The audiovisual trolley in my primary school was a thing of majesty. An industrial-grey metal tower housing stacks of heavy plastic VCRs and a convex-screened television, it would herald its entry to the classroom with gentle squeaks, rolling slowly with a train of yellow and grey cords in its wake. Its arrival was a rare but invariably exciting portent of good tidings: an hour or more sitting cross-legged on the sand-flecked carpet in cool semi-darkness rather than sitting at our fluorescent-lit desks. It was in such a constellation that I experienced my climate epiphany, one afternoon in the spring of 1989.
I don’t remember the name of the documentary we watched, or even the teacher who showed it to us, beyond his spectacular moustache and fondness for lessons on “bush survival skills.” But I will never forget the graph I saw on the screen that day: a lime-green line, superimposed across an image of the earth, charting the rise of global surface temperatures since 1960. The line went up and steadily up, fading into ominous red as it approached the 1980s. There was no violent up-tick at the end, like the “hockey-stick graph” that would feature in An Inconvenient Truth seventeen years later. Nor did the line end in the splayed fingers of alternative “shared socioeconomic pathways” like the graph in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report twenty-eight years later. It nevertheless made a deep impression on me.
It was clear, from that line, that we were all going to have to do something, very urgently, to get it to go back down again.
SOURCE: Frances Flanagan. “Climate Change and the New Work Order.” Inside Story, 28 February 2019.
Produced by the librarians at the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne, Australia