Youth Climate Strike Manchester – What Do I Tell The Grandchildren ?
This is a blog post of some streams of consciousness which have been aroused around issues raised when I saw the Youth Climate Strike. It is a sketch pad of me working through what I think and what I can do…
On Friday September 20th 2019 there was a Youth Climate Strike in Manchester. This was one event of many which took place around the world inspired by the action of Greta Thunberg, a sixteen year old girl who had the courage to speak candidly about the climate crisis which we are seeing.
In August 2018 she refused to go into school and set up camp outside the Swedish parliament demanding that they take stronger action on the climate breakdown which is unfolding.
Her father revealed in an interview with BBC Radio 4 that Greta did not eat for three months and spent a year at home as she battled depression. In March 2017 the American Psychological Association released guidance on how people’s mental health is being effected by climate change. You can download and read the report below which helped me understand more about how Greta as a young woman was dealing with environmental grief; an identified problem.
Mental Health and Changing Climate Report from the American Psychological Association:
Understanding that environmental grief is a recognised thing which other people are feeling helped me identify that I am not alone with the anxieties which I have about the loss of habitat and damage being done to the biosphere. Hearing about Greta Thunberg and her profound distress at what has been, and is happening has stirred me to be more reflective and talk more with friends about how I feel as well as search for what I can do.
What Does It Mean In My Experience ?
When a lot of focus seems to politicise the issues, this feels like it is moving my connection with the environment out of my hands. When I say my connection with the environment, I am talking about the immediate world which I spend all my waking hours in. The spaces I grew up in are mostly now built upon; I remember the silver birch woods I used to play amongst on the old disused railway lines, the parks which were more plentiful and accessible, and the brownfield sites where many a kid would pick over as a cradle to their imagination.
I remember going down the old burn (local stream) to look at stickleback fish, and yearly flock with other children to spot frog spawn appear prior to inky swirls of tadpoles which magically turned to tiny minature frogs starting out in life. In those days of the early 1980s everybody had seen a hedgehog and snow was a part of winter. Snowball fights, the making of snowmen, and sledging were all common garden social occassions which would bring together large cross sections of people who otherwise did not know each other.
The landscapes were places where children (me being one at the time) were expected to leave the house and go find play with other children. Running up the local hill and green patches to devise treehouses, ganghuts and varietous games which involved real people was an important part of socialisation, and it grounded me in a universe of life forms which fascinated me because of their difference. Whilst the likes of David Attenborough fascinated me, the media on the TV was still a world away from interaction.
The spaces we played in are now polluted with overbearing traffic and conspicuously absent of roving children and wildlife. This is not golden age nostalgia for a fictional past but a recognition that the living landscape where so many generations found other forms of life in changing seasons is giving way increasingly to an automobile culture of concreted and urbanised terrain.
These things are tied together; the world is. The generations growing up have fewer and fewer places in the real world to play and socialise; our habitat has been taken over by tarmac roads and combustion engine culture which is boring. It is time to search out different visions of what the world could look like. For example Pontevedra in Spain banned cars and living life there has become more enjoyable:
I have heard many responses to Ms Thunberg and had many conversations about the issues which she has raised. I have listened to the dismissals and to the charges that climate change is based on pseudo-science. I have listened to the ‘it-is-nothing-to-do-with-me’ perspectives and the ‘if-only-the-world-worked-that-way’ and these feel uncomfortable endorsements of inaction… I have listened to the cognitive dissonance in myself as I try and deal with what I can do.
Having Difficult Conversations
How do we get past a growing culture of dichotomous polarisation ? Can we afford to agree to differ ? I think agnosticism about what perspectives other people hold has a place in regards to providing a starting point for discovery about the understandings which other people hold.
Identity politics has divided so many people by intolerance of hearing other views and examining the premises. Media has thrived on polarising issues creating many a toxic environment. By pitting people against each other in categorical terms of ‘who has won’ and ‘who has lost’ in a sort of first-past-the-post form of public school boy argumentation. This closing of discussion and blunt rendering of complex issues worries me most and so I have been trying to find a safe way to have difficult conversations around contested knowledge.
A friend tells me that there is no scientific consensus around climate change and that sun spots could account for the fluctuations in earths temperature rather than the production of greenhouse gases. I am trying to be more developed in my character than I have been in the past and have a proper conversation exploring how I hold my views and he holds his. It demands we both learn skills and investigate sources of knowledge.
