Rain and scorched earth
Updated: Jul 14, 2021
I've not been getting much sleep recently.
In part, because it's mid-June, and it doesn't really get dark anymore.
But mainly, because my head is troubled by what I have been uncovering in some recent investigations into the current state of the climate crisis.
Climate emergency, or Climate crisis.
It is both.
Climate change is something else.
The earth does it perfectly well regardless of whether humans are here or not.
Right now, I have reached Mallaig, where I will be taking a short break to visit some friends, and rest for a few days.
The last eight weeks has taken me around the coasts of Argyll and Lochaber.
What lies ahead of me, beyond Mallaig, are the rough and remote hills of Knoydart, which will then lead me into Wester Ross, with the wonderful coastlines of Applecross, Torridon, Gairloch and Ullapool.
In a month or so, I will reach Sutherland, and beyond that, maybe by August, I'll be heading East along the north coast.
What this journey has now revealed itself to be, if I am perfectly blunt about it, is, fundamentally, an exercise in avoidance, self-pity, escapism and some clever delaying tactics; as well as it being fuelled by some unconscious denial about the truth, and what I should really be doing about it.
The truth, I find, is, that the issue of ocean pollution and micro-plastics is actually secondary to what is really bothering me.
The wider, and more complex problem of the climate emergency, that affects everyone and everything, and looks as though it will give me, and the people I love and care for, an increasingly short life span; that's what really bothers me.
We are facing a very serious threat.
Maybe you have heard a few people say that recently.
Are your eyes glazing over?
No one's making you read this you know...
It's also, a very weird threat.
Partially, because, by it's very accumulative nature, the real effects of the 'new' climate, for people in the UK at least, won't be fully felt until around two decades from now.
At first glance, it does feel a bit weird to run around screaming about how the world is being burned and destroyed by humans and we need to stop, and choose another way to live, when you look around and see that it's just the same old world, and yeah maybe it could change a bit, few more trees would be nice, brighten the place up a bit.
But a complete systematic overhaul? Madness, surely?
Unlike threats in the past though, where someone would have had to do something terrible in order for terrible events to take place, such as detonating a nuclear bomb in a large city, we are now faced with something where, if we do nothing, it will become as terrible as it can possibly get.
The choice we have then, is to act on it now and then it won't be quite as terrible, or, we can just continue with progress as normal, and then we will literally face extinction, of humans, and of almost every other species of living thing alive today.
What will you do?
Just out of interest..
Not for me to know, it's for you, ask yourself, sit there for a moment, be honest, and give yourself permission to step outside this box, and see what it is you really care about.
What on earth am I doing then?
So, supposedly, aside from raising funds and picking up some litter, I'm raising awareness, of the awful amount of pollution in our seas and oceans.
But a lot people are already well aware that the oceans are filling with plastic and other pollutants, and that this is almost, if not totally, impossible to rectify.
The problem is, the finger gets pointed at us, as if we are the main cause, by those in power, and through the media in an effort to divert attention away from the major industry leading culprits.
And then we point our fingers at other people.
Here's a long winded example of this finger pointing, from something I wrote recently...
A lot of people do care, and they do the recycling, and reuse what they can, and buy less single use stuff, and even go on beach cleans and litter picks and sign petitions to make themselves, and the local area, feel better; but the extent of the problem is completely out of control and can only be slowed down or mitigated by changing the way big businesses, corporations and industries do things.
This is something only the government has the power to do on anywhere near the scale that is required, with the immediacy that is needed.
There are also a lot of people who don't really care, and view the ocean as some sort of large, heaving bin.
This is exacerbated in more trashy and well littered locations, as it can feel, instinctively, more acceptable to just chuck something away.
It's not their fault, even though it is difficult to forgive this and there really is no excuse for it, but what it seems to come down to is the way we have been brought up and conditioned in this consumer focused, individualistic, neo-liberal nation that believes the world is an endless pot of taking and throwing away.
The oceans, lakes and rivers of this world have, for a while now, provided the ultimate and easily accessed 'out of sight, out of mind' place to dump anything you don't really want anymore.
People are also well aware that the oceans are warming, because that's what the whole planet seems to be doing.
And it is.
But, a lot of people try to forget about it, or ignore it, or assume the science must be wrong in some way.
Or all of the above.
Also, it really doesn't help matters when fossil fuel monsters like Shell and BP decide to fund their own scientists to produce evidence that suggests that everything is actually going to be fine and that we have it under control, and you shouldn't be worried at all about buying and using the fuel they have been pumping out of the ground especially for us.
I hate to say this, but you should be very worried.
Less people are aware of ocean acidification and the spread of invasive species though, but nobody I have mentioned it to has seemed even the slightest bit surprised when I say it is getting worse each year.
