A Plea from a Mother in Crisis
The definition of a heatwave is ‘a prolonged period of abnormally hot weather’, but what happens when the weather becomes abnormal; shouldn’t the word become obsolete? The reality is that my children don’t know a world that experiences ‘heatwaves’; they only know a country and a planet with unpredictable weather as the norm. The world in which I spent my youth, one that saw the beginning of global warming, is long gone. Yet still children are being taught that there are ‘heatwaves’, which means that they are being lied to, not intentionally, but because we adults haven’t yet caught up with reality.
We are in the midst of a climate emergency, but we don’t have the appropriate language to communicate this reality yet.
This means that we are doing our children a great disservice in terms of adaptation. If we were facing a war, children would be learning to cope with the reality of it. In World War Two, children were taught drills, and how to act during air raids. They were provided with gas masks including the ‘Mickey Mouse’ mask which was designed for under-fives to keep them from being afraid. At the same time, newspapers provided recipes for parents to feed their families using food rations — and so on. Admittedly, we now face a more complicated threat: bombs are reigning down on us, but we can’t actually see them, and they’re mostly not hitting the UK yet. Our air is toxic, our oceans are poisoned and rising, and our land is burning, but there is no clear enemy, no one to rally against beyond our own impact on the biosphere, which is in many ways difficult for us to fathom.
As well, there is a kind of ‘passive denial’ of the climate and ecological crisis we are in, which manifests in some individuals as anger. I wish I had such indignant rage as I have been met with at times, where I have been told that I am terrifying people, and I have replied that I am deeply sorry, but the truth is terrifying. Personally, I would welcome anger, to provide me with a shield from the waves of grief that wash over me at unexpected moments: on an abnormally hot day; as I bathe my children. It happens, too, at expected moments: as I watch the lungs of the planet burn in real-time on a television screen. This grief cannot be escaped: it is an inevitable and appropriate response to mass extinction and the death of the planet we once knew.
I wish I was exaggerating. In fact, rainforests are responsible for 28% of the Earth’s oxygen turnover, so it’s not hyperbolic to say that the lungs of the world are on fire. Siberia is suffering from raging wildfires, Indonesia is experiencing its worst wildfire season since 2015, the Amazon rainforest has been burning for over three weeks, and the Arctic is experiencing its worst wildfire season on record. Meanwhile, the British press celebrates hitting new record temperatures as if unpredictable weather extremes aren’t causing mass displacement, suffering and death elsewhere.
I wish this was just my opinion, but there is a 99% consensus between scientists that global warming is being driven by humans. If that many doctors told you that you were going to fall seriously ill and die if you didn’t make immediate changes, wouldn’t you listen?
Even so, there is fragile hope: if we act swiftly, we can still stop the worst of what’s to come. The 1.5C Warming IPCC report released last year advises that we keep warming below 1.5C, but the Earth is currently on a trajectory toward 3C-4C warming. We still have time to act, but action must be swift and drastic. Scientists are warning us that we have only seventeen months left before we pass the 1.5C threshold: after that, we hit the tipping point of runaway climate change, from which there is likely no return.
I wish I was wrong. I want to look my children in the eyes and assure them that I will do my job as a mother to protect them from the world. I feel near-constant grief at my inability to do this.
If this was a war, we’d have a strategy to win it. It would be reported on the front pages daily, it would constantly be on our minds and lips, and we would be focusing on solutions. In a national radio interview last week I was told that making ecocide a crime to protect the planet from further harm would be a thankless task because leaders would never come to an agreement on it. Yet the 1987 Montreal Protocol was agreed globally between 46 countries (now 200) to protect the ozone layer. A recent UN report found that Indigenous people are the best caretakers of the land, and Extinction Rebellion has three demands for the UK government. There are many potential solutions, but we are not seriously discussing how to implement them. We have not yet caught up with reality, and as we bury our heads in the sand, we are running out of time.
A recent poll found that 85% of Britons are concerned about climate change, but the political will to act is missing. When the US wanted to beat the USSR in the ‘Space Race’, they put a man on the moon — this was in 1969, before the Internet and mobile phones existed. Fifteen nations worked together to create the International Space Station, by manufacturing parts in their own countries, sending them into space, and sending astronauts up to assemble them in orbit high above the Earth. If we threw the same energy, money, resources, and the best minds on the planet at the climate crisis, we could bring our emissions down and win the fight.
It takes courage to face a crisis. To every presenter and reporter, to every politician in every country, I beg you to muster the courage we need to win this. I urge you to be pioneers in this fight to save our world, the only known habitable planet in the universe. To everyone, I implore you to join Extinction Rebellion on 7 October in London or your nearest capital city, and rebel with us until action is taken to fix this mess we are in.
The climate and ecological crisis is bigger than any war: in this fight, there is no Switzerland. As the island nations sink, so too do our coastal regions go underwater. This is a crisis that knows no borders. As the forests burn, the fumes have repercussions for us all: the rich biodiversity of our planet is lost, the warming of our planet accelerates, and our children begin to choke and starve. Time is running out in which to act: it’s time to muster courage and make a choice. We survive this, or we perish, together.