climate crisis
(Image: AAP/ Lukas Coch)

Getting to that point again, of putting an article together and mmmm-mmmm, doesn’t this Israel Folau thing look too good to pass up. The cultural left is tying itself in knots over whether a person of colour can be blamed for expressing homophobic opinions, or whether the missionaries dun it — which appears to be intersectional politics bending back so far that it becomes a form of noble savage-ism. Meanwhile, the right’s free speech war keeps coming up against private outfits restricting employees’ speech for commercial reasons. They can’t catch a break. If it’s not Big Sport with an eye to team cohesion, it’s Big Crowdfunding protecting its brand. Free minds free markets? Never mind.

But as I noted last week, that’s part of the cycle. Everyone wants in on something like Folau because the issue is a metonymy — the larger debate in miniature, capable of being surrounded, and easily comprehended. Who would fall for that? Oh Q&A, which slavishly gave itself over to the issue, including nominating a Christian right past candidate and activist as a “peoples panelist”. Pretty gutless, pathetic and stupid programming, all in all.

But you see, here I am, 200 words in, and still caught up in it, after having written last week about the news carousel. This carousel delivers newsy entertainment, one topic after another, reducing all to the same level of importance whether it’s the sudden thaw of permafrost — the clue as to why this matters is in the term “permafrost” — or the right of a sports authority to limit an employee’s off-field activities.

The solution to that is obvious, as I noted. Recognise the biosphere crisis as an existential threat that, despite its true character as such, lacks the immediate force of earlier, lesser threats. Treat it as the newspapers treated World War II — as something that is never off the front page, no matter how tempting other offerings. Find the stories about resistance, pushback and victory (as much as those about further crisis and defeat) and feature them. Have debates within the bounds of rationality — how much warming, what likelihood, how to achieve different transitions — and avoid the easy clown show of patient scientists versus the dwindling band of denialists. Express the relative importance of the issues, by the amount of space given over to them. And so on.

This is something any rational source should be able to implement. That doesn’t mean that all non-crisis stories should be shuffled to the back. Something like, say, Indigenous incarceration, is as deserving of being side-by-side with crisis stories. But not the contractual problems of a happy-clappy rugby chappie.

But as far as tackling the crisis — atmosphere? Biosphere? Crisis of life? — the media treatment of such only goes so far. The other side is what is to be done. Urging and enacting civil disobedience is worthwhile, indeed necessary, but it only goes so far. It will go in waves, hopefully each more comprehensive than the last, but there’s a point at which urging it can become a substitute for the action itself; a way of feeling one’s duty has been done. Most people are not willing to get arrested after a brief period of youth, or outside of the networks in which such actions occur. This writer would be willing to get arrested for any one of a number of things — if the action had some real heft to it — but nobody asks him.

But even if and when a new cycle of civil disobedience begins, the numbers committing it will be infinitesimal. A wider group is necessary, and the most likely group for that to come from is activists already organised around other activities. What far-left activists jokingly call “the primitive accumulation of members” (i.e. poaching other groups’ members ) is relevant here; the paradox that the person most likely to get involved is already involved.

The next level of biosphere crisis activists is going to come from those doing something else already. That needs to be a framework not in which one is required to be devoted, get arrested etc, but an arrangement in which one can turn up for an hour or two a week — week in, week out — to organise and be organised. What to do? To be part of 1000 smaller protests, continuous, everywhere, all the time. To do training in the basic facts of climate crisis, biosphere destruction, so that the vague and self-confident comforting arguments of “everyday denialists” — the “weather changes all the time” crowd, avoiding thinking about it — in everyday situations. To phone bank. To start fomenting climate strikes. And so on. Even here, we’re not talking about huge numbers. If 5% of people could be mobilised in this ongoing fashion, that would be 1 million next-level activists in Australia.

That is the sort of business that GetUp is in of course, but I wonder if this next-level movement has to be organised through more explicit organisations such as Greenpeace, The Wilderness Society, the Australian Conservation Foundation etc. Such a next-level movement needs to be directly focused on the steady and remorseless materialisation of a sense of crisis — resolvable crisis — that would demand the different sort of coverage that I’m arguing for above.

But mmmm, well who knows? On ABC Radio Melbourne Raf Epstein, subbing for Jon Faine, has started up post-AM and it’s “Israel Folau, has he been denied….”. Jesus. The only way to write about this is by analysing the pseudo-crisis that it is. Instead, we get donkeys led by the nose to the slaughterhouse muttering “free speech, free speech”…