The top headlines across today’s media cite the extraordinarily fierce fires across California alongside the damnation by a Public Inquiry of the London Fire Brigade for suggested failures in the ghastly Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 that killed 72 people. In both stories, there are fire-fighters risking their own lives to save other human beings. In both stories there is the cash-strapped emergency service reliant on inadequate resources and caught-out by the unforeseen ferocity of fast-moving flame. And in both stories there are the poor, inadequately protected, uncared for and left with nothing but tragedy.
It is as if this is a morality tale of our Age. The images of survivors, of ashen pallor, wide-eyed and numbed by the horror, slowly stumbling over words to explain their experiences and mourn their dead relatives, demand empathy and compassion. The blackened skeletons of their homes, the bones of chimneys or steel girders pointing skywards as if reaching in agony upwards from the charred earth, symbolise death and destruction.
Any possible sense of pathos is neutered by the irony of Halloween. Today’s “Celebration of the Dead” (or is it a commercial con for the sugar and toy industries?), will see children Trick or Treating around the safer neighbourhoods after tonight’s dusk. The costumed ghouls and masked devils will put to waste some millions of pumpkins to enjoy an evening of scares and thrills and all the tingles of safely contrived horror.
I much prefer the Celtic festival of Samhain which comes from the Old Irish for ‘Summer’s end’, livestock in from the higher pastures and a sufficient number slaughtered for the winter. A warming vegetarian meal (for preservation’s sake) sat around a roaring hearth. But perhaps this more modern, Christian-based Halloween is a useful rehearsal for times to come. Specifically, the climate catastrophe.
There will be more environmental fires, less ability to fight or prevent them, and far less public funding available to rehouse and re-establish the lives of the displaced. And far more death and suffering. Such a future doesn’t look like its going to be a walk in the park or a symbolic stroll with friends and family. Because, just as with California’s forests or England’s plastic-clad Tower Blocks, there has been little or no preperation for the coming conflagration.
On the surface, the Grenfell fire and the California fires appear to have nothing in common – one caused by Corporate failure and cost-cutting, and the other by global heating creating tinder conditions in the environment. The links become more obvious the more we look. Firstly, it is the poor of the world who are most vulnerable. They will continue to be the most affected and the soonest affected by environmental degradation. Secondly, the global economy based-upon the entwined dance of private accumulation and Debt (with a capital “D”) will ensure cuts to social infrastructure and the inevitability of social collapse as extreme weather events and their impact on human habitats become ever more frequent.
Thirdly, and not so apparent is the current Ecocide: the degradation of arable soil; emptying of ancient aquifer suppliers of water for agriculture; the mass extinction of pollinating insects; the destruction of the C02-capturing forests; the acidification of the seas. Halloween images of walking skeletons portray a very scary prediction.
Halloween came early for Extinction Rebellion, the mass March of the Dead on Saturday 12th October parading skeletons and coffins naming the recently extinct and predicting the end of humanity. It was a more powerful sight than any procession of giggling and growling trick-or-treaters tonight. We will see more street theatre depicting death and destruction in the coming months and years, alongside more mass tragedies as today epitomised by the California fires.
“We are all going to have to come together or we will end up slaughtering each other”, says Roger Hallam, an XR Founder, with the vision of the need to go “beyond politics” to act now against the threat of mass starvation. Certainly, the psycho-political understanding of the dynamics of climate change begins with the fact that global heating is a universal threat, not restricted to some nations or regions. It is the Truth that some regions will starve, many drown, and some burn.
Images of the dying on the TV and internet will render Halloween masks distasteful if not outlawed. Suffering will be widespread, the latest predictions being that at least 750million will be forced to migrate by sea-level rise alone by the year 2100. The displaced shanty cities with the flimsiest housing will be most vulnerable to early destruction. The forest fires and tinder-dry drought-ridden city suburbs will continue to burn. Indeed, the sea will set itself alight with the methane released from its clathrates. But the real experience of hellfire will be those watching it happen and knowing we could have done more to prevent it.