Negotiating climate deniers and plovers



Two chance encounters caused me some worry recently.

Last week, walking along an unfamiliar street, I saw a woman struggling with one of her rubbish bins. It was the yellow-lidded one – recyclables.

I crossed the road and, when she accepted my offer of help, I wheeled the bin out to the curb. I was not surprised she’d been having trouble. Her recycling was extraordinarily heavy, bottles probably.

That’s what usually tips mine over the acceptable scale and has me worrying that one day the mechanism on the truck will give up half way and the evidence of a fortnight’s modest tippling will be distributed loudly and in thousands of gleaming shards all over the meticulously shaved nature strips of the near neighbours.

She thanked me graciously and I said, ‘No worries’ and then added brilliantly, ‘Lovely day.’ She agreed. Like the Ancient Mariner who just could not shut up once he’d buttonholed the Wedding Guest, I said, ‘Yes, so much better than those forty degree days.’

‘Ah,’ she said, seeming suddenly galvanised, ‘but we haven’t had any of those.’

Until then she’d been politely affable, doing the right thing by the bloke who’d helped her with the bins, but suddenly there was a glint in her eye and a jutting set to the line of her jaw.

Call me paranoid if you like, but as I walked away, affecting a nonchalant strolling gait, I knew, I just knew, that she was a climate change denier and was daring me to argue the point. Had I hesitated one more moment, I would have been regaled with statistics about the mild coastal summer and other utterly benign climatological phenomena. Which is why, being convinced about climate change and taking a line from the Wedding Guest, I waved and left ‘like one that hath been stunned/And is of sense bereft’.

The second encounter was with an elderly pedestrian. As we drew closer to each other, I saw that, despite the early summer warmth, she was wearing a heavy coat, something like a Drizabone, with the hood bunched up around her neck. And she wasn’t out for a pleasant stroll. In one hand she carried a thick wooden stick; and in the other a flame-blackened saucepan which – as if to allay what must have been my increasingly obvious puzzlement – she placed on her head.

‘Have to visit Dorrie,’ she said, a bit short of breath. ‘Just a few doors down – but the plovers are coming.’

Now all was revealed. I’d seen a couple of plovers a few moments earlier, and I knew from walking around these streets that there were lots of Spur-Winged Plovers nesting and defending their often ludicrously visible domains. ‘Defending’ is putting it mildly. These birds are truculent, aggressive and noisy. If you trespass on their patch, they will create a constant and menacing orchestration of threats, flighty lunges, flappings and dartings though, like magpies, they can seem to retreat, then line you up from two hundred metres away and spear back at you, steepling away at the last second, executing a nonchalant stall and floating to earth still combative and fightable.

On the ground, with their busy, silly-looking walk, and their apparent preference at times for stiff-legged running rather than graceful flight, they are unimpressive – but bossy, overbearing, not to be laughed at. They are not loveable and many people would like to see them obliterated – not just endangered but wiped out. Though I scarcely spoke a dozen words to her, I’m pretty sure the woman in the big coat, with her stick and saucepan was not remotely a plover lover.

What struck me about both these otherwise entirely disparate and in their individual ways trivial encounters was that, as things stand nowadays with us Australians, they were both political. ‘Is it wicked to take a pleasure in spring and other seasonal changes … is it politically reprehensible?’ asks George Orwell in ‘Some thoughts on the Common Toad’. Well, not wicked but increasingly difficult. A belief in the processes and dire possibilities of climate change as opposed to its denial divides the national polity. In a world where scientific advances are proceeding with laser-like speed, there is no Australian Federal Ministry of Science. Coal, we are told, will be our future but also our nemesis. The Tasmanian government is seeking to unstitch massive forest heritage agreements. The President of the US alerts us to the grave dangers threatening the Great Barrier Reef and is then rebuked by senior government figures for doing so.

‘I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes [and] butterflies’ says Orwell – and the unlovable plover, we might add – ‘one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable.’

What is interesting about this opinion is that, despite its eminent humanity and common sense, it sounds uncharacteristically trite and just a little forlorn in a country that is officially turning its face away from the claims, processes and vulnerabilities of the natural world.

Brian MatthewsBrian Matthews is honorary professor of English at Flinders University and an award winning columnist and biographer.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Topic tags: Brian Matthews, environment, climate change, birds



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Existing comments

"Climate deniers",I suggest, are those who deny eg: a] Climate varies naturally. b]We are in a natural warming cycle that has little or nothing to do with human influence. c]There have been warm periods in the past, such as the Medieval Warm Period, such indicates, the world heats and cools naturally, unaffected by greenhouse-gas emissions from human industrial activity. d]Indeed, periods of warming may actually be caused by natural fluctuations in cosmic rays or solar radiation. [So heliocentric causation of climate change!] e] Earth proximity to the sun in orbital oscillation correlates with earth warming just as earth extended distance from sun is natural explanation of f]Earth's ice-age and warm climate changes caused by changes in the position of the Earth in comparison to the Sun, are known as the Milankovitch cycles. This explains eg climate changes occurring in the geological past of the Earth, as well as the climate changes on the Earth which can be expected in the future. Welcome to heliocentric optic versus Ptolemaic regress!

Father John George | 26 February 2015  

In our part of the world, visitor numbers increase dramatically at Christmas and Easter. It's then that the contents of yellow-lidded wheelie bins are subject to scrutiny by neighbours. The neighbour who has space in his/her wheelie bin at this time of the year is accorded due respect and recognition. Last Christmas, with five young children in our house (two still in disposable nappies) I was forced into detective wheelie-bin work and am now firmer friends with a lovely lady on the opposite side of the street a few doors down. As for birds, I can recommend Tim Birkhead's excellent "Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird".

Pam | 26 February 2015  

Long before anthropogenic industrial gas emissions there were extreme climate changes eg litle ice age #NASA defines the term as a cold period between AD 1550 and 1850 and notes three particularly cold intervals: one beginning about 1650, another about 1770, and the last in 1850, each separated by intervals of slight warming. The first 2 periods at least are totally unrelated to man made causality. #Similar non amthropogenic chartings:

Father John George | 26 February 2015  

Good faith statements Fr John George, but hardly representative of current scientific opinion.

Ginger Meggs | 27 February 2015  

This piece is not prose. It is brilliant poetry!!! But then, I love plovers.

john frawley | 27 February 2015  

We could stop calling them climate deniers, and more accurately call them science deniers.

Russell | 27 February 2015  

Precisely, Russell. If you haven't looked yet, I encourage you to follow the link that Fr John George gave us. It's nothing but a chart, with no units on the vertical scale, no source given, no explanation. And when you cut the url back to its base , viz < > to assess its provenance and authenticity, your browser will return a potpourri of results but nothing that suggests any serious peer-reviewed science.

Ginger Meggs | 27 February 2015  

Well said Ginger Meggs re the unstopable faith of father John G .Not unlike his defence of the un-Christain treatment of victims of clerical abuse & exravagent lifestyle of George Pell ,long before he departed for the Vatican ( eg ,the luxury personal apartment, built with our money,as part of Domus Australis ,the guest house for visiting pilgrims from Oz .) It now seems that our humble,modest Pope Francis has asked George to please explain his outrageous spending spree,reportedly $ 87,000 for furniture alone . It appears that the Popes self diagnoses of " a mental disorder " when answering a child's question re his decision to reside in a modest dwelling ,is not a contagous disease.regards John

john kersh | 28 February 2015  

Fr John George, this "science accepter" has little problem with (a) to (f), insofar as they are supported by the data. It is just that the science also says (g) that we are contributing, significantly and crucially, on top of warming from other causes.

keith | 02 March 2015  

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