Environment and Climate

Last spring, as the harbingers of a dangerous season converged into a chorus of forewarning, I decided it might be a good idea to keep a diary of the period now known as ‘Black Summer’. The diary starts in September with landscapes burning in southern Queensland and Brazil. Three hundred thousand people rally across Australia, calling for action on climate change. I attend a forum of emergency managers where, during a discussion about warning systems, a senior fire manager declares: ‘We need to tell the public we cannot help them in the ways they expect, but we’re never going to tell them.’ Next week, Greg Mullins, the former NSW fire and rescue commissioner, comments on ABC radio, ‘We’re going to have fires that I can’t comprehend.’ Federal politicians assure the nation that we are resilient.

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Borrowing a term coined by the late Jewish Nobel Laureate and vegetarian Isaac Bashevis Singer, Charles Patterson (in)famously likened humanity’s treatment of animals to an ‘eternal Treblinka’. In his 2001 book of the same name, Patterson set the mass murder of Europe’s Jews and industrialised animal slaughter side by side, drawing a line between the production methods of Chicago’s early twentieth-century slaughterhouses, the assembly-line technology pioneered by Henry Ford – an avowed anti-Semite and Hitler supporter – and the death camps of Nazi Germany. Another Jewish writer, the German philosopher Theodor Adorno, is said to have observed that ‘Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals’.

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'Ambassadors from Another Time' by Stephen Orr

The ABR Podcast
Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Each year, ABR publishes an issue dedicated to sustainability, climate change, and the environment. In today’s episode, we look back on Stephen Orr’s Eucalypt Fellowship essay, which was the feature of the October 2017 issue of ABR. His essay, ‘Ambassadors from Another Time’, attempts to understand Australia’s complex relationship with the eucalypt, examining the nation’s evolving understanding of these iconic trees.

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Written by a prominent economist with a long career in emissions reduction and policy modelling, this engaging book attempts to debunk eleven myths that undermine effective climate action. Jaccard also offers a ‘simple’ path to climate success, built around strong regulatory action, carbon pricing, a system of carbon tariffs, and supporting poorer countries in energy transitions. Jaccard focuses on emissions reduction in the transport and energy sectors, in line with his areas of expertise.

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The publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring (1962) is widely regarded as one of the key moments in the development of the global environment movement. In the wake of Silent Spring, science fiction writer Frank Herbert published the first of the Dune series in 1965. Herbert presented complex descriptions of alternate planetary ecologies, with influential characters known as ‘planetologists’ (a new film version is due out this year). In 1972, the image of the ‘Blue Marble’ was released, a photo of Earth taken by the Apollo 17 crew on their way to the moon, also widely considered to be critical in influencing public understandings of our finite planet. Each of these developments extended a long history of exploratory research, experimentation and imagination about the deep and complex connections of Earth systems. Sarah Dry’s Waters of the World investigates six critical figures in this history.

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When country needs burning, timing is everything, and the grasses, by how cool or warm they feel, tell you exactly when to light up. Victor Steffensen is a master of timing. His book about Indigenous fire management came out just weeks after Australia’s unprecedented fires inspired calls for more Indigenous burning to quell the danger.

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The nuclear scale of the inferno that delivered our Black Summer will be remembered as a turning point in the debate about climate change. It was the summer when the monster of energy stored up in the earth’s oceans and atmosphere revealed itself in the most dangerous climate drivers; the summer when Australia could no longer take for granted the evolution of precious species and their habitats over millions of years, with more than a billion animals dead and more than ten million hectares of forest burnt. But it was also the season in which climate-denying politics was comprehensively trumped, no matter how much spin, media massaging, and misinformation was employed to make the fires, and their link to climate change, go away.

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Season of reckoning

Tom Griffiths
Friday, 21 February 2020

What do we call this terrifying summer? The special bushfire edition of ABC’s Four Corners predictably called it Black Summer. Perhaps the name will stick, for it builds on a vernacular tradition. Firestorms are always given names, generally after the day of the week they struck. There are enough ‘Black’ days in modern Australian history to fill up a week several times over – Black Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays – and a Red Tuesday too, plus the grim irony of an Ash Wednesday. The blackness of the day evokes mourning and grief, the funereal silence of the forests after a firestorm. Black and still. And when the fires burn for months, a single Black Day morphs into a Black Summer.

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During cold southern winters, the islands and atolls of the Pacific seem to offer an idyllic escape. Advertisements for cheap flights to Fiji or New Caledonia present smiling ukulele players and al fresco massages. More bleakly, despairing islanders, by virtue of their place of birth, experience the devastation wrought by urbanisation and the climate crisis.

For Melbourne writer Tom Bamforth, the Pacific is much more complex than either of these extremes. Over ten years, he has pursued and discovered a collection of layered and interesting places, learning much about the unique delights and challenges of life in our neighbouring Pacific nations.

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‘We’ll be going this earth’: an environmental survey

Lynette Russell, et al.
Wednesday, 25 September 2019

To complement the reviews and commentaries in our Environment issue, we invited a number of writers and scholars to nominate a book that will give readers a better appreciation of the environment.

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