Smoke From Afar – A Poem

NOTE: This poem was written at the height of the 2019-20 bushfires, inspired by Australian actor Ben Lawson‘s poem To My Country. It has since been turned into a book.

As I sit here in my office in China,
Most of my concerns tend to be quite minor 
Yet whenever I see my social media feed,
The news from home makes my heart bleed
Millions of acres of land burnt to ash,
People left without a bed in which to crash
Their weary heads, children forced to hide
On the beach or in the seaside
The brave firefighters working day and night
Underresourced, masks protect them might?
They’ve given away their daily pay
So Australians can live another day
 
Yet our government seems to run scared
From the idea that temperatures have flared
That our climate is changing
Our thoughts need rearranging
It’s no good to stand by the ore mill
Because this shouldn’t be the new normal
When thousands of koalas die
And traditionally solitary wombats shy
From their normal behaviour and share
Their burrows for the welfare 
Of other animals around the country
I don’t want us to be left with one tree.
 
While my family is fine on the West
I can’t say the same for friends or the rest
One mate had a fire nearly at his door
He lives in suburbia, he heard the fire roar
Another friend lives in Australia’s capital
She’s been wearing air masks, it’s tangible
Proof that the efforts of denialists hurt us all
Particularly when we have the wherewithal 
To create a better world for everyone
Reducing our emissions isn’t about being outdone
It’s about creating a future
For the more, not the fewer
 
When people say it’s the Greens to blame
We all know they are seeking to inflame
A situation so they can seek to profit
Or lobbyists fatten their wallets
While scientists provide reams of knowledge
In which policymakers take no solace
And the public scream for help
And politicians claim to hear no yelps
Of concerns from their citizens
Until they’ve lost their political innocence
But perhaps then it’s too late 
For them to advocate 
For any real change
As it might be strange
For a conservative to reconsider
On climate change, they can’t deliver
For too long they have loved oil and coal
They’d love to see it on a strippers pole

Others will say that we don’t emit much
But as a standard, that doesn’t say a bunch
If we were to compare to kids in a pool
Pissing 1.3 percent still makes us uncool
Is that truly the optimal moral standard?
Why not work towards a better answer?
If we stand outside with better behaviour,
It encourages others to avoid ethical failure
Australia had always supported our mates
Are our Pacific Island friends consigned to their fates?
 
So when I speak to my global friends,
From Colombia, from Italy, one from Dresden,
The Americans, the Brits, the Syrian and more
They all start with one question, they implore
“What’s wrong with your government?
What happened to their bushfire governance?
Why not look after the environment?”
With those questions, I am filled with embarrassment
We used to be an upstanding nation
Full of consideration
Proud of our administration
Providing our youth with inspiration
Acknowledging our obligations
Aware of the ramifications
Confusing people with odd abbreviations
Yet charming them with our celebrations
 
My Chinese friends and former students
Are aghast at the volume of Australian pollutants
They are used to seeing it in Beijing
But not in an Aussie spring
When the air quality in Sydney
Surpasses Beijing, Tehran, and Delhi
Then Australia has a problem
To which we need to get to the bottom
When the Chinese people don’t travel next week
To Australia, some towns won’t get back on their feet
Australians are buying air purifiers,
Something I never thought the cities would require
 
It’s time for real action
Not simpering to factions
The Murdoch press has whipped up the flames
Their climate change denialism is heavily to blame
While their editors claim they’re publishing many views
The majority knows the power they misuse
The claim that China will never stop using coal
Clearly, someone is out to troll
China and India are reducing emissions
Faster than Angus Taylor is doctoring submissions

Yet even once the fires die down
And our weary warriors return to their town
My nation’s concerns will not end
With ash washed into riverbeds 
The political bickering will not cease
As partisan point-scoring will simply increase
And Canberra remains in a stalemate
The next bushfire disaster will propagate
More conspiracy theories, more hatred
Leaving the population highly irritated
At the lack of action on climate change
And no imagination on economic rearrange
Ment that protects people and the country
While keeping our economy in the money
The focus on short term planning
Leaves Australia in a position damning
Of our global, economic and moral standing
In this way, Australians are demanding
A better government and more action
On climate change, no more distraction
The political party doesn’t matter
People want to see far less natter 
They want to see a vast improvement 
It’s not some left-wing conspiracy nuisance
 
So as I look out of the window of my Shenzhen office,
The air outside is not really nauseous 
In winter, the air can cause some concern
Rarely topping 250, no cause for heartburn
I’ve seen reports in Australia of cancelled pro sports
Smoke filled cricket pitches, darkened tennis courts
These were things I’ve seen in northern China
Australia is not supposed to be a climate pariah
So I constantly think of people back home,
I might not know them, but they’re one of my own
 
In these last few months, as Australia has burned
It has made me wonder, why’s ScoMo unconcerned?
Even when Rome burned,  Nero didn’t fiddle,
He returned to the city, not to be belittled
Yet in the middle of a bushfire disaster,
The Prime Minister pissed off faster
Than a muffin through a coeliac
Only once he started copping some flak,
When two firefighters died, he admitted
His family trip to Hawaii had omitted
The fact that Australia was burning
And the rest of his trip he was adjourning

Enough land in Australia has been destroyed
To equal North Korea devoid
Of trees, animals, plants, and life
Entire areas have basically been stabbed with a knife
Other towns have survived the fires
But no holiday business has hit their shires
At a time when the regions need the boost
No-one is travelling, their product can’t seduce
People from anywhere to come to try their stuff
In a faltering economy, everyone is doing it tough
Yet, the government wants to take more from them
And now, pollies offer platitudes and hope they succumb
 
So when I next get the chance to return
To the country I hope has recovered from this burn
I plan to visit some small country towns
To buy their products and stay in their grounds
For many of these places rely on you and me
Our presence will make their revival key
And put pressure on your local representative
Make sure that they know you’re not tentative
When it comes to action on our climate
Australia’s getting hotter, this isn’t to be quiet
Anything that can be done to protect the planet
Don’t be stone-faced like granite
Push for some actual changes
Else the fires cross the Great Dividing and Darling Ranges
The entire country will burn to a crisp
Generations will curse those that lisped
Their way to indecision
And there will be no opportunity for historical revision
To allow the Australian government to look brave
When they chose not to save
Future generations from climate change.

You can watch Ben Lawson’s poem here.

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