December 5, 2015

Bimblebox feels the heat

Last Tuesday was officially the first day of summer in Australia, but Queenslanders may be finding that hard to believe. It was sweltering here most of last month. Temperatures in the far west frequently climbed into the 40s; Brisbane hit 33 several days, with humidity at February levels; and the storm season arrived. At one point, over several days, a big heat extended over all the Australian continent except the western half of WA; and Sydney hit 40+.

Feel free to think about climate change at the moment: world leaders are talking about it in Paris, at COP21, which is short for the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. If you don't know much about this frequently farcical and forever frustrating annual bash, first of all shame on you, and secondly, gen up quickly using this BBC guide.

The leaders are already mired in one of the knottiest problems of all, differentiation. Definitions of developed (rich) and developing (poor) countries described at the first COP in 1992, and the requirements made of them, are not considered by some members to be appropriate more than two decades later, so the financing of climate aid to poorer countries, and a common-to-all method of monitoring reductions in carbon emissions committed to are topics that have occupied a disproportionately large amount of time during the first week in Paris. These difficulties are explained well by The Guardian's political editor and Walkley award-winner, Lenore Taylor. Having read this piece, however, especially if ye be of a cynical temperament, you will lack optimism about the likelihood of a Big Global Agreement by the end of next week.

Thinking about the various front lines of climate change, it occurred to me that I have not written about a certain Central Queensland Nature Refuge in a while. The Bimblebox Alliance (see The Bimblebox Alliance, December 2014) continues to raise the profile of the threat to Bimblebox Nature Refuge from development of the Galilee Basin. We also campaign more widely for enhanced and legally binding preservation of Protected Areas. High-conservation-value reserves must be elevated almost to the status of national parks in order to prevent their degradation by mining, logging or pastoral entitlements.

Some members of TBA committee attended a Private Land Conservation Conference organised by the Queensland Trust for Nature in August. Day one consisted of a field trip to two Nature Refuges located between Brisbane and the Scenic Rim. At the first we observed the use of scent dogs for conservation (of koalas), and methods of eliminating ferals from wildlife refuges; and at the second the emphasis was on balancing production, eco-tourism and conservation, with particular attention to the planting of koala trees. Day 2 consisted of presentations and discussions about topics ranging from landscape-scale conservation, focussing on the Great Eastern Ranges; the role of Protected Areas in mitigating climate change; combining grazing with conservation; and the opportunities for private conservation and eco-tourism, biodiversity offsetting or tree planting.

As hard work on Bimblebox NR continued as usual, all around it in the Galilee and further afield, and in the Land Court and the Federal Court, debate raged about the legitimacy of permissions given for vast mines, given their impact on and risk to precious artesian water resources, unique remnant ecosystems, the Great Barrier Reef and a warming planet.

As a being from temperate climes originally, I often struggle in heat combined with high humidity in my semi-tropical surroundings. I have only ever experienced temperatures in the 40s a few times in my entire life. I can only try to imagine hard graft in such conditions, day in, day out. For me, the sanctuary of an airconditioned cocoon is only ever a short hop away.

There came my way the other day an insightful and incisive piece written by someone who works and nurtures the long-parched earth at Bimblebox, and is only too well aware of what many people have yet to fully comprehend and address. He wrote this recently, recalling a day almost two years ago, in mid-December 2013, mid-afternoon, at the Nature Refuge. It is entitled The See of Galilee.
   48 degrees in the shade. Bared to merciless sun, mercury strains the glass at 61. The heat is a wake-up wave, intense and portentous. Far from relief, wind gusts are inversed iron lungs. You fight for air in searing gasps, your eyes sting, blood thins and head spins. What's left of sanity warns explicitly – entering no-go zone, to proceed is unsafe. But body resists commands. You cannot trust rationale. Nor quell anxiety or overcome delirium. There is no avoiding or escape. Murmuring directives, you flail yourself forth, a good shepherd has no choice. Hundreds depend on you for their survival and wellbeing. So on and out you go.
   On dusty stable floor you replenish drinking water for fledgling honeyeaters and dethroned king of fishers. And see primeval fear in empathic eye of fellow living creatures. Note with detachment, little improvement on faraway yesterday. They look just like you feel. At wits' desperate end. And note remotely, ants are absent from charity bowls, their glazed highways now ghost tracks through parched grass. A stock trough is ringed by birds of many feathers, silent manikins bobbing and bowing together. Tawny grey diversity, black and white enmities overruled by adversity. Note with curiosity none is perturbed by your proximity. Blue- and red-winged flash a shivered chill of summer fever. Crow's macabre caw the creak of heaven's door. Two legless emus mirage to camel gnomes, humped in solemn prayer. Bees smother one another at the altar of plastic float, their sacrificial skin the sacred communal water.
   A twenty-minute mercy ride to restart station's heart, nothing moves save for insane you, the quivering trees and falling triaged leaves. Kangaroos huddle, dazed upright rigid in the shade, radiator arms soaking wet from spider paws to scrawny breast, scrub ticks are rosary beads, a living necklace of imminent death. At intervals two lay prostrate beside the road, plump and young, first to succumb to ambient heat that boils the blood of mortal beast, boils the oil of man's infernal machine and brings a troubled soul unto his knees. Anxiously stirred to motion, reliable Lister beats purposeful in the trees, drawing life's essence from deep beneath, drawing life's lessons from deep within, and under spell of sun's fervid stroke man finally sees the dire predicament he is in.
   Modern world energy needs sourced from ancient fuels sets us smugly flying high, sets us up to fall. Human ingenuity relieves servitude and drudgery, and paradoxically lulls us into complacency and peril. Provides unhindered rate of progress far faster than limited state of redress, until the weight and speed and momentum of nine billion all at once propelled like this old engine can only stop with vessels emptied or when everything ends with a clunk.
   Galilee's Goliath lies entombed within this earth but there are philistines alive today who from airconditioned comfort prepare to awaken the prehistoric monster from eternal silent slumber. They feel not this ominous portent nor heed the honourable science that has served us all so well so far but today serves us notice. Secluded by wealth and blinded by greed, they contort thoughts and words and figures to persuade us all that more of same is needed. Unless latter-day Davids poised with dialectic slings and intellectual arrows can put paid to these foolish ways – and fast – our ordained days are numbered.
With thanks to Ian Hoch for his thoughts and Greg Harm for the photographs of Bimblebox Nature Refuge.

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