My problem with climate change is the problem I’ve had with the last couple of (as it happens, predominantly American, with British involvement) wars: describe victory. Listening to military spokespeople talking about how well it’s all going, I’ve wanted to ask: yes, but what’s the objective? What would you count as victory? To withdraw and leave it to the locals? Seriously? Isn’t there something in your media pack, at the very least, about being waved off at the airport by a grateful population? About the streets being lined with happy local millennials in their party clothes throwing flowers onto the passing, departing tanks?
Wars aren’t fought to bring about bland reassurances that progress is being made. Wars are fought to bring about change. And change by definition can’t be the status quo ante, or any other kind of roughly the same with compromises attached. However carefully the soundbites are packaged. And I suggest that the end has to be clear from the beginning - not left to PR people capable of putting a positive spin on any outcome, however chaotic. Yes, I am talking about the conduct of recent wars, and yes, I am about to segue into climate change. Just watch me.
Climate change pits us against nature, which is a self-correcting system and not easily beaten. Yes, climate change is our fault, but once the climate starts changing, nature moves against us. Implacably. Yes, the weather’s been weird recently, and yes, I know it’s happening already. We have to stop harming nature, yes. But there comes a point, and maybe we’re not that far from it now, when nature starts to self-correct. And my problem is, I suspect nature can describe victory quite accurately. A planet with fewer people on it.
I’m worried that victory for us, if it’s still achievable, wouldn’t be “roughly the same with compromises attached”. I get my takeaway coffee in a reusable cup now, and I take my plastic to the recycling – the dump, I mean. I feel lighter every time I go there. But global warming doesn’t seem to be stopping. Across this landing from where I’m sitting (I’m early for an appointment) is still a poster advertising the “International Rebellion Against The Criminal Inaction On The Climate And Ecological Crisis” of mid-April. That’s still happening, I think, and may be picking up momentum. We’re getting started.
I’d argue against “Criminal” – we don’t want to set up a bunch of people who will resist doing the right thing because that would mean admitting they were “Criminal” before – but apart from that, yes, I guess we are getting started. My problem now – my uneasy feeling – is that “describe victory” has gone way beyond a successful protest that gets people thinking. We need to get together to shut down London, Heathrow Airport, the same in other countries. Entire road networks. Whole industries. The twenty-first century, even. Do the impossible. [Modern dentistry can stay.]
I don’t mean we need a group of people to occupy the runways and roads on our behalf, nor to glue themselves to passenger jets, big trucks and Chelsea tractors. Key phrase in the previous paragraph: get together. I mean we need to agree to do it. Stop what we’re doing and work together to do something else. Cover whole deserts in solar panels. Build mountain ranges of recovered plastic waste – rather than new towns and cities – and seed them with wild flowers as memorial parks to our own stupidity. Plant rainforests, if that’s possible. We need to agree like the French agreed when they got rid of their monarchy, the Americans agreed to go to the moon; I don’t know, we need a Civil Rights Movement in which everyone’s on the same side.
We need to stop using fossil fuels. Grow our own vegetables. Distribute one solar panel to every household and switch off the national grid – except the parts that are powered by renewable energy. Above all, agree to do all of that. Agree. Forget “Criminal”. Work out some kind of truth and reconciliation arrangement for the directors of oil companies and airlines, if we must. Localise the “global” economy so that nobody has to cross continents to do their day job. Make it illegal to suffer jet lag.
No, of course none of this is possible! Don’t be silly! The first practical step to achieving any of it would be stopping all the arguments, the finger-pointing, the sarcasm – and think how impossible that would be. Think about this, too: pretty much the final achievement of all our technological development has been the ability to add comments in real time to social-media posts. We’ve invented a technology for disagreeing and we’re hooked on it.
The human race has had thousands of years to work out how to work together and not argue. Other species get along perfectly well. Come to think of it, other species fit into nature perfectly well. Some of them will even thrive if nature turns up the heat. I can think of at least one species of insect that will have a lovely time. It’s only the human race that is the problem.
And nature has realised that. Nature is moving against us. There’s only one thing to do. Nothing else will bring us together, so I suggest – it’s a million-to-one shot – that it’s time for us to panic.
[I sat next to a seventeen-year-old vlogger at an event recently - yes, I get invited to events - so I know that a “demographic” is the thing to have.] But I turned it down, my first sponsorship opportunity. I said no, and after not reading the email again, I didn’t click the link to find out more (although I might have accidentally on purpose clicked the “accept” button to connect via LinkedIn; I’ll have to have a word with myself about that). I turned it down because I wrote a paragraph a while back (strictly, two paragraphs, down there on the right if you’re reading this on a big screen) saying that I don’t write this for money. I’d have to go back to that paragraph to find out why I do write this, but money isn’t it.
