Summer in Melbourne

Jeez, there wouldn’t be a lot left over if we couldn’t talk about the weather. The weather has always been a big topic of conversation in Melbourne, probably because the weather has always been so notoriously changeable here. At the very least our weather is quirky, and it’s certainly distinct, and not a little famous.

Unfortunately there are more ominous reasons to discuss weather these days. Global warming, climate change, etc, make it a headline item all over the world. Count me as one of the majority that believe that climate change is a thing, and that man and his excesses are largely responsible for it.

It’s hard to argue with the science, regardless of the luddites, flat-earthers and far right nut-jobs who do anyway. Unfortunately, in Australia at least, some of those nut-jobs have been running the show, which meant that policies to combat climate change were reversed, and then barely existent. That’s as it is today, despite the head nut-job getting kicked out. There’s a liberal leader, constrained by nut job dinosaurs in the party, which equate to high sounding promises and little practical action. Pardon the pun, but a bunch of hot air.

Hot air is very much the thing. I reckon there are hundreds of thousands of Aussies like me. I don’t need science to tell me that the climate has changed, and that the environment we live in is a lot warmer and drier than it used to be.

I’m always startled when I realise this. You’re sort of conditioned by school and science to think in geological time frames, and so you inherently believe that if change is to come it will be gradual. To my way of thinking that means barely discernible over a lifetime. In real life it’s a lot swifter than that.

I’m prudent when I cast my mind back to the old days. The natural inclination is to believe that it’s a lot different now, but you have to factor in the focus of looking back. Your memory is selective when it looks into the past. You remember things, people, moments, but the rest is pretty much a blur. You wonder if you see things differently from this distance, if the soft focus strips the detail and leaves only generalities. The question is: do you remember truly?

I can’t answer that. Short of hopping into a time machine there’s no way I can. Certainly I remember hot days when I was a kid, and many hot nights in a time before air-conditioning (fancy!). It wasn’t a thing though, but maybe that was because I was a kid. These are things I can’t say, yet the anecdotal memory I have suggests that it is much warmer now than it was then. It’s the vibe, but it’s not a vibe that can be dismissed.

I’m sitting here before my Mac and it’s just ticked past 9am. I’m in a pair of shorts and nothing else. It was hot yesterday, it’s going to be hotter today, and it’s already warm. It’s December, the coolest month of our summer always, and already we’ve had 8-10 days over 30 degrees. The average daily maximum this month has surpassed the long term average by a full 2 degrees plus.

Today they reckon 39 degrees. It’s not the hottest NYE I remember – it was about a stinking 43 degrees ten years ago, and I remember it well. Today comes as part of a pattern. A few moderate days, a warmer day, and steadily increasing heat between 35-40 degrees, before a change comes, and the pattern resets. As it stands we’re getting about two days a week above 35 degrees, and the hottest months are still ahead of us.

Hot as it has been here, if you live in Adelaide then you’ve been truly baked. December has been a shocking month for South Australians. The highs have been higher, and they’ve had more of them.

There have been times in the middle of a hot patch recently when I’ve wondered what it would be like if it was like this every day. There’s something about hot weather when you’re in the middle of it and the sky is painted on and the sun blazing and it feels timeless and eternal.

It’s nice to have warm weather, and not unpleasant when it’s hot if you’re near a beach or pool, or have good air-con. Too much of it though begins to suck the juice out of you. You’re never quite rested properly, you never get away from the heat, and you feel a creeping apathy – too fucking hot to do anything. These days when the cool change comes is greeted with universal relief, which is as much psychological as it is physical.

Thing is, are we heading to a time when it will be (something) like this everyday? I can survive this, but in 50 years from now, even if we have managed to restrict the temperature increase to less than the vaunted 2 degrees, it’s going to be bloody uncomfortable. You don’t need to be a scientist to know that something has to be done. We owe it to our children.

Sidenote: of course as I complain about the heat there are record floods in the north of England. There’s always some weird weather shit happening somewhere, and pretty well always a record. That’s definitely different from when I was a kid. Weather events are more extreme, and more regular – and they take on all different forms.

How about that heat

I bought myself a new pillow (a good pillow is a canny investment) for Christmas, and it’s either that, or the new bed I’m sleeping in, which seems to have triggered a very rich phase of dreaming. I seem to dream all night, the dreams interesting and quirky, and occasionally compelling – I was close to tears in this mornings edition. I enjoy it – I always find dreams an interesting aspect of human nature – but though I seem to be sleeping well I don’t feel particularly rested.

