I am in a lather of sweat, the cicadas in the gum trees are building to an industrial level of noise and many plants that have been valiantly hanging on to life are finally succumbing, their leaves draining of colour, turning crisp and shrivelled. It’s hot. An orange tree that has been growing itself by the main road, providing oranges to whomever can get there with a ladder first is, for the first time, showing signs of stress. It hasn’t rained here properly since a weekend of three violent storms dumped heavy rain in early December. Our tank is barely a quarter full and our dam is but a muddy puddle.
Last weekend we holed up inside in the airconditioning–something we only use in extreme heat–while the temperature outside climbed into the high 30s. I had to let the chooks out of their pen so they could find cooler places. They quickly made their way up the hill, wings held out from their bodies, beaks open and panting, and made for the cool of the dirt under the house. I filled a dish of water and set it down for them. They just stood and stared at me. I had never seen them so stressed.
The television showed footage of bushfires in Tasmania and New South Wales. Another fire wiped out a resort near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, where the temperature hasn’t fallen under 40 yet this year. Last week a heavy pall of smoke from fires on nearby Bribie Island drifted over us, obscuring the mountains; we could barely see out the front gate from the house.
Normally at this time of year our tank is overflowing; we watch the overflow tank overflow and wish we could catch all that excess water. I hang wet clothes under the house and when I check them the next day they’re still damp and starting to smell. I refuse to buy a clothes dryer because they use so much power and the clothes dry eventually. And I don’t want to contribute any more to this overtaxed planet, suffocating under an excess of carbon dioxide and starting to sweat under it’s ever thickening blanket of gases.
When I was in high school, back in the 80s, our science teacher, Mr. Hawkin, used to talk passionately and urgently about “the greenhouse effect”. He told us that the buildup of emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would cause the planet to heat up, that we would see extreme weather events, that it would become increasingly hard to grow our food as periods of drought increased in length and frequency. Occasionally, in the media, you would see the greenhouse effect referred to, but it was treated like something mad, radical scientists were scaremongering about and anyway, it was way off in the future like flying cars. Hawkin used to make me feel shit-scared, but then the bell would go and I’d forget about it.
Mr. Hawkin is probably retired now. He’d be in his 60s. I imagine he kept telling his students about this mythical “greenhouse effect”. I wonder if anyone ever acted on anything he said. I think, certainly in recent years, I have always striven to conserve electricity and not waste things, but then my mother was of the depression and war years, so it was probably her careful ways that instilled this. But I wonder if anyone has actually taken action based on what he told us, studying science at university, buying a hybrid car, not using plastic bags at the checkout, striving for self-sufficiency. Not enough people listened to him or any of the other scientists who tried and are still trying to warn us. I think the time for warnings is well and truly over. Now we have to work out how we’re going to survive. There may be no oranges from that tree by the road this year, and that will just be the beginning.