Inspiring your audience – How to ‘Sell’ Climate Change Action

Featured

By Kate Goldstone

 

The battle against runaway climate change is one that every one of us faces. Our children face it too. But across the world climate campaigners are struggling – and often failing – to capture the public imagination, to persuade their audiences to act, to get things moving. As an ex-marketer I think it’s important to explore why it’s sometimes such a challenge to wake our audiences up, and how we can work more effectively to bring millions more protestors into the fold.

The history of climate change

The history of the scientific discovery of climate change (1) kicked off in the early 1800s, when the natural greenhouse effect was first pinpointed. By the 1960s the warming effect of CO2 was clearer, but some scientists began wondering whether human generated atmospheric aerosols might have a cooling effect on the planet.

The ’70s saw the warming powers of CO2 confirmed, and by 1990 both computer modelling and simple observations confirmed greenhouse gases were deeply involved in climate change. Worse still, human-caused emissions were bringing about noticeable global warming. Now we understand a lot more about the causal relations between our CO2 habits and climate change, and there’s no doubt that the human race is at fault. It’s definitively a human thing.

What’s been done so far?

Five decades on from those first indications, it can feel like not a lot has changed. People are still burning fossil fuels, driving everywhere, still flying like there’s no tomorrow, even though our tomorrows are going to be seriously limited if we carry on. Governments are still sitting on their hands, entire nations are sticking their fingers in their ears and pretending everything’s OK. Wildfires are raging, coastlines are flooding, extreme weather is on the up… but nothing much seems to be happening, or at least nothing on the grand scale we need at this point.

Why so little real climate change action?

From an individual perspective, is there anything more scary that the planet you live on, the place that keeps you alive, turning against you? The thing about climate change is, it’s massive. It’s everywhere. It affects every human, plant and animal on the planet, of every kind, in multiple ways, very few of them positive.

Climate change means bad weather. Really bad, unpredictable weather. It means the wholesale destruction of property and crops. It means water wars and mass migrations. It means widespread economic difficulties and it might even destroy whole societies, entire nations. Countries on the Equator will probably become uninhabitable through the heat and lack of rain. People will starve. Because vast swathes of land will no longer be suitable for them, countless precious members of the animal kingdom will die off and become extinct.

From a government perspective, climate change is a really tricky fix. Because governments are only in power for a short time, their viewpoint is a short-term one. They’re not comfortable bringing in unpopular climate change measures that restrict their constituents, cost them money or make their lives less pleasant, and that – as we know – is fatal. It means most of them are doing absolutely nothing, or very little, to mitigate climate change. And it leaves the public, you and I, with very little wriggle room.

If, like me, you’ve stopped flying altogether, barely ever use a car, have fitted energy-efficient light bulbs and other kit to your home and gone veggie or vegan, there’s not a lot else you can do. It’s incredibly frustrating watching governments fiddle while Rome burns. But no wonder it’s so hard to get most people off their backsides and into protest mode, when the problem feels so big, so hard to surmount, so horrifying to even contemplate. It’s very discouraging seeing our leaders doing bugger-all about it, and it’s saddening to see so relatively few ordinary people putting their neck on the block as well.

The remarkable power of optimism

According to an article in New Scientist magazine (2) decades of environmental doom-mongering have fallen on deaf ears. It says that a ‘new environmental campaign with a message of hope’ is what we need, a fresh way to campaign called ‘Earth Optimism’.

Fans of Earth Optimism say the successes we’ve experienced in protecting individual species like the scimitar oryx and Togo slippery frog, the overall decline in Amazon rainforest destruction, and our brilliant work on renewable energies are worthy of celebration. They all reveal the power we have at our fingertips as individuals.

Yes, the movement is accused of naivety, of wearing rose-tinted specs. But at the same time they’re not claiming that everything’s lovely. Rather, they believe we can’t expect people to rise to a challenge like this without inspirational examples of success.

Do environmental campaigners come across as too doom-mongering? Do we come across as ‘guilt-tripping party poopers’ as the article suggests? If you’re in need of a boost, you can follow Earth Optimism’s Tweets here (https://twitter.com/earthoptimism?lang=e)

Taking a marketing perspective

You could say we need to create the marketing campaign to end all marketing campaigns. And marketing is usually about optimism. A positive marketing message is always more powerful and influential than a negative one, which is why we tend to get so frustrated with party political promotion, which focuses a lot harder on negative information about competing parties than positive messages about their own policies.

The more we moan and weep and tear our hair out, the more we’re putting people off. The more dreadful facts and terrifying revelations we put out there, the more we drive people to bury their heads in the sand and keep them there. Do we in fact need fresh, new messages and an Obama-esque ‘yes, we can’ mindset? Do we need to shift the narrative to inspire people? What do you think?

Can we do it? Yes, we can!

