I often think about writing a futuristic novel about climate change. Reading these words for the first time yesterday*, I felt like I knew where I would start. You can imagine them being used in a Hollywood blockbuster, can’t you? In a scene where, having identified a threat to humankind, the President of America stands up and announces, in a powerful and passionate voice, that: ‘an Authoritative Early Warning System is alerting us to a threat to our very future… but we’re going to fight back. We are going to survive…’ The rest of the film is just as easy to imagine. It would be dedicated to telling the story of our rapid and courageous response to the threat to our civilisation; a valiant struggle, at the end of which a human race we can be proud of survives.
Unfortunately, however, these words were uttered in a fairly different setting from the one imagined above. In fact, in my futuristic book, the survivors of the climate catastrophe would see these words spoken on a grainy TV while trying to piece together the mystery of what the hell happened to ‘the great civilisation’. And what they would see is an imagine of British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher speaking in 1990 after the first meeting of the newly formed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Why? Because that is, in fact, the truth. These words are not ‘breaking news’. They were breaking news 23 years ago.
‘What happened next?’ one of the survivors, a child perhaps, would probably ask. ‘What did they do? Why did it still fail?’ A hush would fall on the circle of people, none wanting to say those horrible words. And then finally, one of them would spit out the truth, eyes fixed on the dusty ground: ‘Because they didn’t do anything. They didn’t do anything at all.’
So, what’s the life expectancy of an ‘Authoritative Early Warning System’? Well, whatever it is, it certainly isn’t 23 years, is it? You don’t hear your smoke alarm going off and let 23 minutes, let alone 23 years, go by before you get out of the house or call for the fire brigade. Yet here we are 23 years later, our Early Warning System still stuttering away in the background as we go about our daily lives, attributing it to tinnitus maybe – or some kind of white noise. In a huge turn up for the books, climate change is in the news today, because of the awful cold weather we have been having (linked to the melting of ice in the Arctic), but this is a rarity. In fact, just last week the Daily Mail published an article entitled: ‘The Great Green Con no 1: the hard proof that finally shows global warming forecasts that are costing us billions are wrong’. Of course, it’s not ‘hard-proof’. It’s nothing of the sort.
Also, last week Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education in the UK, decided that children under the age of 14 shouldn’t have to learn about climate change**. It’s a bizarre thing reality, and what you can pick and choose from it. Both of these cases seem to show a pure denial of facts, and an irresponsible desire to present an inaccurate world view to those we believe we can influence, creating the kind of misrepresentation and manipulation of peoples’ doubt that has allowed 23 years to go by without any effective action being taken in response to our ‘Authoritative Early Warning System’. This is why some of us have been waiting for what gets termed a ‘Pearl Harbour’ moment. Something of such great magnitude that the world couldn’t possibly fail to wake up and tune in to reality. Many of us thought that Hurricane Sandy was going to do it – and it did force President Obama to acknowledge climate change after an election campaign that had borne only the vaguest of mentions of it, but Sandy hasn’t had the myth-busting effect we were after, and it hasn’t stirred the global leaders into action. In fact, current UK Prime Minster David Cameron’s advisors are said to have blocked climate change from appearing on the agenda for the next G8 summit. Apparently, they’re going to talk about tax instead.
And so, reality continues to stumble. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that the Hollywood version of events given above is so easy for us to imagine. We’ve been brought up with these scripts in our minds, and images of unrealistic leaders and heros in a world without limits, that cannot possibly fail. But the more that we fantasise, listen to the Daily Mail, make allowances for Michael Gove, and block out reality, the more the Hollywood version of events becomes increasingly unlikely to happen. And as our Early Warning System continues to drone away a scenario, much more like my futuristic book, creeps up on us.
* I read this statement for the first time yesterday as I started reading Jeremy Leggett’s book ‘The Carbon War’.
** Sign a petition against this outrageous decision on 38 Degrees’s website.