Archive for Environment

Why Game of Thrones reminds me of climate change

I love Game of Thrones.  I love Game of Thrones even more now that I am re-watching it, which I began to do this Christmas. I love re-watching it because now I can brace myself for the horror that I know is coming. Now I can actually enjoy the story’s development and make peace with the demise of my favourite characters several episodes before they are bludgeoned, throttled or eviscerated.  Yes, I know it’s pathetic, but now I can mourn Ygritte days before she dies.  I can say a slow goodbye to the Red Viper.  I can console myself that, hey, the Starks really did have it coming, they were just never cunning enough to make it out of there with their throats intact.  But, above all else, I am realising that Game of Thrones reminds me of climate change.

The underlying premise of Game of Thrones is that, whilst the humans fight amongst themselves in alliances of increasingly bewildering complexity, they collectively face a threat so terrifying that most people are in denial about it. Whilst the various kingdoms hack and claw away at each other, they neglect the reports of approaching dragons and White Walkers, refusing to believe that they might one day be consumed by fire or ice.  Dragons, after all, have not been seen for centuries, and White Walkers have long since passed into the realm beyond myth. Those who first warn of the resurgence of either are dismissed as lunatics: one of them is even beheaded.  The reality is either too numbing or too fantastical to be accepted.

Thankfully, the fate of the first people to flag up climate change as an existential threat was not quite as grisly.  However, those researchers and their successors have attracted a certain degree of ridicule.  Now, though, their work is receiving depressing vindication.  Today, I read an article in The Guardian, entitled “Rate of environmental degradation puts life on Earth at risk, say scientists”. In the words of one of the bearers of bad news, Professor Will Steffen:

“It’s fairly safe to say that we haven’t seen conditions in the past similar to ones we see today and there is strong evidence that there [are] tipping points we don’t want to cross..If the Earth is going to move to a warmer state, 5-6C warmer, with no ice caps, it will do so and that won’t be good for large mammals like us. People say the world is robust and that’s true, there will be life on Earth, but the Earth won’t be robust for us.”

He continued:

“Some people say we can adapt due to technology, but that’s a belief system, it’s not based on fact. There is no convincing evidence that a large mammal, with a core body temperature of 37C, will be able to evolve that quickly. Insects can, but humans can’t and that’s a problem…It’s clear the economic system is driving us towards an unsustainable future and people of my daughter’s generation will find it increasingly hard to survive.  History has shown that civilisations have risen, stuck to their core values and then collapsed because they didn’t change. That’s where we are today.”

Back in 2008, when I first became truly aware of the danger posed by climate change, there was a period where I read every paper and watched every video on the issue that I could find.  I attended a couple of conferences, and found the science so frightening in its implications that I remember sitting there and writing, during a particularly startling speech, “it feels like the autumn of the world”.

Just as in Game of Thrones, it now seems that winter is coming.  I remember howling about environmental degradation to anyone who would listen, and performing a poem, ‘The Creep’, that really only seemed to shock people further.  I have never felt so impotent as I did then, as I tried to network with scientists and politicians, trying to nudge those wealthy philanthropists whom I had encountered in my work to embrace the issue.  And I felt that I had failed, that I could not convey the urgency of what I was reading and seeing.  And so, like a Game of Thrones episode that was just too gut-wrenching to watch, I found some way to tune out my fears of climate change, to change the channel.

And here we are, in 2014, with the environmental outlook increasingly bleak. Unlike Game of Thrones, though, this will eventually be a screen from whose unsettling images none of us can look away.

 

On floods, and rising sea levels: “The Creep”.

I wrote this poem a while back about floods, climate change and rising sea levels, and thought I’d share it now, as it seems relevant.  If you find it of interest, please share.

———————————–

The creep.  I spent a sleepless eve

Beneath creased bedsheets, and I breathed

An anxious breeze, a worried wind:

I panted – my thoughts, hurried – things

Were inching closer, so it seemed:

The moon glinted; it had once beamed

Benignly at me; sign of what

I did not know; I closed window

Despite the night-time’s stifling heat,

Hiding from moon: just like a fleet

Of clouds might hide the sun from us,

My curtains hid me from the dusk

And thus I lay in darkness –

In room humid as closed casket:

But, in here, I felt no safer;

My room’s walls were thin as wafers,

And, through them, I heard in distance

Some small sound, growing, insistent

With each piston of my heartbeat,

Creeping towards me, my parched sheets;

I had heard this creep for weeks, for months –

At work, I’d talked about it once

But all I received was colleagues’

Jibes that I needed a life:

That didn’t stop me hearing it

Or fearing it.  And here it came:

Tapping my eardrums like first rain-

Drops on a nervous pane of glass

That knows the storm’s approaching fast…

I could not just wait there for it

Nor could I ignore it; so I,

Throwing on my overcoat,

Went to front door, opened it, closed

It behind me hard, with a slam

To drown that sound, and then I ran

Up to the broken traffic lights

Which lit the crossroads; flashing bright

Green, amber, red in rapid strobe,

They winked at cars, who never slowed

Down to return these urgent flirts;

And as I stood there, with the church

Across from me and the vibrant

Neon sign of some off-licence,

I heard something – no, that’s a lie:

You won’t believe me, but I’ll try

To tell you what I heard: my mind

Had amplified, well, every sound

Across the world.  In every town,

Be it Lisbon, Brisbane, Beirut,

I heard each noise: I could hear troops

Marching in the Congo, groups

Of French teens smoking bongs, those suits

In Swiss board meetings, with their knives

Sharpened, to backs to be applied…

Why did my ears offer me

This cacophony, that deafened

Me like blast from weapon?

