One morning, earlier this year I was sitting at a desk in our upstairs study, working from home, looking out through the eight-paned window in front of me. It is a modest view, out over grey tin awnings, across a lane-way, to the backyard of a large town-house; a courtyard shaded by an overhead trellis laden with thriving vines. I have come to know this little view very well.
At different times of the year, swathes of rainbow lorikeets come to eat, squawk and play among the creepers. I have counted as many as 30 of the birds and then watched as, abruptly and at some signal entirely beyond my apprehension, every one of them has at once launched skyward in a fusillade of fragments of feathered rainbow, lifting and careening in arcing geometries of magnificent agility and purpose. A living kaleidoscope, wild on the wing.
On the morning in question, my window was wide open to the balmy city air. Concentrating on my laptop, my attention was drawn by my comrade lorikeets suddenly lifting in one of their wild scatterings. One single bird flew directly towards me. I don’t know if I flinched or not, but it felt like a column of air and life had projected through the window with intense force; a shaft of energy from the outside world to the inner room. A brief sense of threshing, a thud and silence. Turning in my chair, I saw the rainbow lorikeet there, in the room, on the ground. Stunned, but apparently unharmed and looking at me, sidewise, with one single eye.
The rainbow bird righted itself, then in a few short flighty hops came to rest on a bookshelf to the right of the desk, resting briefly next to a range of works dedicated to the climate crisis and ecology. I reached for my phone, as one does, to try and capture an image of this uncanny moment. And as I pressed the keep for eternity button, the lorikeet arched its wings in front of Paul Gilding’s 2011 book, The Great Disruption: How the Climate Crisis will Transform the Global Economy. Seconds later, it was gone, away through the window and back into the Sydney sky.
Paul Gilding was the CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific in the 90s before going on to a stint as Greenpeace International’s Executive Director. I have always been very grateful to Paul for his wise advice, given freely and generously. The Great Disruption grew out of Paul’s widely circulated 2005 memo, ‘Scream. Crash. Boom’ which was one of the first things that I ever read which really brought home the sheer enormity of the climate damage that was being done to the world.
It had been some time since I read Paul’s book, but after the visit of the rainbow lorikeet, I opened The Great Disruption and reread some of the book’s most significant passages, which included the following:
There will be a tipping point when denial ends, and the reality that we face a global civilization – threatening risk will become accepted wisdom, virtually overnight. At that point, we will respond dramatically and with extraordinary speed and focus. …
But a word of caution. Just as denial and pessimism can prevent action, ironically so can unstrategic optimism. If we sit back and passively wait for the dam to break, it will at the very least delay that day. Instead, we have to choose active, engaged and strategic hope. …
The IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) recent report confirms we’ve reached the fulcrum moment. Through leaks, confidential briefings and the evidence of our own senses of a disrupted world, we had known this IPCC news was coming. Still, the predictability couldn’t diminish the shock, grief and fear; the sheer starkness of the news and the truth that nowhere and nothing is now safe without our monumental collective effort. We are all climate pilgrims now.
I stroke the faces of my kids after they have fallen asleep in their bunk beds, knowing the possible scenarios that lie ahead, in their lifetimes.
One of the foundational stories of Greenpeace is the myth of the warriors of the rainbow, who come to restore balance in a world beset by darkness and injustice. I think Paul Gilding is right. At the eleventh hour, humanity is finally beginning to rally with urgency. Now, we are in a contest of power and racing against time. It is the fossil fuel order that is holding back the transformation of Australia including through the effective capture of our federal government. Our national political leadership should be leading and inspiring the necessary transformation – but instead, this is left to the clean energy rebellion; that massive informal coalition of committed citizens, communities, campaigners, investors, businesses and institutions who are determined to secure the conditions for the future flourishing of our kids, our country and the planet. Greenpeace’s own campaigns on Australia’s major corporate energy users and biggest polluters are designed to achieve the greatest emissions cuts in the shortest possible time.
To quote Gilding again, ‘…given the challenges ahead, the choice to be optimistic is perhaps the most important and most political choice an individual can make.’ And so, shaking our heads from the blow of the IPCC’s latest news, we must get on with the great work at hand.
If there is one thing we know, it is that people working together can achieve practically anything. We understand the problem. We have the technical and policy solutions we need, and a clear popular mandate for change. The window is closing and the years are short. But we are airborne, and still the blue sky opens before us. Now is the time for our greatest effort.
David Ritter is the Chief Executive Officer of Greenpeace Australia Pacific