Normality, habitat, climate change.

Second Encounter: gardening

Version Four.

Placard: THREE YEARS LATER. A driveway somewhere in leafy Auckland suburbs. Perhaps a garden fence as background. A couple of wooden garden chairs or stools, a wooden outdoor table. Perhaps a shade umbrella. Perhaps a gardening workbench, some pots or planters to simulate a garden. Preferably parsley, rocket, thyme, rhubarb, Swiss chard, onions.

No-one on stage.

(TINA enters from off left, followed reluctantly by SOPHIE, fashionably, but somewhat immodestly dressed and made up, who hangs back. Both girls are pushing bicycles and park them stage left. They walk somewhat uncertainly across the stage, SOPHIE waits, looking around uncertainly, while TINA exits right. Groan-squeak of a screen door opening from off is audible, and then someone knocking on a door with a heavy door-knocker: clunk, clunk, clunk. Pause.)

(from off-stage right, from the wings) Hallo-ooooh! Anyone home?

(Pause. GRANDPA, wearing a bright red hooded rain-jacket, camo cargo shorts, walking shoes, and dark sunglasses, enters from left, walks towards SOPHIE, and tries to step past SOPHIE, who blocks and flashes a dazzling smile. GRANDPA does not recognise SOPHIE.)

Hey there! How's it going?

Good. Whassup? I'm not often accosted by young women on my doorstep.

(TINA re-enters from right, shaking her head.)

Oh, THERE you are, Grandpa! You remember my friend Sophie?

What? Oh! Of course! Hello, Sophie, nice to meet you again.

Well, you two have a seat, I just need to pop inside, and make some tea for you both.

Yes. Sure. Herbal, please, Grandpa.

(GRANDPA goes into the house, i.e. off-stage right. TINA and SOPHIE wander round the garden, but do not sit down.)

Grandpa seems okay.

The post-war generation do seem well-behaved when one first meets them.

That's true, are you sure, Tina, that Grandpa's so ecologically-minded and trustworthy?

Green, yes. Trustworthy, absolutely not, but that's why I asked you to come here with me, Sophie.

(GRANDPA returns with four mugs of herbal tea made using a tea bag, and some slices of avocado, a lemon, an A4 sheet of paper, and a large, fat, brown envelope. Everything is arranged on a wooden tray, and puts it on the table. GRANDPA has a smaller brown envelope stuffed full of dollar bills in his pocket.)

There you go.

The extra cup of tea is for my neighbour: she will be here in a minute, I rang her.

So, what brings you two here today?

Daddy said you wanted to see me soon, because time was running out. So we just turned up.

Did you bring me here just to tell me, like, fairy stories then?
Not at all.

I actually invited you here, Tina, to tell you some very serious stories, mostly about climate chaos in some way; about the causes of human-induced climate chaos, and what to do about it. Would that interest you both?

We had to learn all that stuff at school. We probably know all that anyway.

Yes. Of course. That's understandable. ... Look, I have written it all out: if you gave me your email address, Tina, I could send it all to you, and you could maybe look at them later. Could we do that?

(Elderly woman enters from stage left, and sits at table, sips at third cup of tea.)

Well, I've also printed them out on archival paper. I could give it all to you now, Tina.
What's this all about, you of the post-war generation?
It's about solutions to climate chaos and plastics pollution.

(Directly to audience.)

That's easy: just stop using oil. That means you, the government, the military, airlines, shipping, everyone. Not next year, not next week, but today, or tomorrow. The hard part is doing without oil for food supplies, cooking and heating. But stop dithering: walk home if you can. Or take electric public transport unless the electricity is generated from coal.


Isn't that correct, old-man?

(SOPHIE sits down and looks up at GRANDPA, watching intently.)

Absolutely. And people need to take an ecological view of Planet Ocean.

Planet Ocean, where is that?

You are standing on it, Tina. There is more ocean on this planet than land, so why call it planet Earth?

(Stands up, moves close to audience, speaks direct to audience. )

Anyway, from an ecological point of view, neither economic growth nor population growth is helpful: these two factors are exactly what is destroying the habitat. Instead, what is needed is economic shrink, and a vastly reduced human population; that is, returning the human population back to pre-industrial levels. Only then can there be any chance of rebuilding a habitat safe for humans to survive in.

But then looking at the human social world, perhaps a quarter of the richer people in the so-called developed countries don't even recognise current climate chaos as being a result of human activity. So there is a huge social barrier to correcting our thinking.

Even for those who acknowledge climate chaos as an existential issue, solutions are hard to come by, and massively expensive. Cities are fundamentally unsustainable, and so are the people that live in them. People cannot envisage returning to a pre-industrial lifestyle. And yet, that's the extent of the change that people need to make.

