Claudia Fisher is a married business woman and artist. She has five children aged 32 to 13 and is studying part-time for an MA in Creative Writing at The University of Brighton. For the next couple of months, she will be writing a weekly blog on the BPEC website about environmental issues, particularly focussing on climate change and biodiversity loss. Claudia does a lot of work with the newly formed civil disobedience group Extinction Rebellion. In this blog she will share her journey with you, in the hope that you will join her. Thank you for reading.
I have a question for you.
What prompts a middle-aged woman who has never participated in any form of activism before to throw herself wholeheartedly into civil disobedience and more? The answer is simple.
These are the words of a 16-year-old student, Greta Thunberg. What does Greta mean? Our house is on fire? Let’s start with that image. What would you or I if we knew our house was on fire? Make a cup of tea and wait to see if the flames caught hold? Let the children sleep upstairs for fear of frightening them unnecessarily? Walk off and leave it, hoping it would put itself out? No of course not. That would be ridiculous.
I am pretty confident that the first thing every one of us would do is wake the children and get them out as quickly as possible. We’d pick up the phone and dial 999. We’d shout ‘HURRY!’. We’d put the hose on and fill buckets with water. We’d form a chain gang with our neighbours. In short, we’d do anything we could to dampen those flames.
Let’s go back to Greta, whose one-woman school strike for climate has captured the imaginations of hundreds of thousands of young people across the world.[ii] For months Greta skipped school every Friday, preferring to sit outside the Swedish Parliament on her own, rather than be with her friends in class. She explained that the world was facing such a dire and urgent climate emergency, she saw no point in studying for a future she would never have.
She explains that we, the human race, are facing climate breakdown with wildfires, flooding, droughts, rising sea levels and heatwaves. The planet is entering the world’s sixth mass extinction with around 200 species estimated to go extinct each and every day.[iii] And what are we doing? Pretty much nothing. We all carry on as before and think people like me are extremist, alarmist, totally off their rockers. Or we notice it’s a bit hotter than usual, but that’s nice isn’t it, in a country where traditionally the weather is a bit rubbish? We can start producing wine now. So, it’s not all bad. And anyway, what can we do about it? We all have to live, don’t we? We have to eat and get about and have fun? We don’t want to stop all of that, because isn’t the kind of easy living we are used to what it’s all about? Well, the answer is, we have to stop. We have to think. To assess. To evaluate. Then we have to act. We have to. Because this is not sustainable. It cannot last.
Every day nearly 100 million barrels of oil are extracted from the ground.[iv] That is energy made billions of years ago. Yet we dig it up, harness its energy and release its by-products. Like Pandora’s Box, we let it out and can’t put it back. I tell my children that their actions have consequences. Yet I have been guilty, and still am guilty, of taking actions and making decisions that will have consequences, not necessarily for me, but for generations to come.
Ask any ecologist and they will confirm that this beautiful blue planet of ours has a finely balanced eco-system that has evolved over a very, very long time. I think understanding just how long really helps with getting a handle on how serious this situation is.
As part of my MA in Creative Writing, last year I wrote a piece about a three-hour period where, as a result of severe sleep deprivation and stress at my son’s serious illness, the balance of my mind was briefly overturned. In order to reconcile the significance of those three hours with the greater scheme of things I started researching. Trying to understand time. For me those three hours felt like an eternity. But what does eternity really mean? This is what I found out, and be warned, you could find it quite mind-blowing.
‘If the Earth formed at midnight and the present moment is the next midnight, 24 hours later, modern humans have been around since 11:59:59pm—that’s 1 second.’[v]
And in all that time, in the 23 hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds of all existence, the world’s ecosystems could get along with their business of generating, living, evolving, dying and starting over again uninterrupted. Then we humans came along.
‘And if human history itself spans 24 hours from one midnight to the next, 14 minutes represents the time since Christ.’[vi]
But for 23 hours 58 minutes 36 seconds of that one second of the previous 24-hour clock, humans were part of the ecosystem. Spending every second surviving. Living amongst all other life. It is really only in the last two hundred years, since the beginning of the industrial age that we have had any kind of impact on our environment. This is equivalent in my illustration to 1 minute and 24 seconds of a 24-hour period that has been expanded out of one second of another 24-hour period.
Think about it. That kind of time span, a mere 200 years, in comparison to life on earth is equivalent to a fraction of a blink. And the scientists tell us we have only 11 years left to change our ways, before global temperatures breach the 1.5ºC guard rail.[vii] Beyond that we will have an unstoppable increase. Temperatures of 2-5ºC will cause famine, mass migration, wars and societal break down. Life will at best be miserable, at worst unsustainable.[viii]
Just 11 years. To stop carbon emissions. To clean up our act. Going back to my illustration, 11 years equates to a mere 4.62 seconds of a second in 24 hours. Which is why waiting till climate change hits home, waiting for governments to do something, waiting for the changes to be unstoppable just isn’t an option. The UK government have pledged an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. If this target wasn’t so tragic it would be laughable. It’s like pouring a thimbleful of lukewarm water onto that house fire and expecting that drop to make a difference.
We need to act like our house is on fire. Because it is. And this middle-aged woman for one is not going to stop until that fire is out. Totally out. I will risk my losing my comforts, my freedom and my life. It is too important to stand by and do nothing. Because the fire is taking hold of the ground floor. The flames are licking up the stairs and my children are sleeping in that house. I need to get them to safety.
More next week about my entry into a different world of possibilities and hope.