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Canberra Today -1°/-1° | Monday, September 20, 2021 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Have we already lost control of our teetering planet?

“The sea isn’t ‘cruel’. It merely responds – as science says it must – to the idiocy (and cruelty) of the men who invent the wars and who refuse to slow or prevent further heating of the planet,” says “The Gadfly” columnist ROBERT MACKLIN. 

THE first “grown-up” book I read has stayed with me ever since. It was “The Cruel Sea”, by Nicholas Monsarrat. 

Robert Macklin.

I also loved the film, and oftentimes when I’m walking along Coila Beach at Tuross in the late afternoon, the sea has that slate grey of the cover illustration. And the waves have the same threatening rise and fall with the white foam curling down their face as in the black-and-white movie. 

In the story, they surround the good ship “Compass Rose”, whipped by the cold and fierce winds of the North Atlantic; and when the Nazi torpedoes strike the convoy she’s protecting, they freeze the survivors to death. 

While at Tuross, in only the last month the waves have torn away hundreds – perhaps thousands – of cubic metres of sand, so at high tide the ocean now reaches across the beach to Lake Coila as part of the inexorable sea rise of climate change.

But of course, in neither case is the sea “cruel”. It merely responds – as science says it must – to the idiocy (and cruelty) of the men who invent the wars and who refuse to slow or prevent further heating of the planet. These are the same fanatics who claim they are going to war in the cause of “peace” and who refuse action on climate change in the name of “prosperity”. They are the living proof – if any further were needed – that the human mind is a precision instrument of self-delusion, particularly when given over to the wacky extremes of religion or nationalism. 

Add to that the iron law chanced upon by Lord Acton in a moment of rare clarity that “all power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” and you have a world – a planet – teetering on the edge of catastrophe.

But all is not lost, at least for the planet itself. The solution resides in the concept of Gaia, wherein ancient Greeks and Romans held that the Earth itself functions as a single system so that, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “the living component regulates and maintains conditions so as to be suitable for life”. 

It should be no surprise then that just as the world plunges into an existential crisis of climate heating from the mad exploitation of its resources, a wild bat exploited in a so-called “wet market”, should deliver a tiny virus to enter the fray. And when, through multiple mutations, it spreads death and disaster to the great economies the rate of expansion of the devilish gases – CO2, methane and the rest – will fall to a level that returns the atmosphere to healthy levels. 

The only question facing us now is whether we’ve already lost control of Gaia’s response and the mutations will outpace our capacity to kill them before our species vanishes from the blue planet and returns it to the cockroaches.

So it was pleasing to see that the EU was taking a quantum leap by putting a carbon levy on goods from recalcitrant governments – such as Australia’s – that refuse to throw their full weight into the battle against climate change. 

Pleasing but by no means decisive. Australia’s leader is both a religious extremist and an absolute-power merchant. So, as the world teeters on the edge, he’s throwing his weight behind the fall. What’s more, he looks to be growing new hair, strand by strand, on the top of his head; and in another little book I read, it only needed one to break the camel’s back.

robert@robertmacklin.com 

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Robert Macklin

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