2020 horror? There are an enormous proportion of tweets and online posts offering the same antidote to this year’s challenges: “why can’t we just talk about positive things and stop all this negativity?”
My instant inner response each time is “Grow Up!”, although I’d never put that in print(!). I have often been left incandescent at the prissy call-outs to “be happy”, alongside what appears to be an all-but anti-human approach of “I know best”.
As far as I can surmise, such arrogance reflects a deeply reactionary self-consumed approach to life and society, a response to the current and ongoing global crisis that ultimately reflects far-Right “survival of the fittest” notions.
Of course, having my own blog allows me to vent and rant away without requiring anyone to listen, and publish my own observations upon the human condition for my own satisfaction. I need this outlet, and I guess that’s the same for others who similarly vent frustration and angst at anomie online.
Yet I can only observe the “Lovely, Lovely” approach to life as, not only deeply entitled, but twee. I perfectly well understand the mental health dangers of constant pessimism and hopelessness, but there is plenty to be pessimistic about, and, as a human emotion depression exists as an alert mechanism – a warning. To present otherwise is surely a descent into a different area of mental illness – asserting an emotional blindness to current challenges and the travails of others.
There’s a lot of such self-centredness around.
Just the responses to the outrageous levels of child poverty in the UK offers sufficient evidence of that. This week Parliament voted not to pay a paltry amount to feed children of poor families with a light lunch during school holidays. To a person, the self-centred spoke out to argue that State handouts create dependency and parents should struggle to stand on their own two feet, taking individual responsibility for their children’s diet.
The fact that more than 1 in 3 children in England and Wales live in poor households where one or more of the human necessities of life cannot be afforded is not to be acknowledged or dealt with. Ask why poverty is widespread, deepening, systemic, institutionalised? Instead, “why can’t they do what I do?”
There are similar reactions in responses to the Climate crisis, often by people who consider themselves progressive and even “Left-wing”.
Firstly, let’s be clear, there is no scientific argument. It is a matter of fact that the 16 clinically observed aspects of environmental and ecological degradation are at or past their respective Tipping Points.
To deny the scale of the challenge is to deny fact, yet the “Big Picture”, or rather, the holistic approach to campaigning to stop runaway climate change is most often neglected or denied.
The facts are too many to document in a single article, but just observe a few visions from the year 2020:
• the release of methane from ocean floors and Siberian permafrost;
• The loss of sea-life as the oceans acidify;
• the record-breaking high temperatures from the USA’s Death Valley to India’s Northern Phalodi;
• the equally never-seen-before scale of fires in California, Australasia, The Amazon and Syria’s Al-Suwayda Governorate; and
• the equally devastating floods in Rwanda, Bangladesh, Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia, Guyana, Italy, Indonesia, and the Adjara region of the country of Georgia;
not to mention the extraordinary pace of extinction of animal and insect life, and the evidence of never-before-seen in the last 3 million years environmental change, at a pace that dumfounds both the scientists and their computer models. This requires alarm, not comfort.
Yet, as an activist, I spend most of my time in online-meetings and reading tracts by well-meaning and equally well informed colleagues and comrades who seek to remain within the cosmetic spaces of day-to-day campaigning.
Each to their own, anyone doing anything is to be valued. I am not arguing that they should stop, only that the numbers who are actively challenging the System are far too few to be effective.
Neither am I arguing an either-or approach, demanding only revolutionary activity and damning all day-to-day reforms. I do both. I simply note that many of my friends and associates remain single-issue and defiant against calls for System Change, “doing” only the “cycling”, “rewilding”, “reuse” or “reduce use” single focus activities.
I don’t mind that it makes them feel better (I only wish they would do for me), but do mind when they pose their chosen hobby as “the answer”: “If only people would refuse to use plastic”, “People [the Others?] should be Vegan”, “oh, personally, I only ever use charity shops – consumerism is an addiction which I don’t have” (think about it).
Of course we need fewer cars, to walk and cycle more, to use less plastic and eat less meat, just as we need to buck the trends towards social intolerance and Fear of Others. But we have very little time in which to act before conditions ensure complete social collapse.
Historically, a deep social, political and economic crisis precedes revolution. This multi-faceted crisis, comprised of pandemic, economic and political corruption, extreme inequality of power and opportunity, war and climate collapse, is not going away.
This is our life from here on in. More of the same, and far worse, is on the way. But, as in all things, what we do matters and can shape the trajectory and outcome of the crisis.
