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The Sounds of Summer: Why Jet Skis Make Me Cry

Monday, 2 February 2015  | Claire Dawson


I feel a maelstrom of emotions.

I am exasperated. Exasperated no one is listening.

I am frustrated. Frustrated we are not solving the problem.

I am anxious. Anxious that we start acting now.

I am perplexed. Perplexed that the urgency is not appreciated.

I am dumbfounded. Dumbfounded by our inaction.

I am distressed. Distressed we are changing our planet.

I am upset. Upset for what our inaction will mean for all life.

I am annoyed. Annoyed with the media’s portrayal of the science.

I am angry. Angry that vested interests bias the debate.

I am infuriated. Infuriated we are destroying our planet.

Associate Professor Anthony J. Richardson, Climate Change Ecologist


We live near the beach. Summers are generally lots of fun. Sure, the car and house get a bit sandy, but a family outing to the beach is a wonderful way to cool down at the end of a hot summer day. The kids can run, splash, build and smash as much as they like. It is great to have public places nearby where mess and frolic are more than acceptable. And during heatwaves, Frankston Foreshore becomes quite multicultural as folk from other parts of Melbourne seek out a refreshing dip in the ocean (though the Mornington Peninsula is otherwise still incredibly ‘Anglo’ in its ethnic mix). I’m getting used to pushing past the prolific litter after a hot weekend, and the crazy Aussies who bake all day in the sun despite all evidence pointing to this being an incredibly foolish and dangerous pastime. It can be frustrating, maddening and saddening, but such things don’t make me cry.

Having spent the past 18 months co-authoring a book on climate change however, and having consciously refused the constant temptation to turn away from this overwhelming and perplexing moral and spiritual issue, I find that jet skis make me cry. They’re easy to spot, bouncing across the bay, their wakes providing nice little waves for my kids to jump. At close range one can even smell the petrol fumes. And the constant revving of their engines is inescapable. The sight, the smell, and the sound all remind me of humanity’s ongoing willingness to choose self-indulgent pleasure over sacrificial love.

But I’m not meaning to just pick on some easy target of happy-go-lucky thrill-seekers—they are probably no less well-intentioned than most other Aussies. But it strikes me as symptomatic of, or perhaps some kind of metaphor for, our collective failure to appreciate a crisis that is not simply looming on the horizon but is already upon us. In that case, the notion that we can burn fuel at whim just for an afternoon’s fun seems to fly in the face of harsh realities—realities that will become only more obvious perhaps as it is too late to change course as a society. Are we still so captivated by our whole lifestyle package of indulgent consumption that future generations will undoubtedly look back on as a form of environmental vandalism?

Every day I read a new article about how the window of opportunity to take meaningful and effective action on climate change is closing rapidly. There is a growing consensus that 90% of Australian coal and US oil needs to be left in the ground if we are to have a decent chance of avoiding a global temperature rise of 2 degrees, and we’re not even half way to this artificial “limit” and are already seeing devastating climate impacts. Even if we were to find a way to achieve zero net emissions today we have already committed ourselves to more warming due to lags in the climate system. Each year the science becomes more and more certain, the consequential climate disruption now and into the future becomes more real and more worrying, and yet where I live people willingly, happily burn fossil fuels for fun. It does make me cry.

Through activism and research I have discovered a number of people whose commitment to climate action means strict veganism and a refusal of travel in personal vehicles (at least unless they’re electric). Such integrity and love inspires me. People do this because they care. They are thinking about their children, and their children’s children, and in their heart of hearts they have come to accept that they must make radical, sacrificial lifestyle choices for in an attempt to secure a safe climate for others. The contrast with our whole ‘jet ski culture’ couldn’t be starker.

These tears of mine represent sadness and contrition. They represent a deep grief, and perhaps even a growing anxiety. And more and more I am realising that I am not alone in feeling these things. Last December, Carolyn Ingvarson of Canterbury wrote a letter to The Age, saying,

I suffer from despair, verging on depression, at the legacy my family will face of the deliberate winding down of the renewables industry; I fume at the  propping-up of old greenhouse gas pumping industries, when everyone knows they are making us and the planet sick.

Jonathan Cornford in his timely Zadok Paper “Shaking the House: Being the Household of God in the Midst of Dangerous Climate Change” (S205 Summer 2014) writes:

It has taken me a while to admit to myself that I am now deeply fearful about the world that awaits my daughters as they grow up and begin to have families. There have been periods when this fear has had a visceral grip on my body, with sleepless nights, a tightening of the stomach and the heavy hand of depression.

Along similar lines scientists are now making an effort to communicate that they are scared. There is a website gallery containing photos of scared scientists. Some of them can’t sleep at night, and they all carry a tremendous burden of anxiety and fear. They know more than us, and they are very afraid. They are desperate to find ways to communicate that they are not making it all up. And what scares them more than climate science is the lack of appropriate and timely action. As Tim Flannery says,

The great thing about Scared Scientists is that it points out that the scary thing surrounding climate change isn’t climate change itself – but inaction. This is our final decade to slow climate change before it’s too late, and I think while that might be scary to hear, we need a little fear to get us moving and to accomplish what needs to be done.

Shouting into the wind can become a paralysing, painful vocation. Interestingly, some scientists, when asked to express how they feel about climate science, fail completely in actually answering the question and instead rattle off more facts about what is happening and projections as to what some of the consequences might be. Others manage quite well to convey their emotions, such as Associate Professor Anthony J. Richardson, Climate Change Ecologist who was quoted at the beginning.

