Monday, August 03, 2015

Age of enlightenment

Three seemingly unrelated events happened in the last 24hrs. It snowed in Hobart for the first time in 30 something years. Bronwyn Bishop resigned as Speaker of the House amid outrageous entitlement claims. Oh, and I had a dream about the house next door to my childhood home, which is soon to be flattened by developers.

What these three events have in common has to do with a book I'm reading. "This Changes Everything" by Naomi Klein explores the intersection between capitalism and climate change. Or, more specifically, the intersection between capitalism and climate change denial. While we are clearly experiencing increasingly extreme weather events, which science tells us is caused by human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, the rhetoric is still all about economic growth. Yet, we know that our consumption of the earth's resources is growing at an alarming rate. The earth cannot sustain such an assault for much longer. We are already seeing the signs of distress in extreme and unpredictable weather patterns. And the Pope agrees. His encyclical on the environment that he delivered in June also talks about the unchecked greed, pursuit of wealth and economic growth that is destroying our common home (the environment) and recognises that the poor are suffering the greatest effects of climate change. He advises all of humanity to come together to care for our common home.

Growth and profit are almost certainly what the developers buying up three quarter acre blocks in my parents' street are hoping for. In so doing, they are destroying the playground of my youth. I broke my arm when Christopher sat on me during a game of horse and jockey in his front yard. The tree that I was only once brave enough to climb will be chopped down. Emily's bedroom, where we would sit for hours talking about boys or listening to Icehouse’s “Electric Blue” (her tape) and Phil Collins' "Another day in paradise" (mine) will be gone as well. Although I do realise that time marches on, and things do change, my former neighbour wishes her children had somewhere as beautiful to play as we had. Greed, and the pursuit of endless profit and economic growth, are diminishing those green spaces, and as Cat Stephens wondered decades earlier about the pursuit of growth and development…”where do the children play?”

On the North Shore, where I grew up, the wealthy are in an age of entitlement that stretches from the cradle to the grave. I was exposed to people who wore ball gowns to Saturday night parties, drove their parents’ BMWs at the age of 18, and after having partied through the university years, received high-paying job offers from their parents’ friends. People generally wanted to pay as little tax as possible, and spoke proudly of ways their accountants had helped them to gain the greatest economic advantage. When I raised issues of inequality, I was accused of being a hippy. It was us hippies who were actually rorting the system, apparently, what with some of us being on the dole and all.

I remember a friend of my mother came around one day, having been to an open house in Vaucluse. "Oh, darlings", she screeched, "you wouldn't believe the oppulence of this place. It was three stories high, with a chandelier in the entrance hall. Oh, now I know how the other half lives". Yep, the other half of the same 1%, I thought to myself. And that was when I realised that some people really have no idea how privileged they are. The sense of entitlement that Bronwyn has is the same sense of entitlement that was evident in my peers on the North Shore, and in many other political conservatives. Is it maliciousness, willful ignorance, or just plain blindness that leads such people to turn away from the suffering of others and the environment while they continue to live out another day in paradise?

And as I near the end of the book, Naomi Klein is talking about the difference between extractivist mind-sets (whereby you take things out) and regenerative ones (where continuous re-birth is the goal). While the extractive industries seek to take things literally from the depths of the earth, and metaphorically from the hands of the poor and the next generation, the regenerative types give me hope. They are the people who come together to solve their energy problems as a group, or organise to resist developments and mining or fracking projects. They care for the earth, for the poor, and for one another. They are willing to find new ways to operate, so that the earth can have a new lease on life.

As I have been reflecting on these issues, including Bronwyn Bishop's resignation as Speaker, I can't help but wonder - shouldn't the punishment better fit the crime? Rather than simply extracting Madam Speaker from the chair, why not attempt to regenerate her? Perhaps it would be more appropriate for Dame Bron to spend a night sleeping rough in a tent in Belmore Park, or on a train doing endless city circle circles all night long as was the daily practise for one asylum seeker friend of mine. That way she would see how the "other" other half lives, and maybe even become a champion of the poor...and of the earth. Who knows, she might find herself progressing into a new age - the age of enlightenment. 

1 comment:

Mark Marusic said...

This reminds me of an article in last week's Herald - all the homeowners on a a couple of streets in Castle Hill pushing the council to rezone it to high density so they can sell their houses to developers to put up high rise flats (and again, countless trees and lovely gardens will be razed). And a community (which there probably was before collective greed afflicted them) will be lost