If there can be such a thing as a climate change sky then, horrified, I saw it on Monday as my Canberra-bound bus chugged away from Sydney and set out across a desiccated New South Wales. Everywhere vistas were blotted out by an apocalyptic smog, part bushfire smoke/part drought's flying dust.
I had been to Sydney to see my cherubic two-year-old grandson. Being a grandparent gives one's climate change anxieties (What will his world be like? Will his planet even be habitable?) a special piquancy and urgency.
But, although half the time I was looking up and out at this end-of-the-world horror, the other half of the time I was looking down at the nifty device on my lap and reading from it a message of climate-change optimism. That message was embedded in Professor Dagomar Degroot's thought-kindling feature Little Ice Age Lessons, just published in the online Aeon magazine. Degroot is an environmental historian.
Those of you who do not do as much climate change reading homework as I do (for as well as being so grandparentally climate anxious I am a girly swot) will not know that there has arisen a timely new genre of writing about environmental history.
It, this genre, opposes the catastrophist notion that climate change has necessarily doomed us and our planet. It points instead to the shy possibility that these climatic menaces to us may bring out the ingenious, inventive, adaptable best in our species. If this is a straw that some of us are clutching at then it is as at least an intellectually-stimulating straw.
Degroot's piece is a 3600-word precis of his alluringly-titled book The Frigid Golden Age: Climate Change, the Little Ice Age and the Dutch Republic (1560-1720).
And so, reading and motoring, there ensued this tug-of-war for my emotions between the teams of Climate Change Despondency (represented by the smoggy meteorological ghastliness through which my charabanc was ploughing) and of Climate Change Optimism (represented by Degroot's essay). The surreality of this tug-of-war was deepened by the fact that the prime, wallpaper illustration of Degroot's piece is Hendrick Avercamp's action-packed winterscape Winter Landscape With Ice-Skaters (c1608).
What a contrast Averkamp's picture made with the sunblasted paddockscape outside my window. Avercamp's painting, composed during Holland's little ice age, depicts teeming Dutch folk merrily at work and play (especially play, with ice games galore and oodles of skating courting couples, their hot feelings for one another triumphing over the cold) on a deeply frozen waterway set in a snowy wonderland.
How one hankered to, time-travelling, escape today's burning NSW and go to join 1608's happy skaters revelling in their clean and cheek-tinting air.
Here is a taste of what the professor tells us.
"Midway through the 17th century, Dutch whalers bound for the Arctic noticed that the climate was changing. For decades, they had waited for the retreat of sea ice in late spring, then pursued bowhead whales in bays off the Arctic Ocean islands. They had set up whaling stations and even towns in those bays, with ovens to boil blubber into oil ... Now, thick sea ice kept whalers from reaching their ovens even in mid-summer. Climate change, it seemed, had doomed their trade.
"Yet in the frigid decades of the late-17th century, the Dutch whaling industry boomed. Whalers discovered how to boil blubber aboard their ships or on sea ice, then learned how to transport it from the Arctic to furnaces in Amsterdam. There, labourers boiled the oil until it reached a purity never achieved in the Arctic, giving Dutch whalers a competitive edge in the European market ... Ironically, by provoking crisis, climate change spurred a golden age for the Dutch whaling industry.
"New research is revealing that many, perhaps most communities successfully endured past climate changes. Many adapted to become more resilient to damage, or to exploit new opportunities."
The professor's catalogue of ingenious Dutch adaptations to the little ice age is a stoker of optimism about our species' ability to weather this, the latest change of climate.
And even as I write this my ears are twitching to radio news of how South Australia's ingenious Tesla Hornsdale wind farm storage battery, its engineering an example of our smart species' clever realisation that we cannot carry on in fossil-fuelled ways, is about to become 50 per cent bigger.
Engrossed in my second reading of the professor's lovely long essay I had spent quite some time focused on my iPad when, at last, 90 minutes into our journey towards Canberra, I looked out of the window again.
I found that the bracing breeze of the professor's big, optimistic ideas had blown away the smoke-clotted smog. Now the sky was a dazzling, optimistic, azure blue. Grazing cows were breathing the sparkling, healthful air.
Bright hope for my grandson's happy future sprang in my hitherto smoggy heart. My hankerings for time travel to Averkamp's merrily icy Holland (I had already packed my figurative ice skates) evaporated. Sunny faith in my own times and my own challenging but beautiful antipodean place was restored.
Do I clutch at straws? Do I delude myself? Very well, then I delude myself.