Grim News

It’s 3:23 in the morning, and I’m awake
because my great, great, grandchildren won’t -let -me -sleep.
My great, great, grandchildren ask me in dreams
what did you do, while the planet was plundered?
what did you do, when the earth was unravelling?
surely you did something when the seasons started failing
as the mammals, reptiles, and birds were all dying?
did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen?
what did you do
knew?                                     – Drew Dellinger

Cape Grim, Tasmania, is one of only a few places on the globe where absolute atmospheric carbon content is measured. This week, for the first time in our history, the atmospheric carbon reading at Cape Grim reached 400 ppm (parts per million). When I was in high school, forty years ago, atmospheric carbon was only 300 ppm. There is nothing vital in the number 400, and the same measurement had previously been recorded in northern hemisphere observations; but surely we should be arrested by it; we should stop and think, at the very least.

I have to look back seven or eight years, I guess, to remember a time when I still held any reservations about the truth of Climate Change. Given that the Kyoto Protocol dates from 1997, I am embarrassed that I entertained doubt for so long. Like many, I accepted that the climate was warming, but retained reservations as to its cause. Is it ‘anthropogenic’? Is it our fault, or is it merely cyclic? A fair while back a good friend in the scientific community told me that a professor he greatly respected believed firmly that it was not human induced change, and the notion that mere humans could influence the climate of a the planet was arrogant and overblown humanism. For a time I fell in behind this view, but eventually the sheer number of world-leading scientists who were resolute in their conviction convinced me otherwise; that and the increasingly duplicitous statements and vested interests of the climate change deniers. If I needed final proof, it might have come in 2009 in the infamous words of the then Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbot, “The climate change argument is absolute crap”.

Last year I set to reading a couple of serious books on the subject.  As I read the science of warming I was chilled to the core. If the authors I read are correct it seems unarguable that the point at which global catastrophe could have been averted is now well behind us, and even the most aggressive cuts in global carbon emissions cannot now save the Earth’s climate from massive and long lasting change. I honestly fear that the world that my young grandchildren will inherit may be vastly changed within decades.

I become Grim indeed when a each new ‘hottest ever’ event is reported; when another pacific island loses its shoreline; when I read of tropical fish wandering down Australia’s coast looking for cooler swimming; when I hear of the wine industry buying large chunks of Tasmania because their crops are failing on the mainland; when exotic, tropical diseases pop up in places they have never been seen before; when choral bleaching consumes vast chunks of ‘our’ reef; and most of all when our political leaders ignore it all. My thoughts often grind down, down, and down, until they are apocalyptic. I see famines, wars, and climate refugees not in the millions that are currently paralysing European borders, but in hundreds of millions as the poorest nations on earth are dealt the heaviest blows. It’s always the poor who pay the price.

But nobody I know share’s these gloomy thoughts, or if they do they don’t tell. I wonder sometimes if my current personal experience of some form of spiralling physical decline has altered my perception: am I over reactive, pessimistic, depressive, anihilistic?

I’m deeply troubled, and I don’t know what to do with my trouble.  I’m troubled that Christian churches are silent.  I’ve never once heard Climate Change mentioned seriously from a pulpit (but I have heard it used as the punch line on a hot Sunday morning). An American science commentator interviewed on the ABC a couple of years ago predicted that the right wing, creationist churches in his country would become a vocal agency for action against climate change. While not a practising Christian himself, he included the church in his list of bright points in the debate because he saw that Christians have a biblical commission as custodians in creation. This man was sincere, optimistic, and apparently wrong. Except for the wonderful Pope Francis, churches are about as silent as the fossil fuel industry.  In recent years my own denomination has only asked me to take a political position on one issue: gay marriage. To my mind that question is vanishingly insignificant compared to the condition of our only home. How will the future judge this generation?

I am a grandparent of six (at the tender age of 54, how’s that?), and Dellinger’s poetry is plain, raw truth to me. When my grandchildren look at me they do so with the most delightful, endearing and pure trust. They love me, but they have no idea about the world I will leave to them.

From my home, here in Paradise, I gaze daily at great beauty and feel calmed by such simple things as the colours of leaves and the tone of the breeze. These are God’s gifts; surely they belong to my children and to my children’s children’s children. Borrowing a well used phrase from an Old Testament Prophet, “How should we then live?”


So am I off my tree, or is it the trees we should fear for?
As always, I’d love to hear from you.
(As a footnote to this post, I will include a scary story…)



Scary Footnote

Jellyfish, the subject of Australian biologist Lisa-Ann Gershwin’s book Stung, have been turning up in mind-bogglingly vast ‘blooms’ in recent years.  Jellyfish are a primitive life form, able to thrive across a broad spectrum of conditions. Intensely opportunistic, jellyfish can rapidly fill vacancies in the oceans caused by overfishing, pollution and climate change. As an example of just what can happen when ecosystems become stressed, here is Gershwin’s description of one of the world’s most researched and documented jellyfish blooms. The species Mnemiopsis which was transported into the Black Sea in shipping ballast water:

Between the late 1980s and 1998, Mnemiopsis surged to become the Black Sea’s dominant planktonic species. Summertime blooms contained 300– 500 specimens per cubic meter; to put this into perspective, that would be about 300 clenched fists in an area no larger than the leg room under a small breakfast table. Its population was estimated at over 1 billion tons, more than the world’s total annual fish landings.

Mnemiopsis is astonishingly fertile. While an individual’s life expectancy can be up to several months, it can begin laying eggs within 13 days of its own birth. By the seventeenth day, it lays eggs daily and can lay up to 10,000 per day. Even young individuals lay over 1,000 eggs per day. The number of eggs produced increases with age, and Mnemiopsis is believed to lay eggs throughout its lifetime, depending on food availability. Eggs hatch within 12 to 20 hours of being laid.

By 1993, it was estimated that Mnemiopsis comprised up to 95 percent of the total wet weight biomass (of the Black Sea) — including all the copepods, all the anchovies and sardines and their eggs and larvae, all the invertebrates and bottom fish. Ninety-five percent of all living things.

(Gershwin, Lisa-ann, 2013. Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean University of Chicago Press.)

Gershwin’s book contains dozens of alarming examples; and a devastating prognosis for the oceans of our world. Rising acidity, the direct consequence of billions of tons of carbon dioxide dissolving into the oceans, is highly damaging to corals and to a great many ocean inhabitants. But jellyfish? … they don’t seem to mind in the least. Type Jellyfish Bloom into Google and you will see some eye popping stuff.