Fortress or Glasshouse?

One of the reasons I bought Possum Valley 43 years ago, was to preserve a bit of very important rainforest I saw being thoughtlessly cut down. For timber or cleared for farming.  Another was thoughts of a hippie colony and self-sufficiency, communal living and free love.  I never did get there, especially the last one.  I now recognise there was also a bit of survivalist thinking as the cold war ground on and nuclear Armageddon was a possibility.  I figured that Evelyn Central with a post office and a small wooden hall for the occasional moon dance wouldn’t be a prime target for an H-bomb.  I was right.  It hasn’t been nuked, and the post office isn’t even there anymore.  That threat has passed, but another one, just a vague rumour in 1976, was climate change.  I could clearly see the human threats to the environment back then, with bulldozers and such, but only dimly grasped that the whole atmosphere could be altered by human activity with catastrophic results.

So I bought 63 Ha of precious rainforest and have successfully protected if from being flattened by bulldozers.  But only recently have I realised that I can’t protect beautiful Possum Valley from droughts, rising temps, more devastating cyclones and possibly even being wiped out by fire.  Traditional thinking has it the tropical rainforest doesn’t burn.  It can be badly singed on the outside, but doesn’t burn.  Until recently.  Fire penetrated into the rainforest south of here and burnt out 250 Ha.  It had been damaged by a recent cyclone, but it does point to the possible vulnerability of rainforest.  Unlike the gum forests, rainforest trees aren’t equipped by evolution to recover from serious fire damage.  I had taken solace in the climate change modelling which showed that FNQ would maintain it’s average rainfall while it would decline in the south east.  I was pitying the poor farmers down south already rainfall challenged, but didn’t realise an increase in seasonality, more in the wet, but less in the dry could hammer the rainforest.

This spring has been a wake-up call to many including me.  My fortress is being assailed on every side.  I have not had the terrible experience of the horrible bushfires that have swept through QLD and NSW and devastated so many homes and properties, but I have been forced to think about the changes I have seen here over the years.  When I first came here in 1976, I was astonished by the abundance of insects of all kinds.  Sudden swarms of beetles that appeared in billions and set up a constant drone and clicking as they crashed into windows.  Around this time of year there were so many moths at night they were a real nuisance flying round the lights, but were amazing in their diversity and garish colouring.  The Ulysses butterflies flashing across the valley in the day, and the fireflies that came as soon as it was dark.  Where are they?  They had their seasons and were always variable from year to year, but now I realise I haven’t seen any of them for many years now.  It has been so hot recently, 32C today, that I have left all the doors and windows open day and night.  Years ago the place would have filled up with bugs, but not now.  This is only anecdotal evidence, as I have not taken any quantitative or reliable observations.  Around the world there is concern about crashing insect numbers, in Europe mostly put down to the agricultural use of pesticides, but here it has been very infrequent perhaps one or two times a years by a crop sprayer and then several kilometers away.  And not at all in the last few years as the potato farmers seem to have given up and beef cattle taken over.

In this driest spring on record, I had 3mm of rain in Nov and that was better than most around here.  The trees and bushes in the rainforest hang limp and sad.  Leaves cover the ground shed by trees no longer able to support them and are crunchy underfoot.  Worst is along the track in because it follows ridges and even the narrow track lets more light in.  I read in a recent report by the Wet Tropics Management Authority that the rainforest is under as much threat as the reef.  Great changes to the ecosystem could be expected with increasing temps.  Several species of highland mammals were at risk, such as the lemuroid possum and lumholtz tree kangaroo.  Apparently the lemuroid possum starts falling dead out of the trees at about 29C rather like some bats recently.  As it has been over 30C for the last week, perhaps they are already extinct.

Australia burns.  Hundreds of houses destroyed.  And Scomo says it is not time to talk about the climate emergency in deference to the people suffering loss.  Mealy-mouthed, simpering PR crap you worm!  The people burnt out responded by dumping the charred remains of their once beautiful house on the lawns of parliament house and said “this is exactly the right time to talk about climate change”.   The accumulating evidence of climate change and the recent and continuing devastating fires even before summer has started, seems to have galvanised people around the country.  Even here in conservative rural Atherton, 60 people staged a demonstration to try and get local, state and federal government to address the issue of climate change.  I’d have gone along if I’d have known it was happening.  Placards, marching, speeches and chanting slogans.  Gads, it’s been a long time since I did that.  And in Atherton!  From the picture in the local rag, it seemed that most of the marchers were of my vintage.  So the young have been aroused by Greta Thunberg, the middle aged with children are not so visible as they have to get to work and feed the kids but have been installing solar panels on the roof in fantastic numbers, and the silver-tops like me are very concerned for our grandkids and the fate of the beautiful planet we inherited but didn’t manage to look after.  The only people in Australia oblivious or in denial about the climate emergency are the people we have elected to guide us into the future.  Their focus seems to be bent on denying a few seriously ill people on Nauru any medical help.  It just seems pointlessly punitive. I don’t think they have a grasp of the big picture and the perils facing Australia.  Nor does Dutton seem to have a single drop of the milk of human kindness.

A rather sad post, but I do have to assess where I have been and where I am going.

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