Again, people would rather not think about it, deny it, or simply pass it off as a thing that is probably somebody else's job.
You could quite rightly, and sadly, say that this denial is completely justified. Since a lot of people, marginalised, discriminated, working class, oppressed and otherwise, are so overworked, fucked over and stressed about even simply getting enough food on the table each week (mainly because the government doesn't give a flying shit about their livelihoods) that, for some, their connection with the earth has been utterly severed; and so the implications of trashing the planet are rendered fairly meaningless, making statements like "it's not our problem", "what difference does it make" and "who will notice" become, in actuality, very true.
I need to make it clear that this is not an excuse, for me or anyone, to just give up and throw things away unnecessarily.
Quite the opposite.
I believe that we must all change, and lead by example.
... See what I mean, finger pointing can be quite a believable way of dealing with things.
It's not really the answer we want though.
It just makes people on the receiving end of the finger defensive, creates a binary, us and them, when what we really need is to learn to work together, to listen to each other regardless of our history or opposing views, and learn from each other in that way.
I really don't know how far this journey is going to take me, eventually, in terms of going around the coast.
Wick? Inverness? Aberdeen?
All the way round?
Does it make a blind bit of difference?
I feel like this whole thing is just a way of biding my time, like I'm using this project as another way of hiding.
Just another delaying tactic, in a long list of cowardly delaying ideas, to avoid the stark difficulty of confronting the government directly, and holding them accountable for it's truly deadly lack of action.
Holding them accountable for it's continuing support of fossil fuels and massive scale plastic production.
Holding them accountable for lying to us all, telling us it is under control when it clearly isn't.
Holding them accountable for the obscene amount of recycling waste that gets shipped off to other countries because it's cheaper than dealing with it here, when they know full well that most of the countries that receive it have too much shit to deal with already, and will either burn it or chuck it in landfill.
All that hard work by regular people, and campaigning for recycling, literally going up in smoke.
So why am I doing this?
What use will come of it?
When we have such little time left to act.
Perhaps this is just some pathetic, pretty ego trip, a journey of self-fulfillment a long time in the making; and now I've finally come round to do it, it's simply just too late.
(But, at the same time, if I am to defend myself from myself, it is giving me a tremendous amount of space to get my head around both the complexity and the sheer urgency of the climate crisis, and allowing me the rare freedom to conjure up ideas, and create some sort of plan for how I can possibly tackle it much more directly and effectively, rather than just dipping my toe in at the edge, like a lot of us seem to be doing.)
The decision I'm left with is, either, I carry on, knowing that what I'm doing is almost a complete means to an end, but with the possibility that some form of momentum could be built through it to create the necessary impact to bring about the attention of the government (try and picture me imagining that I'm actually building up velocity as I swing around the north coast and start accelerating, down the east coast, downhill, towards London.. as if I was attempting to do some sort of moonshot..)
Or, I finish as soon as possible, and get involved with a much more direct project, and call the last two months a pretentious fucking holiday.
I'm inclined to stick with it at least a bit longer, and see if something more provoking starts to develop from it.
Does this sound familiar, this choice I've just laid out?
Its basically the same one I asked you earlier, I am now asking it to myself.
Now for the fun part...
Starting with a question.
Why am I so fucking miserable?
Well, here's a summary..
Since the end of the 20th century, the amount of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere has risen by 60%.
Just take a moment to think about that.
It has taken us about three hundred years of dramatic industrial change to reach what was the hundred percent that was about three decades ago.
That total has now increased by 60%, in just thirty years.
What this equates to, is approximately 25 times more carbon being put into the atmosphere, right now, daily, than during any of the last few mass extinction events, many millions of years ago; which were characterised by their catastrophic volcanic eruptions.
We are currently suffocating our home, and burning our food, and poisoning our remaining fresh water, whilst that tiny percentage of us continue, oblivious to everyone else's suffering, to use a revolting amount of the world's resources to have seemingly endless fun with themselves.
It is now too late to try and keep the earth's overall temperature under 2°c above pre-industrial levels (try and imagine the earth has a fever, and we keep exacerbating the condition) let alone attaining the last minute adjustment in the Paris agreement to make best efforts to keep it below 1.5°c.
Earlier this year it was measured at 1.3°c.
Having risen by 0.3°c in the last ten years, and 0.2°c in the decade before that. And increasingly less in preceding decades.
It stands to reason, and a large stack of peer reviewed studies, that with this exponential increase, it will blow us past the 1.5°c mark in 5 years or so.
And at some point between 2030 and 2040 we will have surpassed 2°c of overall average warming.
I will explain what these temperatures really mean in a moment.
