For months now, we have lived with ash and smoke. Ashen skies, smoke in our nostrils, a fine dust coating everything with grit. You can feel it under your bare feet. You have to brush it away to sit outside. It gets in the rainwater tank and stains your clothes with the burned skeletons of the forests.
It seems churlish to complain about the inconvenience of smoke and ash, when this fire-ravaged Australian summer has cost countless lives – human and other. I don’t mean to trivialise the horror of an apocalyptic firestorm into the dust it leaves on our lives. But for many Australians, this ash and smoke is our main material connection with what has been happening. It’s a tangible sign of our changing climate. It’s been a constant, daily reminder of climate crisis.
Sure, like most Australians, I know people and places directly impacted by the fires. I’ve listened to stories of homes lost. Places where I have camped and holidayed have been destroyed. We had to cancel a planned holiday on the south coast at the peak of the crisis. But when it comes down to it, the ash and smoke has been my main experience of this apocalyptic time.
Now, the rain has come and washed the ash away. The steaming ground is bursting with life. Lawns across eastern Australia are running amok. Parched gardens are blooming.
I wonder what will rise from the ashes. Will we seize this moment as an opportunity for a new conversation – or better still, new action – on climate change? Or will the same voices dominate and deflect with talk of hazard reduction and adaptation and Australia’s powerlessness in the face of climate change?
In many stories, fire is a source of renewal and transformation. The phoenix rises reborn from the ashes. In Australia, there are some plants, like banksias, that need fire to break open their seed capsules and allow new life to sprout. Like the banksia, can we seize opportunity from this catastrophe?
We’ve chosen the banksia as a symbol for an upcoming event called ‘Seeding transformation in the 2020s’. We hope this event will start to seed a community of Sydney-based scholars pursuing sustainability transformations. If that sounds like you, please come along. Details and registration are here.