Whoever we are, whatever we do, and wherever we live, every single one of us will be increasingly affected by anthropogenic climate change and the world’s unfolding sixth mass extinction.
My wake-up call
I remember being concerned about the health and wellbeing of planet earth from a relatively young age. My first proper wake-up call occurred in the late 1980s; as a pre-teen I learned about the escalating worries about the effects of CFC gases on the ozone layer, I cared deeply about the plight of endangered animals, I felt upset by humanity’s cruel and destructive actions on the planet and her inhabitants. Resolute that I had to do something, I joined Friends of the Earth, became a vegetarian, and got into politics. So began an interest and passion for the environment and natural world that has never really gone away, albeit has ebbed and flowed over the years.
Fast forward to 2018. The world is different, and I am rapidly approaching middle age. My idealistic notions and ways have softened over the years. I eat meat occasionally, I usually fly somewhere at least once a year, I drive a car, plastic is as pervasive in my life as the next person’s, and despite my best efforts to always buy UK-grown food I sometimes eat fruit and vegetables grown on the other side of the world. Inevitably there are occasions when I buy clothes from high street stores which may have dubious human rights and poor environmental records. Yet, like many other people I continue to care deeply about our planet and feel increasingly saddened and frustrated about what we are doing to her. This makes me, like many others, a hypocrite. Still, I continue with my destructive ways and enjoy the comforts and conveniences of a western, carbon-heavy lifestyle; all the while distracted/consumed/numbed by the joys, tears and mundanity of daily life – work, family, friends, health, busyness, (plus Twitflix and InstaBook).
Then we had a heatwave. June-July 2018 was one long hot, stifling summer in the UK. It terrified me, and in spite of discovering a ridiculous but highly entertaining show called “Love Island” to help me pass through the sticky sultry evenings, it was my second big wake-up call – a loud alarm bell kicking me uneasily out of my slumber, challenging my conditioned “norms” that I took for granted – forcing me (needing me) to LOOK at what is really going on. This wake-up call was even louder and more penetrating than the truly awful alarm bell which had me staring down a tunnel of absolute despair the previous year in 2017 when members of my family were dangerously caught up in Houston’s Hurricane Harvey – even that didn’t propel me into action as much as the 2018 UK heatwave did.
I had to get my head around this so-called “climate crisis”; I had to truly wake up and engage seriously. So I started reading voraciously, I watched YouTube videos about the climate, I completed a Coursera course on Climate Change, I followed environmentalists on Twitter, I discovered the enlightening Professor Jem Bendell and read his devastating and somewhat disturbing Deep Adaptation paper, I started talking about climate change more frequently to anyone who would listen/tolerate me, I followed closely all the news about Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg, and I reconsidered my political allegiances.
It’s been just over a year now since that pivotal wake-up call. Life has continued of course; the climate emergency remains and has become more urgent, the crisis has deepened; individual and collective angst/anger has risen. The flourishing of societal awareness and action over the last 12 months or so has also been truly phenomenal. Whilst controversy surrounds the actions of groups such as Extinction Rebellion, there is no doubt that they – along with the “school strike for climate” movement – have played a critical role in shifting the debate and focus of Governments, media and society. It remains to be seen what happens next…
In late 2019 I feel more informed, a bit less shell-shocked, still scared angry and sad in fluctuating quantities, more determined, less in denial, more critical of my own and others’ propensity to just rely on a feeling or idea of ‘hope’. I am learning every single day. I also remain a hypocrite, like most people (and like all *those celebrities*). I am not perfect and like everyone else I don’t have easy or perfect answers, because of course these do not exist. The challenge is complex, the solutions are not easy nor are they guaranteed to work. I feel galvanised and inspired to do more and to do what I can about this, from where I stand. There simply is no other option for me now.
I believe that we all have a personal and collective duty to take serious, concerted action to combat and adapt to the climate emergency. We owe this to our today and our tomorrows; to the future of our families and friends; to the future generations of humanity that we will never know of; to the future of all species and sentient beings. There is no more time to waste.
This is the first in a series of occasional reflections and discussions about the climate emergency.