Chapter Fourteen: The krill issue
I am seated at a table with the scientists. Lucas is back in his favourite jeans and T-shirt and his book rests on the table next to him. He must be a keen reader. He introduces me to Maria, the krill woman. She is not small with waving legs as I had imagined. Maria is from Holland. She has smooth brown skin and shiny blonde hair cut in a straight fringe across her forehead. She is tall and shapely and seems devastatingly intelligent – scarily so. I resolve to avoid her if possible.
Maria and Lucas are having a rapid-fire conversation about ice-core samples. I know from Polar Fun for Kids that scientists drill deep holes into the ice to learn about past climates – the site was a little short on detail. My knowledge of ice-core samples isn’t enough to get in at the ground floor on this conversation.
‘One hundred and fifty per cent?’ says Maria.
Lucas nods, his beard going up and down. ‘In the last hundred and fifty years.’
What is it with scientists and beards? I try to imagine what he would be like without hair all over his face, but fail.
‘I knew it was bad, but I didn’t think carbon dioxide had gone up that much,’ says Maria.
Carbon dioxide. Now at least I know what we’re talking about – climate change. I think of Nathan Hornby and his climate science is crap comment. The Minister is at a table up the other end of the room with Mike, the station leader – fact-finding, no doubt. Adrian is perched on a chair at the same table. Of all the dining rooms in all the world, Adrian has to turn up here. At least I’ll be able to relax once he goes home tomorrow. It’s bad enough being Cougar, but having Adrian watch my performance is doing my head in. No doubt he will compare the two versions of Cougar in his head and find me lacking.
I open and shut my mouth a few times as Lucas and Maria continue their conversation. Rory glances my way and flickers his eyebrows. I know what he means. Cougar would not sit here mutely. Cougar would be the centre of attention. Cougar is like Alexis from Dynasty, she always makes her presence felt. I rack my brain to recall what I know about climate change, but suspect there is no way to dumb down this conversation enough for me to make a contribution. I now wish Mary was here. Annoying as she is, she would be able to brief me on the best tactic to take control of the situation.
As we finish dessert – luckily sticky date pudding is on the menu for Cougar – there is a break in the conversation. Rory gives me a meaningful nod. I clear my throat. ‘Ahem.’ Maria and Lucas turn to me. I straighten my spine. ‘I’d like to brief you on my program. Then we can be sure we’re all on the same page.’
Lucas’s blue eyes crinkle. ‘Are you planning to include climate change in your show?’
I am jolted out of my happy sense of taking control. I have no idea what he is talking about. This show is about Antarctica. It’s about ice and penguins, snow and seals. That’s what you always have in shows about Antarctica. No-one is interested in climate change – and certainly not at seven thirty pm on a weeknight when the alternative is watching Kitchen Talent on Channel Four. Climate change is boring. The ABC might get away with it, but our audience has a trigger-happy grip on the remote control and they’re not afraid to use it. I’m about to tell him this, but he continues.
‘All we get is documentaries about ice and cute little penguins.’ Lucas snorts. ‘It drives me crazy. When are we going to see some real science? You are a glaciologist?’
I nod – whatever that is.
‘Good. Then you know all about it.’ He smiles. His teeth are very white.
I cough. I’m keen to divert the conversation away from my broad knowledge of glaciology.
Lucas taps his fork on his glass and the hum in the room lowers.
I wasn’t expecting the whole room to listen in. Even the Minister’s table is turned my way. Even Adrian.
‘Cougar is going to brief us on her program,’ Lucas announces. ‘I expect this will be of interest to everyone.’
There is much scraping as everyone swivels their chairs to face our table.
Rory raises his eyebrows at me.
I get to my feet. For some reason the music from Dynasty runs through my head. I think of how when the show starts they run a rapid recap of recent developments. It’s not your baby! Give it to me straight, doctor! He’s not dead!
Lucas’s eyes are focused on me. Maria’s head is cocked to the side. Adrian looks alert and ready to rate my performance. The Minister folds his arms as if awaiting a controversial policy announcement from the opposition. And I think it is this that sends me off in an unexpected direction – shoot first and take aim later.
I take a deep breath. ‘Hurricanes are increasing! Bushfires are raging! Polar bears are at risk of extinction!’ Polar Fun for Kids filled me in on the polar bear situation. It seems the thin sea ice in the Arctic is leading to polar bears having difficulties in catching seals.
Rory is wide-eyed. It’s hard to know whether he’s impressed or alarmed. Lucas and Maria seem puzzled but interested. Maria opens her mouth, but I hold up my hand. I am Cougar. I have the floor. I have no idea what I’m going to do with it, but I haven’t finished yet. What would Alexis do?