Well, of course, all that change is not going to happen: it's just too big, and entails too much restructuring in the time available.

So, what's the solution?

The answer is to build a refuge, and from there to watch, as the years roll by, how the rest of the world will slide down into the toilet bowl.

(turns back to face GRANDPA.)

Yes, old-man. But we are fighting for our future, not yours. We have already formed the Coalition Against Climate Chaos, Plastics, and Pollution.

Wow. I didn't know that a coalition like that even existed.

We organise and coordinate protests with various groups.

But protests alone will never be enough.

In time, young people like us will take over the government.

Well, I wish you all luck with that, but convincing the rich elites around the world to change course is a big ask. That's why I view a refuge as being more realistically achievable.


So, Tina, are you working?

Not really, I've just started Uni. Studying Ecology mostly. Sophie's studying ecology too. There were endless rows with my parents, so I moved out into Sophie's apartment.
Well, studying ecology is good news. ... But we are just about done then. Unless you wish to regale me with the details of your personal struggles, darling?
Nah. ... But I do have some, like, questions.
Sure, darling, go ahead.
Well, first off, Grandpa, why don't you want to sit and chat with me?
I thought we were chatting. What would you like to talk about, Tina?
Just tell me about life: I'm curious.

Oh! You'd like the story of my life in less than a hundred words, Tina. But life is not quite that simple. And the story depends on how it is painted.

For instance, darling, if your life is taken as an example, would it be framed as, like, lucky, rich Princess grows up in a wealthy white suburb in the most-desirable country of the world? Or would it be the story of a lonely, only girl grows up in a demented, repressive household, and struggles to find her place in society? The story could be told either way.

Darling, would you be a normal girl in a normal home in a normal society, or would you paint your life as in some way less than normal?

Was your relationship with your dog normal, darling?

What? My relationship with my dog: yes, of course it was normal. What kind of an idiot are you, Grandpa?

How could the relationship have been normal, when dogs were domesticated forty thousand years ago, and since then have been bred for specific purposes, and no longer lead natural lives?

How could your own life be normal, darling, when normal for a human being is to live as a hunter-gatherer. Whereas today people are shopping at the mall, or watching TV all the time, or mesmerized by social media? Our modern civilized world is by definition not normal. Our current lifestyle is an artifice of the last five thousand years, or the last few hundred. Theoretically, how could you possibly be a normal girl, princess?

What? What the hell are you talking about, Grandpa?

Oh yes, you're a normal product of an abnormal society. But tell me this, darling: how come there're so many different breeds of dogs in various colors, shapes, and sizes? Whereas, apart from skin-color there's only one human breed alive today?

Hey, old-man, Tina was just asking about you and your life.

Yes. Okay. So, one version is that I was born into a middling middle class family in the capital of a worldwide colonial empire. How lucky was I! Born a privileged white male, with opportunities.

Another version would be that something went psychologically wrong in my childhood, and I was forever emotionally crippled.

Or yet another version might be that my childhood was nothing unusual, as everyone struggles to grow up. Darling, take your pick.

But then I'm just an elderly post-war person, and it's too late for regrets anyway. Just struggle through till sunset, that's what counts: wake up tomorrow, or not! It's no good brooding about the past and agonizing over the misdeeds of a lifetime. It's all long gone and irrevocable. What does one individual life matter, given that the Sixth Mass Extinction is underway? After all, darling, in your lifetime one quarter of all vertebrate species will vanish.

Oh my God, Grandpa, why do you have to paint it all so gloomy and miserable?

Look, I could just keep on barking; or I could show you both some photos instead.

(Lays out photos on table)

(Flicking through photos.) So who's this cool-looking blonde?

(with feigned indifference)

A woman.
(Flicking through photos.) This photo here, the legend, what does that mean?
It's in German. A woman without a man is like a head without headaches.
Slay me dead. So cool. Where did you learn to speak German?
At school.
Oh! Look! The young blonde is getting married. And you are dressed so smartly next to her. Best man or father of the bride?

(Grandpa smiles wistfully and looks away.)

It's a long story. But the point is that not all societies are the same. And they change over time.

For instance, sixty years ago in England, girls sharing a flat weren't allowed to sign the lease: the official tenant had to be a man: and also, men earned more than women. In those days, an actress might be sacked from a film if she refused to take her blouse off: it was a different society, but it was considered to be a so-called normal society.

(with beaming smile)

Perhaps there are no normal people.

Had we earlier been raised differently, we might now think like Muslim girls, or Tibetan Buddhists, and take a different view of life. But in reality, Tina is in fact still a young puppy, bouncing around, a teenage-girl, full of the joys of spring, thank God.

(Pause. GRANDPA sips coffee. TINA checks her mobile phone. SOPHIE walks round garden.)