It’s no good pretending. It’s the System! If politicians deny the climate emergency, either by word or inaction, they have to be challenged forthrightly, not politely requested to produce more cycle lanes or sow wild seeds, but to establish laws against global heating emissions, starting with the oil producers, arms manufacturers (the military are biggest polluters) and fossil fuel burners (car users being way down the list of targets).
To bang-on about re-wilding parks and pavements, rave about walking rather than driving, exude moral superiority for riding a bicycle, or pontificate about how nasty some politicians can be, may well be personally reassuring. I know I have my own pet passions. But none of these produce any real change, and certainly not the level of change needed.
As others document well, not least George Monbiot, the honest approach is to own the sheer scale and sonics of the challenge. Effective re-wilding is about ending industrial farming and transforming the management of areas the size of Dartmoor, the Lake District and the East Midlands. Planting tens of millions of trees.
By contrast, letting the football pitch at my local Victoria Park return to Dandelions, Lousewort and Yellow Rattle won’t make a heap of difference (except for the group of young asylum seekers whose use of the well-mown grass football pitch is a rare escape from the fear and tedium of imposed poverty).
Equally, ensuring homes are refitted to zero-carbon emissions will not be aided if the weeds (sorry, wild flowers) are protected and allowed to grow in the curtilages, walls and roofs with the ensuing destructive root damage and water intrusion to buildings. Flowers seed themselves everywhere. Fungus eats wood. We have to protect our homes, de-weed our vegetable patches, kill Russian Vines (the mile-a-minute Fallopia Baldschuanica) before they overwhelm us!
It is argued that these small-scale approaches offer education and patterns of change that add-up to large-scale changes. An oft-offered example is is recycling, now “normal” across the industrialised world. But look deeper and the majority of municipalities still burn or send to land-fill much of that which we have painstakingly recycled at home. Deeper still, smog-inducing tankers ferry our plastics to poor countries with no option but to dump our waste somewhere else. Recycling isn’t profitable enough as a money-making concern for the System to truly adopt it (but lets not talk about that).
Sometimes the twee moralism becomes anti-humanity in its holier-than-thou approach. “The World would be fine if only everyone else lived as I do”. Or worse still, “I hate humanity, the world would be better off without us!” Ugh, I can’t abide it! Humans may well be analogous to a bacteria, but there would be no life on Earth without such a marvellous mix of interactive lifeforms – especially bacteria! We are of vital importance to the Ecology!
Sharing the Planet with Nature requires that we offer management – of ourselves yes, but of other life forms that can be just as intrusive, rampant, predatory and destructive. There’s nothing benign about Nature, and whilst I’d want humanity to be as one with the metabolism of all Life, the notion of a “Return to Nature” is actually an argument for human extinction. We should not be apart from the Ecology, but as part of Life we should act upon it for our own survival.
So we need to be factual and scientific about what works and must be done to prevent runaway climate change. And seize the time. Stop playing around. It is the Capitalist System of production that exploits and destroys the ecology, and exploits and oppresses the majority of humanity in much the same way and towards the same extinction. Either it is ended or we end as a species.
These are Epic times. Why think small?
Practically, ending the domination of the internal combustion engine will not occur because we individually choose to give-up our cars but by laws that ensure oil and gas will, from henceforth, be left in the ground! And the biggest demand right now must be for the restructuring of the economy to produce millions of Green Jobs in this period of recession into economic (as well as emotional) Depression, which requires targeting Government and politicians, Corporations and businesses.
Why would we find happiness in living an illusion?
I’m sure I’m now seen as nothing other than an intolerant old man at these meetings, repeating the above endlessly and showing angst if not overt anger at the paucity of the debate and shallowness of aspiration. But so be it. The issues are of the future of human survival, not personal politeness.
Nevertheless I will now, once again, curb my ire and return to an online politeness in text and Zoom meet-ups. Only because alienating those around me is unlikely to encourage or build a movement of the scale needed for real societal change. Inside I am squirming and seething at the lack of proportionate response to existential threat: “shuffering and shmiling” as Fela Kuti would sing.
The human world is not a nice place in 2020 and isn’t about to get any nicer. Most of us (apart from the top 5% of the world’s wealthy few) are facing deepening discomfort. Rather than seek the soporific comforts of “feeling like we’re doing something”, we may as well make ourselves uncomfortable now and do things that really make a difference. That will require fighting for a different society, not just better cycle routes.