Short story: A Warmer Future

A cloudy sunset with a bright streak of yellow and two narrow streaks of red merging with black on either side


The four lilting chords of Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major drifted upwards from Gary’s pocket. It was the legislated time – seven p.m. – but to Gary, it felt court-appointed, a sentence. His heart beat a little faster as he reached into his shorts, pulled out his phone, and hit ‘Dismiss’ on the display. Pachelbel stopped mid-bar.

I am Oppenheimer, thought Gary. I am Nietzsche, Galston, and Kalashnikov. When they all realise what they’ve done, will they, too, feel their will to live crackle and evaporate, like water in an untended pan? Will they also carry my weight?


Gary’s particular flash of Earth-shattering inspiration came during a morning meditation. Keep breathing, said the voice in his head whenever his mind wandered. But when it wandered to the subject of work, he would often let it run for a while. A lot of his best policy ideas came when he was seated in lotus pose.

Get a woman out there – a nice woman – mother of the nation type – loves nice weather – loves climate change – longer summers – kids running around outside – drives a great brute of a thing – happy to tell her story – imagine the outcry – they’d have to do something then – if they didn’t we’d cruise the next election – put climate change on the front page for good – I’d get on the List –maybe even front bench – Jesus, keep breathing –

As Gary brushed his teeth and dressed for work, he imagined how it would go with the Leader of the Opposition. He would ask him to just hear him out for a minute, to at least listen to the whole idea before dismissing it, to think about how this idea could reverse the appalling slide in the polls. Then he’d explain how Jane Harvey would capture the imagination, and the ire, of the nation.

My car makes summer longer, says Jane Harvey, pictured in front of her four-wheel drive gas guzzler. I do the school run twice a day and leave it running in the garage at home, says Jane. I’m doing my bit to speed up climate change, because if it’s going to happen anyway, let’s get on with it.

She’d go out in the Timaru Herald, carefully selected as the paper most likely to send a story viral. And she would go viral, and the social networks would tear her to pieces, and the commentariat – not to mention the Opposition Leader – would demand action from the government to do something about climate change. Enough is enough, Mr Prime Minister! We can’t have the Jane Harveys of the world spoiling our magnificent country and ruining this planet for her children, and everyone else’s children.

And just like that, for the first time in years, the Opposition Leader would take control of the political narrative, leading to a prolonged spike in the polls and, ultimately, glory on election night.

Never mind that Jane Harvey doesn’t exist, thought Gary as he climbed into his beloved red Audi. No one needs to know that. Maybe one day they will, when Gary releases a tell-all memoir of his long and storied political career. And he’d be lauded, both for coming clean and for an end that justified his slightly underhanded means. Yes, I did manufacture Jane Harvey to stop climate change. And, looking at the results, you’re damn right I’d do it again.

Gary turned the key. The Audi spluttered into life before settling into a clean rhythm. He noticed the gas light was on, and made a mental note to stop off at the service station on the way to work. High octane, of course – 91 put too much carbon on the inner workings.


With the revs up in the 6000s, the track shot away behind the Audi. Lotus pose was best for settling the mind, true, but sometimes circumstances called for a more aggressive form of meditation.

That bastard, he thought. That stupid bastard. Doing the government’s dirty work. He’ll write whatever’s politically expedient to keep his mates on the right side of the House. And people think he speaks truth to power! What a laugh. They’re just as stupid as he is.

– Pedal to the floor – hundred metres straight to hard left –

At first the people had hated Jane Harvey, just as Gary intended. She’s a mother, for God’s sake! Doesn’t she understand how she’s sabotaging her children’s future?

The backlash ensured she hit every front page across the country, and in the vacuum of climate change leadership offered by the Government, the Opposition Leader took centre stage. He began to look positively Prime Ministerial. He wouldn’t admit it out loud, but it was all thanks to Gary.

– Revs down – hard left into easy right –

Then, just as suddenly, the people loved Jane Harvey. That bastard columnist, the millionaire businessman and noted advisor to the Prime Minister, went in to bat for her. She’s onto something, he reckoned. After all, who doesn’t love long summers? Isn’t running the car for another half hour a bit like putting the clocks forward in September?

A couple of TV and radio appearances later, the columnist had started a movement. It’s common sense, they all said, all repeating the refrain until it became an ideology: Who doesn’t love long summers? And there was all this money behind it, full page ads in the paper calling for a new perspective on climate change.