If you doubt we can do it, think plastic. You have more influence than you think. Just look at what we’ve done about plastic pollution in the short time between David Attenborough’s epic Blue Planet series, which highlighted the issue, and now. All over the world ordinary people are using less plastic, handing back plastic packaging to the supermarkets it came from, changing their shopping habits, turning up en-masse to clean the world’s beaches and rescue plastic-stricken sea creatures.

Give us a cause and we’ll follow it. Give us a job and we’ll do it. But when we’re left to stew in our own juices as our politicians prevaricate, we’re completely disempowered. Maybe we need to break the task into bite-sized chunks. After all, none of us can save an entire planet’s climate on our own.

Can you think of a way to translate an enormous, unwieldy problem into something people can get their teeth into, get behind, get sorted? Can you think of an optimistic way to express an issue that we need people to focus on? How would you sell climate change action?

Sources:

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_climate_change_science

(2) https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23631473-200-reasons-to-be-cheerful/

The Summit To Nowhere

By Bill McGuire

The insanity of it! The crass stupidity. Not only is this week’s critical UN Climate Summit taking place in a country where coal is king – generating eighty percent of its electricity – but it is hosted by the coal mining city of Katowice. Make no mistake, despite the flim-flam on the conference website about its alleged green credentials, this is a city built on coal and powered by coal, which is home to Poland’s biggest coal company.

And it gets worse. In our neo-liberal, everything-monetised, world, no big event can be left un-sponsored, and this year’s climate summit is no exception. What sort of organisations might you expect to attach their names to arguably the world’s biggest ‘green’ event? Maybe the builders of wind turbines or solar farms, or perhaps those involved in sustainable reforestation or carbon capture. But no, the Polish government has permitted – not to say encouraged – a pair of coal companies to become official sponsors. You really couldn’t make it up. But then, the Polish government has a history of this sort of abject and disgraceful behaviour. The last time the country hosted a UN climate conference was in Warsaw in 2013. Then, the Polish Ministry of Economy teamed up with the World Coal Association to host an international coal and climate summit in parallel with the UN event. One of the planet’s greatest despoilers piggy-backing on the high-profile of those trying to clean up their mess. It’s like a sick joke.

And to add to the feeling that the whole thing is taking place in some weird alternative reality, the summit attracts its usual bunch of crazies, fossil fuel apologists and neocon ideologues to its fringes. Topping the bill in Katowice, at an event held nearby by the US Right-wing lobby group, The Heartland Institute, will be a small gang of climate deniers. These despicable cranks will no doubt delight their audience by telling them (a) that climate change is not happening; (b) that if it is, humans are not the cause; or (c) even if we are, it’s nothing to worry about – possibly all three simultaneously.

As if all this is not enough, the chance of anything worthwhile coming out of Katowice – anything concrete that will give us hope – is vanishingly small. The goal of the summit is flagged as being to set down the rules by which the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement will operate. That’s right – three years on there are still no mechanisms in place that will allow the translation of the vague promises of Paris into measures that will actually reduce emissions in the real world. You certainly can’t accuse these guys of rushing things. The so-called Paris Rulebook is supposed to determine how governments record and report their greenhouse gas emissions and efforts to cut them. But it doesn’t matter how well you record and report progress, bugger-all is still bugger-all.

Whether or not a rulebook pops out at the end of this week’s summit is going to make very little difference to the chances of keeping the global average temperature rise below 1.5°C or even  2.0°C. It is perfectly clear, to those able to see past the obfuscation, deceit, hyperbole and misplaced confidence, that the emissions reductions promises made in Paris – even if they are kept – are nowhere near enough to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown. Certainly, they will not get us anywhere near the 45 percent emissions drawdown by 2030 that the IPCC now demands, which, in itself, is nowhere near enough.

Let’s face it, this whole way of doing things just isn’t working. Summits every year, excruciatingly complex emissions reduction plans that require a 500 page plus rulebook, accommodating fossil fuel companies, keeping big polluters happy just to keep them on board, talking up our chances of keeping our world cool. None of these things are going to get us where we want to be, which is NZ7 – net zero emissions in seven years. What we need instead is an immediate ban on all fossil fuel subsidies, carbon taxes that will make it uneconomic to get hydrocarbons out of the ground, a ‘war on climate change’ economy that embraces personal carbon ration cards, the retooling of industry to drive a crash programme in wind and solar, electric vehicles and infrastructure, energy efficiency and carbon capture, the imposition of NZ7 emissions pathways for all businesses, a ban on deforestation and a massive programme of new planting.

If this all sounds draconian, that’s because it is. If we had taken the climate change threat seriously nearly four decades ago, when it started to be seen as a clear and present danger, we could have turned things around by now, slowly and steadily. Instead, we chose to ignore it, so that emissions are still rising and our world is on the cusp of catastrophe. Sorting the problem now is going to demand big sacrifices by everyone, but the only alternative is to pass on even greater sacrifices to our children and those that follow.

