Beata works as a qualified primary school teacher, a councillor for drug and alcohol addiction and a farm caretaker for organic olive grow.
The social distancing had eased but kids were still out of school.
They had just moved in before the pandemic began.
“I know the facts Mum, I just want to know why.” Ten year old Mat was pestering his mum
whilst thumping the ball against the wall.
“Go ask Sally next door and leave me be,”
I heard his mum say: “She is the teacher not me. And stop that noise before you wake up your brother.”
“Stop nagging me,” he shouted back, leaving the house and banging the door behind him.
I came outside to see Mat sitting on my front step bouncing the ball.
“You want to go for a walk?” I asked as I passed him and started to walk down the road.
He followed me grudgingly: “I hate my Mum, and my little brother is a spoilt brat. When I grow up I want to be rich, so I can live as I want and don’t need to listen to anyone.”
I nodded and passed him a mandarin: “Nice and sweet from my garden. Plenty of them this time of the year.”
“They are very small with pips. I don’t like those. The ones that my Mum buys from the shop are better.” He shook his head and asked: “Where we are going?”
“What did you ask your Mum that annoyed her so much?” I asked instead, as I kept walking.
“Are greenhouse gases that bad?” Mat looked up at me: “I finished my online science lesson today about the climate changes you know, but..”
“But my mum doesn't care.”
“Your mum has her hands full with your brother, and your Dad still works at the mine, right? Is he sending money?
Mat shrugged: “I think so, yep. I spend the weekend with him when he is around. He has a new bike you know. He's loaded from working at the mine you know. I'll be a miner too when I grow up.”
We reached the end of the road where three paths opened up in front of us.
“Which way do we go now?”
“You choose,” I replied: “Have you been on any of these paths before?”
He shook his head, so I explained: “To the left we go to the bush. To the right we go to the mine where your dad works. The path in the middle leads..”
“I want to see where dad works.” Mat turned right. I followed him. Soon enough, everything around us changed to grey. The soot covered everything like fresh fallen snow. We reached a fence, peering through it at the huge trucks being loaded with coal.
“The main gate is another ten kms away. The mine is huge, you know.”
Suddenly Mat ran across the street to a house.
There was a big mural on its front wall - a colourful caricature of our prime minister hugging a big chunk of coal. Underneath was message: “Stop dirty power in Australia.”
“It is pretty dirty,” Mat murmured, looking around at the half dead trees. He banged himself on the head: “Coal is one of the biggest emissions of greenhouse gases, isn't it?”
“Is our prime minister bad?” Mat asked.
“Let's go back before we choke on this black dust. I'll give you the answer to your first question, ok?” He nodded.
Mat jumped in: “Yes, I know. The energy from sunlight is trapped by greenhouse gases. The result is an average surface temperature of 15C. Warm enough for open
“Can you imagine the temperature on Earth without the greenhouse gases?” I asked him because he loved guessing.
“it would be -20 C. I chat online with Sam who lives in Alaska. It is normal for them you know.”
“Very close. -18 C. But your friend’s Alaska freezes only in winter, right?
We walked quietly for a while. I could see our crossroads in the distance again: “Now just imagine the steady rise in carbon dioxide - doubling it, would bring about warming of the average surface temperature to 20C.”
“That's not hot!” Mat exclaimed.
“Hot enough for hot seas and high oceans without ice, and a dried out salty, hot biosphere.”
“Are we there yet?” he asked, noticing the crossroads too.
“We are close enough.”
“Then our prime minister is bad for hugging that coal that is warming our earth, right?”
We came to the crossroads and I replied: “Every leader has a choice - to be a short sighted leader, securing his power and money, or a long sighted leader. That will probably cost him his seat eventually because the coal lobby is powerful in Australia, and they secured his seat initially. He's looking after his own interests and keeping the public happy with enough money in the treasury.”
“What is more dirty? Politics or coal?” he asked, scratching his head.
“That is the one million dollar question, my boy. I'm sure that no one in politics will answer.”
Mat continued on, reaching the left path. We came to the abandoned farm with the big salty patches and broken reticulation pieces. A few skeletons of what looked like avocado trees stood about. At the back, the earth was black from the last wildfire but green shoots were visible among the scorched trees.
Mat sat among the salt patches and said: “I know this is called salinity.” Then he turned to the burnt bush: “The Aboriginal elder who visited our school said the fires are good for Australia. The land just has to be managed throughout the year so that it doesn't get out of hand like this year's fire, hey?”
“It is dead here without trees,” I sighed: “You know, they cleared the forest here for farming a hundred years back - not realising that the trees pump water vapour into the atmosphere far better than the empty land does.”
“Trees also trap the carbon dioxide and now we have a warmer atmosphere than ever before.” he said.
“You know a lot,” I said admirably, lying back and looking at the clouds floating above: “As greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere, its humidity changes. That affects a lot of things. Look at these fluffy sheep. What do you think? Do they lower or raise the temperature?’
He lay down, chuckling: “Most clouds raise the temperature. It is always warmer before the rain, my Mum would say. Do you what? She didn’t know that water vapour like carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. That is year three stuff.”
A little caterpillar was on my sleeve
“You see even this tiny caterpillar is divided into millions of cells...
The conditions in each of these cells depend on the conditions in its neighbours above, below and to the sides - as well as its own history. It is the same with our earth and us.”
“I get it. With the greenhouse gas, it is like with the antibiotics that I had to take when I was sick last time. The doctor told me to take one tablet every six hours for fourteen days. If I took only one tablet, it would not work and if I took all of them at once, I could die.”
“Precisely Mat. You need balance in everything.”
We stood up and Mat ran to the crossroads: “One more road to take - the one in the middle.” He kept running. I caught up with him at the water's edge. I stood next to him, looking out at the endless ocean: “This is where our life started, millions of years back. We cam predict the weather - observing how it stores, moves and releases heat that shapes the climate on earth.”
“I know about climate change and oceans,” Mat said proudly: “In warmer oceans, it's harder for the nutrients to rise to the surface. This reduces the ability of plankton to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In turn, more heat reaches the bottom of the ocean and makes the environment uninhabitable for marine life.”
“Yes. You're right, Mat,” I took his hand as we walked slowly back home: “Life as we know it, began millions of years back in the first ocean.
In warmer climates, fresh water reservoirs dry out. Our planet Earth may be the first one to disappear."
“Maybe I need to become a scientist to help save our climate and our oceans,” Mat said seriously: “Do you still have that mandarin in your pocket?”
I passed it to him: “It is all natural you know, taking time to grow as it should. You take only a few, leaving the rest for other creatures that feed on them too.”
“Do you think I could plant the pips to grow my own tree in our backyard?” Mat turned to me, before disappearing into his house.
“Of course. You can grow many types of fruit and vegetables. But also natural plants to bring back the vegetation of this region, you know.”
“Maybe the bugs will come back then too. We don’t have many here you know. It's just half dead lawn here. Thanks Sally.”
When I was opening my door, I heard him shouting in his house: “I am going to grow my own mandarin tree. Sally gave me the seeds.”
“You said that you don’t like Sally’s mandarins. That you like the ones from the shop. Go and wash yourself now .”
“They are all natural and good for you Mum. And good for our environment, you know. How else can we help to stop global warming?”