Note to Younger Self: A Retrospective

I feel it is about time for a bit of introspective contemplation about my life now that I have completed the many stages of:- childhood, puberty, teenage angst, young arrogance, adult optimism, marriage and kids, middle-age cynicism, and now spending time with my grandkids.  Now as my grandkids recruit me into their games, it somehow seems to complete a cycle as my ambitions fade and their’s grow.  

So what would I have told my younger self if I had a Tardis instead of a Nissan?  Not so much actually.  Just the general advice that every older person gives, which is to be bolder, as few regret what they did, but many regret what they didn’t do.  My missed opportunities were definitely in relationships.  As a teenager I was such a dork, it is embarrassing to even think about it.  In the 60’s it was popular to believe that aliens had landed on Earth and they were living amongst us perhaps performing sexual atrocities on unfortunate victims.  I thought they were called girls.  Unfortunately, no such atrocities were were performed on me.  I have plenty of excuses, such that I went to boys only schools after primary, and at uni, the mechanical engineering department boasted 200 males and 1 girl.  Talk about being up against the odds.  So upon graduation I worked a couple on months in a warehouse stacking boxes and bought a ticket to New Zealand.  A real and symbolic flinging my fate to the winds, as you can’t walk home from New Zealand.

Decided in a few seconds, it was the most spontaneous, brilliant and courageous thing I had ever done.  That was what I was searching for when I wrote the title.  Leap out of your comfort zone was the only useful advice I could give to my younger self.  And if it doesn’t work, do it again.  And again.  That seems to contradict Einstein’s definition of insanity, but hey, the boundary conditions will be different.  So eventually, after many disappointing or painful failures, you will splash into the right pond.  After wandering through such places as Iran and Afghanistan Indonesia and Thailand, I had found many places to challenge my comfort zone.  So then I sought another challenge that I have found in Possum Valley, which may contradict the advice of my older self suggesting I leap again.  But hey, give me a break, a frog gets tired.  So after 42 years I have established a comfort zone entirely of my own making from a wild plot of rainforest.  Even that long ago I could see the threat of habitat loss and ecological damage by clearing and thought to protect a tiny bit as a wildlife fortress enclave in the wilderness.  

In recent weeks I have seen the folly of my naive thinking.  Reports from around the world have been flooding in about the catastrophic decline in insect numbers and diversity.  This is very serious for the world, as insect are a vital component, deep in the foundations of the pyramid of life and perform many life services for humans such as pollination of our food crops and moderation of pests, also feeding a host of birds and frogs, and …. well just about everything.   My folly was thinking this was happening somewhere else and that Possum Valley was far enough ‘away’ and isolated it wouldn’t effect me.  But it already has.  But as they say about rubbish we throw away, there is no ‘away’ anymore.  The decline in insects is happening in Puerto Rican rainforests as well as in national parks in Germany surrounded by cropping land.  I should have seen this earlier, as I just had to search my memory to remember the profusion of bugs when I first came here.  Mass swarmings of big brown beetles in droning clouds rattling on the tin roof and clattering into a chicken wire fence.  masses of caterpillers known as army worms devouring the grass, dazzling arrays of moths in a profusion of colours and bizarre patterns that came particularly in December.  I have been patiently awaiting the return of the moths as I realised then they had good years and bad, but I have been too patient for too long.  I should have realised a decade ago, they are gone.  It used to be I could get endless entertainment in the weeks before xmas sitting on the loo with the window ajar.  The moths attracted by the light came with astonishing patterns and colours seeming more like a children’s colouring competition than the often demure garb of nature.  

I wonder if I have unconsciously been in denial, that it could happen even here in my precious bit of paradise.  I wish I had methodically recorded the numbers and varieties of insects, particularly moths over the 40+ years I have been here.  It would have been a giant undertaking, but longitudinal studies are often the most revealing.  So now I have only anecdotal evidence.  I have read that not all insects will suffer decline and ones that thrive are likely to be the annoying, sometimes dangerous, biting ones exploiting the rapidly expanding human biomass.  When I came here in 1976, I think PV was mosquito free.  In the last 15-20 years they have been occasional visitors.  Now regular visitors but only one or two at a time following rain.  This year for the first time ever were some midges, or sandflies hovering around in the shade.  I thought they were tiny fruit flies until I felt the itch.  

