There I was, a normal Saturday, coffee and The Guardian, propped up in bed with the old iPad, flicking through articles on Brexit.
Ian Jack, always a great read, caught my eye with something less than comfortable. Remember the days when we weren’t freaked out by freak weather? (This was just the title.)
A link towards the end of the article took me to a website called Rebellion.Earth. At the foot of their front page, a talk, referenced by Jack, ‘Heading for Extinction and What to Do About It, which is one of the plainest bits of film-making you will ever see’.
If you do nothing else this year, please watch it. (Its a several cups or even pots of coffee job, and you might need to take a breather half-way through, to compose yourself):
A female scientist stands in what looks to be her modest kitchen and talks for an hour to a small audience (never in shot) about human civilisation’s probable fate. “Traditionally, you try to be a bit hopeful,” she says at the beginning, “but this is a different kind of talk.” What we need, she says, isn’t hope but courage. We’re heading towards three degrees of warming, and that will be catastrophic, “like boarding a plane that has a one in 20 chance of a crash”.
Halfway through her talk, she allows her audience two minutes to grieve for our future losses. Then she invites us to act – to modify the future terror through present acts of peaceful protest. Is it really worth trying? That, she says, is the wrong question. We must act out of “a desire to be a worthy ancestor”.
Somewhere in the middle of this film it hit me. Something about the ‘plainness’ of the setting, the CDs neatly stacked on a bookshelf in the background, its procedural tone, its overt lack of histrionics, the only cutaways to PowerPoint slides presaging what even billionaire tyrants are now calling ‘the Event’…
Between the eyes, into my heart, like a truck: all of those.
I started to cry.
And I realised that all my smug efforts to live in a slightly colder house and use a more fuel efficient car had done very little to prevent the melting of the icecaps.
Before anyone writes in, I don’t consider myself a climate change denier. What changed for me that morning, and since, is that I now experience anxiety about it on a daily basis.
When I watch my garden fence wobble in so-called ‘average’ gales; when my plum tree starts blossoming a whole month early, as it has done recently. When it reaches 20°C in Wales, in February.
When I watch toddlers, out with their parents, take a running jump into puddles, screaming with glee.
Especially those toddlers.
(for more images in this series, visit Chinadialogue.net)
Suddenly my browser seemed to find its way magically to articles on different aspects of the same emergency: how cars are killing us; Parliament’s inability to take climate change seriously; and this, by Margaret Kein, on the transformative power of climate truth.
In an article that takes in, among others, activists from Martin Luther King and Gandhi to Greta Thurnberg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it was her deliberate use of religious language, via Pope Francis, which took what wind that was left right out of my sails:
It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive. So what they all need is an ‘ecological conversion,’ whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience…[We need] to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.
To armchair activists like me, who prefer to let our wallets to do the (ever so quiet) talking from a long way behind the front line, her punches are resolutely pulled:
(The white moderate is) more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season” (MLK).
I can only describe what I am going through as a state of grief. A woman I spoke to the other day described it as ‘penitence’.
What happens next, I am not sure.
For my writing, my research, my teaching…
But it cannot be business as usual. The season is about to become much less ‘convenient’.