I fantasise about having principles, actually. No offence to the marketing company, but after not reading the email a third time (okay, beyond the first couple of lines), I went into quite a daydream about “selling out” and other such phrases. People sell out, or they adopt higher (conflicting) principles, and/or they wrestle with their consciences, and all that’s kind of interesting in a gritty-urban-drama subtitled kind of way. Deep, meaningful, furrowed-brow stuff; there’s probably a clothing range to match. Heck, whole creation myths rest on temptation: there’s the snake that happened to be passing through Eden at an awkward moment; there’s Pandora and the Box that should have remained closed. Plot-turning elements in creation myths, anyway.
So. I got myself into a conniption about whatever I was being offered - don’t know, and it’s not really the point - and decided in the end that you couldn’t even pay me to wear a different t-shirt while I write this. Of course, every person has a price, and if you paid me enough (my social-media links and email are at the top of this page), I’d wear a tiara and pearls while writing this. And possibly even remove that Elastoplast. We’re all human, and while I realise that my sponsorship opportunity wasn’t tailored exclusively just for me – I bet you say that to all the bloggers – I might just reinstate, yes, excuse me, here it is, in my ‘deleted’ folder. I’m not going to read it, you understand, but just for academic interest, the first few lines…
Temptation is the lure of self-betrayal, I suppose, and inexplicably (but I’m going to try) part of human nature. We make decisions about who we are, and/or who we want to be, and then discover that we’re not like that at all. We try to be an ideal version of ourselves, maybe? What the heck is it? I mean, I’m a rational adult capable of thinking these questions through, over-thinking them even, much younger than my date of birth would suggest, far better looking than any of my mugshots, so I’m sure I can work it out. Admittedly, I have a shambling, wild-haired figure staring back at me through the mirror at the moment, still in his pyjamas, but I’m sure there’s a rational explanation for that, too.
If the answer is that just getting through the day requires a degree of self-deception, well, okay, perhaps I can come at this whole temptation question from a different, possibly more lucrative, angle. I did have an ostensible – I like the word “ostensible” – reason for writing that paragraph of mine. I wanted people to stop telling me – as they did in the early days – that I should pick a single subject and write about nothing else (“William, that’s Blogging 101!”). Oh, and okay, yes, perhaps I was also feeling just ever so slightly pompous and self-inflated that day. “I don’t take money for my own opinions.” I wrote. It is of course easier to write sentences like that when you’re not being offered money. But getting through the day, back then, required a self-belief that I was above money.
Actually, I’d prefer cash, if you don’t mind? Used notes, preferably? Non-sequential? Thank you. Now, what was the product?
Oh. That’s why you came to me. I get it now.
No, don’t open the Box. I’d prefer to leave it closed.
Of course I won’t open it.
Temptation. The lure of self-betrayal. You’re on a diet, but you dream of dough-nuts. We could get really deep and meaningful here, and start blethering on about the journey of the soul – the chocolate you don’t eat makes you stronger – but maybe we could add a dose of realism instead. Pandora was always going to open that box. The politician railing against the inequities of private education is always going to do the best for her child, even if that means, et cetera. We’re human. A large bar of chocolate – dark chocolate, probably Green & Black’s, almost certainly organic, perhaps with ginger or hazelnut, and maybe I could also mention the Velvet Edition range – could be described as a temptation, but I much prefer the term “comfort food”.
Comfort is a necessary part of life. Green & Black’s chocolate can be bought online. Paragraphs can be rewritten. Giving in to temptation, comfort, is part of life. My sponsorship opportunity was almost certainly a blanket email sent out to a vast mailing list, but I’ve enjoyed the mental exercise and now I’m enjoying the daydream – the business-class flight out to Los Angeles, the film people wanting selfies with me, and of course the meeting where we discussed who would play me in the biopic about the setting-up of this blog, as well as the basics of how often I’d mention the product. I didn’t really want all the peanuts in my bowl to be facing East, but it was touching that they did that. If I’d known that we’d be drinking tea, I wouldn’t have asked for an umbrella in my drink.
Temptation – yes! What I really meant when I wrote that I don’t take money is that, um, you’re welcome to share my chocolate bar. If you buy it for me first. I may not be living the dream, but hey, I’m certainly ready to write about it.
What was that Groucho Marx quote about principles? I'd find it, but I have a paragraph to rewrite.