Letter of reply to Paddy Grindlay’s “Black Summer”

G’day Paddy.

Thank you for your article “Black Summer.”
I feel very low.


Paddy, you are right to call out inaction performed in our name.
Like you, I despair at national governments of any persuasion acting in our best interests on climate change. Because politicians seem beholden to vested interests.


In terms of “taking corners,” I understand that we are all entitled to our own views.
Believe in the Richmond Football Club if you like. Or in the healing power of music. Or in religion.


However, scientific hypothesis testing by its nature, simply rules out alternative views.


Regardless of a pluralist society containing people of different views, gravity pulls us all towards the centre of the earth at 9.81 metres per second per second. There is no debate. Science can measure that. We all of us use wi-fi telecommunications created via science. Take medicine. Eat food harvested from crops themselves protected from bugs by the results of scientific research. There is no debate.



Likewise that climate change is occurring and being exacerbated by human activity.
[Incredible and sad that such a sentence needs enunciating in 2020].


Sadly, climate change was weaponised by politicians in this country and we are all the poorer for it. I contrast the seemingly widespread doubts regarding climate change science with the Enlightenment; a time when old beliefs were challenged by science.


Everyone is free to air their views, of course. I note that Facebook and Twitter groups exist in which climate science is thrown out as some form of conspiracy. People in these groups act from their own frame of reference, surrounded as they are by the like-minded (as I guess I am).


Everyone probably acts rationally from within their own frame of reference – everyone thinks that they are right, that they are balanced, that they know all they need to know.


For instance, plenty of people would argue that the earth was “created” no more than 6000 years ago; despite the application of scientific method demonstrably proving otherwise.


This is the great thorn of our moment; people think that they have the option whether or not to BELIEVE in science.


No one has that option.
Science is not religion.
Science is rigorous hypothesis-testing with the aim of building understanding.


I don’t know why you, Paddy, write about this traumatic summer as you do. No doubt it makes sense to you from your frame of reference.


I don’t know why you, Ian, think that it is OK to challenge Paddy’s on-the-ground contribution when evaluating his argument. No doubt it makes sense to you.


I ask myself why the Prime Minister acts as he does.


I ask myself why I think as I do. Why do I think as I do? I’m not sure. I know that I am a 44-year-old male from Melbourne with a PhD in hydrology (a branch of environmental science), and Bachelors degrees in Environmental Engineering and Science – all from the University of Melbourne. I have worked for 12 years at the Bureau of Meteorology. I feel that I know a fair bit about human-induced climate change. I know that I have two children who each turn unnecessary lights off, recycle, buy second hand clothes, ride bikes and advocate for public transport. One of them is vegetarian on environmental grounds.


And yet, all of our collective efforts feel in vain when the approval of giant coal mines are in play.


Like you Paddy, the PM’s response to the climate change (generally) and the bushfires (specifically) has alarmed me.
But we cannot allow his appalling behaviour to define the issue.
The issue is much, much bigger. Enormously bigger than any one person.


I recommend Richard Flanagan today in The New York Times:


Science suggests that we are in a catastrophic mess.
In a climate sense, there is not much time to turn things around.
And if our elected representatives will not act to turn it around, I feel that increasingly desperate people will increasingly act in increasingly desperate ways.


Who could deny them that?
Seeing the images of fire and destruction, who could deny them that?
I will never unsee that image of a child huddled in the bow of a boat on Mallacoota Inlet, daytime sky turned a flaming red.



I don’t know what will come next.
Peaceful protest might be a path for some.
Civil disobedience might be another path (e.g. Extinction Rebellion).
I do know that there is power in money and that there is power in numbers. Collective action.
And that desperate people act in desperate ways.



On New Year’s Eve in a moment of quiet desperation I wrote a Twitter thread. I post it here by way of closing:


This #AustralianFires scenario is so awful.
So lamentable.
So perfectly forecast.
So excruciatingly predicted for 30-40 years.
Climate change is not a few more days of warm weather. It is drought, flood, fire. A world where crops fail, rivers run dry, cyclone intensity rises.


In our Australia, where national politics is so so pathetically beholden to vested interests, our own @CSIRO and @BOM_au scientists have told us about climate change.
They have told us, along with @WMO and researchers the world over.
We knew something like this was coming.


Like the coming cyclones and the coming floods.
We know they’re coming.
Like the droughts and the insect plagues and the diseases.
They’re all coming.

It’s so so sad.
So sad.
There are whole cycles of grief to work through – all while fighting to survive.


Our 14y.o. daughter said point blank recently that she didn’t expect to live beyond age 30 because of the global effects of climate change.

