By Tom Leger
As we contemplate another election in this country, it is a sobering thought that the main discussion points are almost entirely man-made or artificial: Brexit, HS2, the North South divide – and so on. As more clever topics are raised by one or other group vying for power, the conversations sway this way and that about how much money we will throw at fibre-optics, or motorways, water-infrastructure or hospitals. But, none of these address the one fundamental question of how long we, as a species, are going to be living on this earth. None even begins to answer the increasingly urgent warnings being sent out from all over the world, by scientists and the Earth itself, that we are now in a fast changing feedback-loop, where the result of human actions are coming back to us in droves: and for the most part this feedback is negative.
It is time that we viewed the excess consumption of resources as the ultimate social and global evil. At a time when we are being asked to view those who use the phones whilst driving as being beyond the pale, we do not in any way censure those who drive expensive, fuel-guzzling 4x4s to take children to school, or to go to some smart dinner party. We do not turn our backs on those who spend a fortune on some new outfit every time they out to lunch.
But nor do we call out people like Miss Thunberg when she travels across the oceans on a so-called zero-carbon journey. It was not zero-carbon as the boat, its equipment, and her need to stay linked to the internet was never going to allow it to be so. Carbon fibre, glass reinforced plastic, electrical power, plastic safety clothes; all based upon, and contributing to, the problem of resource exploitation and pollution.
The same goes in many ways for Greenpeace and their ships and boats. They spew out tons of carbon-rich exhaust to reach, and then harass, the oil-rigs that are drilling for the fuels needed by the same Greenpeace ship.
That said, both Thunberg and Greenpeace are desperately trying to get people to think about their wasteful consumption of resources as never before, to break the cause and effects of extraction, excess use and disposal of plastics, energy and other resources. So how do we stop this destructive cycle?
It is certainly not just by deploying more and more “renewable” energy sources, for to date no-one has ever managed to develop one such source that is truly green. Take the wind turbines that have started to cover our landscape. Were you aware that they require the use of very powerful magnets in the generators, made of rare-earth metals, minerals that are mainly sourced in China these days? Did you also know that to extract these metals the Chinese mining operations spray powerful acids onto vast areas of the landscape to dissolve those rare metals? And did you know that the resulting sludge is not neutralised, but sent to a huge and growing lake of acid that is in itself an environmental catastrophe? So your “clean, renewable energy” comes at a heavy price – and we cannot go on pretending it is someone else’s problem: it is now rapidly becoming all of ours: yours and mine.
We have to start to accept that our individual actions are now very much part of that problem – if we make the wrong choices. So it is now time to stop before you book that flight or cruise and ask yourself whether you actually need to go on that trip. Is it essential – and indeed vital, given that you will be contributing to the death of this planet? Do you really, really, need that new dress, or handbag? Is that new watch, larger TV or new model of SUV so important that you can, in good conscience, ignore the effects of your consumption upon this planet.
Did you know that Global Warming is now melting parts of the permafrost (or tundra) in the arctic? And did you also know that this is allowing old bacteria that have been dormant for thousands of years to come to life and start killing again? If not, then consider that when you next hop on a plane, or decide to turn the central heating up a few degrees, you (yes you), are doing your bit to help diseases like Anthrax re-emerge on the world stage. Other killers are already spreading around the planet; malaria, dengue, plague – all these seemingly old and weakened enemies are being given a new lease of life as a result of our actions. At the same time, in parts of the world affected by drought or floods, failing food-crops are reducing the ability of millions of people to resist those diseases.
But are you someone who enjoys food? Do you like to eat just a little bit more than you really need? Are you in fact overweight? Or, to be less PC about it, are you chubby or fat? Because if you are, and if there is no other reason than self-indulgence, then you, just as much as that person in the big SUV, or that plastic yacht, are doing your bit to destroy this planet. Why? Because you and I only have two weapons with which to try to save ourselves from ourselves. The first weapon is to stand up and start to be honest about the problem and to start talking about it, expressing our disapproval of those who seem not to care: the second is to start to change our lives, to reduce our consumption and, therefore, our waste output.
Do not travel so much. Do not be so selfish as to expect to go on two, three, four of more holidays each year. Do not “freshen up“ your kitchen if what you have is actually perfectly workable. Do not buy a new car each year. Do not indulge in expensive, polluting whims such as a new pair of shoes whenever you go to town, or a new watch whenever you fly on a business trip. How many of us have our house-thermostats set at 21, 23, oven 25 degrees C? If you do, you should turn it down, or expect to lie awake at night with a conscience as your boiler spews exhaust into the atmosphere.
