To write a novel with resonance, a novelist needs to hold the big picture in their head at all times, to examine the micro within the resounding context of the macro. It appears to me, as a species, we also need to start doing this if we are to survive – it is imperative we grasp what is really unfolding here. Emerging from lockdown presents us with a remarkable opportunity to restructure, to make radical changes to ensure our continued existence, but instead, the media, the politicians, so many of us are breathing a cautious sigh of relief. The overall sentiment being – ‘2020 has been a nightmare. First the bushfires, then the pandemic, but it’s over now. Once we get our economy back on track, things can go back to normal.’
As I work on my second novel, which is set now, at the start of the ‘roaring twenties,’ I am holding the big picture in my head, and, to be honest, it scares the hell out of me. Things are not going to return to normal. The next disaster is just around the corner. The mega fires will return, another pandemic is extremely likely as biodiversity continues to break down and temperatures rise. We are about to experience super storms that will make Cyclone Tracy look like a walk in the park. Violent, torrential flooding will become the new norm. Insect populations, vital in the food chain, are on the decline. There will be ongoing food shortages as crops fail and water becomes our most precious commodity. These events aren’t thirty or fifty years away. It has started. We are in a state of emergency now, scrambling for survival. Societal breakdown is one step away. It is no coincidence the #blacklivesmatter movement has taken hold. In survival mode, any repressed social resentment will always rise to the surface. In a state of panic, it is easy to turn on each other.
I am not alone with these truths. Some of Australia’s leading novelists were asked recently what changes they would like to see as we emerge from lockdown. It was strangely comforting to hear so many of them brought it back to the fact that we are in a climate emergency. Kim Scott called this time, a time of pestilence and plague. He sees the pandemic as a warning. As we emerge from lockdown, he feels it is an opportunity to rebuild, starting at the foundations, with the Uluru Statement from the Heart, to allow first nation people a voice that will be heard.
My sentiments align as I imagine an earth where the First Nation Elders of the world have a say in all decisions. Vision what kind of world it would be if those who have an inherent understanding of the interconnectedness of all things, those who do not see nature as something to conquer or profit from, but as our life blood, our mother, our home, are allowed influence. It is, after all, our disconnection to nature that has landed us here.
Heather Rose spoke of how water is to become of enormous value to our country. That we must stop selling it off, giving it away. She also called for a universal basic income, citing that a healthy, well-educated, diverse population will be better prepared to handle the changes that are coming at us. (I am watching Ireland closely – a brave little country trialling just this).
Elliot Perlman not only stated that we need to unequivocally accept the phasing out of the burning of fossil fuels – ‘we have no choice. It’s critical we do this’ – but he also demanded action in respect to social media, insisting that social media platforms should be subject to laws that apply to traditional media.
How does this relate to the climate emergency you may ask? Unless reforms to social media are instigated, democracy is dead, and if democracy is dead, then we the people no longer hold any power. According to an article by BBC News, published in 2019, Cambridge Analytica, the political consulting firm that utilised data mining to target people susceptible to persuasion, influenced, through social media platforms, outcomes of the following elections – (in all instances, these campaigns were won by a tiny margin) – the US 2016 presidential election which brought Trump to office, the UK Brexit referendum, the Ukraine election in 2004, the Kenyan election in 2013 and 2017. The company played a controversial role in Nigeria’s 2015 presidential election and in the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional campaign in Kedah state in 2013. It influenced four elections in India including the 2014 general election which swept Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power. And lastly, landed Jair Messias Bolsonaro as President of Brazil, only by 55.1% of the vote. Bolsonaro then proceeded to accelerate the burning and clearing of the Amazon rainforest.
Even though Cambridge Analytica was brought down through internal whistle blowers whose conscience got the better of them, if you think similar companies aren’t currently in operation, you probably also believe that purple unicorns will fall out of the sky to save us from rising CO2 emissions. Targeted manipulation through social media is one of the leading threats to our survival. I watch with horror what is unfolding in the US at present, the wildfire of social media, stirred up by a deranged narcissist as he heads into election mode, and my heart goes out to poor America.
As I hold this huge messy picture in my head to work on my novel, which to my surprise, is imbued with humour and love and an unstoppable sense of hope, despite it all, I can’t help but cry out in despair at the loss of opportunity as we emerge hurrying and unthinking from lockdown to ‘stimulate the economy.’ It takes me to a vision my protagonist experiences of ‘all the men and women stuck in the silver cages of the cities of the world, crippled, trapped and starving, resorting to eating their money, running towards a tsunami, offering fistfuls of dollars, but a wave of humanity comes crashing down. Who will eat who? Where are all the aphids?’
(Image by Barbara Stevens)