So, anyway, I'll be giving you some homework to do, darling, if you are willing.

It's about Maslow's theory of Hierarchy of Human Needs. It's a widely quoted theory.

Just see, darling, if you can find the evidence to support it, please.

(Without enthusiasm) Okay. No promises, though.
That's normal.

So, what would you two really like to talk about?

The War Against Climate Chaos.

Why do we need a war? What does that mean?

(Directly to audience.)

Because beating climate chaos will take so long, and require so much effort, so much restructuring of the entire world economy, except for the economy of some indigenous peoples. It will take all our efforts and last much longer than World War Two. It's not a war on people, but it IS a war on pollution, a war on plastics, and to some extent a war on the post-war generation, or their philosophy. It's a war that will entail great losses, in terms of population. And it’s a war we’re in the process of losing right now. Of course, the term 'war' is just a metaphor, just a way of conveying to the masses the scale of change to western economies that is required.

(Speaking slowly.) Yup. I agree with that for the most part. What about war aims? What are they? How is one supposed to know whether we're winning?

(Directly to audience.)

The number one marker is atmospheric carbon dioxide. It's about four hundred and twenty-five parts per million right now.

But atmospheric CO2 is still rising at about zero point six per cent per annum.

Yes it is. When atmospheric CO2 stabilizes, then we will have turned the corner. It almost stabilized during the COVID epidemic, so it IS possible. But it takes big changes to reduce emissions. And then there's the other greenhouse gases, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluorides to consider too.

Yes. But it's now been thirty-five years since the Senate committee in the USA investigated climate chaos. And SO little has been done. So yes, I agree, a refuge might be a more achievable aim.

No more trying to save the world. Just trying to save ourselves.

That's pretty grim. So what's your plan, Grandpa?

I've written out the whole plan, and it's in this package. Here's one fat, large brown envelope.

(Handing the large, fat envelope from the tray to TINA, who nods silently and accepts.)

There's a flash-drive inside too.

Could you at least come and see me when you're twenty, darling?

No promises. Who knows what'll happen?
Wise girl.

Sooner then, if it suits, darling.

That's a 'no' then.

(GRANDPA sits at the table opposite SOPHIE. Then TINA sits too, beside SOPHIE.)

No, it was a maybe. I'm just not promising anything.

Good. Also, darling, I'm handing you a small brown envelope under the table. There's a few thousand inside. No, don't look round. Don't open it now : just slip it inside your jeans. Yours to do with what you will, darling.

No way. Why are you so salty? Keep your bribe, Grandpa, you can't buy me.
I am not trying to, Princess. I am not quite that stupid. But I can't give it to you, darling, when I'm dead, can I. So, now or never.
What? You're one sick old man, Grandpa. ... Well, moot, hand over the flickers then, Grandpa.

(TINA takes the envelope under the table and stuffs it inside her jeans, then lifts the tea-bag from her mug.)

You won't escape it, you know, darling.

Escape what?



The industrialisation of food. It's the tea-bag. All that packaging. And some tea bags contain plastic and can't be recycled.

Oh, Lord. Are you always like this?
Yes. It gives me something to talk to myself about. Look at the garden, what do you see, Tina?
It's just a garden with lawn and flowers and plants.
(GRANDPA moves slowly round the garden with TINA and SOPHIE) Yes. But it's more than that. Look here. Parsley, rocket, thyme. And here, rhubarb, Swiss chard, onions. And those flowers are lavender for the bees and bumblebees. And these are globe artichokes. One can eat the flower base. And over there, there's peas and beans, beetroot, and carrots.
Why not just buy them in the supermarket?
Because straight from the garden, everything is fresh and organic. Here, try some rocket leaf, darling. It's like lettuce but spicy.

(GRANDPA picks a rocket leaf, divides it in two, eats one half, and offers the other to TINA, who accepts and tastes a little.)

(Offering TINA the avocado)

And now the avocado.

(TINA takes a piece of avocado and eats.)

You know, darling, that avocados grown in America bring environmental disaster?

(SOPHIE's mobile pings. SOPHIE checks the messages.)

That's what I mean when I say that you can't escape globalisation.

(picking up the envelope)

Time to go, Tina. Tamara's waiting.

So, darling, now ride forth to save the planet like a true heroine. Or whatev.

Whatev. (TINA is unimpressed, rises.) Let's go, Sophie.

(TINA stands, hugs GRANDPA hesitantly. SOPHIE picks up the envelope, nods towards GRANDPA, puts a protective arm around TINA's shoulder as the girls move toward their bicycles. SOPHIE turns and waves, as SOPHIE and TINA push the bicycles off stage. GRANDPA stares after the girls, and then carries the tray with mugs and exits slowly toward stage right.)