The Great Silence about climate change has to stop.
First published in August 2020.
I have previously written about the urgent need for this crisis to form part of our everyday conversation. In many polls the UK population shows that we want renewable energy, we like to have a functioning and biodiverse ecosystem, and we worry a bit about the climate.
Yet our media, for the most part, and the entirety of this government, never talk about it. The confusion and lack of narrative is terrifying given the scale, urgency, and complexity of dismantling everything that currently contributes to the global catastrophe.
The difficulty is more than just the constant stream of daily distractions, some real, some confected in Downing Street and the White House to divert attention from the wholesale dismantling of our democratic institutions and processes.
The problem is also in the nature of the threat. Amitav Ghosh has written compellingly of this in The Great Derangement, Climate Change and the Unthinkable:
“There can be no doubt, of course, that this challenge arises in part from the complexities of the technical language that serves as our primary window on climate change. But neither can there be any doubt that the challenge derives also from the practices and assumptions that guide the arts and humanities. To identify how this happens ... may well be the key to understanding why contemporary culture finds it so hard to deal with climate change. For let us make no mistake: the climate crisis is also a crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination.”
With all of this swirling around in my head I went out on Thursday morning to do my own version of a #ClimateStrike a few miles from my home, in the historic town of Conwy on the north Wales coast.
Some stuff that happened.
Mostly it was very peaceful. I took my homemade sign, a chair, and some food and set up my solo “Helpdesk” on the grass at the side of the road just by the castle. The continuous traffic queue to get into town was a good thing because without my needing to do anything else hundreds of people saw the words #ClimateJustice.
This may not have had much meaning for some, but it was quite possibly the only time that day they would be confronted with thinking about climate change.
I spoke to only three people in the four hours I sat there but I also got some waves, smiles, and thumbs up, which was really positive. Some people just stared at me, which was kind of odd but not threatening. Other climate strikers I have spoken to have said similar things; that most people don’t want to talk and that often you are ignored.
The most interesting part was, of course, in the conversations. The climate emergency is something people have heard of, but that’s about it. One person I spoke to knew quite a bit but seemed almost embarrassed about it. I have noticed this before. It is as though talking about climate change is taboo.
This too is terrifying – we face a crisis that is here now, that is killing people now, mostly in the global south, and yet we don’t like to acknowledge it or voice an opinion.
The point of my day, and any more like it, was to encourage people to talk about the climate crisis and climate justice, and to do the job that most media and all government is failing to do; allow us to discuss what is happening and share knowledge, hopes, and fears.
Some things I learned for next time.
Don’t overuse my phone. Twitter is great for support and sharing but it also distracts from the moment – I only got engagement when I was actively looking around at the people and the traffic.
It is OK to challenge doomerism. Yes, climate change is really scary but there is lots we need to do. Despair is not an option. You really don’t need to be an expert on climate and environmental science. I am not. The people you meet aren’t either, so stick with basic stuff that is in those newspapers and online magazines that do talk about it. Make connections to climate. It helps. If you do meet a real expert, brilliant. Listen and learn, they will definitely be on your side.
If you have read this far and think this is something you could do – thank you! We need so many more.
If you are not sure of what to say, don’t worry! You have an opinion and are willing to talk about the climate crisis and listen to what others think. That is by far the most important thing.
If you really need some facts, images or reminders of what is happening to share with people I wrote an article in [PMP] recently.
I felt I had to do this and I was pretty nervous to start with, but now I can’t wait to do it again. The climate crisis is frighteningly real. It is here now and it is going to get worse.
I’ll be going out again.🔷