Opinion piece

So like I said I have a new role at Urban Seed, so I’ve been thinking about articles I could write.

The other morning I was on my way to work when I saw my neighbour, and we stopped and talked. I asked how she coped in the heat last week – three 44 degree days in a row – and she said not so well. Then she started to talk about global warming, and how she thought that might be the cause because we’ve never had heat like that before that she can remember (and she’s been in that house for more than 50 years). And then she threw up her hands and said, “What can you do? Nothing.” And I immediately thought “no! that’s terrible! we can’t think like that!” but then I thought “but what can I suggest that would be useful to an elderly lady?” and basically said something feeble about having to do something. And then on the way to work I remembered the Wendell Berry quote and the article was born. Enjoy.

Fostering a dangerous climate of addiction

MY OLDER Italian neighbour was lamenting the recent hot weather. “I think it might be climate change,” she said, and threw up her hands despairingly. “What can we do?” She sighed. “Nothing really.” I could sympathise, of course. Despair about the future of our planet is in no short supply. But I couldn’t help feeling that despair is a luxury we cannot afford.

As Wendell Berry, the Kentuckian agrarian poet and essayist says of the climate crisis, “The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependent on what is wrong. But that is the addict’s excuse, and we know that it will not do.”

The science is overwhelming. Greenhouse gases, caused largely by our insatiable appetite for cheap, abundant energy, are heating the planet, melting ice caps and altering the climate, and we are nearing the dangerous tipping point towards catastrophic runaway climate change. Yet we continue to rely on unsustainable fossil fuels and our water use ignores the reality of this dry continent.

If this is the reality, why do we continue living as we do?

I work for Urban Seed, a community that has made a home in the heart of the city of Melbourne for about 15 years. We offer a free lunch, and often share it with the city’s most marginalised, many of whom struggle with long-term drug, alcohol and gambling addictions. Over the years we’ve learned a thing or two about addiction — how insidious it can be, how destructive of wellbeing. But most of all, we’ve learned that addiction is not confined to someone shooting up heroin in a back laneway.

Often the executive on Collins Street buying the latest technological wizardry to “keep up” or the person shopping for this season’s designer handbag are equally addicted — though some addictions are more socially acceptable than others.

Often I would sit with Luke as he slumped, defeated, over his lunch.

His addiction to the pokies had seen him blow his entire pension cheque at the casino — again. He would speak of how he had told himself just the night before that this time he wouldn’t do it. But the human capacity for self-delusion is immense. His denial of the odds led him to believe that this time it would all be different.

Such is our problem with climate change. We are addicted to the very things that accelerate global warming. We know the problems but remain in denial about what it is going to require of us to fix them. Like an addict who thinks they can control their addiction or stop any time they like, we cling to the train as it hurtles towards the abyss.

Addictions often develop because of a need to escape a reality that is too difficult to face. Whether it’s a heroin user escaping childhood abuse or an insatiable society escaping the reality of a world of finite resources, the same dynamic is involved.

Rudd’s recent “consume our way out of recession” policies are a perfect example. Despite the fact that we know our overconsumption is accelerating global warming, this Government, which was elected on taking “real action on climate change”, is encouraging us to buy more, consume more. The desalination plant is another exercise in contradiction — the logic of replacing one problem (lack of water) with another more destructive one (pollution, massive energy consumption). Yet without the Earth there is no human life and no economy.

Perhaps what we need is a 12-step program to rid ourselves of our addiction to destructive habits. Our experience at Urban Seed is that addictions are not cured by government policy or one-size-fits-all solutions. They are cured by slow, costly, patient, local, personal work. So it will be with climate change.

We need prophetic communities of imagination who can lead us to an alternative future — one that does not deny the realities of the ecologies in which we live but co-operates with their processes and yields to their limits.

But as any addict knows, the first step is admitting you have a problem — first to ourselves and then to each other.

So let me begin with this: My name is Simon and I am an addict.

Reverend Simon Moyle is public engagement co-ordinator for Urban Seed.