A new collection of essays by acclaimed Australian writers shows there is plenty of reason for both hope and despair in 2020

  • Fire Flood Plague: Australian Writers Respond to 2020, edited by Sophie Cunningham. Viking, $29.99.

On the surface there's not much to celebrate. But there have been positives arising from the challenges faced by society this year. And it's important to reflect on what has passed, how it has affected us and how we might move forward into a more equitable and sustainable future.

Author and editor, Sophie Cunningham, has collated an excellent book of essays entitled Fire Flood Plague to facilitate a probing and philosophical exploration of the issues faced in 2020. The collection brings together a diverse array of personal, reflective and cautionary writings from highly acclaimed Australian writers.

Billy Griffiths reminds us of another plague - one that occurred during colonisation of Australia, wiping out over a million Indigenous people. John Birmingham points out that we live in "an immensely privileged dominion occupied by a small number of deeply selfish people, suddenly confronted with the consequences of inaction (on climate change)". Joelle Gergis, a climate scientist from The Australian National University, discusses the trauma and grief she lives with each day in knowing what is to come.

Historian Tom Griffiths points out the link between the crises that have defined 2020 - the potentially irreversible impact of the Anthropocene - the Age of Humans - with over-population and rapid resource consumption. Sophie Cunningham looks at the appalling management of the Murray-Darling river systems on which so much of our food production depends.

But it's not all negative. Melissa Lucashenko reflects on the rapid action and solidarity among Indigenous peoples to prevent coronavirus infections in their communities. Jennifer Mills praises the networks of mutual care among neighbours during lockdowns around the globe. Jess Hill elucidates her appreciation for lockdown's gift of time that allowed her to reflect on her pre-COVID life and consider how we might live more effectively and compassionately. Kim Scott recalls, with mirth, the hysteria over restricted toilet paper supplies in supermarkets. Rebecca Giggs celebrates the opportunity to reconnect with nature during lockdown.

The good news is that Tim Flannery still believes we can take action to salvage our future, but we must do so quickly and immediately. We know what to do. We've shown we can make extensive, instantaneous change during this pandemic. So, let's do it.

While some readers may not want to relive the trauma of bushfires and COVID, there is much reason for hope in this book and a recurrent call for unity and action.

  • Karen Viggers is the author of four novels set in Australian landscapes. Her latest book is The Orchardist's Daughter.
This story Hope and despair, with fire, flood and plague first appeared on The Canberra Times.