Blog Action Day: The Environment

Thursday, 15th October 2009 at 17:41 UTC Leave a comment

Its proving rather difficult to work out what to write about with regards to the environment today. I suppose I really ought to, seeing as I signed up for Blog Action Day months ago, and I voted for this very subject to be included. But the environment is a big thing, a powerful force in our lives, but to one extent a very fragile one. For decades, people have been calling on others to “do it for the planet”, but we still manage to make things worse to the extent that Climate Change now threatens humanities very existence.

Public opinion polls on Climate Change have not shown a massive acknowledgement of the problem, nor do they show any real national-collective-urgency towards making significant changes, and we run the risk of winning a key battle, only to lose the longer struggle. By focusing too much on just two campaigns, Heathrow and Kingsnorth, climate activism is now bereft of its targets, but also of its icons, its social codes and so forth.

The third runway at Heathrow might have been cancelled, but what has happened to expansion at other airports? Leeds Bradford, Manchester, Stanstead; each of these could make flying significantly more attractive to consumers, where forcing more flights on Londoners might actually make less sense. Each of these is also massively less glamorous than Heathrow. At least with Climate Camp, turning their attention to E.On’s current largest plant, there’s a chance to keep the ball rolling with this weekend’s long overdue mass action “the Great Climate Swoop”.

But these huge symbols, no matter how much CO2 they emit, are not the real story of our environment. It is the runaway expenditure of the Earth’s resources that continues in so many different ways. Whether its burning oil, chopping down vital forests or whatever, we are largely a species of devouring lunatics if our relationship with our surroundings are anything to go by.

I saw the Vanishing of the Bees on Tuesday night. It was good, though some of the content was almost vomit inducing in its use of “Mother Earth” language. But it did make the point that our inability to realise why bees are vanishing  (the very insects responsible for pollinating 1/3rd of everything you eat) hinges on the way we refuse to see the bigger picture. There might be no evidence that certain pesticides damage bees in 1, 2 or 3 days, but when they’re accumulating in the soil, they become very dangerous indeed, for instance. The long view just doesn’t figure.

And that’s largely because we focus on the here and now. It might sound a silly analogy, but I actually find the way longevity of species often plays out in fantasy films. Where a human might live 60-80 years, an elf most often lives 400, thus being forced to take a much longer view, and often being in a position to laugh at the humans short sightedness. Of course, a few humans are forced by their circumstances into a longer view of life, for instance wine makers, who might plant a vineyard that the next generation will see the fruits from, and then bottles of wine get kept for years and so on. Whisky is sort of the same. Everything else is made in China one month, shipped the next, on the storeshelf the next month, in a home for a month and broken and off to landfill. A month might seem a long time, but its really a tiny length of time.

If Climate Change is the main focus of our concern, it is not because it stands out as a sign of our stupidity with resources, but because it is the logical conclusion of so many environmental catastrophes. From logging to oil usage, from building a global economy that requires air travel to people’s use of air conditioning, so much of what we have acheived is a hollow victory over the challenges of geography and nature, one that is rapidly being served up to us as shrinking ice caps and resource depletion. It simply has to stop.

We have to realise that we are not in charge, and that every time we try and overcome the planet, it ultimately wins. I don’t mean this in some nice and cute “mother nature chastises her children” way. I mean in the sense that you alter one side of an equation, and the cold hard facts rearrange themselves around you. The Earth, it might be argued, is hardly complaining, seeing as it existed for a few million years before us, and will do quite nicely following its traditional trajectory around the sun for many years to come, even if we finally extinguish ourselves. Besides, its possible CO2 levels might drop enough for another species to rise up, but it won’t be us.

All this would get rather nihilistic, but there is no reason it should. The Earth sustains a vibrant mix of life that we can interact with in many positive ways that are both physically fulfilling and emotional exciting. But the clutter of the conquest life has very much drowned this out for now, and until we learn to get out and listen, we will struggle greatly. This is what is meant when banners proclaim “Social Change not Climate Change”. It is a total re-evaluation of what is important, not just an adaptation of a business model, but an acknowledgement that our lives are being worsened by our own obsession with accumulation.


Entry filed under: Activism, Climate Change, Culture, Environment, Fantasy, Sustainability.

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