- Our Sunburnt Country, by Anika Molesworth. MacMillan, $34.99.
Do you get the feeling that the mood in Australia has suddenly shifted? Our politicians seem to have picked it up. New South Wales will now move to 50 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030; South Australia now derives 62 per cent of its electricity from renewables and the premier chortles that this is driving massive international investment in his state.
A national newspaper asks if Angus Taylor, federal minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction is an "ideologue or an idiot".
The shift, I think, is in the meaning of the Federation. Since the Australian Government, under the pressure of war, took over the taxing authority for all Australia, historical wisdom has told us, the various States of the Federation were of little importance and less relevance.
The pandemic overthrew that apple cart. The states and territories, and their Premiers and Chief Ministers, have become the dominant players in responding to the pandemic, the Prime Minister and his hapless Health Minister hand-wringing bystanders.
It seems the same is true of responses to climate change. The states are running the show and the Morrison government may not even mount up for an international conference or a coherent policy. It is held hostage by a few numbskulls, fracturing the National Party and threatening the government's chances of re-election.
This important book adds weight to this analysis. As I read it eagerly, I learnt a great deal that we need to think about. But at the same time I wondered what said numbskulls would make of it. Our Sunburnt Country brings together the science, the global perspective, the terrifying prospects for a world that might ignore the crisis and a philosophy that can underpin our response.
Anika Molesworth is not cocooned in some university, totally divorced from the "real world". Her family has farmed forbidding territory around Broken Hill for two generations now, and has made a go of it. She writes with insight and experience.
She also writes with compassion and sensitivity. Her account of what drought does to those who suffer it in the bush brought this reader up sharp. It is a thief, she writes, stealing optimism, happiness, life itself. It is to be feared. In the cities, we regret drought; in the bush, it terrifies even the most phlegmatic.
Our Sunburnt Country marries the terror of climate change with the complexity of the production of food. For this is the business that Anika Molesworth is in. That all farmers are in. Getting food from the paddock to the plate. Talking to farmers across the world, Molesworth understands their issues and concerns and talks their language.
The outlook for the world's populations is, frankly, scary. Fish stocks, on which 52 per cent of peoples rely for their protein, are in massive decline. Soil is contaminated by rising sea levels, inappropriate development, and overuse. Flocks and herds are at severe risk of disease and decimation.
Our world is in a handbasket to hell. Readers know this and may weary of the recitation of the inescapable facts. The remarkable quality of this book is that it radiates hope.
Individuals can and are making a difference, as Molesworth reports with glowing confidence.
Most of those making a difference, in Molesworth's account, are farmers themselves. Perhaps the story that stood out for me is of a "salad farmer" in Tasmania's Coal River Valley. His lettuces, Molesworth reports, are picture-perfect, just bouncing with goodness. It is a prosperous existence.
The farmer is in Hobart and comes across a demonstration of school-children outside the State Parliament. They are fired up and angry. They condemn the adults for putting their futures at extreme risk, through selfishness, complacency and indifference.
Driving back to his property, our farmer has an epiphany. Though in his 60s, he will cease to be a farmer to become a climate warrior. He sets out a clear agenda for himself, for the future. Literally, for the future.
A simple story, perhaps, but no less meaningful for that. The book abounds with accounts of those on the land who know the truth that Anika Molesworth espouses.
The reader is forced to ask the question: if this is clear to those on the land, why is it denied by the numbskulls who allegedly represent them in Parliament?
Readers may finish this book with optimism and confidence. There is a world-wide movement on the march, involving scientists, food-producers, thinkers, concerned citizens, and thoughtful students and children.
Molesworth insists that everyone can do something to make a difference.
If Our Sunburnt Country can be a bit preachy and pedantic, that is probably no bad thing. We need to be told. The final chapter gives readers an action plan for the next few years. It is as sensible as it is achievable.