This post on a critical climate aesthetics builds on this one at the Encounter Studio’s photoblog in the light of what has been currently happening in the lower Darling River region. There is some background here about why the Darling River has run dry. The general consensus is that state and federal governments have allowed way too much water to be taken from the system by irrigated agriculture, such as Big Cotton in Queensland and northern NSW.
The idea of a critical climate aesthetics underpins my contribution to the Unknown Futures section of the upcoming Mallee Routes exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery in December 2019.
Over the last decade, scientists and humanists have renamed our current geological era the “Anthropocene” in recognition of the profound impact that human activities have had upon the earth’s crust and atmosphere. The argument is that the Holocene Epoch gave way to the Anthropocene Epoch in the mid-twentieth century, because of profound and lasting human changes to the Earth; and that there is no foreseeable return to the Holocene Epoch.
This argument would equate humanity with geological forces like glaciers, volcanoes, and meteors in the sense that the Anthropocene references an epoch in which humans are the dominant drivers of geologic change on the globe today. It wasn’t just drought that has caused the Darling River to dry up. The catastrophe was partly the result of human activity. This suggests that the Kantian sharp division between nature and culture or technology is no longer tenable.
As it is still early days in the project, it has no public profile (ie., there is no website) to inform people what is happening. However, a recent update on the state of play of the Our Waters project is on this blog post. This indicates that this photography is not what Rebecca Solnit calls eco-porn: photography that celebrate the ‘untouched beauty’ of nature associated with the nature tourism and calendars that view our land and rivers as a place of wildness and wilderness.
Lake Alexandrina, 2011
It is an opportune time to start such a project given the recent report on the ecological state of the Coorong by the Goyder Institute. The ecological condition of the Coorong has been steadily degrading since European “settlement” due to upstream water extractions, and the Millennium Drought was a major disturbance causing a rapid decline in condition. Whilst the relatively recent increase in natural and managed inflows to the Coorong through the Murray-Darling Basin Plan have improved the ecological condition of the North Lagoon, the ecological condition of the South Lagoon has not recovered, or it has continued to decline. As Mary E. White wrote in her Running Down – Water in a Changing Land (Kangaroo Press, 2000):
The continuing saga of the extraction of massive amounts of water from inland rivers to satisfy the escalating demands of the irrigation industry is Australia’s most serious, and ultimately potentially most disastrous water-related issue. It is a battle between two essentially irreconcilable attitudes to land use.
To speak plainly, the Murray-Darling Basin has been, and is being, managed to benefit the irrigators. Continue Reading…
When I was on the Balranald photocamp for the Mallee Routes project exploring the Yanga woolshed and homestead I noticed the dryness of the country was around the Murrumbidgee River that was caused by lack of autumn and winter rainfall, the protracted drought and climate change. As I drove through the Yanga National Park to the red gum forest at Woolpress Bend I noticed that the decline in rainfall meant that none of the little creeks (eg., Uara Creek) were flowing in and around the national park; the wetlands were dry and the trees in the floodplains were dying.I noticed that there were hardly any old mature River Red Gum trees–they’d been logged to fuel river boats, for fencing and other uses. This changed the structure of the forests along the Murrumbidgee River.
The evidence suggests that human-caused climate change is exacerbating drought conditions in parts of Australia, especially in the southeast (and southwest) part of Australia. My assumption is that as climate change is already here, so we need to brace for its impact, and to start learning how to adapt to a warmer world in south eastern Australia.
trees, Yanga Creek, NSW
The lower Murrumbidgee River was historically unknown for the richness of the floodplains due to the natural flow regimes from the melting snow in the Great Dividing Range in the spring. This flow regime has been modified by river regulation that includes building of dams and weirs, diversion of river flow by extraction, alteration of flows on floodplains with levees and structures to allow water storage. Continue Reading…