We opened up a conversation to explore together what science reporting has been done to analyse this idea. Here is an example website which I have used to learn about the issue so I can discuss it more. Even more so I like to access peer reviewed papers and published books precisely because more than one person has been involved in assessing the information on its journey after the author. I am reluctant to base my thinking on anything unless the information source shares with me how it is getting its information.
I find the large bulk of TV journalism more about entertainment and opinion rather than something which informs me with working understandings. As a result I try and think through the details which I can immediately relate to, such as how fossil fuels cause so much pollution (chemical, noise and space) – stuff I can witness and illustrate to provide foundations to my general direction of travel. So even before I get to the point of CO2 levels changing global temperatures, I can already get a sense of what I think on the effects of digging coal and oil out of the ground, burning it, and disposing of it willy nilly.
To my skeptical friend I related that due to the pollution and problems which come with the car culture we have – and the general problems with combustion engines and the burning of fossil fuels – I thought on balance the weight of evidence was on the side of causing unacceptable problems.
According to the House of Commons report on Improving air quality “Air pollution cuts short an estimated 40,000 lives across the country each year, costing the UK an annual £20 billion. Children, the elderly, and those with existing medical conditions are at the greatest risk”.
My personal choice is to avoid getting a car as I am physically able to use public transport and I dont like to unnecessarily contribute to the chemical soup which is affecting people’s health. Pragmatically it appeals to me rather like passive smoking. At the same time I think about how I can avoid contributing to global warming. I would argue that using public transport is an easy and more pleasant way of living as I am not locked away from the social environment. Cars isolate us from chance exchanges with the day to day world around us.
Aside from anything else, it occurs to me that oil is massively undervalued considering that pharmaceuticals and medicines are made from it. Does it really make sense to literally burn such a scarce resource if we are thinking also about the coming thousand years ?
The global warming theory of climate change being related to carbon dioxide and methane release, makes the most sense from the options I have seen and it fits with the changes I have witnessed in my own life happening to the natural world around me. I have been reading science presented around the idea of carbon release bringing about increases in temperature as a learning exercise.
I understand the rationale which runs through the evidence base that correlates climate change to human-made increases in the release of CO2 – it is compelling, so much so that I would feel that to ignore a correlation of such widely accumulated sources of information would be to base my perspective on the less logical premises. If the evidence base suggested the converse, I would be inclined the other way.
Truth, Lies and Travesties of Exclusion
We are still talking, my friend and I, in a non-heated way about the details. One of the issues which he raises is how the public are deceived and manipulated in political and corporate terms. It is easy to relate to a perspective that argues that the public can be lied to by cabals of power as it happens not infrequently; however it is important to remember that lies can be told with varying motivations.
So often are people locked out of being able to discuss the details of highly professionalised knowledge that the consequence is to marginalise people from engaging in the findings of institutions and professions.
Institutions would do well to be more open and porous to the populations outside lest they isolate interested communities and become isolated themselves. Citizen science is a great way to get engagement and apprehension of the value of what happens inside institutional spaces, as well as contribute to the development of the field. Whilst that is a case it is patronising when citizen science gets reduced to a patronising parent-child relationship and can erode the desire to engage.
Historically one could imagine that this kind of institutional exclusion and secrecy was to bring about the demise of Pythagoras – a brilliant thinker who made valuable advances in the field of mathematics. Pythagoras is credited with aiding in Croton’s victory over the neighboring colony of Sybaris in 510 BCE. After the victory, some citizens of Croton proposed a democratic constitution, which the Pythagoreans rejected.
As a result the Pythagoreans were attacked and he was killed. This anecdote may well be a fantasy projected on history, but we know exclusion can create umbridge and a reflex rejection of values which is the point I am trying to make. The knowledge which Pythagoras taught that has survived is now found in high school mathematics; his hoarding of knowledge and reinforcing of ingroups caused a destructive reaction against his philosophy. Would this have happened if he had not have been so precious and insular ???