Similar sentiments have been expressed by a range of scientists, particularly the fear and frustration, and the bewilderment. And many also express wonder and awe, and confess to feeling guilt as they actually enjoy aspects of their scientific discovery – discoveries that point to the reasonably imminent demise of human civilization, presuming we stay on course with a business as usual approach. Dr Allie Gallant (School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University) conveys her inner conflict:

I feel nervous. I get worried and anxious, but also a little curious. The curiosity is a strange, paradoxical feeling that I sometimes feel guilty about. After all, this is the future of the people I love. I get frustrated a lot; by the knowns, the unknowns, and the lack of action. I get angry at the invalid opinions that are all-pervasive in this age of indiscriminate information, where evidence seems to play second fiddle to whomever can shout the loudest. I often feel like shouting… But would that really help? I feel like they don’t listen anyway. After all, we’ve been shouting for years.

I hate feeling helpless. I’m ashamed to say that, sometimes, my frustration leads to apathy. I hate feeling apathetic. But sometimes I read things, or see things, from individuals, from communities like ‘1 million solar panels installed in Australian homes”, and optimism tickles.

And I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read Corey Bradshaw’s musings—among the 35 scientists who took time to share their feelings the Director of Ecological Modelling from the University of Adelaide certainly had no problems putting his finger on his emotions!

My overwhelming emotion is anger; anger that is fuelled not so much by ignorance, but by greed and profiteering at the expense of future generations... Human-caused climate disruption is not a belief – it is one of the best-studied phenomena on Earth. Even a half-wit can understand this. As any father would, anyone threatening my family will be on the receiving end of my ire and vengeance. This anger is the manifestation of my deep love for my daughter, and the sadness I feel in my core about how others are treating her future. Mark my words, you plutocrats, denialists, fossil-fuel hacks and science charlatans – your time will come when you will be backed against the wall by the full wrath of billions who have suffered from your greed and stupidity, and I’ll be first in line to put you there.”

Sometimes I make an effort to sit with my emotions, rather than pushing them aside, just like I try to face the facts rather than sweeping climate change science conveniently under the carpet. But it is hard, and often lonely.

I often wonder how the church might respond to growing numbers of people (inside and outside its “walls”) who feel a growing sense of climate angst. Will such people find hope, comfort and a listening ear? Will they find brothers and sisters who are willing to grieve with those who grieve? Will they find grace, and truth? Will they find a church offering some genuinely good news? Will they find people waiting patiently—and groaning earnestly—for all things to be made new?

Here’s hoping, for it seems humanity needs such a church right about now.


Claire Dawson is wife to Jonathan and mother to Sarah (age 5) and Micah (age 2). She currently works locally as the Careers Coordinator and HR Officer at Bayside Christian College and is awaiting the launch of A Climate of Hope: Church and Mission in a Warming World, co-authored by Dr Mick Pope. Claire is involved with the Langwarrin Vineyard Church and is co-convenor of the Frankston Climate Action Group.


Chris Bell
February 3, 2015, 6:21PM
While I agree with the sentiment in this article (and I HATE jet skis), its also useful to look at another phenomenon pf the last few years - the anti-immunization movement. Immunization is only of benefit to the community, with a small but not negligible risk to the individual. Lately an anti movement has grown, based largely on false science. Have the churches become involved? No, and the scientists have reacted just as described for climate science. We (and yes, I am one) don't know what to do when people react completely irrationally. And we cannot expect politicians to do any better. Understandably, they only want to please the public. It is long overdue for the churches to find their prophetic voices and tell things as they are, but who is listening any more? We are voices in the wilderness.
Byron Smith
February 4, 2015, 2:04PM
Thank you Claire for this beautifully written reflection on the crucial issue of how our hearts respond to climate change, not just our heads or our wallets. Deep feelings of fear, anxiety, guilt, rage, powerless and grief are far more widespread than generally realised or acknowledged. And the majority who may not have allowed themselves to fully open their eyes are not immune from these emotions, indeed, it is often the instinct that they lie just under the surface that leads us into patterns of denial and other maladaptive coping mechanisms.

"Interestingly, some scientists, when asked to express how they feel about climate science, fail completely in actually answering the question and instead rattle off more facts about what is happening and projections"

I am so glad you commented on this. I've seen many people link to and write about that website, and not one has pointed out the obvious fact - apparently, many of the scientists themselves cannot process their own emotions, but retreat into more science. Or, more charitably, they believe that the stats are so obviously and directly evocative of what they are feeling (and what others ought to feel) that they believe they *are* talking about their emotions by answering in that manner.

So thanks again for an excellent piece.

And well

Two tiny details.
1. "There is a growing consensus that 90% of Australian coal and US oil needs to be left in the ground if we are to have a decent chance of avoiding a global temperature rise of 2 degrees"
If by "decent chance" you mean 50%, then yes, that is what the recent study found. But I think gambling the future of the planet on a coin toss is indecent (at least). So if we actually want to preserve a better than 50% chance of staying under +2ºC relative to pre-industrial temps, then we need to leave considerably *more* than 90% of our coal safely underground.

2. "1 million solar panels installed in Australian homes” - I know this is not your quote, but it's worth keeping in mind that there are 1 million homes in Oz with installed solar power, but this is combination of solar PV panels, and solar hot water systems.
Byron Smith
February 4, 2015, 2:10PM
PS Coal mines make me cry. Weep. Rage. Pray. Act.

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