle A Friend of the Earth , set in 2025 when the succession of ‘extreme weather events’ made insurance impossible.    Only now 14 years away,  Boyle portrayed a world clearly recognizable as our own but where pride in architecture and structures was abandoned after floods, fires and cyclones had rendered rebuilding and refurbishment uneconomic  and pointless; and where the concept of either governments or private companies providing and maintaining infrastructure had become unsustainable.  They were a people cowed, defenseless and belligerent towards an environment that had turned on them.  How many of the people  burnt out this past weekend will go back to their bush blocks?  How many other people, unnerved by the knowledge that next weekend, or the weekend after, it could be them and their house, will decide to move out into the relative safety of suburbia.

I want my government to stand up to the energy and water lobbies.  If there are to be subsidies for solar power at all, then I want it to be for a meaningful, worthwhile contribution to the power grid.  I don’t want my action to be a free kick for the coal producers when they snaffle up my solar output in carbon trading permits  to allow them to pollute even more.  I don’t want a water desalination plant that itself gobbles up even more coal-based electricity, and I don’t want to be fobbed off with tree-planting schemes.  If I do put in a tank, I don’t want the government two years down the track to capitulate to the privatized water supply companies and ban their use on ‘health ground’ because they need to guarantee return on investment for plants and pipelines.

The news that it’s now 173 people dead, with fears of the toll rising up to 300 makes every day things seem insignificant.  The financial stimulus package? Who cares… put it towards the bushfire communities.   The launch of Underbelly… the greed and avarice and ego of scum.   My bookshelves that took days to arrive much to my rather pointless chagrin and consumer-blustering…inconsequential. Jessica Alba’s weight loss secret…not worth commenting.