My climate change conversion (LentBlog13)

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…

…my shopping…

…my holidays…

But it cannot be business as usual. The season is about to become much less ‘convenient’.

 

 

 

15 Comments

    1. Thank you so much for this Josephine. I am so touched by your engagement in the middle of a difficult time. I do hope the insomnia passes. I have saved James’s article (it is really beautiful) for when I have a quiet moment for proper reading. With best wishes as ever, Anthony x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, Anthony. It seems to be every other night, just one of those things that I know lots of people have to cope with. Yes, I like some of the practical suggestions that James makes and I also like the way he shares his art on his blog sometimes, including collages and ‘walking bundles’ which he collects when out walking. I’ve been thinking about climate change since Aldeburgh last year and the poems in the Ginkgo Prize, then there was the Climate Change issue of Magma magazine, and now Susan Richardson’s book shortlisted in this year’s Ted Hughes Prize. Take care. J x

        Like

  1. Hello Anthony. So much of what you have written here resonates with me so deeply. The shock of seeing things in a new way, the grief and fear, the looking at children with anguish about the lives they are heading into. Additionally for me – walking the streets and seeing death everywhere – ours, the trees, the insects, mammals, fish. I too am working on ways to face this and facing how this will change the way I am active in the world. And I am also trying to read in a way that keeps me awake. It’s hard. One book that continues to cut through me but also inspire me is ‘Learning to Die’ by Robert Bringhurst and Jan Zwicky – unflinching and searing and yet also kind and inspiring. And I have been recommended ‘What We’re Fighting For Now is Each Other’ by Wen Stephenson, which came from reading this short piece about facing our grief and fear without tuning out. https://medium.com/@maryheglar/when-climate-change-broke-my-heart-and-forced-me-to-grow-up-dcffc8d763b8

    I’m thinking also of opening up an in-person (maybe bodily in person, but perhaps online) forum for a small group of us to keep talking about this, so we can face the world without turning away.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for this Justin. I will hunt those books down. (In an aside, I am trying to read in the same vein, and find it is v tough work.) I would be interested in being part of such a group, if it pans out. Thank you again for your generosity and example, and do stay in touch (NB -no longer on FB), As ever, Anthony

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  2. Thank you for this, from another female scientist. I haven’t listened to it yet and may not. The climate has always changed over time and will continue to do so whatever we do. We don’t need to believe that we are the cause of climate change, but we do need to realize that there are many ways in which we are causing destruction to our environment.

    Each of us needs to act in ways to help to avoid this. We need to do less talking and protesting and blaming someone else. It is pleasing when one sees a concrete suggestion and I expect she has some of those.

    My small contribution for today was making pancakes, belatedly, without recourse to an electric whisk. I am attaching a picture of the device used instead; mine is 23 cm. long. Every household should have one. The pancakes were the best ones I have ever made.

    Best wishes

    Bernice

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for your Lent blogs, Anthony, they are a bright source in my email each day. Even today where this one has provoked much thinking and discussion with my OH. I am going to watch the video you refer to… thanks for asking me to show up.

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  4. Thank you for this post Anthony.

    Your journey over the past few months mirrors mine almost exactly. One of the things Extinction Rebellion does well, I think, is take our collective and anticipatory grief seriously: grief as a form of activism .

    Thank you for the links to articles and books in your piece all of which I want to follow up. Here is another in return which I hope you might find helpful in terms of ‘what next for your writing’. It’s a lecture given by the US poet Lisa Jarnot at NAROPA university and it has a fine ending on ‘what we need to do now … as writers’. Also wonderful quotes from Anne Herbert ‘s piece ‘Handy Tips on How to Behave at the Death of the World’.

    https://www.dispatchespoetrywars.com/dispatches/i-tried-to-honor-the-ancestors-naropa-university-june-15-2017-by-lisa-jarnot/

    Wishing you well with what happens next.

    Jeremy

    Like

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