Do you suffer from breathing difficulties? If you do, are these worsened when air pollution rises? If you are lucky enough to have neither of those problems, then stop and ask yourself whether your actions are putting others at risk. Or are you someone who often ends up in A&E after a binging night on the town? And do you have any idea of the actual cost of the medical help you have come to expect from society as a whole – or whether you might ever have to pay the cost? Because if you have not, then you are also contributing to the death of human-kind, for you are diverting resources away from potential efforts to find solutions to our problems.
Just as someone who smokes is doing so. Why should society pay for your treatment if, having been warned of the dangers of smoking, you persist in taking up the habit? Why should a team of doctors then be called in to save your life (or not) when you contract cancer or some other disease. Why does society have to continue to divert resources to save you from yourself when we are facing the enormous task of saving the world instead?
This article presents the problem as being one of choices. Do this or else. Stop doing that or face the consequences. Some might argue that this is simplistic, too binary and stark. But that is in fact the message we are receiving loud and clear from scientists, weather forecasters, biologists and environmentalists all over the world. We have to stop doing many things that we currently take for granted, and we have to stop now – not in five years or ten; now. That means stop flying, stop consuming unnecessarily, stop wasting food and heat, and, also – stop putting up with other people’s wasteful and selfish actions.
If you go to a supper and someone talks about going off on another holiday, be prepared to ask them how they can justify it and whether it makes them feel at all uncomfortable about the pollution they are contributing to. Do not take any nonsense about: “Well, the plane was going there in any case”, for that is the lamest reason to fly. It also comes back to the point about making our views known to the market. We are individuals, but if we all start to say to travel companies that we don’t want to fly, they will get the message and the planes will stop being scheduled. Or airlines might be forced to work together so that only aircraft with a set minimum number of passengers are allowed to take-off in the first place.
Call out someone who proudly talks about their new plastic boat, their new car, or their house extension. Ask them if they really thought it was necessary and whether they had any consideration for the ideas of pollution and waste. Ask them perhaps why they felt that was a good use of their money when making a contribution to an organisation trying to save wildlife or the environment might have been a far more valuable thing to have done.
We are also going to have to engage with the major religions of the world whose ideas are rooted in centuries old dogmas which had absolutely no knowledge of the fate awaiting us. They have for too long been able to get away with promoting one of the worst causes of this global crisis – namely population growth. Today, some 7.5bn people are alive. By the end of this century that will have grown to some 12bn, with, according to UN estimates, the vast majority of that increase in Africa.
So how does the Catholic Church, an opponent of birth-control, begin to explain how those people are going to be fed and housed, given that desertification is going to reduce agricultural land in the Sub-Saharan region by some 35% or more in the same period? We are going to have to ask the leaders of all the main religions, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity and so on, to start to address this problem and to be prepared to explain how and why they can continue to encourage large families.
We have to start to be more open about these considerations and to get everyone to face the grim reality that Venice, Australia, and anthrax are the new realities unless we get a grip – and fast. Just as the police want to make the use of phones while driving a “social evil”, we need to round upon those who show no regard for the future of our children as being out of step at best, and downright selfish at worst.
Ask the people along the River Don what it feels like to be flooded out – and how they feel about the thousands of new houses about to be built on the floodplain with the local council’s permission. But then, go and ask the council why they are allowing this development and they will almost certainly point to an expectation that we are all entitled to our own home, regardless of circumstances, and the sheer number of people they now have to look after.
It is of course very hard to be optimistic about the future when we are confronted with the increasingly ugly face of modern politics. From Russia to the USA, there are forces at work that are so profoundly, wilfully ignorant of the realities of life of earth that it makes one want to weep with frustration. But we cannot allow them to stop us from trying. Nor should we use the fact that billions of people in this world have probably never even heard of “global warming” deter us from trying to do our bit.
It is going to be painful, and the pain is going to start very soon. You might lose a friend or two when you face them and ask how they can justify what they are doing. But we have to be ready to do so or accept that we will be complicit in the potential destruction of much of the Human Race. Above all, we just have to start doing something or “We’re all doomed” as that canny Scotsman used to say.