Sol Invictus

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Thursday, 4 September 2014


Melbourne sunrise.  Pic by Steve Davidson

When you consider the financial and environmental benefits, it’s unsurprising rooftop solar power has taken off around the world. Solar is sexy. It's also the grand narrative pantomime for our age, with Tony Abbott our local panto villain – his government is not behind you, nor behind the earth, for that matter. They’re behind the friends and supporters with links to fossil fuels who donated more than A$900,000 to the Libs in four years.

It’s unsurprising that the old guard, who stand to lose most from change, dig their heels in so. We are creatures who do not take kindly to change at the best of times. Our physiology is yet to catch up with our technology and our global connectedness, and our anxiety levels reflect that, as do our biases. Add megabucks in, and you can understand why their sight is so short and their ways so corrupted, though it may be hard to forgive them their blind stupidity.

The change that is to come must come from us, from the so-called leaners. As ever it’s always been.

Someone once said that cash is deceptive. It’s never quite enough to satisfy the particular discomfort that comes from living in this world where nothing is as safe as we wish it to be. Though it is hard to imagine, even Gina Rinehardt – who earned in 3.9 minutes today what I earned in the entire 2013 financial year – feels fragile living here too. Can you imagine living with such a level of hatred directed towards you? Of course you’d surround yourself, more and more, with gatedness, with the people of yes. And even if you’ve had money and power all your life, surely it doesn’t stop the 3am shadows nipping out from the dark whispering that despite it all, you still don’t feel safe. And if Gina and those like her are taking any notice of the still point our society is heading towards, they might just be feeling the nip of the pitchforks at their heels, too.

When your fortune is built on coal – or, for that matter, on newspapers, or on keeping a political party in office – the fear and addiction that comes with that power and success are the noise that drown out the signal that everything, and everybody, ends. (All good Buddhists, Taoists, and people who have watched Six Feet Under know this). The pendulum always swings. The world, Nassim Nicholas Taleb would suggest in his book Antifragile, becomes more fragile when we try and keep it from swinging, not less. Some of the mess we find ourselves in is because we simply don’t know when to stop meddling. We feel so unsafe, so we try to control what is required of us to let be. Sometimes, it is better to sit back, take a breath, and do nothing. Inaction is its own form of action.

Once, the stories we told ourselves about ourselves were limited and local and the ways we kept ourselves warm were the same. Forest wood and coal fared fine when used for household energy purposes. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution and the mass rise of industry that the extraction of coal got deeper and dirtier and required more than a bunch of people digging it out with picks.

Today, urbanisation and globalisation have stripped many of our old stories away, just like Mr Abbott’s counterparts in the Tasmanian government plan to strip away more of Tassie’s old-growth forests. The stories we tell ourselves to keep warm now are just as inclined to come from a culture from the other side of the world as from any remnants we are lucky to glean from our own, and if we do have a shared global story today it’s about unforseen climate shit hitting the fan along with long foreseen inequality. See the smog blocking out Beijing’s cityline? Gina dug that out of a hole from land her forebears didn’t even know existed 200 years before.

The problem with all the stuff that needs changing is that we see now like we’ve never seen before the impacts of our unintended actions. At the same time, this expanded view is delivered to us through increasingly fragmented shards of information. Our world’s health report is delivered to us as a whole glass globe made entirely of shards. This continual central nervous system rev-up makes it hard for us to distinguish the signal from the noise and know when to stop looking and start breathing.

Because we have so much to do, right? The way we do stuff is so wrong in so many ways. Ever thought about why, if you want to make big bucks, you can’t do it feeding the homeless? Or that money, invented out of thin air by our richest, is sold to us as a debt, and yet it’s so damn hard to come by? Or how for decades the IMF and the Wold Bank have bailed out the poorest in the world by selling them loans they could never afford to pay back? Or of how we already produce enough food to feed the world; it’s our systems of distribution that are the problem?

All that stuff is dirty, complicated mess, and combine it with all of that win/lose/leaner crap spoken from entitlement, it’s exhausting. We want to get away. We need to pan out a bit and get some distance and some silence. It’s been just over 40 years since our first photographic glimpse beamed back to us of a vision of the earth as a whole, in colour, from space. A beautiful blue, green and brown ball, swirly with clouds, grandly hanging, dammit, right in the middle of the air.
Pan up and out to that 1972 view and from here you see the potential for cohesion. It’s silent up here. Silence might be terrifying to us, in our noisy world, but there is strength in it and a peace once you get used to the agarophobia. Out here, we can believe that change is possible. And of course it is – it’s happening all over the place, if we can just distinguish the signals from the noise.

Out here in space, we can turn and see the sun ... actually, probably best not to frazzle your eyeballs off, so let's keep it metaphorical.  Up here, that damn sun couldn’t be more egalitarian if it was wearing a beret, chowing down on a croissant, and welcoming in the eight hour day. What is more egalitarian than the sun? Though Tony Abbott and his rich friends worldwide seem to believe it shines out of themselves, the fact is that the sun shines on the egalitarian and the oligarch alike. And while solar power is not going to solve everything, it’s a damn good and hopeful symbol of what's started.

If we are all made of stars, then what better way to fuel our lives than star energy? It’s 99% pollution free.
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