The Widening Crack–

the cost of not acting on climate change.

The little flame in our forty-year-old wall furnace, the one that was supposed to hold tight, hang on and persist, was being extinguished, again and again. The pilot light had become unanchored, blown away and shut down. We were in lockdown, in a Melbourne winter.

We had been bunkered down in our homes on and off over the last two years. We had sat tight as we amassed days upon days of lockdown. At one stage, the summer came. We had mask-free beaches, we had open cinemas and bars.

But then, another Covid gust gutted us in 2021 and shut us back inside. Here we were, like a little pilot flame, buffeted and blown away but still holding out for better days.

I would walk past the heater to find that the fan was blowing cold air into the small home. Each time we re-lit the pilot light, it didn’t last long before it was gone. Still, we kept holding onto hope as we sat through the days of rising case numbers and deaths.

The gas technician (essential worker; exemption) was on his hands and knees on the ugly asbestos tiles, in amongst the dust and dog hair.

‘What is going on with it?’ I asked.

He told me there was a crack in the heat exchanger.

‘The fan is blowing the flame out through the crack,’ he told me.

As the crack in the metal widened under heat and pressure, the invisible and poison gas had been leaking into our lives. And if we used the heater, it would continue to do so.

Carbon monoxide. Ssssshhhhh. It will kill you.

Our gas wall furnace had become a liability. We were sitting ducks; canaries in the coal mine; a threatened species.

Trapped in our house, the impact of climate change played out in my mind: gases, leaking, poisoning, making our planet sick, turning our global home into a death trap. Some sceptics claim they cannot see it.

But carbon monoxide is odourless, invisible, unknowable–until you’re gone. Like carbon dioxide as it builds and blankets the heat in–until we’re gone.

Holding onto the light © Anna Sublet, 2021.

That winter, when the LNP were still in power, I remember Barnaby Joyce had raged about the cost of mitigating climate change. He accused those of signing up to net zero of not caring what the price might be.

‘Where’s the menu?’ He had demanded. ‘I want to see how much it will cost.’ For all he knew, he said, what turned up when he ordered off the menu might be ‘sautéed gherkins and sashimi tadpoles,’ clearly not what he had wanted.

But it seems to me that the cost of not acting doesn’t really bear thinking about. How much would it cost for us to not check our heater? How long would it take for the gases to overwhelm us, quietly as we slept?

The gas technician’s invoice came through for $264. He couldn’t fix it. You could buy a decent meal for that amount and while the cost hasn’t paid for a long term solution, we’re not dead, are we?

The old heater is no longer functional; it’s defunct, superseded–we need to invest in new technology. The old forms can’t sustain themselves, or us; we will be piloted by the forces of nature, of wind, of sun to keep us afloat.

Where the old wall furnace was, I’d like to really widen the crack, punch a hole through the bricks and put in a window. We could harness the sun into the darkness. We can’t stay bunkered down in this cold, dark house forever, nor on our island, burning gas and coal.

There is a light that never goes out, and the view to the north, to the world beyond, might sustain us. But we must act, hold on and keep hope alight.

Point Ormond Sentinel © Anna Sublet, 2021



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Anna Sublet

Curious reader and undercover scribbler. Published in The Guardian, The Age, Australian Traveller, Footy Almanac, The New York Times.