Even with months left to run in the Australian summer, things will, of course, return to some semblance of what we used to call “normality”: The heat will relent; it will rain, although probably not enough; winter will come. Then, before long, another catastrophe will be upon us. My hope, like the hope of many around me, is that these fires will be a catalyst for Australians everywhere—to permanent climate rage, and to an unceasing commitment to rapid, equitable, planetwide decarbonization. We are in the contest of our lives.
This moment in history is obviously an end. If we are industrious and lucky, it will be merely the end of the fossil fuel era, rather than of human civilization itself. Whether this moment also prefigures a beginning is up to us. What’s happening to our Earth is not normal and not acceptable. But resisting the temptation to merely recalibrate and go on as before will not be easy. By Monday of this week, as I came to start work on this piece, I pulled my laptop from its place on the desk in my room, where it had sat mostly undisturbed, near an open window, for days. The laptop was covered in ash. Smoke from the fires was still in the air, but I couldn’t smell it anymore.
I feel the same way as California stumbles from fire season to fire season.