With towns destroyed, a billion wildlife casualties, a European sized country burnt out and people huddled on beaches as at Dunkirk, the Australian bush fires are maybe the first catastrophic climate event, more dramatic than the slow dying of a coral reef or the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Camping in the countryside south of Motueka, the red afternoon sun seemed like a primitive omen conjured by a witch doctor or pantheistic god.
Faced with this event, the concept of normality disappeared and I was struck by the realisation that despite this disappearance, people will nevertheless, determinedly hold onto the normal.
I was with family at a folk festival, a pleasant and gentle way to see in the new year; people singing around the campfire sort of thing, folk music having been resurrected as part of the sixties’ rebellion against commercialisation, mass production etc. – instead, the pure voice of Joan Baez singing of Mary Hamilton. There was a bush poets session with the recitation of amusing doggerel which sometimes approached the ballad. All very pleasant, but there was an elephant in the room. Could we acknowledge it? Two of us did, feeling like spoil sports.
Kids roll down the bank/ The young man from Rarotonga/Sings of love/The white tent throbs with age/The sky is clear, time is still/The tui is not in danger/White tuft of once was/ Once was/ Dust settles/On modern man.
And that is the issue. To acknowledge a coming apocalyptic age is difficult and everyone, as in a war, seeks normality, even though there is the knowledge that normality is no longer possible.
Except in the ads. The ads become a comfort, for everyone in the ads is happy. All is well. All you need to do is buy this or that and life will be wonderful. Consumption is the answer. We are suddenly at the heart of the matter and at the heart of our inability to make the necessary decisions and make the necessary uncomfortable changes and face up to the realisation that capitalism doesn’t fit the bill. To put it simply, in Aussie, the fire was consuming consumption and the sun was glowing red. Nevertheless, the cruise ship beckons, the new sofa, the new television, the new car, the shampoo, the bathroom cleaner… producing smiling faces and bonny families All will be well as we hang onto a normality which no longer exists.
The French philosopher, Badiou, believed that a big event can give direction to the complex and diverse evolving multiplicities that make up modern society. I suspect this is not the case for the climate event, which instead, reduces the multiplicities to a singularity: destruction.
The folk music continued: Mary Hamilton went to the tower, we laughed at a funny song about the kiwi bloke and his shed, applauded a skilled performer on the penny whistle, munched a pie in Murchison on the way back. Normality. The Aussie PM pitches to tourists – it’s still okay to visit our natural wonderland, people stitch leg bandages for kangaroos, celebrities donate money, the ads continue…