September 2014 2

September 2014 in Sefton Park

Today, the last day of September, I picked two pounds of strawberries on our allotment. Plus many more of the courgettes and tomatoes that have advanced in battalions in recent weeks.  A couple more figs are ripening, and there’s a second flush of blackberries on the bramble patch at the rough end.  This has been the warmest, driest September I can remember. Here in Liverpool we’ve had scarcely a drop of rain since the end of August.  It’s still t-shirt weather.

Harvest

September harvest

After a bit of digging I took the dog for a walk from Dingle Vale, through Festival Gardens where the lake in front of the Chinese pagoda is almost as dry as a bone, and down to the great river. Looking out over the water as the tide ran fast and deep, under a sky of blue, and with a balmy breeze on my face, I wondered: what could possibly be wrong with the world on a day like this?  What shadow might fall across those distant hills, bright in the evening sun?

Otterspool

Looking out across the great river

A perfect day, a feeling of being at peace with the world. The river I looked out over has run the same way to the sea, day in day out, for millennia. But might we, just possibly, have fucked up?

Take this disturbing report in today’s Guardian:

The number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, according to a new analysis. Creatures across land, rivers and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats, the research by scientists at WWF and the Zoological Society of London found.

Read on a bit and you come to these two deadly paragraphs:

Currently, the global population is cutting down trees faster than they regrow, catching fish faster than the oceans can restock, pumping water from rivers and aquifers faster than rainfall can replenish them and emitting more climate-warming carbon dioxide than oceans and forests can absorb.

The report concludes that today’s average global rate of consumption would need 1.5 planet Earths to sustain it. But four planets would be required to sustain US levels of consumption, or 2.5 Earths to match UK consumption levels.

September 2014

Sefton Park, September 2014

Last week the media were full of interviews with Canadian Naomi Klein and reviews of her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate – her personal response to the feeling that we are losing the battle against climate change:

She argues that we have all been thinking about the climate crisis the wrong way around: it’s about capitalism – not carbon – the extreme anti-regulatory version that has seized global economies since the 1980s and has set us on a course of destruction and deepening inequality.

“I think we are on a collision course,” she says. Twenty-five years ago, when the first climate scientist was called to testify to Congress and make global warming a policy challenge, there might have still been time for big industries to shrink their carbon footprints. But governments at the time were seized with the idea that there should be no restraints on industry. “During that time,” Klein writes, “we also expanded the road from a two lane, carbon-spewing highway to a six-lane superhighway.”

(from ‘Naomi Klein: ‘We tried it your way and we don’t have another decade to waste’‘ in last week’s Guardian)

Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein

In another Guardian piece (you can tell what paper I read), Klein set out her case: essentially, that we aren’t going to save the planet simply by being better consumers – but by tackling the power of multinational corporations.  We’re going to have to face up to global capitalism, or destroy the earth:

Our problem is that the climate crisis hatched in our laps at a moment in history when political and social conditions were uniquely hostile to a problem of this nature and magnitude – that moment being the tail end of the go-go 80s, the blast-off point for the crusade to spread deregulated capitalism around the world. Climate change is a collective problem demanding collective action the likes of which humanity has never actually accomplished. Yet it entered mainstream consciousness in the midst of an ideological war being waged on the very idea of the collective sphere.

This deeply unfortunate mistiming has created all sorts of barriers to our ability to respond effectively to this crisis. It has meant that corporate power was ascendant at the very moment when we needed to exert unprecedented controls over corporate behaviour in order to protect life on Earth. It has meant that regulation was a dirty word just when we needed those powers most. It has meant that we are ruled by a class of politicians who know only how to dismantle and starve public institutions just when they most need to be fortified and re-imagined. And it has meant that we are saddled with an apparatus of “free trade” deals that tie the hands of policy-makers just when they need maximum flexibility to achieve a massive energy transition.

Rubbish dumped on the tundra, Greenland

Rubbish dump on Greenland with melting icebergs

The problem, Klein says, is that – conditioned by the free market – being consumers is all we know:

Climate change demands that we consume less, but being consumers is all we know. Climate change is not a problem that can be solved simply by changing what we buy – a hybrid instead of an SUV, some carbon offsets when we get on a plane. At its core, it is a crisis born of overconsumption by the comparatively wealthy, which means the world’s most manic consumers are going to have to consume less.

The problem is not “human nature,” as we are so often told. We weren’t born having to shop this much, and we have, in our recent past, been just as happy (in many cases happier) consuming far less. The problem is the inflated role that consumption has come to play in our particular era.

[…]

Climate change is slow, and we are fast. When you are racing through a rural landscape on a bullet train, it looks as if everything you are passing is standing still: people, tractors, cars on country roads. They aren’t, of course. They are moving, but at a speed so slow compared with the train that they appear static.

