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I’m OK. We’re not OK.

Shockingly dim sunrise in Wollongong obscured by bush fire smoke.

Having spent a year in the beautiful South Coast of Australia, I have come to love the people, their spirit, and the stunning environment here. That affection has turned to despair as I have watched the bush fires decimate many favorite places and panic so many people here. The scale of this devastation boggles the mind, and there aren’t even maps big or fast enough to capture all the danger.

I’m ok – Wollongong is currently spared from the current crisis, but we’re not ok as it’s hard to imagine a single Australian who is not affected by the ongoing disaster.

During our current holiday trip to Melbourne we have been spared the worst of the fires. It’s not currently in danger of burning. However the air was thick with smoke yesterday. Residents who have been here more than a decade don’t recall seeing anything like it. We’re not having the family reunion we planned. Local family have been unable to come as they need to stay to protect their property in an historically safe area of New South Wales. Meanwhile family members from America are going to have to improvise their travel plans.

Australia has a tremendously old and wise soul. There are established practices by indigenous people to sustainably manage the environment and prevent large bush fires. However Australia has many aspects of being a younger nation as well. The western colonization of this remote continent gave it time and space to see other countries develop density more rapidly. As a result, it has been able to leapfrog many of the pitfalls encountered by other post-colonial siblings like the USA. The social safety net is stronger in Australia, and the higher level respect for the working trades is powerful for me to see here. However in many cases it is making similar mistakes. Environmental management is chief among them. Australia is a big place with a lot of resources, but the current direction is just not sustainable for this country.

William McDonough insightfully points to the distinction between doing less bad and doing good. Reducing carbon emissions is like driving your car towards a brick wall less quickly. And based on Trump’s and Morrison’s policies we seem to be stepping on the gas instead. If we really want to save ourselves from the growing struggles with climate change we’re going to have to ditch that car and head somewhere new. Yes that future is indistinct, but that excitement of banding together to face the unknown is what has made the American and Australian spirit shine best. And that is when we say “I’m not OK if we’re not OK.”

by Aly Khalifa

5-Jan-2019 Bicheno, Tasmania

My TEDx Talk

This was an awesome opportunity to present my thesis on the “Pursuit of Good Work,” which is largely inspired by my Eisenhower Fellowship Experience. While at first this felt like closing the loop on my fellowship, it has begun to feel like it was just the first lap…