The problem is, this is now fixed and unchangeable.
The Paris agreement, that many people and governments around the world have been laying their hopes on, has totally failed.
It is another promise that did not work.
I have also failed, and this project was more or less failed from the start.
All the conservation and environmental, non-government organisations, including the Marine Conservation Society and John Muir Trust, have failed.
The green movements and social justice movements, both radical and liberal, have failed.
Rise up and extinction rebellion, have failed.
The government, in particular, has completely failed.
Failed, in one of our most important and sacred duties, to protect our children, our future generations, from the suffering, violence and death that is to come. To provide them with as much of a chance in life as the generations before them.
Instead, that future has been blown on a small handful of generations, confided mostly to the wealthy and powerful, through infuriating levels of luxury, convenience and economic pointlessness.
What we are facing now, if you take into account the dimming effect*, various feedback loops, and the situation with the Arctic sea ice, which will have completely melted in the summer by around 2035 (less than 15 years from now), which in itself, being a major tipping point will create a whole world of problems; like slowing down the jet stream, creating weather systems that last much longer than normal, like droughts that last a few months, rather than a few weeks, which is as serious a problem in this temperate part of the world as it is anywhere.
We will find, in two decades, that we are living on a planet that is at least 2.5°c warmer.
However, it is likely to be 3°c or more, since 2.5°c is the minimal estimate, and by then we may have reached another of the tipping points (die-back in the Amazon, the Greenland ice sheet melting, constant year-round forest fires across the northern hemisphere, which could lead to the release of even just 1% of the methane from melting permafrost) Sooner or later, it will be a good deal higher.
(*The dimming effect is, put simply, when air pollution obscures the sun's rays a little, creating a slight shield. Unfortunately, when the emissions we are producing are greatly reduced, which they will have to, the temperature will increase by anywhere between 0.2°c and 0.8°c, so approximately 0.5°c.)
So we will be living on a planet that is at least 2.5°c warmer than pre-industrial levels.
What does that mean though?
Doesn't sound like a lot does it.
Well, this is the average planetary surface temperature.
Two thirds of our planet is ocean, and the oceans tend to be a lot cooler than land.
So you can easily double those figures to find out the temperature difference on land.
So around 5-6°c warmer.
But this is average year-round temperature.
During summer, heat waves and on generally hot days, we can expect this figure to triple or quadruple to something like 8-12°c warmer.
Especially far inland.
Which happens to be where a lot of our basic crops are grown.
The crops, and consequent food production, which have already begun to fail in many parts of the world for some time now (we're not really aware of it because we're in such a rich and powerful country) will fail dramatically and increasingly over the next two decades.
If I'm still alive in 2040, I will live to experience the consequences.
What we are now looking at is 1000 million migrants on the move by the 2040s.
We are also looking at the tightening up of government security forces in response to this, such as enforcing a police state, which isn't far off, and other such measures, in an effort to protect the elites, the entire class system, and most importantly of course, themselves.
Increasingly rare basic foods and resources will be channelled to those who can afford it, leaving the vast majority of us to struggle over what is left.
This is the begining of social collapse.
It's a tipping point that environmental and climate change discussions rarely talk about.
But it is one that will probably affect us the most.
This is nothing new, it is happening right now in different parts of the world; just not in our country yet.
We have had a taster of what to expect with the current covid pandemic.
The fear, the loss of contact, the sheer boredom, the distrust, the panic buying, the pent up rage, the emptiness, the stagnation, the fighting over food and toilet rolls.
We will have this when global food supplies collapse and those highly convenient and overstocked shelves we are so dependant on become empty again.
Jobs will disappear more than they already do, free time will become allotted, and a life worth living will become a life worth surviving.
Things will not go back to normal, much as some people keep suggesting to me that it will.
How can it?
We can't let it, it must change.
It is highly likely, I've heard, that in the next decade or so, we will experience another pandemic anyway.
We all need to change, yes, and together, yes.
But it won't make much difference doing our very best to change, if this old tyrannosaurus of a government is still in charge, and making sly policies purely to suit itself.
That is where the real change needs to happen.
And it can only be done if we all come out of our hardened shells, boxes, comfortable hollows and hiding places, stand together and tell them we won't let them kill our children's future.
This old system of government, with its illusion of democracy, and it's seat of power, which has somehow remained unchallenged to this day, needs to be replaced.
This needs to happen, and it's something we can all do together.
The smell of rain falling on the black ashy ground of a recent wildfire.
The scent of that which was recently burned, lifted into the air by water, made real again.
The smell of burning.
Something I realised the other day, upon smelling it and recognising exactly what it was, and what it meant, before I even saw it.
I realised, that this is a smell I am starting to get used to.