I heard private sorrows, sobs, tears –

It was like I’d borrowed God’s ears…

Wait – there was more that I could hear:

I heard atoms in Korea

Splitting savagely in some test

To create some man-made sunsets;

Somewhere, polar bears were drowning;

Urban roads were overcrowding –

Whether on weekdays, or Sabbaths –

With hordes of metallic mammoths;

I heard jet planes farting carbon,

Arson’s roar in forest fires,

Heard the laughs of arms suppliers

As they sold death without bias

To either side of a conflict;

Heard the anguish of a conscript

In some war-torn Middle Eastern

State, who’d just killed without reason…

But, in midst of all this din,

I heard that sound, tiny, yet grim –

The creep of each tide up each shore

Higher than it had crept before –

Each creep up each beach was either

Just one or two millimetres;

Whilst we engaged in wars of words

Or worse, this creep went unobserved:

What was causing it?  I focused

My ears, so that I could know this –

Fixed my hearing on a target

In far corner of the Arctic,

And I found source of this creeping:

I heard one huge iceberg, weeping,

Shedding itself in grief’s gallons

Into sea for no apparent

Reason; then I listened more

And all became a little more

Haunting, as these teardrops echoed

Around this deserted ghetto…

It seemed that the sun had kidnapped

Icebergs that it would not give back –

So this iceberg mourned its siblings.

With tears’ torrents, it was shifting

Tides towards us, and our coasts

So soon the coasts would be as close

As our front doorsteps; but the creep

Went unheard by the people.  Meek,

Made humble by this distant threat,

I did what these seas did – I crept

To my room, that tomb,

And I slept.

UK floods: the heart attack after not going to the doctor.

Floods are causing distress throughout many parts of the UK, and I am fortunate that the only discomfort that I am feeling is severe frustration. I may find it difficult in the next few paragraphs to articulate my fears, so I apologise for any lack of clarity in advance.

I cannot believe that we are still here, in 2014, largely dismissing the possibility – or, in my view, the probability – that the extreme weather events we have seen recently are the result of climate change accelerated by the human race. I actually cannot believe it. In 2006, when a work colleague alerted me to this issue, I went away and read as much of the science around this issue as I could. I didn’t want to acknowledge the enormity of the growing problem at first: the range of challenges that our world would face was overwhelming. For some reason, though, the threat which stood out above all was that posed by rising sea levels. I think, quite simply, because this is the worst thing about floods: they meet you in your home, at your doorstep. There’s nowhere else to run after that, when the danger is lapping at the entrance of your refuge.

And this is where I feel such frustration. I feel the same frustration that I might feel if I had been telling a friend for months to go to the doctor to get that terrible chest pain of theirs checked out, and they ignore my concern only to suffer a heart attack. And my feeling is exactly this: a grim concern, not the detached smugness of “I told you so”, but a worry that they may not be able to recuperate, since the health problem may be too far gone. Because we have wasted so much time. We have wasted so much time indulging xenophobia at the imaginary floods of Romanians and Bulgarians from the EU whilst the very real floods have been arriving with increasing insistence each year. We should have been looking instead at how we could adapt to a world where extreme weather events are more and more common.

Climate change is not, in the end, a political issue. After all, those floods will happily converge on the homes of liberal and conservative voters alike.  The key question, in my view, is whether we will make smart estimates about the funding needed to mitigate the effects of such floods in future. Otherwise, I wonder how just many more warnings we will need.

“Helpless”, about climate change

Climate change is consistently claiming the headlines these days.  Many people are not convinced that the recent extreme weather events are anything to do with our pollution of the environment; many others are convinced, but I suspect are feeling helplessness and resignation about a problem that feels too big to address.  I wrote this, “Helpless”, in the hope that it might resonate with some of them.

————

It’s hard not to be selfish
If you feel helpless
If you know the ice shelf’s melting;
Have to look elsewhere, stare at the twelve-inch;
Quick, give me sports statistics to delve in…
Bring it to my doorstep,
Grinning from the tabloids’ foreheads,
Morbid – more wars – more deaths –
I will ignore it, as forceful as storms get;
I will not witness the torment….
Pardon: I can’t watch what I can’t stop,
And I can’t put the oil back, refreeze the seas,
Or uneat the meat,
Or unburn the coal,
Or unfly the planes,
Or unbirth the souls;
So:
I’m not about to halt what I can;
No, I’m off to grab hold of and gulp what I can;
Some will bet that I could have done better
But can’t say I never made an effort;
See, I’ve called on those above us, but none replied
So now all I do is cover eyes:
Now all I do is cover eyes

“Helpless”, a poem on climate change

About two years ago, in August 2009, I was particularly worried about climate change and wrote the piece below, “Helpless”.  Those fears returned when I read the news in the Guardian that the Greenland ice sheet had experienced an unprecedented melt, and so I thought that I would post my poem here.

“Helpless”

It’s-
Hard not to be selfish
If you feel helpless
If you know the ice shelf’s melting;
Have to look elsewhere, stare at the twelve-inch;
Quick, give me sports statistics to delve in…
Bring it to my doorstep,
Grinning from the tabloids’ foreheads,
Morbid – more wars – more deaths –
I will ignore it, as forceful as storms get;
I will not witness the torment….
Pardon: I can’t watch what I can’t stop,
And I can’t put the oil back, refreeze the seas,
Or uneat the meat,
Or unburn the coal,
Or unfly the planes,
Or unbirth the souls;
So:
I’m not about to halt what I can;
No, I’m off to grab hold of and gulp what I can;
Some will bet that I could have done better
But can’t say I never made an effort;
See, I’ve called on those above us, but none replied
So now all I do is cover eyes
So now all I do is cover eyes