The ClientEarth Forum, Sydney
Bless the Australians - 600 or so of them come out on a blazingly sunny Sunday afternoon of a holiday weekend, and pay $40 a head to attend a three-hour forum on the environment at the Opera House.
The lady next to me is 85. She's come along after reading James Thornton's article in the Sydney Morning Herald</span>. Her bag is filled with one intelligent tome and she tells me of others that she feels are related to what James was writing.
For now she is spry, but she quite reasonably wonders about dying. How do you do so in a way that has no negative impact on the environment? How do you avoid taking up reserves better deployed for caring for others? In essence it's a question about euthanasia, which I've never before thought of in environmental terms. The best I can come up with is natural burial, citing my own mother's funeral, buried in a wicker coffin in a woodland meadow.
James Thornton and Brian Eno share the stage for the opening round, part of the Luminous festival Brian is creating. The link between them is that Brian is the patron of James's environmental charity, ClientEarth.
I enjoy the pairing, and the elegance and lucidity of James's approach. He has been building up a creative head of steam in the days before, and it is good to view the ease with which this creativity flows. James is my partner, so my attention is partial. I listen to sighs of appreciation from the crowd as his speech takes in flights of understanding.
After forty-five minutes a team of environmentalists emerges from behind the backdrop. Anais Berthier has flown in from the ClientEarth Brussels' office, while others on stage represent Australian science, environmental law, the young, the indigenous. After a lawyer introduces her organization as twenty-five years old, Steve trumps her with his aboriginal background to claim one of the day's biggest laughs: 'My organization is 60,000 years old'.
The lady beside me had been listening to James' tale of the life cycle of the leaf, the tree, and the forest. We pay most attention to that short cycle of life, the leaf - but need to move out attention to the longer one that accumulates all experience, the forest. 'I want to die like part of the forest,' she says. ('The young' have their own representative on stage. I feel my lady should be up there too, some voice for the elderly, some wisdom drawn from many years of radical living on this planet.)
Each panel member has their say, latterly in response to audience questions. I'm interested in how the creative arts meet current challenges so wrote down a couple of Brian's statements. 'Art lets you experiment with other worlds and other realities in a non-risky way - you can switch it off,' he suggests. 'We don't come from A culture any more, but many many different cultures. All of us come from many different cultures, an important first step. We need to agree, in some respects, to be part of the same culture together.'
But of course, being part of the same culture doesn't require simply acceding to the commonly held view. Anais spoke lucidly against the nuclear industry, attacking the moves for commercial gain from nuclear profusion being promulgated by her native France. Her comments drew cheers and applause - clearly nuclear is the bete noir of the Australian environmental movement. Brian dared to be a lone contrary voice, saying something might be gained from nuclear. Members of the audience bayed at him. Brian was posing the need for a nuanced discussion (another part of Brian's NGO work is opposing nuclear proliferation). I like his call for 'nuance' in discussion - and have found myself adopting the word.
So out we step into the sunshine, and the neighbouring botanical gardens where flying foxes roost in the trees. They're thinking about culling these fruit bats, because there aren't enough trees to sustain their population and they're killing off the few trees that are there. What's wrong with planting more trees as an alternative policy, I wonder? We're so intent on managing the planet, viewing its constituent elements as 'resources', that we often forget to listen to it. This forum, a fusion of alert and engaged people, was a good reminder to slow down and listen some more.
(Here's a link to an ABC radio broadcast featuring James and Brian)