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  • Writer's pictureMillpost Merino

Millpost, Covid and Travel

The world has changed a bit since the previous MM blog, and the Australian Government has started taking COVID-19 seriously.

More importantly for Millpost, we had that wonderful fall of follow-up rain in early March and as a result of the rain combined with deliciously mild temperatures, we're seeing the kind of vigorous pasture growth that we haven't had for years. Our vegie gardens and fruit trees earlier suffered from heat and predation by grasshoppers, and we're still racing around trying to save our crops from birds and rodents. And grey aphids.

Some more rain would be good!

Self-imposed isolation does not affect our farm severely. Daily routines remain intact except there are far less trips off-farm. However, this week we received the alarming news from New Zealand that the arrival of our new shipment of yarn, including two new colours for the 2020 knitting season, is delayed until Design Spun comes out of forced hibernation, which might mean we miss the boat, both metaphorically and literally.

Well, at least it does come by boat. Even though shipping accounts for a mighty slab of climate-shifting carbon emissions, and there's lots of room for improvement, at least our yarn doesn't get air-freighted to Australia.

What do climate change and corona virus have in common?

If it wasn't for air travel, corona probably wouldn't have made a global impact, in fact it might not have ever left China.

If it wasn't for our obsession with flying, the ultimate form of consumption, we might have had a better chance of slowing down the effects of climate change.

Nevertheless this pandemic gives us a glimpse of how a lower-emissions future might work.

Granted, it's not just plane travel that has brought about mass destruction of our ecosystems and huge impacts on humanity.

But if there was one lifestyle choice we could eschew without causing suffering to human beings, it would be plane travel. Flying is the optional extra that has now become essential in countries like ours, where incomes are so high, and air travel so cheap, that nearly everyone can indulge with apparent impunity. Trouble is, it's the planet that is paying the true costs.

Air travel has now been reduced to a skeleton service. That's what it always should have been: humanitarian uses only. Medivac services like the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Evacuation from disaster areas. Water-bombing of wildfire before it spreads.

Because there are so many other ways to travel, which are better in so many ways! The trouble is, many have been sidelined by cheap air travel, such that, in Australia, flying can sometimes be the cheapest, rather than the most expensive, way to get around this big country.

As long as air travel is mainstream, rail transport will continue to be the poor cousin. The ocean-going passenger ships of the past have disappeared, to be replaced by cruising behemoths which are gigantism at its worst. And not very helpful in a global pandemic.

Cycling vs driving cars represents the same scenario. As long as cars dominate our roads, and fuel is cheap, cycling remains a relatively marginal form of mass transport.

The human obsession with travel goes deep and betrays our nomadic origins, which we may well be forced to return to, as agriculture becomes more risky and climate change destroys livelihoods. Wind- or solar*-powered travel can have a very low carbon footprint. Walking, cycling, sailing and riding horses (and don't forget carriage driving!) are popular active pastimes that help to protect us from heart disease and diabetes and other hazards of our sedentary lifestyle.

Systemic change is required.

David and I last got in an aeroplane in 1980, when we flew across Bass Strait to do our Permaculture Design Course. We don't feel like we've missed much.

Some people who are confined to quarters for a long period may even discover in a Damascene Moment that forced domesticity gives them all kinds of creative opportunities denied them in the past. There is so much to do at home if you can't buy everything. Edible gardening is the most obvious, tree planting the most urgent, but sewing and knitting, brewing beer or wine, building, raising animals and just exploring your own home ground come to mind. Composing music, making art, writing. Now's the time! There's plenty to write about.

In my previous piece I urged Australians to learn from the mistakes we made which led to the mass destruction of ecosystems. This morning Jonathon Green on Blueprint for Living (RN Saturday mornings) opined that the COVID-19 lockdown provides us with an “extraordinarily rare opportunity for social re-framing.”

Remember the old musical called: “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off!”? Well, now's our chance. Stop, reflect, consider the next step. Do we want to return to the fast pace of modern life, the stress, the struggle with work/life balance? Or can we choose a slower, kinder way of life?

*As in: powered by plants, which make their own food using sunlight and carbon. Animals such as horses, camels and humans are solar-powered.

Judith Turley 28/3/20


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