– Quick boost on the revs – then hairpin left –

And that was when the Government finally responded. The Prime Minister did his usual shtick. My job is to listen to the people, and they can rest assured that when it comes to climate change, I’m listening. It made Gary sick. It also made the Opposition Leader sick, and with his bilious green tinge, he managed to get thrown out of Parliament three days in a row. His last action before being shunted to the back bench was to fire Gary.

It looked as though the two of them would be the only casualties of Jane Harvey’s legacy. But then the Government changed the narrative for good. The Emissions Trading Scheme was scrapped entirely, and with the money saved, a new, planet-busting incentive was announced: run your vehicle at home for 30 minutes a day and your petrol bills are free. It’s spending more time outside with the kids. It’s saving on heating bills in the winter. It’s a Warmer Future.

– Keep breathing – keep breathing – keep breathing –

The take-up was like nothing ever before seen for a government scheme. People were given special EFTPOS cards to use at the petrol station: Swipe for a Warmer Future. God knows where Treasury got the money. There were rumours of un-calendared meetings at oil company headquarters. But it was hard to argue with free petrol.

– Long straight now – floor the bastard –

Gary always felt like the Audi took over at this point in the circuit. His role involved extending his right ankle and gripping on tight to the steering wheel, while the complex array of pistons and pipes under the hood worked its magic. He could be anyone, or no one; the Audi and its incredible mechanics were all that mattered.

No, there was one other human contribution: the gas in the tank. This was the final irony. My savings are dwindling so fast, thought Gary, and I’ll never work in politics again. I don’t really have a choice. So, when the Warmer Future sign-up form arrived in his mailbox, he suppressed a gag and filled it out.


Gary shoved the phone back in his pocket, forced himself up out of his armchair, and walked out the front door, grabbing his car keys on the way. The sunset was extraordinary: fat stripes of apricot and amber, like a desert oil well ablaze, lighting up the sky to the west. When he opened the garage door, revealing his prized red Audi, the sunset turned it orange.

He picked a long rubber hose up off the ground and walked around to the back of the Audi, where he massaged one end of the hose over the exhaust pipe. He then took the other end of the pipe around to the right-hand side of the car, opened the driver’s door, and sat down in front of the steering wheel.

Just keep breathing in and out, he told himself. Stay in the moment. In the end, the moment is all there is.

Gary inserted the keys into the ignition and turned them. It always amazed him, the cough and grind in that first second before the Audi settled into a hum of whirring white noise. He tried to think of the last time it had failed to start, but couldn’t remember it ever happening. Apart from the brief convulsions upon ignition, the Audi was perfect.

He looked at the end of the hose and saw the air around it shimmer with fumes, then grow dark with smoke.

Keep breathing. As ever, the mantra soothed him. Keep breathing.

Then he stood, walked over to the high windows along the side of the garage, and pushed the hose out. He walked back out the door he’d come in and around the garage so he could admire the sunset from the front of his yard.

His neighbours on either side — Karen, a truck driver, and a banker whose name he’d never caught –were doing the same. Gary nodded hello and glanced at Karen’s enormous truck. It spewed out thick, dark smoke, even when idling. The machines are bigger than us, he thought, as he turned back to the brilliant flashes across the sky. And they’re breathing into life a bright, beautiful, barren world where we don’t belong. And we’ll willingly help them do it.

The exhaust trail from Gary’s Audi snaked off into the atmosphere. He followed it up as far as he could with his eyes until it became indistinct, inseparable from the yellows and oranges above.

Look Out, Julia Gillard, There’s A Tony Abbott Obscuring You

Excuse me while I make a brief foray into Australian politics.

Yesterday, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard made an extraordinary speech in Federal Parliament. In it, she accused Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, of being both sexist (adj. Discriminatory on the basis of sex, usually said of men’s attitude toward women) and misogynist (adj. A misanthrope who dislikes women in particular). There’s a lot of background to Gillard’s remarks, most of which is succinctly explained in this New Yorker blog post on the issue. Basically, though, Abbott has exhibited sexist and misogynistic behaviours in the past (particularly in his attacks on Gillard the Prime Minister, as outlined in even more detail in this thorough speech by Anne Summers); when Abbott sought to have Parliamentary Speaker Peter Slipper removed from office on the basis of what he views to be sexist and misogynistic text messages, Gillard used fifteen minutes to outline exactly why the Government rejected this motion, with the chief basis being Abbott’s hypocrisy in raising it.

If you haven’t seen the speech, the whole thing is worth watching, even if you are completely unfamiliar with the people or issues involved. It’s an incredibly skilled piece of oration and, on a more basic level, it’s great political theatre.

