I am a Firm Climate Emergency Believer; Why am I not Doing More About it?

What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

Dr Jane Goodall, Scientist & Activist

A rather unpleasant globe of guilt has been expanding in the pit of my stomach recently, and it has left me more than a little perplexed. This is because, despite seeing myself very much as a (gently) outspoken climate change believer, I didn’t quit my job and join the Extinction Rebellion camps. Perhaps quit is a little extreme. I could have taken a week’s holiday. But I didn’t do that either. And it occurred to me whilst I was nursing a shame inducing hangover on the shaley shores of Whitstable, that it might be quite interesting to explore why I personally haven’t done more about climate change.

  1. What difference can I make?

I learned a valuable lesson recently. Always remember to wash your hands after you’ve squeezed a blob of poultry flavoured cat toothpaste on the end of your finger for your cat to lick. Two lessons, actually. It does not taste like poultry.

A third, and probably more important lesson is this; Movements aren’t about one person doing amazing things. They are about lots of people doing small things.

It’s easy to think that you can’t make a difference. There are probably people out there who would really prefer it if you did think that. But you really can. There are a lot of well meaning people making a lot of noise about climate change, but the real question is are they practising what they preach? Very often the uncomfortable answer to that question is “no”. If you make small positive changes in your life you are making a difference, and that is something that you can feel proud of.

2. It’s a pretty awful thought

I don’t often cope well with uncomfortable thoughts. I’d much rather be feeling happy and carefree than sad, angry, helpless and all the rest. The fact (and it really is a fact) that humans have already caused irreparable damage to our world is pretty grim, and the fact (there’s another one) that it is getting worse is…well, worse.

I don’t want to spend too much time thinking about the end of the world when there is alcohol, chocolate, rollercoasters, coconut ice cream, and lots of exciting sport to watch and endlessly discuss on Twitter. But I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be even worse to wish that I had thought about it more when there was still a chance to do something about it.

3. Comprehension

It wasn’t that long ago that humans were way down the food chain pecking order, nomadically foraging in forests and trying to avoid being skewered by sabre tooth tigers. Our thoughts were (probably) mostly focused on where the next meal was going to come from, and whether there were bears or something else nasty lurking in the shadows at the back of the cave that we were considering sheltering in for the night.

We’ve come rather a long way since then — progress is the word often used to describe that trajectory - although perhaps not always judiciously. But however you personally determine the development of the human race it is irrefutable that it has been rapid. And it is probably a struggle for our brains to keep up with it all. And to truly comprehend the enormity of some of our experiences.

Take smoking for example. I used to smoke. I knew it was bad for me, and yet I still did it. Why? Partly because I liked it. And partly because I didn’t truly ‘believe’ that it would kill me. Knowing something, and truly really actually believing it are two different things in my experience. I couldn’t see the damage that it was doing, so it wasn’t really ‘real’ to me. And giving up wasn’t much fun. Carrying on smoking was easier, and I usually aim for the easier option.

I still remember on our first date when the now Mrs B said to me that she thought a lot of people wouldn’t accept or comprehend catastrophic climate change until bits actually started falling off the planet. I think there is a lot of truth in that, and I think the smoking analogy resonates with that. A bit. Albeit rather clumsily.

4. Guilt

There is a great deal of guilt connected with all of this. To accept that humans are largely to blame for the ensuing climate

5. Denial

4. Convenience

The human race has achieved some wonderful things, with progress powering on like an amphetamine fuelled hamster spinning a well oiled wheel. And so many of the things have made our lives far more convenient. The problem with convenience is that it feels rather nice. And it is an effort to do things that are harder. Because harder isn’t always nice. But as we are discovering, convenience often comes at a price. Which is highly inconvenient.

5. How are you doing? Good, good. Busy.

This is probably familiar. We do lead incredibly busy lives. In the last few weeks I have been going through the process of buying and moving into one house. And at work we have hired four new people in the space of two weeks, effectively growing our team by 1/3. And our cat was really ill. And the cleaner we booked to do the end of tenancy clean cancelled at the last minute, so we ended up having to do it all ourselves. And this is probably no more busy than most other people are at various points in their lives. So with all of that going on, there isn’t much time much to worry about the end of the world.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that if we all do try to do something, some will do more and some will do less. And that’s ok. Because if everyone was at least on board, then a movement would build. So much so that we might start to call it The Movement. What is clear is that, for me, to really do something about the situation will definitely take some effort, and some sacrifice. And that is hard. But so is running a marathon. And giving birth (so I am reliably informed) and half an hour in the loo the next day after a very spicy dinner. And they are all (probably) worth it in the end.

