Contributoria

Article Planet Earth

How to tackle climate change! Or sit down trying

When I was a child I would spend every other weekend at my aunt and uncle’s house. They’d have lots of films on VHS and I’d while away the evenings in a dark bedroom watching worn out tapes of Alien, Robocop, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Predator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It was the latter which most messed with my head. I could deal with aliens who looked like fannies, burned up bad guys who lived in your nightmares, and aliens with fannies for mouths (what was it with aliens and vaginas in the 80s?).

This scene in T2 is what really messed with my head. Sarah Connor banging away at a steel fence, then being immolated and blown to bits along with the rest of Los Angeles by a nuclear explosion. This wasn’t science fiction to my tiny, 10-year-old brain, this was something that could actually happen. My uncle, quickly tiring of my crying and chatty concerns, assured me that this not only wouldn’t happen, but couldn’t happen. A beautiful lie.

I managed to avoid seeing films like Threads or The Day After, which I imagine would’ve sent me into catatonia as a child, but that scene was enough to scar me for life. As I got older, girls became the scariest thing in the world, then exam results, followed by credit card bills, and ultimately not being able to afford another pint of Pig on the Wall in The Midland became the one, true terror. Launch all the nukes, Putin, I can’t afford another pint of mild. It’s still there, though, in the back of my mind, that little 2 minute scene, forever instilling in me a deep, primal fear of nuclear weapons.

Of course, no one really talks about that anymore. The big sexy catastrophe at the moment is global warming, or climate change, but no one really seems all that concerned. James Cameron hasn’t done a beautiful and terrifying two minute scene showing how fucked we’re all going to end up if we keep on eating meat and driving cars. Apart from a few clunkers by Roland Emmerich (which mostly just made me afraid of Dennis Quaid and wolves), nothing’s really scaring the crap out of kids nowadays.

I think this is one of the key reasons there are so many people who deny that climate change is even a thing. I will be the first to admit that I am a fairly lazy human being. When I hear scientists from all over the world almost universally agree that climate change is a thing, that it’s happening, it is observable, and that it’s something that is man-made, I don’t really question it. I don’t know much about climate science in the same way that I know nothing about rocket science, so when the ESA’s probe, Rosetta, landed on comet 67P (Churyumov-Gerasimenko as it’s known to comet nerds), I believed it happened, I believed it was something human beings did.

Scientists get a decent chunk of change and spend a lot of money doing really clever, interesting things. They mostly spend their days learning and teaching. Then there’s a guy like Peter, who I met on Reddit. Peter is not a scientist. Peter works in retail. I used to work in retail. Retail is a noble profession, but it requires very little knowledge in the field of climate change. Why does Peter know so much about it?

“I read a lot. I had a professor in college who denied that man was behind climate change. He would talk a lot about the tilting of the earth and the way sunlight and its angles through the atmosphere can affect climate.”

Peter is getting way too technical for me at this point. Remember, I am a dumb human being and I believe the scientists about climate change.

A quick Google leads me to something called Milankovitch cycles, a theory named after Serbian geophysicist & astronomer Milutin Milankovic. The Wikipedia page for Milankovitch cycles, mercifully, has a Simple English option. The gist of it is that there are these tiny, slow, but regular changes in the Earth’s trips around the sun, and the way the Earth’s axis is tilted. Each cycle leads to a change of climate on the Earth. This, Peter’s professor explained, was what was causing climate change, not human beings, and their cars, and their meat industries, and their delicious bottles of Lynx Africa.

Another quick Google, which I digest and pretend is a conclusion I have come to myself, suggests that these cycles are actually pretty easy to predict, due to their regularity, and that it wouldn’t be possible for the activity of the sun from these cycles to cause the global warming trends we’re seeing. Incredibly, Peter backs down, asks for some links (like this one, which took 5 seconds to Google), and says he’ll get back to me. He doesn’t, but I don’t blame him, he probably didn’t care.

Most people don’t want this discussion. I can see why. It’s not something that’s going to affect us, is it? We can’t see the changes around us. A little known organisation called the European Commission has this to say on the matter -

“Climate change is happening so fast that many plants and animal species are struggling to cope. Many terrestrial, freshwater and marine species have already moved to new locations. Some plant and animal species will be at increased risk of extinction if global average temperatures continue to rise unchecked.”

Who cares about plants and animals? So they’ve moved down the road, so what? I need something that is going to affect me, Harry Vale, someone who rarely leaves the house.

“In some regions extreme weather events and rainfall are becoming more common while others are experiencing more extreme heat waves and droughts.”

I live in the West Midlands, mate, I’d kill for some extreme weather events, it’d give me something to do.

“These impacts are expected to intensify in the coming decades.”

Wait. What? Decades? As in, assuming I stick to my Slimming World diet, these changes are going to affect me? They’re going to affect me, my future-wife, and my potential future-kids? I thought this was all going to happen in the early 2100s? I was pretty much planning on not being alive then. I was going to die then, or whenever the Villa won the Premier League, whichever happened first.

“Urban areas, where 4 out of 5 Europeans now live, are exposed to heat waves, flooding or rising sea levels, but are often ill-equipped for adapting to climate change.”

Shit.

I had to close the EC page with all this information on, as it was really bumming me out. I went back to the climate change deniers on the internet. Surely they’d cheer me up. Volcanoes, they said. It’s pretty much just volcanoes. It’s happened before, it’ll happen again, we just need to tell off the volcanoes.

Except it isn’t volcanoes.

Humans release around 135 times more carbon dioxide annually than volcanoes do, according to a study by Terrence Gerlach, a former volcanologist. This guy knows volcanoes, probably more than a guy on Reddit, even if he does have over 10,000 comment karma.

