2019 wasn’t global protests and Fleabag: it was the year a climate truth bomb dropped | Brigid Delaney

Many of us suddenly woke up, stopped disassociating and realised the party was over

When I think about 2019, there is one scene that springs to mind, something that sums up the milieu so perfectly that it almost seems art-directed.

There we were two weeks ago at Rose Bay on the waters edge, waiting for a private boat to take us to a harbourside mansion for a wine tasting. It was one of those days when Sydneys air quality was among the worst in the world. The boat emerged from the pea soup gloom with the words VIP on the side.

We were all in our party dresses and chunky trainers, phones fully charged to maximise the Instagrammable location, only coughing a little bit although peoples eyes were red and I noticed some fellow guests pulling on Ventolin inhalers.

At the mansion there was a DJ, sommeliers and a chef, who explained in great detail the origin of the scallops on the canapes and a recent, inspirational trip to Oaxaca. Later there was a wine tasting where we gathered around to swirl and spit. Every varietal had notes of bushfire.

Various people wandered up to us and said great day for it! and beautiful weather without irony.

How could they say that? The sun was (there was only one word for it) demonic, a burning red eye in a thick smoky sky. The Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House were out there somewhere, obscured in a brown haze.

We stood near the pool, eating tiny food, drinking wine from large balloon glasses while ash flew from the sky, some of it landing in my drink.

The DJ played on but the tunes Tones and I, Mark Ronson were nervy, jangly and strangely discordant. The smell of the smoke had an almost chemical taint, and in between trying the pinot and moving on to the tempranillo, I wondered about the alchemy at work in this commingling of the elements: the ancient forests and its animals turned to columns of ash, collapsed and drifting through the air, settling on the water and soil; and later in and on my body after swimming in the dirty sea that morning and now swallowing particles of ash floating in my wine at the party on the harbours edge. (At the end of the world, my friend and I nervously joked.)

More wine was poured and more people commented on the great weather (except for a sommelier who confessed sotto voce that he felt afraid), and influencers posed in the gloom on the jetty and by the swimming pool, seeing but refusing to see what was all around them: this red-raw sun, that dirty brown sky.

The cognitive dissonance would have been funny had I not been so scared. It brought to mind F Scott Fitzgerald, a writer who understood more than most that decadent parties prefigure societal collapse. Had his novel The Great Gatsby been written now, the scene that day in Point Piper would not be out of place.

Returning to shore in the haze, we could have been excused for thinking we were crossing the Styx the mystical Greek crossing into the Underworld and in this heightened state the day seemed more than the sum of its parts. Instead it served as both an elegy for the lost world that had disappeared beyond the haze and a portent of the world to come.

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That is what 2019 has come to mean to me: not the landslide elections and the global protests and Fleabag season 2. But the year some undeniable bomb dropped and dispersed its truth all around us in the form of dark particles in the air that didnt just sit around us but entered our bodies in unholy communion, its fine matter an anti-sustenance that made us sick and afraid.

The truth bomb came in various forms: in the form of a girl (Greta Thunberg) whose eloquent rage finally caught the worlds attention and inspired millions around the globe to strike for climate action. The truth also came in the form of heat, smoke and fire.

Even then, some people tried to ignore it.

Ernest Hemingway had this famous line from his 1929 book The Sun Also Rises, which speaks to me of where things washed up in 2019: How did you go bankrupt? Bill asked. Two ways, Mike said. Gradually, then suddenly.

2019 is the year of suddenly. Many of us were shaken awake from our cognitive dissonance this year as our weather patterns and climate conditions become ever more extreme. When wine turns to ash in your mouth, you cant deny the new reality anymore.

Yet some still live in a land of cognitive dissonance: the lump of coal brought to parliament; the haze over the city obscuring the flashing Christmas lights; dead bats falling from the sky because their sophisticated and highly evolved sonar systems are overheating and confused; beekeepers being traumatised and needing counselling after hearing the sounds of animals screaming as they burn to death; new types of megafires devouring entire ecosystems; the NSW premier opening a new zoo during these megafires with a commitment to protecting wildlife; and the prime minister disappearing without a word about the climate catastrophe last seen boarding a business-class Jetstar flight bound for Hawaii; the Instagrammers posing on the jetty under the eye of Sauron, hoping that with the right filters, we can pretend the sky is blue.

Cognitive dissonance is natural it can make you feel safer, like the world is a more orderly, stable place than the reality, which is chaos.

The end of this year makes me wonder how much during the years prior we have been engaged in unintentional acts of disassociation and dissonance. Maybe we had to, to survive the barrage of nonstop news the dozen major scandals that emerge each week from Trumps White House, the way that Brexit is important, boring and confusing all at once. Its all too much so we just disassociate.

Its no wonder the hot illegal drug of 2019 ketamine is an anaesthetic, numbing your body and making you feel separate from your environment.

People disappear, aptly, into the k-hole, the chemical equivalent of our political situation. Like youre watching your own life happen instead of living it, said New York magazine, calling it the party drug for the end of the world.

But 2019 was in many ways, for many of us, Year Zero. It was the year many of us stopped disassociating, woke up and realised the party is over.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/19/2019-wasnt-just-protests-and-fleabag-it-was-the-year-a-climate-truth-bomb-dropped

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