Dancing with Disaster—Kate Rigby
It is difficult to think of appropriate quotes when half the country seems to be on fire, human life and homes have been lost, vast numbers of people are being asked to leave areas of NSW and the loss of animal life is estimated to be 500 million – a figure I find hard to visualize especially as so many more animals are suffering horrendous burns and left without food. Whole ecosystems are devastated. Undoubtedly some will never fully recover.
I have chosen Kate Rigby’s book Dancing with Disaster, as the idea for this book grew from the Canberra fires of 2003, fires Kate describes as a “firestorm, a conflagration of such intensity that it created and sustained its own fierce wind system, at one point even generating a tornado of flame.” Dancing with Disaster, she writes, “ began its final passage from pen to print during Australia’s ‘Angry Summer’ of 2012-13 when temperature records toppled like trees in a forest being clear-felled.” Sound familiar?
The Power of the Stories We Tell Ourselves
“In a perilously warming world, the kinds of stories that we tell ourselves and our relations with one another, as well as with non-human others and our volatile environment, will shape how we prepare for, respond to, and recover from increasingly frequent and … frequently unfamiliar forms of eco-catastrophe” (p. 3).
Towards an Ecologically Informed Ontology
Our ontology informs our model of reality. Our epistemology is the knowledge systems we create on the basis of that ontology. Our axiology is the values systems we create on the basis of our epistemology. These three are the trilogy we must critically examine to understand the hidden ‘traps’ in our ways of thinking that have underpinned the way in which the mindset of modernity has led inexorably to the current environmental and climate crisis of our planet and human civilisation (Barbara Lepani).
I remain “committed to a modernist mindset even while despairing of its telos, by undertaking an ecologically informed postcolonial reconsideration of particular non-modern onto-epistemologies in order to open up an alternative, countermodern way of framing, anticipating, and responding to eco-catastrophe” (p.6).
Questioning Our Cultural Narratives
“It all depends, however, on how such calamities are framed. And, in my analysis, part of the reason for many people’s evident reluctance to ‘connect the dots’ as the activist organization 350.org puts it, lies in the continuing designation of these events as ‘natural disasters.’ Veiling the anthropogenic component of today’s weather-borne eco-catastrophes, the use of the term also conjures a cultural narrative that is liable to foster a hostile attitude toward the natural world at the very time when we most need to appreciate the connectivities, both material and moral, linking human well-being with that of other living beings and with those volatile bio-physical systems that both enable and, at times, endanger our collective flourishing” (p.13).
Reading Country—Understanding Patterns of Connection
“Aboriginal people discerned long ago that annual calendars are not much use when it comes to anticipating meteorological phenomena … and therefore look instead to patterns of connectivity linking the activities of plants and animals to changes in the prevailing weather conditions. The irregular climatic rhythms that they have learned to read so well, along with the ecologies that they helped to engender are changing. But indigenous ecological knowledge does not constitute a static database or toolkit, and such changes do not render it redundant. On the contrary, as a situated, dynamic and adaptive onto-epistemology, which recognizes other-than-human agency and interests, the limits of human knowledge, and the interconnections between human social relations and the more-than-human environment, it has acquired a new relevance in addressing the global problems of the Anthropocene” (p. 39 Chapter 5).