That might just as well be the recent weather. It has been a hot few days, and Friday night particularly was stifling. Even with air-con it’s not conducive to a peaceful slumber. Unless you’re at the beach or by the pool the days aren’t any more fun. The curtains are closed, the air-conditioning blasts out it’s cooling air non-stop, and it feels a very artificial environment in which I, for one, find it hard to settle. With the hot northerly’s it’s no better outdoors. It’s the worst of all possible weather combo’s.

Weather has always been a reliable source of conversation, especially in Melbourne where it’s notoriously so changeable. In recent years weather seems to be have been elevated to something more than casual conversation fodder. News bulletins lead with it, it’s on the front page of the newspaper. I don’t remember it being that way when I was growing up. Hot weather we accepted as just one of those things we had to endure, and in a time before widespread climate control. Now it’s news.

I wonder if it’s because of the ongoing hullaballoo over climate change. Weather was once seen as a part of nature; nowadays we accept – by and large – man’s interference and detrimental impact on nature in general, and climate in particular. You’re entitled to feel a tad pissed off when you bake another day, or when yet another quirky weather pattern takes hold. It makes sense in a way, except climate change tends only to be referenced in passing in these reports. It’s more about how darn hot it is, about staying cool, about the dangers to the elderly and the homeless, and the inevitable warning about locking your children in the car. In other words, it’s been sensationalised.

I don’t like it overmuch, but then I’m old school in just about every day. I appreciate it’s getting hotter more frequently, and I’m a passionate believer that we should be acting now to prevent it from getting too much worse. Still, so much focus on a couple of hot days feels a bit like whinging. It buys into the superficial, look-at-me aspects of society today, where everything is commented on and has a hashtag affixed to it.

Despite my protestations I’m actually a part of that myself. I made a sardonic reference on Twitter yesterday to the weather (I may be hot, but at least I have gin), though without hashtag on this occasion. On another day I’ll be sincerely singing the praises of Twitter to expose news, information and opinion the mainstream media neglects. At a time when most mainstream media has become crap it’s been a necessary alternative.

It changes thought patterns though. Once upon a time 99% of us were passive consumers of news; today we have the opportunity to report on it ourselves, and possibly even become part of it. The weather we once endured stoically we cannot now experience without passing comment on it, even if it is spurious. We sensationalise, trivialise, and normalise. I suspect if science conducted an analysis on human brains comparing one 30 years ago to a brain today significant differences would show up.

The serious side of it was highlighted yesterday. Yes, it was fucking hot, but it was the effects of that heat which deserved reporting. Terrible bushfires in South Australia, and more in the western part of Victoria, saw people lose their homes, property and livestock destroyed, as well as other shocking stories I don’t want to repeat here. This is legitimate news, but, shocking as it is, news no different from any other time in our settled history. The news doesn’t change really, just the way we look at it.

The leaders we deserve?

Reading the morning newspaper is just plain depressing these days. I think that’s probably the same in most parts of the world in these troubled times. Here in Oz what we have all to ourselves are domestic politics which are depressingly squalid. That’s been the case now for many months, if not years. With the advent of a new government however, it has plummeted to new depths. Squalid, corrupt, and comically incompetent, that seems to be representative of the LNP government under Tony Abbott. I feared this would be the case, but hoped to be surprised. Instead it is worse than I anticipated.

For the last week terrible bushfires have been raging through the Blue Mountains of NSW. This beautiful, rugged country. A dry winter combined with unseasonably high temperatures – 40 degrees plus and it’s not summer yet! – and strong winds saw the fires spread and consume the countryside, and many people’s homes. They still rage today.

There have been pictures in the press and online. Though a bushfire is a terrible thing there is often a strange beauty in their aftermath. Surreal sunsets, fire a bright and compelling shade, even scenes which seem apocalyptic – smoke hovering over the harbour bridge and the Opera House, a sky that looks like it is about to split in two and herald Armageddon.

It’s October, more than a month away from summer. I can’t recall such a serious bushfire so early in the season. The temperatures reported are ridiculous. Like most I’m a believer in the reality of climate change. I don’t need science to tell me so. I know it from personal experience. I’ve been around long enough now to notice how much has changed in the last 20 years. There are many indicators, but the most dangerous is that of bushfire. As is rightly pointed out, bushfires are part and parcel of the Australian landscape. I remember over 30 years ago the great Ash Wednesday fires in Victoria. Major conflagrations of that nature have been repeated for thousands of years most likely.

