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Gang-gang. Canberrans and climate change: active or in denial?

Canberra is largely asleep at this time of year. We are Sleeping Beauty waiting to be woken up (to get the year underway) by the rough kiss of the liberally tattooed Handsome Prince of Summernats.

But some readers have woken up for just long enough to comment on recent columns. Several of you were prodded awake by our comparison  of Canberra with the Norwegian town that Kari Marie Norgaard studied for her Living in Denial. We thought that Norgaard's town and average townsfolk, too ravaged by helplessness, dread and personal guilt to wrestle with climate change issues, sounded like Canberra and Canberrans. Now Julie Chater, of the University of the Third Age, is one of those, prodded awake, to take issue with us.

To recap ... Norgaard's study is discussed in David Manne's Planet In Peril, the lead story in the new Summer Issue of The Monthly. Manne's essay looks anxiously (as did Nele Azevedo's Ice Men installation, pictured here), at climate change denial in all of its forms. He wonders how it can be that we know climate change is menacing our planet and our species, and yet we cannot bring ourselves to do anything about it. He cites Norgaard's as one of several studies of "psychological denial".

He sums up that her's is "an investigation of of the psychological sources of resistance to confronting the question of climate change, based on a one year's close observation of a single Norwegian town at a time of baffling weather patterns". 

"Norgaard found that while the townspeople denied neither the reality or the gravity of climate change, it played little role in their daily life. Climate change was rarely discussed. When it was, it proved to be a conversation stopper. The townspeople ... felt the need to protect themselves from its reality, for, if confronted, it filled them with a sense of helplessness, dread and personal guilt."

This columnist mused that this sounded very like a description, too, of Canberra's silence on the subject even though Canberrans are far too educated and informed to doubt the reality and the gravity of climate change. 


Among readers begging to differ with us is Julie Chater who chides, politely, "You recently posed the question 'Is climate change a Canberra conversation-stopper?' I would like to reply in the negative for the University of the Third Age (U3A) in Canberra.
"I have run a number of courses related to climate change over the past couple of years [so have others]. There is tremendous interest in this topic in U3A. 
"I co-ordinate an on-going group called 'Climate Conversations' (through U3A) which is very active in seeking out opportunities to learn more, as well as actively intervening to let our politicians know that we want them to take stronger and faster action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 
"In 2016 we would like reach out to other groups in Canberra ... and I will be running a course after Easter called Renewable Energy in Canberra and its region." 

It is a revised version of a course that she ran last year that took people out and about, in buses, to visit our region's wind farms, solar farms and to something called the Woodlawn Bioreactor. The course organised activities galore including demonstrations of electric and low emission vehicles. When this year's course approaches we will leap, counter-Norwegianly, to give it some publicity here.

We are glad Chater and others have piped up that we are not being utterly Norwegian about this. And yet we sense that Norgaard found similar pockets of activism in her studied town and that what she is getting at is that you'd think that climate change is so pressing that it would be on all our lips whenever and wherever we mingle. Perhaps, if it not a matter of our helplessness, dread and guilt, we should be discussing climate change at, say, bus stops, at Cavalry baseball games, at the Horticultural Society's annual displays of dahlias, and at Summernats too with young men showing as much intense interest in climate change as in which pneumatic nymphette is to be crowned Miss Summernats. Instead, I testify that it is possible to be a social butterfly in Canberra without ever alighting anywhere where the subject is being discussed by rank and file members of the species that climate change seems set to rub out.

Meanwhile another reader prodded awake by us was awoken by our late December story of a man who has a most unusual ultra-Canadian tree in his Fadden garden.

His Red Cedar (Acer rubrum), is destined to be placed on TAMS' ACT Tree Register that protects trees of exceptional value in the urban areas of the ACT. Tree Register folk wondered if the Fadden Acer rubrum might be the only one of its species in the ACT and hoped our story would flush out any others. Lo and behold a Dunlop reader has one and tells us "The tree is about six or eight years old and cost us $180 as a [small] 'mature' tree ... This species appears to be the last of the maples to turn red and will keep its red foliage for several weeks.  It never fails to impress."

She has sent us photographs of it being lurid in autumn. One can just imagine Nick Kyrgios wearing tennis shoes of that colour, and young men bringing street machines of that shocking hue to Summernats, but it is unnerving to find such a colour in Nature.