The politics of who gets to engage can be dominated by status. When it comes to the moment when a field has something important for those outside of the privy culture to grapple with, those who lack the status can feel long frozen out. People can develop a distaste for something they initially loved having only encountered what are (or feel like) petty effects of back biting and gatekeeper snubs. From some perspectives it can appear like the world is run by money and small politics rather than merit and open dialogue and as a result perceive it all as money and small politics…
What my friend and I are doing in our conversation is agreeing to differ enough to spend time investigating together information to inform the evolution of our perspectives; individually and combined. This is a social skill related to diplomacy that I see evident in the natural behaviours of friendliness. As I have learned and practiced it I feel less at odds with the world and more able to be able to see the world in technicolor rather than highly constrasted black and white. Even though we might not agree, it leads to learning and broader experiences, and therefore a more interesting intellectual life.
For example, this has taken me into learning a bit about astrophysics, which I never expected but is really interesting; also, it has taken me into areas like looking at the skullduggery perpetuated on the world by organisations like the International Monetary Fund – which for many people represents an economic weapon. I thought it was a good organisation before investigating but reading sources like Joseph Stiglitz help me realise that it is ethically dodgy in many of its activities.
So when my friend says that the environmental stuff is about money changing hands, I suspect there is a mixture of fire and smoke, mist and misidentification going on. Only through practicing the enrichment tools of conversation and investigation do I get the chance to disambiguate.
In counterpoint I introduced into the subject of money and sustainability the Sustainable Development Goals and how economics is tied with our relationship with the earth as a bounded resource and interconnected life systems… Money and economic systems are a necessary part of human life as systems of trade and exchange seem inherent behaviours in and amongst groups.
Anyway, the point I am making is that we are learning to have difficult conversations which move beyond polar binaries; this reinforces our friendship as it illustrates a fundamental respect which goes further than a narcissistic insistence on every acquaintance holding all my values and views. I think this is part of the things which makes a difference in the long run; a fundament for evolving understandings.
Entering into that kind of dialogue invariably becomes an interaction where I/we/people learn a lot. In the information age it is more fun and interesting to be able to call on the amazing information resources available and tap into notions like Richard Feynman’s ‘science is a system we have developed to keep us from fooling ourselves’. Science is not locked up in ivory and steel towers but apprehendable by every individual in their day to day experience (yes, even the high science).
What Will I Do ?
Coming back to seeing thousands and thousands of youths walking out of their schools in protest that not enough is being done to deal with the climate/ecological crisis which is taking place. So what do I do as a forty something bloke ? I went along to record the historical event and listen to people who are concerned at the multiple crises that are interwoven; being present is a good start for me as then I could listen to what was being said.
Like Greta Thunberg voices, it is not just about carbon dioxide levels being driven up to change the global temperatures so remarkably quickly, but it is about the effects that humans are having on the extinction of species along with multiple other issues.
The population of youths are inspiring me; (as do the old hats who still have a passion to talk and bring me in on the thinking which has been going on for decades). Every time I take a moment to spend some time listening I find I am taken out of my habituations and into new ways of seeing and understanding.
These lucky moments remind me that two hundred years ago people described as children now would be regarded as adults, given jobs and roles of responsibility in mills, factories, and mines (etc), and would be understood and expected to do complex tasks in coordination with others. Unfortunately, at the same time, life was profoundly cheapened in other regards.
It is little wonder to me that the younger generations are speaking with outrage about the dementalisation process they are suffering from when they are perfectly capable thinkers and doers. Children are to be seen and heard and learned from as they are highly capable.
I think the points they were making and demonstrating on were foundational. Something which I am doing is moving to a plant based diet dropping dairy step by step as I find the tasty recipes. In the final analysis I had eaten meat for all my life and in comparing the vegetarian sausages and vege meat products, a lot of them taste better than the animal based ones to be honest.
Eating meat has been dangerously fetishised and as a result the practice is disastrous because of the damage that industrial farming practices have on the terrain, environment, animals and consumers… By and large, industrially produced meat is antithetical to tasty food, to a dignified life of the animal, to long term good health and to a sustainable planet. Really tasty and more nutritional meals can be made by investing a little in learning how to cook; a lot of Italian traditional cuisine does not involve meat…
What Can I Do ?
Things seem so big when I see myself as being so small. Statistically I am only one person, but friends – and friendly circumstances – have helped me understand what I can do. I had a friend, Keith Miligan, who committed himself to a vegetarian way of life a long time back. He got ribbed for the ethical philosophy he was putting into action and one of the comments which he was told was ‘do you really think you can make any difference ?’…
Keith, also known as ‘The Beard’ back then for the proud facial hair he sported, would recount an allegory about migrating crabs. Once a year millions of crabs would migrate and have to cross a motor way, and many would get crushed by cars or wander the wrong way.