What’s different now, in my experience, is that appears that every year now there is at least one really major bushfire episode at least, whereas they might have been spaced out ever 4-5 years before. This year, already, it is NSW – and who’s to say what more there will be once summer starts properly? Last year it was Tasmania. The year before Victoria. And so on.

Naturally this is a point of political contention, especially with a government that denies climate change and is about to repeal a carbon tax at a time that the rest of the world seems to be embracing it. These bushfires have been claimed to be the result of climate change by some, and we are warned that this is the new reality we must accept. Predictably the government angrily denies that.

You can argue the toss about the truth or otherwise of that claim – time will likely tell. In the meantime unfortunately we have to deal with leadership that won’t countenance any opinion but its own, almost as a mantra. Quite astoundingly the government minister for climate change, Greg Hunt, rejected once more the link between climate change and the bushfires, stating that he had ‘checked on Wikipedia’ to be sure of it. Amazing. You’d think it was a bloody satire, but truth is the pollies out satire the satirists these days, and without even trying.

Checked on Wikipedia? Naturally this admission brought a storm of comment, ranging from outrage to ridicule. You have to wonder at an elected official who chooses to do his research via Wikipedia (conveniently overlooking the reams of scientific opinion that state a contrary opinion to his), and who will then admit to it publicly.

This is just one example of a fucking depressing government not 2 months into it’s rule as yet.

There’s the expenses rorting that has come to light. Most Aussies view reports of this with a cynical disgust. We’re not really surprised that the pigs have their snouts in the trough, but we are also bitterly against it. There appears to be a systematic abuse of the process, probably by both sides of politics, though seemingly much more so by LNP members – up to, and very much including the prime minister. Really, things are claimed for that would make most of us common folk blush – and by those amply rewarded otherwise as leaders of our country. It’s a shocker, and a system that needs to be drastically reformed and made transparent. Tony Abbott refuses to countenance that. He won’t listen to the calls for reform. He turns a blind eye to the rorts on his side of the parliament after last year going after Peter Slipper for misdemeanours of much smaller amounts. It’s clear hypocrisy, and I would contend it’s also poor politics – the people will see it as an attempt to sweep it under the carpet and to protect the entitlements of shady fat cats.

Then there is Joe Hockey. Has there ever been a greater buffoon in federal parliament? Here is a man way out of his depth intellectually, and I suspect in terms of work ethic also. He has a nice line of patter when he gets going, which is why he made it this far I reckon. I don’t think he has much ticker though, and as an intellect he appears no better than B grade – and now he’s the fucking federal treasurer! In government as well as in opposition his performance is marked by bluster and meandering nonsense. He shows no grasp of his portfolio, and his default response to everything is to blame the previous government. Ironically after blaming the Labor government for rising debt (unfairly) he has now presided over borrowings in the range of 15-20 billion at last count in the few weeks he’s been in the chair, and dramatically increased the debt ceiling. He’s the sort of embarrassment you hope never leaves the country.

Add to this mix Scott Morrison. I don’t think he’s incompetent, but I do think there is something nazi about him. He was the opposition minister for immigration, and has taken that role in government. There’s no more politicised or contentious ministry than immigration. It has been a national disgrace for many years now. In keeping with the times the immigration minister is an attack dog. In effect he’s really the anti-immigration minister. I’ve been inured to his provocative statements and toxic actions to some degree. It sickens me to the stomach to see how we treat those who come here as refugees by boat, but regretfully I’ve realised it isn’t going to change. It can get worse though. During the week this piece of human garbage instructed his ministry in the semantics of seeking asylum. Those arriving by boat seeking asylum here are no longer to be referred to as asylum seekers, or ‘clients’, but as ‘illegals’.

This may seem a small thing. What difference does a change of term make? George Orwell knew. Language is important. It’s the first step towards a fascist dehumanisation of these people. It’s what the Nazis did with the Jews and other ‘undesirables’. They cease to be people. They become objects. You can process objects in a different way to how you process people, and this is the leap in language that enables that.

I’m not proposing that we’re about to follow the Nazis (though we have our variation on concentration camps), but this is a dangerous precedent. I’ve no doubt it is the intention of Morrison to use language to take the sense of humanity out of reports on the arrivals of refugees. Instead of poor, persecuted people seeking a better life asylum seekers are now outlaws. They’re not women and children, they are flagrant breakers of the law (incidentally, highly questionable – it is not illegal to seek asylum). They are illegals in the government speak of the day, now officially promulgated.

