Lismore. Saturday, 9.55am
George Monbiot, a British writer, wrote recently that we only get to influence the little stuff. The big issues are already decided for us. We, the people, are fed details to peck and squabble at. The agenda is already set, the big deals done. Democracy is an illusion.
People are wandering into the Quad, Lismore’s community meeting place, as fingers of sun poke through the clouds and touch the wet grass, the microphones in their stands and the wet plastic roofs of the stalls.
The recent rain underlines just how lucky we are in the Northern Rivers bubble. But the recent dry spell underlines just how crucial a predictable climate is to our survival. The region’s environment has evolved from 10 millennia of relatively stable climate. A few weeks without rain and we start to feel uneasy. Not the superficial panic that happens when our phone battery dies, but rather a deeper alarm that sounds when we feel the awful impossible could be possible.
We humans and all life around here have been shaped and sustained by that dependable climate. We are fragile creatures in a changing world. When it doesn’t rain an unease grows in us. Our connection to the world slips back from the safely virtual into the troubling real.
Some of the people walking into the Quad carry homemade signs supporting action on climate change. I see a spelling mistake. Oh dear. I suppose a paintbrush doesn’t come with a spellchecker, but crude handwriting (even with a spelling mistake) has more emotion than a laser print. These people care.
This morning in the Quad, there’s a rally demanding action from the government on climate change. That is sad in itself. Without a doubt, climate change is the biggest threat we humans have faced since wandering out of Africa, so it seems weird that the government ignores the situation’s urgency.
Well, it seems weird unless you understand what governments are really there for. It isn’t for you and me. Democracy is an illusion.
Also, it’s strange that so few people are here. I mean it’s a good turnout for this type of event, but why isn’t everyone here? What could be more important than the future of your children?
I’m sitting outside the cafe in the Quad, sipping a chai latte, nodding at passing people in the gathering crowd. I know most of the faces here. I don’t know all the names, but many of these people have been showing up at protests and rallies since I can remember. The same faces, just getting older. They care. We are bonded by that care.
There are some younger people, but not many. Children play in the puddles that linger on the grass while their parents chat, their placards resting against their legs.
Meanwhile, Lismore goes about its Saturday morning business. Registers ping, bacon cooks, sports are played, hangovers nursed. Business as usual.
Perhaps people believe it isn’t true; that climate change is exaggerated; that all those scientists are wrong or hoaxing us. That Saturday morning is better spent mowing the yard.
Perhaps people do know we are in the tightening grip of climate change but believe there is nothing we can do. There’s comfort in sticking to the old ways. Maybe buy a cloth shopping bag.
I can understand that, but what will you tell the kids? You must fight.
A man with greying hair and a neat beard, shakes my hand.
‘Well, the government has to choose between big business,’ he says, ‘or us.’ His arm sweeps across Quad, indicating the older faces, the children, the giant owl, the dancing climate angels, the Knitting Nanas and a Bundjalung elder gathered there.
The choice, I’m afraid, mate, has already been made.