There are waves of guilt and fear to hurtle through.
All while trying to survive.

I don’t know.
Frozen by the scale of the problem.


It is so sad.

I have a PhD in environmental science (hydrology).
And my best skill seems to be in telling stories.

For the past 30 years I felt that I had a very good understanding of human induced climate change. And it seems a misplaced optimism in politics and capitalism.


I kept thinking that “surely someone of political strength will make the right decisions.”
But no.
It has not happened and now we are in serious difficulty.

Hope is all anyone ever has.

So this burning of Australia, this heatwave in the past European summer…


…this famine, this creeping of dengue fever, this water shortage, this exponential growth in global population, the fight over access to land, this war, this fleeing of refugees, this glacial retreat, this shrinking polar icecaps, this slowing and shifting of ocean currents…


…this wholesale slash and burn of the Amazon rainforests, the Indonesian rainforests, this creeping salinity, this intense frost, this growth of single-use plastics, this western lifestyle that befits royalty of the very recent past, this mass extinction…


…this whole building, cresting wave of disaster looks set to break.
Maybe it won’t break for a decade or two. Maybe three.
But maybe it breaks sooner.
Maybe the global food bowls fail.
Maybe the millions in Indonesia, Bangladesh, low-lying countries come for higher ground.


It’s a sorry sorry situation.

Anyway I am very sad about this.
Sad because we did not do enough when we had the chance. Sad because this end is not what I had hoped.

And the story is not likely to end well for us.

Best wishes to all affected by the #AustraliaFires.


The rest of us on this fragile little planet are going to need an awful lot more than hopes and prayers.

Science is our only answer.

That is what science is.

Happy new year.
Love to all.


That is not the end.
A better end is to share this quote from CFA Chief Officer Steve Warrington which comes from a press conference regarding fire affected communities of East Gippsland on 3rd January 2020:


We’ve heard stories where people have actually knocked on doors before the fire came, they sheltered into community centres, they waited till the fire went over, some real heroic sort of stuff. There’s lots of emotion. There’s lots of passion. The silver side of it for me that I saw out there today, amongst all this devastation and tears, there was hugs, and the words that came was, “Love”. It sounds quite maybe bizarre, or even corny, but the reality is there was love.”


Thanks again Paddy.
Stay strong, stay safe.


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


About David Wilson

David Wilson is a hydrologist, climate reporter and writer of fiction & observational stories. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and likes to walk around feeling generally amazed. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Stephen Alomes says

    It is significant that both NSW and Vic Premiers have today said that the only source of authority is the fire services. Facts.
    That is avoid social media non-news and non-expertise.
    As I remarked elsewhere if you take your information from a social media grapevine you will just get an ear infection.

    The other matter. As we identify who has and hasn’t played well in footy, let’s identify the politicians who have failed. Not ‘politics’ or ‘Canberra’. Let’s start with two tourists to Hawaii and Europe. Be specific. Facts again.

  2. Paddy Grindlay says

    Cheers, DW.

    I hope this is the moment of action.

  3. Colin Ritchie says

    Thank you ER. You and Paddy have expressed the way so many people are feeling at the moment. Many are beginning to see through the pitiful facades of so called leaders and their pandering to big industry. Hopefully, once these fires are out some real action about climate change will begin to happen. There are a lot of angry people out there!

  4. Thanks ER & Paddy. I absolutely believe in the man made climate change science. 20 years ago I told my son his life would be dominated by climate change & fundamentalism, but I thought I could get out before the worst of it. Not sure now.
    What I am unsure of is what Australia should do about it. We live in an interconnected world – economically, politically and atmospherically. If Australia were to make radical changes wouldn’t we just be a sacrificial lamb – having no climate effect while trashing our economy and lifestyle? The Richard Flanagan piece is powerful and self righteous – but it contained no hint of actions we could take for change.
    I have no time for ScoMo and his ilk – but I totally agree with Ian H that righteous name calling achieves nothing. There were hundreds of Twitter clips of Boris Johnson being abused by citizens in the election campaign – but he won in a landslide.
    My belief has always been that we hate politicians because they are us. And no-one likes a mirror held up to their greed and pettiness.
    Green protesters touring rural Queensland to protest the coal industry was a turning point in our election. It united hard working ordinary people in deciding they preferred jobs and security to being lectured by unemployed feral.
    Frank Taylor suggested 100% renewables and tree planting was the answer. Will I keep my car and my air conditioner? Where do we plant the trees and how do we stop them burning? What do coal miners do for work and won’t our exported coal just be replaced by a competitor?
    Maybe there could be an international consensus in time but in a fearful world where billions clamour for what we take for granted – is that really possible? A world dominated by China, Russia and the US seems unlikely to consider anything beyond strategic national interests.
    Would love to read some sort of plan for how countries could transform their emissions and economies and what the transition costs would be. Much of the current debate is either hard hearted or soft headed. I would like to understand a way ahead that is soft hearted but hard headed.