One more thing to quickly note before moving on is that Abbott, in raising the motion, stated that Gillard’s Government “should already have died of shame“. Less than two weeks ago, a controversial conservative radio host named Alan Jones delivered a speech at a meeting of the Young Liberals (Abbott is the leader of the Liberal Party) in which he stated that Gillard’s recently deceased father “died of shame“. This received widespread press coverage and strong condemnation from Gillard’s Labor Party, and a number of advertisers withdrew support from Jones’ programme.

Yesterday, the fiercest part of Gillard’s speech, which made me gasp, was when she linked Abbott’s and Jones’ statements and bitterly rejected both. She looked Abbott squarely in the eye and with unvarnished, vulnerable anger, said, “My father did not die of shame”.

Anyway. Here’s the point of why I’m adding my small voice to an overwhelming swell of opinion.

I do not support Gillard or the Labor Party. I don’t think they’re running a particularly good government, and I think they have been complicit in about as much so-called ‘mud-slinging’ and ‘muck-raking’ as the Liberals have. As in many other countries with a two-party system, they have repeatedly relied on dirty attacks on the Opposition to cling to an already untenable position in the polls.

However, Gillard’s speech went beyond the usual standard of mud-slinging and muck-raking in politics. Her apparently seamless evisceration of Abbott stood apart from all that as it was a direct victory for Australian women – even a victory for women everywhere. She stood up, representing the highest elected office of her nation, and took apart a consistently sexist and misogynist man with articulacy and barely contained emotion. She showed everyone exactly why women should be considered the equal of men and, arguably, how women can offer certain qualities in leadership roles that most men cannot. Men and women are different, after all, but neither is lesser in overall value.

I woke up this morning feeling refreshed and excited at how Gillard’s speech might change the national conversation of Australia. At the end of the day, I am again jaded and frustrated, because as brilliant as Gillard’s speech was, it has already been displaced in the national public, political and media narratives.

The problem, apparently, was that Gillard’s speech was ostensibly a speech of support for Peter Slipper – who then effectively rejected that support by resigning. Political misstep by Gillard, went the headlines. Cynical Gillard’s tactic backfires.

To which I say: what? The context of Gillard’s speech wasn’t just whether or not Slipper should remain Speaker. It extended to years of sexism and misogyny directed at her by Abbott, and more broadly to any sexism and misogyny that Australian women have suffered and continue to suffer.

Then, on Australian radio stations throughout the day, hosts and talkback callers alike seemed to go out of their way to disregard the epochal nature of Gillard’s speech, and further to disregard Gillard herself. Those siding with the Opposition told Tony Abbott to stay the course, you excellent leader you, as all this will surely blow over. Those siding with the Government told Abbott to apologise, resign, pull out your fingernails one by one you evil, evil man. Nobody saw fit to add, “and hey, Ms Gillard, you were on fire!” (Or words to that effect.)

This is my problem with the general response. Whether or not you are supporting Tony Abbott or vilifying Tony Abbott, do you know who the spotlight remains squarely pointed at? TONY ABBOTT, that’s who. When Julia Gillard should be receiving plaudits – or at the very least rebuttal – for fifteen minutes that transcended politics, she’s left shrugging her shoulders as the crowd clamours for Abbott’s attention. If having the guts to get up in front of EVERYONE and soundly reject her opponent’s persistently gender-based bullying tactics does not win her respect and notice, what will?

Today, Abbott and his fellow opposition frontbenchers have had the gall to suggest that there was no connection whatsoever between Alan Jones’ and Abbott’s uses of the phrase “died of shame”; that it was all a coincidence, and anyone who thinks otherwise – including “she” (as Gillard is often referred to by the Opposition) – is crazy. They all know that this is a patent untruth, but they do not care as long as everyone on both sides remains rapt in what Tony Abbott will say next.

Also today, Greens leader Christine Milne has come out in support of Gillard:

“If a woman makes a strong and passionate speech … then it has to in some way be put down on the basis of an emotional response,” Senator Milne said.

“If a male politician had made the same speech, it would have been seen as strong and decisive and leadership. And that’s where you get it all the time. The Prime Minister’s had it all the time.”

The headline of this piece? ‘Abbott guilty of sexism: Milne‘. Nothing to do with the broader points Milne makes about sexism in politics. Tony Abbott is apparently what’s important here.

So, for the record, I congratulate Julia Gillard for her words in Parliament yesterday. I applaud her efforts to stand up to sexist and misogynistic behaviour and to demand that respect for her office be entirely unlinked to gender. I hope that she has the strength to continue that fight. And I hope that the Australian public can one day, if not now, look at this speech as a watershed moment for women’s rights in their country.