a change in time

musings on behavioural change – the small stuff and the big stuff.


The uncontrollable variables

Have you ever heard a combination of words, and thought, that would make a good name for a book, or a film, or maybe a band? Back in the eighties, this thought must have gone through the mind of Peter Webb, my late husband, as this is what he called our band.

The Uncontrollable Variables, from left to right: Peter Webb, Margot McCartney, Richard Holt, Ruth Williams and Gerard Rowan

At the time, and over the years, I have often secretly thought it was a rather unusual choice for a band name. Maybe it’s the reason why we didn’t become famous, or maybe that was because we were ahead of our time. (Allow me a bit of delusional thinking!)

In recent days, or years, I have rethought my response to the name. When I originally asked Peter what it meant, he would say, it’s an economic term. And I would nod, knowingly, not understanding at all. In case it’s new to you, here is the definition:

The variable in an experiment that has the potential to negatively impact the relationship between the independent and dependent variables. “The issue of uncontrolled variables often occurs in relation to problems with correlation and causation. This, therefore that, is not always true.

I’m not sure how Peter would feel about me transposing the name of his band over to the current discussion of climate change and what we oughta do. I hope he is smiling. The band name lives on!

I’m guessing it doesn’t take much thought to realise how I have linked climate change and ‘the uncontrollable variables’.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about what to write after my last blog, 7 months ago.

Since then, we have attended two of the marches organised by the School Strike for Climate group, in March and September. A lot has happened since the original strike in November last year. The numbers of people attending has grown exponentially.

Sitting on the verge in Treasury Gardens, on the 20th of September, amongst the tens of thousands of people who came together to show their support for the students, one can’t help but be moved.

Extinction Rebellion, which only formed at the end of October last year, has grown to be a worldwide movement in less than a year.

Greta Thunberg has become, even more so, the voice of a generation. (She now has 7.3 million followers on Instagram.)

And Ruth Williams? I have pulled back from social media, even though that is the stage on which we are encouraged to perform.

The photo of The Uncontrollable Variables taken at the Clifton Hill Organ Factory in the early eighties, is the only photo we have of the members of the band.

In recent times, I feel that my life is being stolen from me. I’m not sure if it’s big data or the seemingly constant expectation to share one’s life, or an existential fear of whether we can create a future that will rectify Greta’s assertion that:

The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: we will never forgive you.

I was going to use one of the images of ‘angry Greta’ from her speech at the UN Climate Action however, this is the latest photo she has shared of herself so I have gone with this one.

I’m not ready to join Extinction Rebellion but I am ready to rebel.

My current gospel is ‘Climate: A New Story‘ by Charles Eisenstein. He says many things that are worthy of being included here but it’s probably better if you read the book yourself.

One of the things he says rang true with me even more so today than it had previously:

“If everyone focused their love, care, and commitment on protecting and regenerating their local places, while respecting the local places of others, then a side effect would be the resolution of the climate crisis. If we strove to heal and protect every estuary, every forest, every wetlands, every piece of damaged land, every coral reef, every lake and every mountain, not only would most drilling, fracking, and pipelining have to stop, but the biosphere would become far more resilient too.”

It really does serve as an empowering antidote!

Why today? I went further north, upstream, with Graeme Hamilton, from Darebin Creek Management Committee, as my guide. He showed me river red gums that are between four and eight hundred years old. We visited sections of Darebin Creek that are so unique and so much in need of our love, care and commitment.

My heart was broken and opened at the same time.

This river red gum lives in Parkhill Crescent Reserve, Millpark. It has been tested as being 800 years old. It is one of the lucky ones that has managed to survive the spread of the housing estates.

And being an Uncontrollable Variable seems to take on more urgency.

Dr Samuel Alexander in his paper, The Rebellion Hypothesis: Crisis, Inaction and the Question of Civil Disobedience’ states:

As the broad ecological crisis intensifies, and collapse situations become more common, challenging and disruptive, I have argued that more and more people will face psychological tipping points and become engaged in collective action. At some point, tolerance of ecocide will become intolerable.”

Some ecocide happening in our backyard. Artichoke thistle is spreading silently along and around the creek. A new housing estate will follow soon.

While Extinction Rebellion stage their events around attracting the attention of the media, you will find me down at the creek. There might not even be one photo taken.

Don’t get me wrong, I encourage their rebellion, and admire their willingness to be arrested and go to jail. Rebel for life! They, and we, are the uncontrollable variables.

Rebel for Life at Flinders Street Station. Courtesy of Extinction Rebellion.


Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?

Do you remember this game? The call-and-answer goes like this:

Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? Ruth stole the cookie from the cookie jar. Who me? Yes you! Not me! Then who?

It seems appropriate to choose the title of a children’s singalong game for this blog. I feel compelled to write about the current groundswell of young people protesting against the lack of action being taken on climate change by governments and corporations around the world.

This caricature of Donald Trump and his cronies is along the lines of where I’m going with this analogy, however as the above rhyme reveals, I have also had my hand in the cookie jar.

