Avril at Romsey

… and Lancefield and Riddells Creek and Mount Macedon

Living in a “first-world” country

I went to bed at 6.30 pm last night. I wasn’t particularly tired, I didn’t think that I needed 12 hours sleep, but there just wasn’t anything else to do. The violent storm that had attacked the Macedon Ranges had brought down the powerlines and Romsey was without electricity. I discovered that everything I have here runs on electricity. Lights, stove, oven, fridge, microwave, tv, radios, computer, even my hot water. Although my heat comes from gas, and the gas comes from bottles that I buy every few weeks, the heater itself needs electricity to work. I do have a wood fire stove-heater thing, but I’ve never used it and I don’t have any wood for it. I did some reading by candlelight, but my house was so very cold that at about six I gave up, had a tub of yoghurt and an apple, and went to bed – under four blankets and a doona because my electric blanket was, of course, not working.

All this made me think about just how dependent I am on electricity. I could eat cold food, I could sleep, and the toilet was working. There was nothing life-threatening about my lack of power, although I can imagine that there are people on various machines for whom a lack of electricity could be deadly. But my life was not very comfortable without electricity, and I couldn’t do any work.

What does it mean to be so dependent on electricity? Apparently 80% of Australia’s energy comes from coal. And, as I wrote in one of my essays for Bossey: “Australia is in an unusual position, both perpetrator and victim of climate change, a country of the economic North and the geographic South. As an industrialised country, Australia is among the worst polluters of the environment. Australians are constantly told that we are responsible for “a mere 1% of global emissions,” without being told that we are one of the largest emitters per capita. Government ministers tell Australians that it would make no difference to global warming if Australia closed every power station it had, because China would create the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions in ten months, forgetting to mention that the average Chinese person produces 15% of energy-related emissions of the average Australian.” (If you want the footnotes the whole essay is available on the Lacuna Group website.) So, my extreme dependence on electricity contributes to climate change. I’m not happy about that.

My other experience of Australia as a “first-world country” came when I went to see a doctor here in Romsey. I had very bad pain in the left side of my chest. Because of where it was there was a very, very slight chance that I was having heart problems. So over the course of two hours I had blood tests, urine tests, chest x-rays and an ECG. Everything was clear, and I was finally diagnosed with inflamed cartilage around my ribs. I was glad that I had a chest x-ray. When I told my mother I had unexplained pain in my chest she panicked, because that was the way my step-father’s journey to his death from mesothelioma began – with simple, initially inexplicable, pain in his chest. It was good to be able to ring Mum and tell her that I’d seen the x-rays and my chest was completely clear. But two and a half hours of tests, all paid for by Medicare, because there was a slight chance that I was having a heart attack? Given the number of people who die throughout the world of completely preventable illnesses, and even the number of remote communties in Australia that are without doctors, how can I justify the time and energy and medical skill that was spent on me? I think there is something wrong with the way I live my life, or with the way that I, as a middle-class white Australian, am encouraged to live my life. And I’m not sure what to do.

 

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June 28, 2007 - Posted by | Life, etc.

3 Comments »

  1. Peter Singer’s answer might be to give away more of your money — whatever qualifies as a luxury — to a reputable NGO, such as Oxfam. I heard him speak on the subject at Melb Uni recently and it was more persuasive, challenging and deeply ethical (dare I say Christian) than any sermon I’ve heard in ages. Here’s an earlier version of his argument: http://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/singermag.html

    As for your environmental impact (when the power is on), here’s an inspiring example of a Canberra household (Hilary and Bruce, friends of Brendan’s) trying to be carbon-neutral: http://acarbonneutralyear.typepad.com/

    And of course, what advantage you have as an educated citizen of a relatively free country (in a position of leadership and influence): the freedom to agitate for change!

    Comment by Olivia | June 28, 2007 | Reply

  2. P.S. As for your use of the health budget, I’ve struggled with this dilemma myself. (BTW, I went to emergency with chest pain recently — at the insistence of Nurse-On-Call — and they didn’t do any of those tests. And they say rural health is under-resourced!) Doctors have a degree of discretion in the tests they order and patients are entitled to ask the purpose of tests and procedures. Medicine and medical training should be more evidence-based: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/healthreport/stories/2006/1735075.htm
    http://www.abc.net.au/rn/healthreport/stories/2006/1740986.htm

    For the time being, at least, I don’t think we need feel bad about using public funds for legitimate reasons like health. (What’s the alternative: risk having a heart attack? To what end?) It’s great to acknowledge how incredibly lucky we are to have public health, but also that health care is a human right and everyone should have it. (Looking forward to Mike Moore’s new film, SiCKO.) I think we should all use Medicare (and social security, public schools, etc.) so we have a crucial, personal stake in them and resist the two-tier path of private health insurance.
    Sure, the health budget is limited, but that’s a choice to the extent that we as a nation fund other things like warships, or choose not to tax more progressively.

    Comment by Olivia | June 29, 2007 | Reply

  3. well avvers,

    at least you realise the world’s in a mess. there’s a whole lot who think it’s fine and don’t take/feel any responsibility!!

    Comment by Rosie | July 2, 2007 | Reply


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