I am sorry to post such a downer, but the take-home message is that environmental degradation is happening everywhere and there is no avoiding it.  You may already live in an mostly sterile city  environment and little notice decrease in insects apart from your part in the industry of trying to eradicate cockroaches.  Then you may wonder that as you wage unceasing and deliberate war against your chosen insect foe without lasting success, we humans have accidentally trashed a vital part of the ecosystem that sustains us.  This insect demise could be worse, but part of, the climate change catastrophe.  Whatever we do or don’t do to change things, there will be a reckoning.  It won’t be an accounting of money, as that will become trivial or totally irrelevant, it will be a reckoning of lives and hardship, starvation and violence, survival or death.  

The only way to avoid it is by great effort to alter the trajectory we are on.  To avoid insect Armageddon we must redesign agriculture, to avoid climate change we have to stop emitting carbon into the air we breathe, to avoid poisoning the planet we have to stop consuming and recycle everything.  So many important issues.  So I despair of our politicians who are maneuvering for votes with such minutia as a medical treatment for a few people on an island WHEN THE FUTURE OF THE PLANET AND HUMAN EXISTENCE IS AT STAKE!  They promise the electors that they have the solutions to their problems.  Solutions?  They don’t even have the right questions, let alone coming near to a solution. 

I think I might go for a cold shower.  

Droughts and Flooding Rains

The poem by Dorothea Mackellar promised the extremes, but Australia is big enough to have them both at once.  The red center and the south have been sizzling for the past month and yesterday Adelaide achieved the dubious honour of a record highest temperature ever for a coastal city in the southern hemisphere of 49.2C .  Here today at Possum Valley, a couple of thousand kilometers nearer the equator and in the height of summer, the maximum was 18C and bucketing with rain.  Flood warnings are out for the Daintree river and the crocs are paddling furiously to avoid being washed out to sea.  

There are threats, dangers and inconveniences with floods, but they don’t compare with the terrifying threats of bushfires and the ongoing agony of drought.  Floods bring growth and renewal, droughts bring …….. well nothing except dust and despair.  

This is in accordance with climate change models which predict little change in the tropics rainfall except more violent cyclones, but drying and hotter conditions in southern Australia.  Have our political models been updated to take account of the new realities?  Not even close.  All the parameters measuring climate change have shown an accelerating trend with both ice caps melting at over 200 billion tons each of ice per year.  That is land ice that adds to sea level rise and does not include sea ice melting which does not.  The arctic may be navigable to shipping in 10 years and countries are already jostling to take a share of transport economies and resource extraction that will allow.  Australia and the world are hitting higher temps every year this century.  

There is a federal election coming up soon this year.  The law requires it and I can tell it is soon, as the present government has abandoned any pretense of actually doing any work and is already on the campaign trail.  Scomo is scampering round pork-barreling for all he is worth under the impression that the old strategy of “it’s the economy stupid”, might just get him across the line.  I am hoping that the voters are realising that it is only the distribution of the economy that will do us any good and the trickle-down effect has never worked and never will.  It is not altogether surprising that the money sticks at the top.  

No, this election I am hoping that a huge chunk of voters realise that the one thing we all share, regardless of economic status, is the environment and how important it is.  Australia is a highly urbanised society with half the population in just two cities and its people not in daily contact with earth and mud, trees and sky, rivers and dust.  Scalding heat has reached into the cities this last month.  Uncontainable fires have raged despite heroic attempts by firefighters.  I hope this enough of a wake up call that we hold the next and future governments to account for their stewardship of our country and environment.

I think we reached the nadir (lowest point) when we had an MP, who shall remain nameless for fear of everlasting shame, brandishing a lump of coal in parliament extolling its virtues.  Now we have this bottom benchmark of environmental destruction to work from, we can steadily work towards a future that holds some promise of a good environment for the next generations.  I am encouraged by recent activism from school kids who have said “hey, it’s our planet too” and are calling out my generation for trashing it.  Actually, they weren’t that harsh, but were calling for future action.  Go girls!  Maybe it was media who picked out the girls, but likely they were leading the way.  

My dear daughter in Darwin doesn’t preach like me, but has installed solar panels on the roof.  Last year for Xmas she gave me fridge wraps of cloth impregnated with bees wax to save leftover food, and this year robust shopping bags she had sown from chook feed bags.  I love these individually made economy presents.  I hope this is a sort of groundswell of thinking and feeling for the environment that persuades a future government it’s survival depends on addressing these issues.

This was not the blog I set out to write.  I don’t want to do political stuff, but I just have.  I just wanted to point out how curious it was to be 31C hotter 2000 kms to the south.  

The rain is still pouring down on the roof and I shall go to bed with the beautiful sound.


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