On the 10th of February we attended an event at the National Sustainable Living Festival entitled ‘Schooled: Students striking out for the climate’. We wanted to listen to what younger people had to say about the state of the environment and whether they felt there were any cookies left.

The four speakers were: Marco Bellemo
Northcote High School, VIC, Yr 12
Jean Hinchliffe
Fort St High School, NSW, Yr 10
Harriet O’Shea-Carre
Castlemaine Steiner School, VIC, Yr 9
Jagveer Singh
Hoppers Crossing Secondary College, VIC, Yr 12 graduate

We were interested to notice that there was a greater proportion of adults in the audience than students. This was particularly apparent in the Q&A at the end, where it seemed like those asking questions, mainly adults, were more intent on getting across their agendas. The MC pointed out that we were there to listen to what the students had to say on this topic.

The ‘issue’ that stood out most for me is kind of obvious, and yet it hadn’t really hit me until I was sitting under this dome on Birrarung Marr. The students are not eligible to vote and yet it is their future that we are currently messing with. A member of the audience wanted to know how we can help support them. All students agreed that the first thing we can do is to show up to the next student strike on March the 15th.

Taken in Melbourne at the school strike on November 30th last year. (Photo credit, Julian Meehan) The article in which this photograph appeared is worth a read: https://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/climate-change/unions-back-next-school-strike-in-australia-ahead-of-2019-federal-election/news-story/50dcdc9aae668636129232bdc0518841

Jean Hinchliffe, the representative from NSW, cited Greta Thunberg, a 15 year old Swedish student, as her inspiration for organizing the march in Sydney. There is definitely something about Greta that causes one to feel inspired, and I’m saying that just from following her on Instagram. Interestingly, Greta’s first few posts attracted an average of 600 ‘likes’. After being interviewed by the Australian edition of the Guardian, that jumped to 10,000. Following on from her TED Talk and being interviewed by a range of different media outlets, her posts now attract up to 90,000 responses and hundreds of comments.

Australian readers will appreciate this post! The students commented on how pleased they were that the Prime Minister had responded, firstly because it meant he was taking notice, and secondly, that being told to stay in school just made them want to go on strike even more. Jean also mentioned that after seeing how committed the Australian students were to getting their voices heard, Greta was re-inspired to keep going.

On Tuesday night we joined a full house at Cinema Nova in Carlton to see Youth Unstoppable, one of the films being shown at the Transitions Film Festival. The film was directed by Slater Jewell-Kemker. Shot over eight years, starting when she was just 15 years old, Jewell-Kemker documents the highs and lows of the Youth Climate Movement. We were left with much to think about. One thing that struck me was the involvement of young people from many countries around the world. Jewell-Kemker noted how difficult it was to keep the faith, and that many of the friends she had met along the way had dropped out of the movement, although a handful have remained committed throughout those years. It’s hard enough for adults to keep up the energy and determination required for this level of activism.

Jewell-Kemker photographed with Mike Moore at the Traverse City Film Festival. Other well known Americans have put up their hands to support Jewell-Kemker. One is Adrian Grenier, the lead actor from Entourage, who came on board as an executive producer, declaring, “Young people these days aren’t waiting. They have access to the facts on climate change, the intelligence to understand our negligence as adults, and the platform to stand up and speak out.”

The three person panel assembled for the Q&A after the screening consisted of a representative from United Nations Association of Australia, Graham Hunter, the climate change program manager, as well as a representative from the Youth Climate Movement, and a young woman who had attended many of the UN Climate Change conferences but was now working for an environmental group. This time the audience was mainly populated with younger people. It was interesting to see Marco Bellemo in the audience. We had been impressed by his views and his ability to share them eloquently when we saw him speak at the ‘Schooled!’ panel earlier in the month. His question cut through the ‘feel good’ mood that was in the air.

Marco Bellemo poses with his sign at last year’s school strike. It states clearly what he stands for. On Tuesday night he wanted to know why many environmental groups shied away from declaring that what we are facing is a climate emergency. All members of the panel agreed that it was an emergency but felt that to use such a word in the public arena would panic people, which would make it harder to create change.

George Monbiot, in an article about the student strikes, published in the Guardian on the 20th of February 2019, asserts, “Drawing on the successes and failures of the past, we must help young climate strikers to win their existential struggle. This one has to succeed. It is not just that the youth climate strike, now building worldwide with tremendous speed, is our best (and possibly our last) hope of avoiding catastrophe. It is also that the impacts on the young people themselves, if their mobilisation and hopes collapse so early in their lives, could be devastating.

Many of the issues that people feel passionate about have resulted in street marches and other forms of protest. These marches are a dramatic way of showing that ‘the people united will never be defeated’. And while the excitement and media coverage of a march is likely to fade out sooner than the organisers might hope, the challenge is to refuse to give up. Such complex matters will require many more marches and greater levels of action. It’s not alright for my generation to consider passing on the baton. Everyone is needed for this chapter of our history.

We were all young once and many of us were passionate about a range of causes. The first march I attended was in 1979 in Melbourne, it was to ‘Reclaim the Night’. I took along my camera, taking photos of the streets filled with protesters holding their banners high. The night felt reclaimed, at least for a short time.