I don’t often do despair…
It’s taken me six hours to get out of bed. I know everybody has these days – when the side of the bed that faces the wall is the only comfort you want. Sometimes it’s after a heavy night, which ends with words erupting, smeared all over the caring eyes of the person you love. I’ve been there. Off my head at three in the morning and on a mission – wanting my love to know how great and solitary that mission was. And then I woke the next day, and she was next door and I felt so stupid to have thought anything could be achieved without her, alone. But by then it’s too late. You’ve hurled arrogant despair at the person you like best. They’ve withdrawn from you and it won’t be the same again.
Today I woke up in a cargo ship on my way to the High Arctic and shoved my face into the crack between the mattress and the wall. When I did turn my body round the sad fact of bright September sunshine and 14 degrees Arctic temperature was too much so I reverted to the edge of the mattress. When nature called I finally got up and sat heavy on the loo. I knew that around me stranger sailors were getting on with their jobs and further – some hundred miles north – a Greenpeace boat was measuring the lowest volume of Arctic ice since records began. I cried for the first time in months with my elbows on my bare knees and my temples in my hands and tears being squeezed out desperate to make some sort of physical sign acknowledge that this moment had happened.
A friend of mine once bought a book about living in this society whilst being hyper aware of its contradictions – that there are 9bn people on one shrinking planet and we all want – and are told it’s right to want – more. I wish I could remember what the book was called.
I’m out of bed now and writing because every day of this trip the number one item on my to do list has been:
write a ‘what are you doing?!’ inspiring and condemning call to arms, or manifesto, or letter or anything that people will read and will motivate them to risk everything to push our leaders, communities, families into preparing for climate change.
And I hadn’t managed it, but I hadn’t yet woken up in tears about climate change, so perhaps today’s the day. Problem is I don’t know what to say. In a way since I left university there’s been a lot of attempts to ‘raise awareness’ and ‘motivate change’. There have been small inspiring moments when my involvement in the ‘green movement’ has been a good thing (and moments where my ambitious careerism has made me, and others, question my motivations for caring at all) and then there’s the general fact that fewer people care about climate change than did when I began, that people I met along the way who inspired me have now given up their public fight and that many of those who do continue to campaign are feeling exhausted – and here I am on the trip of a lifetime weeping at my computer.
Today I don’t much want to go to the Arctic. After two weeks on various boats I’m just 5 hours away. In the seas around Svalbard it’s warmer and calmer than the Captain has ever known it to be so late in the year – and I’m getting sadder by the mile. Visiting the Arctic which is disappearing because of climate change – no not climate change – but because still we do nothing to limit our impact – turns out to be the most depressing thing I’ve ever done. It isn’t helping me ‘accept’ that we’ve changed the climate, nor is it wowing me in any way that isn’t sorrowful. It’s just scary and fucking sad that people with power and influence have flown here and seen this and still climate change is bottom of their agenda; that Greenpeace have a ship here and a dedicated comms team pushing messages to global media and yet it’s unreported.
I don’t know what it will take, or what all those people who graduated with me – and since – and before – are doing? What’s anyone doing who wants to grow up with comfort? I don’t know where to fling myself to make a difference, but there’s no way I could stop flinging. Since I was taught about the very simple facts of climate change (go to NASA’s climate website), and worked out their significance to now and the future, I’ve taken opportunities where they’ve opened. I’ve reacted to public and political debate. I’ve tried to coax people into an ‘exciting world’ where we don’t need fossil fuels – where something other than money, things and economic growth has value. I go for coaxing because somewhere along the way I was told that fear doesn’t motivate change and that speaking apocalyptically turns people off.
Arctic ice is melting, the Greenland icesheet is retreating – all of it – all of the global glaciers that have been there for hundreds of thousands of years are turning to water. And what where it’s hot, or where low-lying states are susceptible to flooding?
We know the things we do that make climate change irreversible (it involves burning fossil fuels). We know the things we do which use up limited resources (it involves free market consumerism). We can predict what will happen if we have increased natural disasters and fewer natural resources. It’s such a big turnaround that’s needed – heroic really – and instead all of the nations who make the problem are refusing to acknowledge that the decisions they make are the only solution. The people in charge put off the difficult debates and painful decisions so that our parents – their voters – can continue to live well, our parents who will not live to see the consequences of this neglect.
We need to build resilience. We need to consider how our society will cope with immigration when we make Africa uninhabitable, when Pakistan is under water (with current UK debates about immigration and international aid this is my most depressing thought). But instead international negotiations have stalled and climate change is not a mainstream problem or debate.
I’m in the Arctic and I will keep trying to see it with the enchantment it deserves – especially as so few are going to be able to see what I will. And yet – even that – is just another reason to mourn.
Can I make the ‘call to arms’ when I get home? It hurts too much here and I don’t know how to write with hope. Promise to be upbeat again soon, probably when I see Svalbard and remember how natural it is to be part of something.