This week I began writing my traditional New Year's piece. You know: "Another year and this time another decade, too. It must be time for prizes, surely?" And then a list of all those bizarre little moments that make up the fragments of public life, because that's what journalists do.
But the problem was the words withered on the page as soon as they appeared. This year isn't like the others, and it demands a different approach. Commitment. Saying something.
NASA - a normally reliable institution, one not normally associated with the incubation of left-wing thought - recently confirmed that global temperature "is on track to rise by an average of 6 degrees". That's why this is not the time for scathing faux awards. If we are to simply survive, we need to rise above our old ways of thinking. So let's begin.
There is a way forward. In 1940, Churchill promised only "blood, toil, tears, and sweat". People rallied to his cause because they knew they faced an existential threat. Today we face a similar challenge.
As we stand poised at the beginning of a new decade, we have a stark choice.
We cannot rely, as Churchill did in those dark days, on others coming to our aid. Yes, a global response is required and we must urgently do everything possible to urge drastic cuts of CO2 emissions. This alone, however, will not be enough to protect our fragile continent. We also need, from today, to begin preparing this country for the terrible world science insists we will soon inhabit. Doing this requires action, now, today.
This should be a positive message because it has meaning and relevance to every one of us: the only way we can succeed is by working together as a community.
That's why Michael Shoebridge's proposal yesterday for a climate summit was so relevant.
We will soon know which politicians can be trusted to take us forward, because they will step over the entrenched ideological positioning of the past and embrace this idea. It is particularly relevant because we need to create and unite behind a new way forward. Only a dual approach will work: combining global action (emissions reductions) and local action (preparedness).
Australia is particularly vulnerable to climate change. We are precariously exposed and must act swiftly. Even this government has been forced to admit the bushfires haven't enhanced the outlook of this country as a long-term destination, for either investment or immigrants, and this has already weakened the economic outlook. That's why adopting dramatic emissions reductions are just the first step; we have to find ways of protecting the burning countryside. This will mean accepting economic hardship now, but that's necessary to avoid far greater devastation in future. After all, what foreign tourist wants to visit a dead barrier reef or tour a country reeking of smoke?
The second strategy we need to implement is equally vital, and that's increasing the resilience of our communities.
Working together can be challenging. There's always a tension between helping, even simply sharing, with our neighbours and the raw, primal urge to grasp things for ourselves. The acquisitive gene looks after itself - that's how it's become so dominant - but that's what's got us into the current situation. If we keep thinking the old way, there will be no escape. Apparently devoid of any existential challenge, until now we've been told to focus on making money. It seemed that this was the way to prosperity. It was, but only by using up our common resources. Today we need to find out how to share again.
Civilisation is built on this foundation: working together as a community to achieve what we can't accomplish alone.
Everyone will have a chance to play their part in preparing for the coming decade, because everybody has a responsibility to act. Don't be a Nero, who stood fiddling on the ramparts of his palace while Rome burnt below. Choose, instead, to demonstrate you can understand science and do want a future not just for yourself, but also your children.
This coming decade won't play by the old rules; we are adrift. The only way to survive is by working together - as the firies have been showing us with their selfless dedication in battling the blazes. They are fighting for their communities, and they know these fires are something new.
So is there anything positive in the midst of this cacophony of despair? The point is, of course, that the fires have not only brought moments of the deepest grief and failure, but also demonstrated the most remarkable selflessness and giving. Volunteers have helped out neighbours, friends, and those they don't know, demonstrating the remarkable vigour of the human spirit at the time of deepest need. So let's celebrate this as we begin a new year and decade.
One of the great things about the passage of time is that it suggests movement; development; progression. Travelling from the past, through the present and into the future. We weave this into a tapestry to make sense of our lives, infusing every moment with meaning.
These next years will represent an existential challenge to our society as great as any war. It's one we cannot ignore or wish away; a problem we can only confront together. Soon it will be too late: we must act now. This is the time. Mobilise yourself today. Choose life.
- Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.