On Politics, Love and Climate Change

I received an email last week regarding an essay I’d written recently. The writer told me how it had made her feel less alone. She felt reassured, she wrote, because my words made her realise she was not the only person in the world feeling the way she does. I am often surprised when people tell me this, because the emotions I express in my writing often feel deeply personal and particular to my experience. They’re not, of course. I was reminded by her words that to be human is, essentially, to be alone. And that the pursuit of connection, of shared experience and shared feelings is what drives many, if not most, of our actions.

This reminder came two days after the Australian federal election, in which many, myself included, had hoped for change. We had hoped for a government who would take seriously the climate emergency. Our hopes were left hopelessly unfulfilled.

I spent the day after the election in a state of deep sadness. I was angry. I gardened furiously and I furiously gardened. I felt marginalised and isolated. I ranted and raved. I cried. I planted and pruned, somewhat more violently than usual, and was pissed off that a day in the garden wasn’t enough to ease my heart. Usually it works. I turned to poetry as the sun went down, reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem Let this Darkness be a Belltower over and over until, like the gloriously full moon on the night of the election, my rage began to wane.

“And if the world has ceased to hear you,” wrote Rilke in the last stanza of the poem, “say to the silent earth: I flow. / To the rushing water, speak: I am.” We all want to be heard. We all want to feel less alone. The truths contained within Rilke’s poem are universal. My heart started cracking again, on realising that the current political discourse in Australia preys on the very vulnerabilities that make us human. Fostering disconnect, fanning the flames of the us-against-them bushfire with fear and cynicism. The relentless hunt for the ‘other’, for us to direct our pain and angst towards.

Otherness is essential for small-minded fear-mongering politics to work. Refugees, terrorists, environmentalists – it doesn’t matter who this feared group might be, as long as it exists and its so-called threat can be ramped up with catchy one-liners. This goes both ways, left and right. For a few days after the election, the anger and indignation filling my social media feed – a bubble of left-leaning greenies if ever there were one – was everywhere. We thought, we hoped, we crossed our fingers for change. It didn’t happen and now it’s the ‘others’ fault. It’s not. It’s ours, shared.

We are a rich and complex species. All of us – regardless of where we life, how we vote, how we think – desire love, connection, freedom, shelter. We’re scared, greedy, ignorant and angry. We’re wonderful and terrible, light and dark. We are connected by our shared desires and pains, our shared experience of being here, on this planet, in this country, right now. How we got here is our joint responsibility. Where we go next is a choice to be made by all Australians, not just those in power.

Throughout my 20s and early 30s I’d often find myself entangled in emotionally charged discussions with my father at the dinner table, traversing the many political and social issues we disagreed upon. I used to get upset that he wouldn’t change his mind when it was so obvious to me that he was wrong. I sometimes still do. As we’ve both mellowed, our arguments have often evolved into conversations rather than conflicts. Whilst we still see things differently, I think we’ve both realised that we share more than we don’t. And what we share goes way beyond the political. It’s grounded in love. And so, we agree to disagree, and we attempt to listen. It’s not easy, and sometimes it doesn’t work, but when it does, we both learn something of other ways of seeing. We grow.

Love is a word rarely used in politics. It’s not part of the language of control and division. And yet it’s at the centre of the human dialogue. To love is to not be alone. As we sit with continued government inaction on the climate emergency, as we reel from the cynical divisiveness of the current political ecosystem, let us love. Let us rise above right and wrong. Let us sit with each other and listen. Let us share our stories, our hopes and our fears. Let us walk in each other’s shoes. Whether we’re inner-city environmentalists, or underemployed mine workers from rural Queensland, the truth is this: we share more than we’re lead to believe. Let us not allow our leaders to suggest anything otherwise.

Let us find our common ground and start from there. Because we have an emergency on our hands. It is existential. To suggest that the climate emergency threatens the survival of the human species, and millions of others, is no alarmist dramatization, it’s fact. The crisis is of a scale far, far removed from the usual political discourse of electricity prices and tax cuts. It’s hard to fathom, hard to imagine, hard to see how it directly affects us (though this is changing, fast). Maybe it’s for these reasons that many Australians, lest of all our government, are willing to stare into the truth of our situation.

“We are doing our bit, as we should as a global citizen, but I’m not going to do it in a way that puts our kids’ economic future at risk”, said our newly re-elected Prime Minister Scott Morrison a few weeks back. Do we, as a nation, really think that our kids will prioritise their ‘economic future’ over the opportunity – one in which we’ve long taken for granted – to be free to love and grow in a stable and safe nation? I’d really like to sit down with Scott. I know we’d not see eye to eye on many issues, but I know too, we’d find common ground. It is from this shared soil that new visions and ideas are offered room to sprout. Fancy a cuppa, Scott?

As the climate emergency bears down, none of us know exactly what will happen, exactly where our actions are leading us and exactly what solutions might work best. But this is no reason for non-action. This is reason to find out. To learn more, to share more, to do more. Many, many people have committed their lives to staring into the truth of climate change; many more have long pondered the mystery of what it is to be human. Climate scientists, artists, ecologists, writers, biologists, poets. Let us listen to them. Let us learn and use what we’ve learned to change the discourse. We need to tell new stories that include, not exclude. Because this is not a binary argument about jobs or environment. This is no one-or-the-other, us-against-them matter. It’s the fight of our lives, the fight for our lives. Let us not forget this.

And so, let us love.