“The most frequent question that I have gotten (and still get), in my 30 some years as a volcanic gas geochemist from the general public and from geoscientists working in fields outside of volcanology, is: ‘Do volcanoes emit more CO2 than human activities?’ Research findings indicate unequivocally that the answer to this question is ’No — anthropogenic CO2 emissions dwarf global volcanic CO2 emissions.”

Alright, mate, let’s not let science and facts get in the way of an argument. To me, it’s clear that the most popular theories of climate change deniers can be easily shot down, only to be replaced a couple more, even dumber ones, like a particularly annoying hydra.

I get into more debates with the deniers, some who agree climate change probably is a thing, but isn’t man-made. Some who think it’s a government conspiracy, or a conspiracy involving corporations, or liberal organisations; if you can think of a big company, group or politician, they’ve probably been linked to climate change. I soon tire of the internet climate change deniers. We’re both doing the same thing, regurgitating facts and figures we’re not really understanding. I decide to go to some professional deniers.

In America it gets a bit weird. In 2011, employees of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection were allegedly banned from using the phrases ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’. Rises in sea levels were to be referred to as ‘nuisance flooding’, which is about the most twee and non-scary phrase for what is basically the end of the world that I can think of. The majesty and genius of Kevin Costner’s Waterworld wouldn’t be quite the same if it was about a man sailing around a world ravaged by a bit of nuisance flooding.

Republican Rick Scott, who runs the department in question (and also denies the phrases were banned), refuses to accept man-made climate change is a thing. “I’ve not been convinced that there’s any man-made climate change,” he said, “I’m not a scientist.”

I’m not a Formula 1 driver, but I know that driving really fast can lead to accidents. It’s a weird refusal of facts, “I’m not a scientist”, as if you need to be one, as if you need to have a degree, in order to believe or understand anything 97% of climate change scientists are telling us.

Imagine a doctor tells you you’ve got cancer. You don’t believe the diagnosis because you’re not a doctor yourself. You get a second opinion, a third, you go to every single cancer specialist in the country and almost every single doctor says you have cancer. “I’m not a doctor,” you say, and only 97% of them say you have cancer. Do you risk ignoring them? Do you go home and just sleep off the cancer? Rick Scott would laugh in the face of them, because he’s not a doctor.

Scientists and environmental charities and organisations all tell me that this is a real thing and that action needs to be taken now. It needs to be taken yesterday, if possible. Time travel is beyond me, but I ask if there’s anything I can do.

The unanimous response is that there’s not a lot one person can do. There’s no magic bullet for changing climate change. It’s all about coming together. It’s about volunteering, donating time, donating money. Go to protests, Greenpeace say. Print out posters and leaflets, boycott this company, boycott that company, Friends of the Earth say. Annoyingly, all the companies I’m told to boycott I already do by default. Esso, Friends of the Earth say, deny that global warming is caused by burning oil, even if 160 governments agree that it does. Esso, the total bastards, won’t invest in renewable energy. I feel like I should somehow get a car, get some petrol from Esso, and then never use them again, just to show them.

Boycott mahogany wood! Okay. I’ll continue to do that.

One scientist, who didn’t want to be named, tells me “you can’t do anything noteworthy, sorry to burst your bubble.” I think my email was perhaps overly optimistic, but his response really knocks the wind from my solar sails.

I want to do something noteworthy. I think. I’m sure I do. Austerity’s the big topic on my Facebook and Twitter feed at the moment. There are lots of rallies & marches being planned. Bring a placard, one of the groups suggest. I wouldn’t even know where to begin with a placard. Where do you buy a placard from? Amazon? I’m supposed to boycott them.

Austerity is a very real, very bad thing that’s going to affect people I know, probably even affect me. It’s going to cause more tangible damage, in a smaller amount of time, than warming oceans will. So why aren’t I doing anything? There’s the crushing sense of inevitability. The knowledge that those in power won’t be bothered by my pithy chants, my hastily-scrawled upon placard, and will ignore facts and figures about the true cost of austerity.

The same people in power will ignore my chants and placards about global warming and climate change. By all accounts, Amber Rudd, the Conservative’s new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, seems like a good egg (for a Tory), but is surrounded by climate deniers like Christopher Chope (he took part in a discussion called ‘How the EU’s Climate Alarmism is Costing You Money’), Andrew “there is little evidence to support the view that the correct response at this time should be rapidly decarbonize the economies of the world” Tyrie, John Redwood (it’s cold in April, so global warming can’t be a thing), et al. It doesn’t bode well.

If there’s nothing noteworthy to be done, then why bother trying to do anything?

Well, fuck that. I may not have the energy for constantly marching around the country calling the government bastards (however fun that sounds), and I may not be able to do something “noteworthy”, but I can write this. I can donate a tenner to COIN, the Climate Outreach and Information Network, who work on communicating to people like me about climate change.

I can stop trying to talk to climate change deniers on Reddit and spend more time thinking about solar power. Maybe I’ll become a vegetarian, maybe I’ll walk instead of getting a taxi. Maybe all this optimism will wear off me like the sweet stench of Lynx.

I’m not going to save the world, really, this is a bomb that was primed long before I arrived here and the damage will be caused after I’ve gone, but I don’t particularly want my children and my children’s children to be paddling around the place with Kevin Costner or Dennis Quaid, and it’ll really annoy John Redwood (imagine how ashamed his tree ancestors must be?), so I’ll make a wee fuss, I’ll make the odd donation, I’ll eat the odd bit of Quorn.

It’s not going to save the world, but it’s better than doing nothing, and you can’t deny that.

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