Last night, after watching ‘Climate Change: The Facts’, the BBC’s terrifying synopsis of what we have done to the planet, and where it is taking us, I went upstairs to my kids’ bedroom and watched them sleeping for a long, long time.
I watched their chests rise and fall, breathing the air we take for granted, perhaps dreaming of the coming Bank Holiday weekend, when they will play in the sunshine we still see as a blessing rather than an enemy. And I thought: When are you going to tell them that their safe world is falling apart?
Perhaps for the first time ever, this week brought with it a confluence of stories that have forced me into spiral of misanthropic, climate-anxiety. There was the BBC doc, and the Extinction Rebellion protests in Central London. There was Notre Dame's immolation, and the billionaire philanthropy which pursued it, with its perfect encapsulation of society’s deluded, anthropocentric priorities. A few thousand miles away, in news you probably haven’t heard about, wildfires were tearing through the Simien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia, just another natural treasure fallen victim to human irresponsibility. There will be more.
And it’s forced me to realize, with heart-stopping clarity, that our stubborn refusal to digest the urgency of this moment is going to steal the planet from my children, and their children after them. And that this is the point at which we all have to stop, take a breath, and engage with the challenges we face, and with our fast-diminishing options to surmount them.
For all of my life, environmentalists have been warning us about the devastating impact that human activity is having on the planet’s capacity to sustain civilisation. We have responded with incremental, lip-service solutions. It has not been enough. No amount of Quorn sausages or meticulous recycling is going to cut it. Our headlong rush towards the utter collapse of the world we know can be stopped through political will alone. The politicians are not going to magically stop fannying about with Brexit, or scoring-points over the day’s trivial outrage fodder, unless their electorate demands that they do better.
We all need to to refocus the lens. We need to stop suppressing the anxiety wrought by climate change’s apocalyptic implications, and come to grips with, and champion, the difficult policy choices required to mitigate gathering cataclysm.
The orthodoxies of ceaseless economic expansion – and the relentless consumerism that bring us not one tenth of the joy of seeing a flower open, or walking in a woodland – need to be tipped on their head. The very rich – and in a global context, many of the people reading this will fall into this category – need to fucking well get used to having less. And we all need to surrender our determination to conflate individual freedom with a licence to trash and pollute the planet, and the perverse "right" to wallow in ignorance if we don't like the facts staring us in the face. We also need to support any political leader courageous enough to force us to do so.
Finally, we need to stop kidding ourselves that if we just ignore it things might turn out OK. I understand that there is a vogue among the shat-upon anti-liberal classes to lump climate alarmism in with all the other ways that educated people tell us how to live. But in the face of irrefutable scientific consensus, this is tantamount to nihilism. If you find yourself swayed by the facile arguments of Big-Oil-funded denialists, you are subscribing to a death-cult. And you are going to feel pretty fucking stupid when the North Sea starts leaking through your door-jamb.
I understand that this country – and much of the world – is riven between conflicting instincts: progress and conservatism, faith in science or faith in God. But the ravages of climate change are not going to discriminate between people you love and people you don’t. It will take everything. It will force misery and death upon our children. That is a horrifying sentence, and I feel guilty for visiting it on you on a sun-filled Friday morning, but it is the cold truth.
In short, if you usually drive to work over Waterloo Bridge and find yourself fuming at the Extinction Rebellion protesters, stop moaning, and take the fucking train. The world can no longer bend to facilitate our personal convenience. I’m sorry. The stakes are just too high.