This is the Australia of today. We can’t accept this.

Don’t mention the carbon tax

en:Primorye Power Plant in Luchegorsk, Primors...

Image via Wikipedia

Finally we have a carbon tax proposal on the table. It’s not yet passed into legislation, but, hopefully, that should be a formality. After months of bluster and ballyhoo it’s here, and it’s a better package than I expected.

It’s no secret I’m sceptic when it comes to government credibility. I think they’re weak, indecisive, and much too easily led by woolly headed advisors and the whims of public opinion. On top of that they have been continuously and embarrassingly manhandled by Tony Abbott who continues to rule the airwaves and the agenda. In this he has been aided and abetted by large sections of the press, namely the Murdoch press, who seem determined to bring down the government. It’s a bit of an evil loop as the Murdoch press contains the tabloids that the common folk of Oz read, and sadly, if Andrew Bolt tells them something is a bad thing then most seem happy to nod their head in agreement without thinking any deeper than that.

Still, the ‘tax’ – as it has been reduced to (thanks Tony Abbott) – looks a fait accompli, and I suspect will die as a major issue within 18 months.

I won’t argue how necessary it is. I think it is a no-brainer (which roughly corresponds to the mental capacity of many critics). I don’t know of anyone credible who now disputes that climate change is a reality. Given that as a fact then clearly something must be done about it. There are no magic wands in government and things just don’t go away when you wish them too. There’s always going to be pain for someone when it comes to limiting our carbon excesses – and in many ways that’s the point of it. There must be incentives – or dis-incentives – for this to work. If you pollute you get penalised. If you turn to alternative options then you won’t.

It’s not about the money. The government isn’t trying to line it’s coffers – evidenced by the pretty generous rebates on offer to most folk. It’s all about the reality that the great majority of big business will not change their ways unless they are forced to. A ‘tax’ forces that. Ultimately it’s cheaper for them to look at the alternatives to produce more cleanly, which is the other great benefit of this. I work in that business, and I know that innovation thrives when necessity demands it. I would hope that from this a lot of clever solutions will be found, and many previously unconsidered short-cuts will now become reality. Long term the environment benefits, but so to does society and business. I may sound like a bit of a pollyanna, but that’s the experience of history. I don’t see why it will be any different this time.

The one question is whether this change is too little, too late for the environment – particularly as the rest of the world must come to the party. I think it’s inevitable that we’re in for some climate pain. The best we can hope for I think is to mitigate, or minimise that. And that really puts this whole conversation into a scary perspective. Tony Abbott may get up on his soap box and rant about the impost to the Australian people day and night (disgracefully so); and the Murdoch press may push their poisonous agenda, but it’s not really about a few dollars here and there. It’s about the future of the planet. Repeat that after me: it’s about the future of the planet.

We’re at a critical point in history when we can choose to act, or not. If we don’t we risk consigning our children and their children to a world a lot harder than the world we live in today. This is our decision, and it must be made now. At last we have acted on it, and if there is a cost then it is negligible against what we risk losing. Do I mind taking a few dollars from my pocket to make a better world? Of course not.

Unfortunately perspective is the first real victim of party politics, but to be so loose with it is irresponsible and unforgivable. Hopefully we will soon be past that.

Hot in November

The geographic distribution of surface warming...Image via Wikipedia

Another warm day in the middle of a warm week. I have meetings out this afternoon, necessitating suit and tie, not to mention a formal demeanour. Great nuisance in weather like this, and with the air-con in the car not working (hopefully collect the new car tomorrow).

It seems odd to have such a chunk of warm weather this early in the season. Random days here and there are no issue, but a week of weather in the low to mid-30's is unusual, and does not bode well for a mild summer. In fact I'm beginning to believe mild summers might be a thing of the past. Everyone is on tenterhooks after the bushfires last season, and the reality is that we'll likely have many more scorching days ahead of us and dire risk of further great conflagrations.

I know there are global warming sceptics, but my own experience leaves me in little doubt. Every summer is hotter than the summer before, and to compare today to 20 years ago when I was a kid is to compare two very different things. Now, in early-November, the still, hot summer days we know so well are upon us, and will likely be here until well into March.

What's strange about this spate of weather, though entirely in character with Melbourne's quirky weather patterns, is that there has been no real transition. We've jumped from days of 21 or 22 to temperatures from 29 into the mid-30's. No incremental increase, no pleasant 25, 26 degree days on the way through, it's bang!, mild then hot.

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