  5. Dave Nadel says

    Peter B. Coal Mining employs 0.4% of Australian workers. The importance of coal and forestry as sources of employment has been greatly exaggerated. Mining in North Queensland and methods of sugar production have damaged the Great Barrier Reef, possibly terminally. Tourism employs a lot more people than mining and modern sugar production, but the Government seems prepared to destroy the industry. The current round of bush fires (earlier and more severe because of climate change) will severely damage tourism in Victoria, NSW and South Australia, Much is made of the need to preserve mining and forestry jobs, mostly from politicians and industrialists who had no problems with the majority of Australian manufacturing workers losing their jobs as the employers in the manufacturing industries took their production off shore to low wage un-unionized countries.

    Yes, Governments need to find alternative work for the people losing their mining jobs but they have no right to destroy the planet for the sake of Clive Palmer, Gautam Adani, Gina Reinhart and the other international mining magnates.

  6. Michael Crawford says

    Thanks for the analysis ER. The good thing about science is that it is true, whether you believe in it or not.

  7. Dave – I’m no coal industry advocate. Would prefer nuclear power in a choice of 2. But they pay $5 Billion in royalties and 47,000 direct jobs (120,000 indirect). All I’m saying is we need clear alternatives and transition plans not the pie in the sky I hear from the Greens if Australia is to reduce its coal export dependency.

  8. Mark Duffett says

    There’s no need to search for plans to read for countries and jurisdictions to transform their emissions, Peter_B. Just look at what France, Sweden and Ontario have already done. There is demonstrably – not a plan, not a model, but an approach that has actually worked at scale- a way ahead that is both soft hearted (prosperity) and hard headed (low emissions).

    If nuclear power were invented today, it would be hailed as our saviour. Coupled with solar, wind and pumped hydro, it still can be. But matters have now reached the point that state-led mobilisation of resources comparable to that of the second world war is required.

  9. OBP as always articulate and spot on the answers are complicated sadly government in our country is decided by who can bag the other side better and gain the necessary votes and last election add rich enough add in self interest. Party wise add in the greens some of there policies help some are far from that
    Common sense honesty governing for the overall good I understand your daughters negativity for the future
    Fire wise there are another,3 or 4 months ahead yet it is impossible to comprehend the devastation physically mentally and financially thanks,OBP

  10. I went down to the local bowling club for a bet and bevvy late on Saturday arvo. Ended up having a chin wag with one of the committee men. He had a bee in his bonnet about land clearing, how some farmer couldn’t clear his land, about it being illegal to pick up branches. I tried to talk to him about the science of climate change but he didn’t engage on the topic, let alone deny it. He made a comment about the contributions of the fire re the Paris Treaty.

    Unfortunately we’ve got a situation where people don’t accept/understand the science. There’s more credibility given to opinions or superstitious nonsense, starting at the top with a Christian fundamentalist advertising man as our nation’s leader.

    England seems to reduced their once mighty coal mining industry to next to nothing. Taking up from points from PB & Dave N, how do we transition our small but powerful coal industry to something else? Totally agree with PB re the image of convoys of Greenies hectoring coal mining communities in Queensland, played right into the hands of Scummo and his ilk.Who out their has the plan, let alone the political will, to commence the transition, retraining of these workers? We saw our automotive industry destroyed, and very few of those workers have found jobs that have paid as well or offered similar conditions. Many of these workers have found only casual work. These would be the fears of coal miners; you can’t blame them.

    We’re facing a national disaster, as a lack of political leadership compounds it. Poor fellow my country.


  11. Peter Warrington says

    I was really affected by this piece by Dave. we have a similar conversation in the inner west at the moment, there is some self-satisfaction in pointing out what a dickhead “our” PM is, but also (a) a sense that that just underlines our helplessness; and (B) potentially counterproductive as it just reinforces the hyperpartisan political divide.

    I really love PB’s typology, policy-driven as it is:

    ” Would love to read some sort of plan for how countries could transform their emissions and economies and what the transition costs would be. Much of the current debate is either hard hearted or soft headed. I would like to understand a way ahead that is soft hearted but hard headed.”

    we have done this before, whatever you think of the outcomes, especially in forestry, where the impact of structural change falls disproportionately on regional towns.

    you could argue we did it as part of saving the Franklin, Kakadu, Coronation Hill etc – PB, you would know as much as anyone what the calculations were that allowed those imperfect resolutions. (I have only seen it from within the green machine, and briefly inside government, but post-deal).