So it is with climate change. Our culture, powered by fossil fuels, is that bullet train, hurtling forward toward the next quarterly report, the next election cycle, the next bit of diversion or piece of personal validation via our smartphones and tablets. Our changing climate is like the landscape out the window: from our racy vantage point it can appear static, but it is moving, its slow progress measured in receding ice sheets, swelling waters and incremental temperature rises. If left unchecked, climate change will most certainly speed up enough to capture our fractured attention – island nations wiped off the map, and city-drowning superstorms, tend to do that. But by then, it may be too late for our actions to make a difference, because the era of tipping points will likely have begun.

[…]

Another part of what makes climate change so very difficult for us to grasp is that ours is a culture of the perpetual present, one that deliberately severs itself from the past that created us as well as the future we are shaping with our actions. Climate change is about how what we did generations in the past will inescapably affect not just the present, but generations in the future. These timeframes are a language that has become foreign to most of us.

This is not about passing individual judgment, nor about berating ourselves for our shallowness or rootlessness. Rather, it is about recognising that we are products of an industrial project, one intimately and historically linked to fossil fuels.

And just as we have changed before, we can change again. After listening to the great farmer-poet Wendell Berry deliver a lecture on how we each have a duty to love our “homeplace” more than any other, I asked him if he had any advice for rootless people like me and my friends, who live in our computers and always seem to be shopping from home. “Stop somewhere,” he replied. “And begin the thousand-year-long process of knowing that place.”

Watching the river as it flowed through the place I love, I thought about Wendell Berry. Sometimes I fear what kind of world my daughter will be living in when she’s the age I am now – or, if she has children, what the world will be like for them. Then I heard an echo of a new song by another Canadian, Leonard Cohen. Off his new album called Popular Problems; in an interview on BBC Radio 6 Music last week, Cohen wisecracked that the next one would be called ‘Unpopular Solutions’. He may not be far wrong.

You got me singing
Even tho’ the news is bad
You got me singing
The only song I ever had

You got me singing
Ever since the river died
You got me thinking
Of the places we could hide

You got me singing
Even though the world is gone
You got me thinking
I’d like to carry on

You got me singing
Even tho’ it all looks grim
You got me singing
The Hallelujah hymn

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7 thoughts on “The last day of September

  1. Reblogged this on Between the ocean and the sea and commented:
    I’ve been following Gerry for a while now and find he has a nack for getting to the bones of things and this post about human induced climate change gets to the nub of the matter. I only disagree with one aspect he suggests that we are approaching a tipping point but as I understand it we’ve passed the tipping point. If we could reduce carbon emissions to the levels recommended this instant, today, the earth would continue to warm for at least another 50 years and not get back to todays level until around 100yrs after that. Anyway global warming is everyone’s concern so please take the time to read Gerry’s post and spare a thought for the people of Tuvalu and Kiribati who are already wading around their houses when the moon is full. What are we going to do about them?

    1. Thanks for reblogging, Graem. I wasn’t aware, though, that I’d suggested that we are approaching a tipping point. On the contrary, like you I believe we have now passed that point – that was the reason for me highlighting the WWF report which surely suggests that is the case. Nevertheless, we ought not to give up – which is the point of Naomi Klein’s intervention (and Leonard Cohen’s lyric). Cheers.

      1. My apologies Gerry, perhaps the relevant line is Klein’s anyway and I felt it was suggesting we might be there but might not. Bring it all together and the diagnosis is not good. The whole climate change thing is very complex and I tend to get bogged down in the detail so again thanks for cutting to the core of the matter.
        While I have the chance I particularly appreciated the posts around WWI. I think I’ve been getting spam filtered for some reason as tried to comment unsuccessfully back then. We have a dramatisation on our radio at the moment of “My Brother’s War” about a conscientious objector, Edmund Hayes.
        Cheers Graeme

  2. Thank you for my LC fix. Sweet, and, shall we say, thematically self-referential. Lord, when the man does finally topple over we won’t be able to say he croaked because people will assume it was business as usual. But what poignant, piercing croak.

    1. If you want croak, listen to 21st century Dylan! I’d characterise Leonard’s voice as deliciously velvety (even, perhaps, chocolatey as one reviewer put it).

  3. Thankyou for your reflections.
    The word that came strongly to me whilst reading was abundance.
    Look at the quality of the abundance that is created when greed, power and ignorance are its motivators. Compare with the abundance of late harvest strawberries that have been nourished and tended with warmth and love.
    The photo of the rubbish tip in Greenland makes my heart ache. Equally so does the photo of the harvest. Same ache but 180 degree results.
    Blessings x

    1. Thanks for that perceptive response, Debra. I think you hit the nail on the head comparing the two notions of abundance. The success of the capitalist system is predicated on ‘growth’. We measure of success in terms of rising GDP. But it’s that growth which is destroying the earth that sustains the abundance of resources we (and other creatures) really need.

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