(Except perhaps a marathon. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen the face of a novice marathon runner as they stagger past the16th mile mark. I have, and confirm that on most occasions one wouldn’t describe it as cheerful. )

6. ‘They’ (governments?) will solve it, surely

The problem with this idea, is that they won’t. They can’t. Not with the current democratic system. The laws that would need to be passed and the sacrifices that would need to be made would be rather unpopular, and this can be tricky to resolve on election day.

Politicians like to be liked. Therefore they are a fickle bunch who bend adroitly to the ebb and flow of public opinion. Throughout history, big changes are made from the bottom up, and not the other way round. So if a massive wave of public opinion crashed over Westminster like a Tsunami, the government wouldn’t think twice about jumping into the lifeboat of compliancy.

7. It’ll all turn out alright in the end / everything happens for a reason

Humans are often a positive bunch, and tend to like to look on the bright side. And that can be good. But I think it can also be bad. Just ask the passengers who were aboard the Titanic. We’re very adept at telling stories to make some sense of the world, and retrofit them to horrible events to make them seem less horrible. The problem here is that when we reach the point of no return with climate change, even Charles Dickens would struggle to spin a positive yarn that explain it away.

8. (A) god is on our side

There is a few to choose from, so take your pick. She, he or it has a grand plan so all is well. I used to ponder the possibility that climate change would mean that humans built space rockets and fly off into the stars, meet another civilisation and then together we would be wonderful. And that this was a god’s plan. But personally, I don’t believe in a god. The closest thing to a god that I have seen any real evidence for is Mother Nature. And she is pretty great, so I think I’d like to look after her. But I totally respect anyone’s right to believe in any god that they choose, as long as that doesn’t lead to them killing people.

And then there’s the question of a god granting human’s free will. Which suggests that the human race has the potential to do wonderful things. And it has. But it also suggests that it has the potential to really fuck things up.

Or perhaps it is a test. And if you like to think of it that way, you might also ask yourself what outcome would be required to pass that particular test. It’s unlikely that wiping out a god’s creation would score very highly in that respect.

9. Distraction

It’s so easy to become…

distracted. And there are quite a few things around us that are very distracting. Some regard at least some of these things as conspiracies. And perhaps they are right. But whichever way that you look at it, it is undeniable that distractions are…

distracting. But I am definitely able to focus if I really want to. Or really need to. Like the day when a hammer fell from the back of a lorry and started bouncing towards my Ford Fiesta Ghia (The Silver Hornet) on the M25. I can assure you that at that point there was little else on my mind other than swerving to avoid it and hopefully save my life.

The tricky bit is convincing ourselves that we really need to when doom (such as a wayward mallet bounding towards your windshield at 70mph) is not imminently impending. I know, that’s tautologous, but I simply cannot curb my love of alliteration.

10. Warmer weather is a good thing

Warmer weather is celebrated in this country, and for good reason. The weather is often shit. Particularly if you live in Manchester. I lived there for 9 years, and absolutely love the place. But it rained. A lot. It was in Manchester that I learned a valuable life lesson. Always carry a spare of socks in your bag. There are few things worse than having your feet inside cold, soggy socks. Sometimes it would rain so hard that the bag containing said spare socks would be soaked through, along with all its contents. Cue lesson 2. Always keep your spare pair of socks wrapped up in a plastic bag. #reuse!

Sure, some warm weather is great. But it is great because it doesn’t happen very often here. If it was 40 degrees every day in Manchester, I think it would become rather tedious. Mancunians are an incredibly resilient bunch, but even they might find themselves dreaming about the return of their delightful drizzle.

11. Guilt, denial and silver linings

12. Climate change / global warming

I think these terms could use a rebrand, they are a bit cuddly. And warm is nice.

How about:

Complete Climate Collapse?

Climate Catastrophe?

Or my favourite:

Fuck Disaster!

Penning musings about whatever pops into my brain. Including stuff about the brain. Very grateful to anyone who drops by, and comments warmly received.

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Andrew Birley

Andrew Birley

Penning musings about whatever pops into my brain. Including stuff about the brain. Very grateful to anyone who drops by, and comments warmly received.

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