    I am not the biggest Albo fan especially in the Inner West but, as with Howard, and given his exposure to regions and infrastructure, the times might suit him. If we can all hang on that long…?

  12. If the earth was examined by a GP, it would have a thermometer stuck in its mouth and told, “Yep, you sure do have a temperature; you’re running two degrees too high. Now let’s just look at that rash. Hmm hmm looks like you’ve got a nasty case of humans; classic concentration patterns all along the coasts. But don’t worry too much. They’re civilizations tend to implode before too long.”

    I think it’s fair to say that civilizations greatest problem is there are too many people who can’t afford to think about tomorrow because they struggle to just get through today. And I think it’s also fair to say that when science tells them we can’t afford *not* to think about tomorrow because what we are doing today will mean there *is* no tomorrow, they’re gonna reject it, because a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. So I suggest we kill off the struggling with today types, who’s numbers are now so vast that we have idiots like Trump in power … but nah nah … of course, I’m just kidding!

    Umm, I have no idea where we go from here … it all just seems so hopeless. But now that we can’t leave our house because the air we breathe is so hazardous, perhaps that struggle will top the other struggles of the mistrustful of science lot, and things might change? Hope so. I love living.

    PS. Good on you DW and Paddy, Love your righteousness.

  13. Thanks e.r.
    I think you know where I stand on all this.
    This is the first time in my life I have lost friends due to differing beliefs. But I cannot tolerate any longer. And life is too short.
    Strange times indeed.

  14. G’day all.
    Yes this is tiring. I understand that an argument can be made that perhaps the Footy Almanac is not the best forum for this topic. For that reason I have refrained from mentioning this topic here for months.
    (That itself I find difficult – I have a real sense of fiddling while Rome burns, so to say.)

    Anyway – I guess I don’t need to prosecute the case for human induced climate change here.
    (Smokie – I hear you).
    For information’s sake – this link is from “Scientific American” on 31 December- by Australian National Uni climate scientist Nerilie Abram on the background to this awful, dangerous summer that Australia is enduring (one third of the way into).


  15. Amazing effort from the emergency services.
    Red Cross would be an excellent choice if you’re looking to contribute: https://www.redcross.org.au/campaigns/disaster-relief-and-recovery-donate

  16. A major reason that we are in this mess was highlighted by the late John Clarke and Bryan Dawe on 24 March 2016.
    It’s the planet, stupid.
    “Mr Portunity. Senior executive at a major news organisation.”
    Concerning the planet, action, Tony, Malcolm, Bill and… Scott.

  17. John Butler says

    ER, if there’s one positive aspect out of all this misery, we have been reminded that most of us can rally to a common cause.

    But this also serves to remind that those who profess to lead us have become addicted to the game of divide and conquer. As ‘mainstream’ western politics increasingly resigns itself to representing special interests, rather than the common interest, that game isn’t about to disappear anytime soon.

    So the challenge for we citizens is take our civic responsibilities more seriously that we have been doing. That requires us to turn our words into actions. Demand more of those who want to lead us. Kick them out if they don’t come up to scratch. At least we still have that option in this country. For now.

    Would that be enough? I don’t know. But it would be a start.

  18. With the bushfire crisis never far from my mind, been watching the horrifying ‘Chernobyl’ over the last few days and a scene involving a scientist and an apparatchik has greatly resonated with me over the obstacles our climate scientists face. I’ll let the scene do the talking from here

    Apparatchik pours himself a glass of vodka.

    ‘I must tell you– this is why no one likes scientists. When we have a disease to cure, where are they? In a lab. Noses in their books. And so, grandma dies.’

    He crosses to his desk.

    ‘But when there isn’t a problem? They’re everywhere. Spreading fear.’

    The scientist says, ‘I know about Chernobyl.’


    ‘I know the core is either partially or completely exposed.’

    The apparatchik shrugs. ‘Whatever that means?”

    The scientist continues. ‘And I know that if you don’t immediately issue iodine tablets and then evacuate this city, hundreds of thousands will get cancer, and god only knows how many will die.

    For a moment, her fear rattles the apparatchik. But only for a moment. ‘Yes, very good, there has been an accident at Chernobyl, but I have been assured there is no problem.’

    ‘I’m telling you there is.’

    ‘I prefer my opinion to yours.’

    ‘I’m a nuclear physicist. Before you were Deputy Secretary, you worked in a shoe factory.’

    The apparatchik stiffens. ‘Yes. I worked in a shoe factory. And now I’m in charge. (raises his glass) “To the workers of the world.’

    He downs his drink.

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