There was a person who would go and be seen throwing crabs into the sea where they were trying to get to. Someone stopped and said ‘You are crazy doing this; there are too many and you can never make a difference !’ The person picked up a crab, looked at the other person and before putting it into the water said ‘It will make a difference to this one’ and carried on.
Keith has been a friend and person in this life who has made a huge difference to me. Over many years our conversations have stayed with me and reinforced that I do have choices and I can make differences. Whilst I have little influence on companies like Shell or Exxon Mobil I can look to make positive differences in more fruitful places.
Incidentally, as an example of the power invested in these kind of monolithic multinational companies (the vampire elephant in the room is that many pension funds are invested in such companies), Shell’s total equity was $197.812 billion dollars US in 2017.
According to the Wikipedia article which cites the United Nations analysis of main aggregates, as it’s information source, that sum of money is larger than the Gross Domestic Product of Egypt, Portugal, Iraq, Qatar, Algeria, Kazakhstan, Hungary, Angola, Sudan, Kuwait, Ukraine, Morocco, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Kenya, Oman, Myanmar, Luxembourg, Panama, Uruguay, Ghana, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Croatia, Belarus, Lebanon, Tanzania, Macau (and so on)…WOW.
I cannot help but imagine the impact if ‘Shell’ alone overnight said we are dropping fossil fuels and putting everything into alternative and sustainable technologies, jobs, and infrastructure, the ripples would be sufficient to move the world significantly in the direction we need to travel. It would bring other big super-country-sized companies (and countries themselves) to the possibility of a tipping point needed to succeed in the face of the odds. The first big player to do this will be remembered in history for its leadership.
I can make differences where I live as well as make my thoughts to large companies and organisations through pragmatic communication.
For example, this year I wanted to plant some trees to do a little bit to restore the environment – both in terms of providing a natural habitat for multiple species and also in terms of carbon capture. I wanted to volunteer with a project like Trees for Life (a big inspiration) but could not afford to go on their initiatives.
Instead I looked up some Youtube tutorials on how to do it myself; Youtube is one of my favourite places to learn how to do stuff. I wanted to plant up some oak trees because of the amount of life that they support. Here is a video I found helpful:
Through friendly enquiry and asking people who had spare space, materials and knowledge, I managed to get all I needed to pot up thirteen pots of acorns so that they vernalize over the winter ready to sprout up next year and grow a little. It does not take much space or resources and I found that people liked what I was doing. Here are some photos and I am now in the process of contacting various land holders to see if I can plant the oaks out. I will keep you posted on the progress.
Something which influences me to think about my behaviour and my response to environmental breakdown is the responsibility I have to children and future generations. I am hoping to be able to show them some of the trees which I have planted in the future and share with them what I learned to help re-grow the wilderness by promoting indigenous species.
When a Change Is Better Than a Holiday
As a smoker I kind of see the issues we are facing a bit like the issues of passive smoking. I am glad that smoking was banned indoors because it was affecting other people’s health. I recall pubs being fog filled and stained but I never understood how much of an effect it was having before the ban was imposed.
I still smoke and I am quite pleased to step outside as I now realise how much it made everything smell, and also how much the secondary smoke affected me as the primary inhaler. I smoke in smaller amounts and a lot less frequently. It seems mad the environments I was arguing for when I made my obligatory kickback at the notion that my freedoms were being curtailed. I dont feel that way now.
There is something fundamental about understanding how my actions are affecting others which I have learned and am continuing to learn. As I get older I want to put back some of what I have taken away, gain from that richness and respect of others, and enjoy planting up trees and flora where I can.
What did I feel when I saw the Youth Climate Strike ? I got to feel and hear of some of the indignation felt by people much younger than me. Generations who are being moved into virtual digital surrogates of a living world that is in recession…
David Attenborough said “The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?”… The Youth Climate Strike is growing as more and more young people at the beginning of their lives are starting to object to the costs, harms and damages which are being passed down to their generation and beyond by the casual destruction of the environment and unsustainable consumption of resources…
This is a cause for hope and by acting to do what we can from the positions we are in, positive change can be made. It may start with just taking a moment to think about how we are connected with the life systems of the planet by sitting next to the tree you grew up with. With thanks to Bob for being helpful in querying my ranting and prompting a search for something more useful.