By Liz Lee Reynolds
In a world where even parts of the infamously mild and miserable United Kingdom saw temperatures of 20C and devastating wildfires on a winter weekday in February, it is becoming impossible to deny the prevalence of climate change.
Despite the clear warnings that there is something deeply wrong with the weather, climate change scepticism is still rampant in parts of the world. Even in those that accept climate change there is a worrying tendency towards unhelpful behaviours.
There’s the ever-growing push for one solution in individual consumption, from veganism to ditching plastic straws, but equally as worrying is a strong sense of apathy coursing its way through the public consciousness on the footsteps of the growing acceptance of climate science.
Last week, during the unseasonably warm weather, an amusing, if anxiety-provoking, comic did the rounds on social media. The comic by the hilarious Sarah Scribbles, created in 2017 and relevant every year since, sums up the conflict of enjoying a “lovely” sunny winter day and the internal screams of watching the earth dying.
On these kinds of posts reactions often seem to edge towards almost the polar opposite of climate change denial, a complete acceptance of our path towards catastrophic global warming. Comments shrug off the impacts we are currently seeing as just the death throes of humanity rather than the finale of earth itself, which, once we are gone, will simply regenerate and start afresh, better and stronger without us.
These arguments are not only defeatist but also show the extreme arrogance of our species, the creature of the anthropocene, whose actions have so dramatically altered the world in just a few centuries.
While it may be true we are signing our own death warrants we are also including the majority (if not all) of the species of plant, animal and insect which share the world with us.
It is now widely accepted that we are in the sixth mass extinction event on planet earth. We are watching dozens of species go extinct every day. Many disappear before we’ve even discovered them. The WWF puts losses since 1970 at roughly 60 percent.
These are shocking figures, and not a trend that the earth is going to recover from overnight. It is likely it will take at least 5 to 10 million years for biodiversity to recover but depending on our impact it could be more. The mass extinction event which took place 250 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period, was the largest seen on earth with at least 90 percent of species wiped out. It took at least 30 million years for ecosystems to fully recover.
The last event of this kind, possibly the most popular mass extinction, was that of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. This catastrophic event saw the disappearance of roughly 75 percent of life on earth and a significant shift in the globally dominant species, from reptiles to mammals. Only a handful of hardy species cling on today.
Is this the fate we want to resign the creatures we share our planet with to? Creatures which have taken millions of years to perfectly evolve to their environment which we are now ripping up.
The red panda, for instance, was linked to it’s distant cousin the giant panda by a common ancestor 40 million years ago. In the intervening time these two have evolved into two distinct species, one related to bears, the other closer to ferrets and weasels. Despite their now distant connection both species evolved a similar false thumb to help them eat their chosen diet, bamboo.
This fantastic convergent evolutionary phenomenon will not be repeated in the same way once we are gone. The red pandas, the giant pandas and even their beloved bamboo will be wiped out, possibly while we are still clinging onto our burning planet.
Those that are happily awaiting humanity’s destruction to let in a new flourishing era on earth are callously overlooking the accompanying losses. This kind of extreme apathy is just as destructive as those who deny climate change altogether. It produces the same inaction and acceleration of climatic catastrophe.
Instead we need positive action. A willingness to take a stand and try to change paths towards a more hopeful future. Dismantling the current destructive model of business as usual and creating a greener world for everyone.
This is what Extinction Rebellion offers. With an approach that that combines a cohesive grand narrative and a focus on building local communities has already had significant attention and success. Bursting into life last November it saw thousands take to the streets in London and other cities across the UK.
Actions have included symbolic funeral processions throughout the country. A coffin for dead and dying species, as well as for our planet as a whole, is slowly marched through the streets. I will be joining one such protest this Saturday with my local group in Colchester. This alternative to the usually jubilant protest marches gives the space for attendees to grieve for our current situation while also uniting to find solutions.
With the next mass event planned for a full week, commencing the 15th April, XR focuses not only on action but also creating a regenerative culture, bonding those who are terrified by climate change and breaking down the walls of alienation which create paralysing apathy.
Groups across the country are planning walks over the days leading up to the 15th to converge in London, an action symbolic of the resistance to modern day environmentally destructive living and the coming together of those who oppose it.
Our self-destruction through climate change isn’t going to see humanity wiped out and then every other species breath a sigh of relief that we’re gone. We’re dragging them down with us and in fact throwing them in the fires first. The planet may recover but it is likely to be a very different place.
There may be studies that say we’re already too late but I don’t think that is a reason to give in. We can try to lessen our impact, give life as it currently stands more time and if all else fails at least create a more green and healthy system for us all to live in.
However, I live in hope that we still have time to stop our own extinction and that of many of the creatures we share our planet with. But time is running out. Rather than resign ourselves to denial and apathy we can reach out to others and fight.