This morning, I lay in bed and the cat came to join me, lying across my shoulder and resting his cheek on mine. To the rhythm of his incessant purr, a memory popped into my mind…
It is a misty, cold morning. We are back in Australia on holidays from Indonesia and staying at my grandparents’ house. I am about five years old.
My grandparents’ driveway is steep and winding and flanked by lovely bush. I am trotting down the driveway beside my Mum. Everything is damp and the toes of my shoes are stained dark from dew. At the bottom of the driveway is the letterbox, a stack of bricks with a plastic drum attached to the top. Along the narrow road, through the mist, I can see the wild profusion of black-berry vines where we have been picking in summers past.
Waiting near the letterbox is a wire frame, shaped to carry four 1-litre bottles of milk, each with a glossy red foil cap. The empties that we brought down last night have been taken away to be re-used. We will take the milk back up the driveway and sit down to breakfast around the laminex-topped, round table with the little bar radiator warming us from behind. We’ll eat cereal and the dog (a sweet-natured alsatian-cross) will lie flat on the floor near the heater and sigh with pleasure.
This little snippet fills me, not only with nostalgia, but with sadness too. These days, so little is as effectively recycled as those little 1-litre milk bottles. The only product I can think of that is dispensed like that is gas.
We are incredibly dependent on single-use plastic. Even refills (for shampoo or salt & pepper, for example) are packaged in plastic. I had a discussion with P this morning, while he cooked crepes for our Saturday breakfast, about the battle for convenience. We talked about pasta and how well it keeps in plastic and how long it takes to get from the manufacturer to the saucepan. I thought guiltily about how, in the last two weeks I haven’t done any baking and have been forced to buy biscuits (wrapped in plastic of course) to give the kids for recesses at school. Human convenience and time are far more valuable to us than anything beyond our knowledge. We casually put things in the bin and are not forced to think about where they go after that.
In Australia, individuals are apparently very good at recycling. But that doesn’t make it out into the bigger sphere. Last year, China made the decision to stop accepting Australian recyclables. Until that news broke, I didn’t even know that our recyclable were sent overseas to be processed. That’s how easy it is to live in a hole. Since China made the announcement, I don’t think any real solution has even been suggested, let alone acted on.
In every way I can think of, our government is simply failing to lead. It shouldn’t be up to individual discretion whether this planet remains habitable or not. If I were a billionaire I would sue the government for endangering the lives of my children. But I simply don’t have the money. I couldn’t earn in my lifetime what a CEO from one of our banks earns in one year.
It seems to me that Climate Change is being viewed as a danger to our economy and yet, isn’t it an opportunity? Wouldn’t starting up recycling centres create new jobs and new industries? Wouldn’t making some rules about all single-use plastic having to be made of plant-based materials create another new industry? Here we sit with so little manufacturing to our name and so little to export except what we dig out of the ground. Our main investment is in property and the finance industry. Climate Change is an opportunity to broaden our horizons.
Back in the ‘50s when the Snowy Hydro scheme was put in place, Australia hunted out post-war refugees from all over Europe and set them to work. Even in that emotional time when wounds were still fresh, Polish people worked beside Germans and Ukrainians beside Russians. That incredible project brought us all the amazing multi-cultural food we have available to us now and brought us a generation of fabulous migrants who have contributed enormously to our society.
Now we’re heading into Snowy Hydro II. We need another Ben Chifley at the helm – a nice bloke with a good heart. Have you heard how his number in Old Parliament House was only one digit different to the Manuka Butcher? Sometimes he would phone through orders that locals rang through to the PM by accident.
I would love to have a PM who I thought was a nice person – somebody who cared about something other than money.