My husband asked me today: ‘Do you want to survive?’ No, it’s not what you’re thinking. I haven’t been diagnosed with something terminal. Unless your view of the Sixth Mass Extinction is that it is terminal for us all. It was a blunt question to which the answer should bluntly be ‘yes of course’. But what would survival be like in a habitat that is unsurvivable for many? Would it be possible to survive without succumbing to aggression, or being traumatised by the aggression of others? Despite all those fears, I still have to say ‘yes I want to survive’ and I hope we all feel the same too. The more of us that want to survive (along with other species) the more that we will come up with multiple solutions and lobby as hard and fast as we can. But we have to know that our survival is at stake.
As David Roberts says : “The most extreme climate ‘alarmists’ in US politics are not nearly alarmed enough.”
We have a world map on our kitchen wall (all home schooling families have kitchens decorated with Guardian wallcharts and timelines). Our British Isles are at the centrefold and we read all other countries in relation to it. And we forget to look much at the poles because they’re squished and chopped off. There are two little floating circles to show the shape of the poles but their scale is shrunk in relation to inhabited lands. Most of us don’t know the extent of the Arctic and Antarctic cover up. Winter ice covers 10.4% of the Earth’s surface. We don’t think about the space between our countries, the vast expanses of ocean and ice that help to energise and stabilise life in its great interconnected system. The only connecting lines we tend to draw in our minds are routes we might travel on planes, boats or trains.
For 20 years or so we’ve had dispatches, always cautious and dispassionate, from scientists in the Arctic noting worrying changes that showed a rapidly warming climate. At first these dispatches were only being heard by science journalists and climate campaigners. In recent years you could find much more data online if you were interested. These days, if you listen hard and often, you may even hear about the Arctic scientists on the radio or TV. You may not hear their voices though, so you won’t detect their fear. Their dispassionate mask is cracking, if you do get to speak to one, because the record of ice loss this summer has been unpredicted in its scale and pace.
You may not be hearing their findings being remarked upon by anyone other than the specialist science journalists. (Actually in the case of the BBC, it’s only being reported by one science journalist, Roger Harrabin. If you’ve heard of him it might be because James Delingpole and the Daily Mail like to hound him for not being climate-sceptical enough.) You won’t have been hearing any current affairs broadcaster or politician remark on the impact of the Arctic ice melt, or make a connection from it to any other story, such as spreading unrest across the Middle East or the US presidential elections.
What will it take for us to start shifting on this? When will we start demanding en masse the urgent global action that is needed for us to survive? This is the reason I’m interested to uncover how we learn as a society. I want to believe that we learn in anticipation and imagination of our habitat changing, but I fear that we may only learn enough when our habitat changes so drastically that those who are in power and wealth actually and viscerally begin to feel threatened and hungry. I might be reassured if I start to see upward numbers of those with power and wealth speaking out that they can imagine this threat to our habitat and that they fear deeply for their children’s future, that they recognise their comparative agency to do something about it. I’m listening out.