Today marks an anniversary. January 3, 2024—four years to the day since the Black Summer wildfire tore through my home landscape, reducing all that was once living to ashes and reshaping my reality.
For 33 years, I’ve waged war against environmental breakdown; immersing myself in the world of international environmental politics, serving as a fierce international negotiator and academic shaping policy on the global stage. Now, having lost my home and sanctuary in the crucible of a climate breakdown event, I have walked away from that world and am now a fervent advocate for communities and nature hit by climate chaos.
As each Black Summer anniversary passes, my emotions about the wildfire and its aftermath storm and subside. At times, I’m weary of endlessly discussing and writing about the story. Other times, resentment boils when people casually dismiss the experience as something ‘in my past.’ ‘Stay in the present,’ they advise. ‘Be thankful,’ they intone. What they don’t recognise is I am grieving not was but what won’t be. I am grieving our future.
In truth, I now straddle two worlds, with an abyss between. It would be easy to slip into perpetual rage, but in the chaos of climate upheaval already rolling across the world, I recognise both the costs and the advantages of my dual reality.
The costs are stark. I’ve witnessed firsthand a cataclysmic event and the might of climate disruption. Climate chaos isn’t a distant notion for me—it’s my painful present. People have been lost. Nature is forever altered. Human-scale security is now gone, in my world. And, I’ve navigated the crippling process of rebuilding life in the aftermath, understanding the lonely road takes years and leaves scars deeper than anything I’ve known before.
Yet, benefits have also surfaced over time. I’m among the first million or so souls to stand as first-hand witnesses to Earth’s climate breakdown, providing me with a clarity that those shielded in stable environments struggle to grasp. It’s not to patronise, but too often I observe well-intended attempts at connection, often manifesting as an assumed equivalence between someone’s grief of watching a world gently shift—concern about late snowfall, anxiety about pollinators, worry about migrating birds—and the existential, communal experience of living through large-scale destruction by wildfire, floods, or storms. These well-meaning souls imagine a connection with my community’s experience, believing they share the same awareness path. What they don’t know is the ‘event’ was merely our initiation onto an unknown road of daily loss, fear, and emotional exhaustion that they have no idea about.
I am not locked in their imagination loop. Now I know. I see the fragility of human existence, our dependence on stability. I’ve faced a fire-breathing monster, comprehending its scale, its aftermath, and can envision it coming again in a way I couldn’t before.
With this awareness comes a clear path of action.
I comprehend that the contract with society and government is shattered. The system cannot sustain the lifestyle and protection level assumed by the wealthy first world. Food security is precarious, as is power and water infrastructure. Effective communication systems teeter daily on a cliff edge. I harbour no illusions about emergency services saving everyone, or anyone, especially the farther from a city’s centre people live.
In the depths of my soul, I know each of us is on our own. Governments won’t rebuild our world. They’ll offer a momentary appearance of support, then retract money and resources into their infrastructure; into their own short-term survival. Society will feign care briefly, then be swayed by the next shiny distraction. Even friends will tire of the journey, shifting from concern for your welfare to weary resignation as they listen to your perspective, again.
Until climate chaos is at their doorstep.
So, what do I do with this awareness, this existence in two worlds? I recount my story, repeatedly, and I reach my hand across the abyss with frankness and brutal honesty. I stand as a voice urging communities to prepare; to open their eyes, genuinely assess risks, connect with their immediate neigbours, and build a plan. Yes, we must reduce emissions to prevent this clusterfuck from worsening. But we must also confront the harsh realities of today—the floods, wildfires, droughts, and storms fuelled by a breaking climate. We must recognise this not nature. This is humanity’s hubris manifest as climate chaos, and our only hope lies in uniting with the people who live close to us, forging millions of localised, community-driven paths of climate survival.
Because soon, everyone across this magnificent Earth will cross they abyss and stand on the same road. If they survive.
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