Bill McGuire is Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at UCL and author of Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanic Eruptions. He was a contributor to the IPCC 2012 report on Climate Change & Extreme Events and Disasters.

Focus Australia – Serious climate issues down under

By Kate Goldstone

For generations, people from all over the world have made their way to Australia on holiday to enjoy its wonderful warm, sunny weather and extraordinary natural environments. Plenty of families moved there permanently, seduced by the climate. Now New South Wales, the country’s most heavily populated state, is officially experiencing total drought, and Australia’s legendary hot dry weather is fast becoming more or a problem than a pleasure (1).

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology defines drought as “rainfall over a three-month period being in the lowest decile of what has been recorded for that region in the past ” (2). The current very dry winter down under is intensifying the ‘worst drought in living memory’ in some areas of eastern Australia, with New South Wales, the provider of a quarter of the country’s agriculture, now 100% in drought. 23% of New South Wales is in a state of ‘intense drought’ and the rest is either in drought or drought-affected. And in the news’ grim wake there’s a growing litany of horror in the form of failing crops, dying livestock, and severe water shortages.

Some farmers are being forced to pay as much as a hundred dollars for a truck of hay to keep their beasts alive. Some are selling off their animals in despair. Others are digging in to wait for the rain… if it ever comes. In the Australian countryside farming suicide rates have always been higher than average. Now they’re around 40% higher than urban suicide rates, according to the national mental health charity Sane Australia (3).

The blame lies at the feet of climate change

Of course Australia’s weather is naturally varied year-on-year, and is affected by multiple complicated factors. Like much of the world’s weather it’s a chaotic system, and hard to predict. But all the same, a growing number of scientists are laying the blame at the feet of climate change. The Australian government itself admits the risk of severe drought could be more likely thanks to human-created global warming. As the Prime Minister PM Turnbull acknowledged, he doesn’t know many people in New South Wales who don’t think the climate is getting drier and rainfall becoming more volatile.

Government relief payments do nothing to fix the underlying issue

The Australian government is already paying out annual relief of as much as A$16,000 to affected farmers. The Prime Minister has just promised extra payments of up to A$12,000, in a move that has been criticised for being too little, too late. In a nation where drought isn’t a stranger at the best of times, it’s clear those in power are worried. But like most governments, they’re not doing anywhere near enough on the people’s behalf to mitigate climate change. Emergency relief doesn’t contribute to the fight against global warming, it merely papers over the cracks.

Australia is at more risk of runaway climate change than most

Worse still, The Guardian (4) reports that climate change could affect Australia more than any other continent. A science agency and Bureau of Meteorology report says they expect temperatures to rise as much as 5.1C in Australia by the year 2090. Scientists have long predicted that a 4C rise would be catastrophic, and that makes a hike of more than 5C downright terrifying. Unless action is taken to dramatically slash greenhouse gas emissions right now, officials say there’s a ‘very high confidence’ that temperatures will continue to rise steeply across Australia throughout the 21st century. Let things slide any further and the Australian government’s lack of real action could see the worst case 5C scenario become a reality.

How high temperatures affect humans

High temperatures affect more than agriculture, of course. If you’ve ever suffered through an exceptionally hot summer’s day you’ll know how nasty and uncomfortable it can be. The human body has an internal temperature of around 37C, and it dislikes being any hotter. Prolonged exposure to heat and humidity can easily kill you. If it doesn’t you’ll suffer muscle cramps because you’re dried out, short of vital electrolytes, and salt-deprived. If you’re not used to high temperatures you can suffer heat edema, where your hands and ankles swell up like balloons when your poor blood vessels dilate in an effort to radiate heat away. If you see little prickly red spots on your skin, it’s a heat rash caused by blocked sweat pores. If you stop sweating altogether, it’s time to worry – you’re on the road to potentially fatal heat stroke. When you heat up to more than 40C and lose consciousness, you’re in real trouble.

Extreme heat also results in dizziness, nausea, fainting, hallucinations, and something called heat syncope, where you get a temporary drop in the blood flow to your brain because you’ve lost so much fluid. Vomiting, diarrhoea and palpitations also reveal your body is not at all happy. No wonder, in summer 2003, an estimated 70,000 people died in the great European heatwave, which saw temperatures soaring to record levels for weeks on end.

All this happens to humans… and to our fellow creatures, who also suffer and die when temperatures exceed the usual maximum. Australia’s precious Great Barrier Reef, for example, is dying fast, being bleached to death thanks to rising sea temperatures. And once it goes, that’s that – it’s gone. Half a million years of growth, and we destroy it within a few decades. It’s shameful.

No continent is an island

The thing is, no continent is an island. Climate change is global. No one country is protected from it, no one country can make it go away. If Australia doesn’t act fast enough on climate change, the USA will ultimately suffer. If the USA doesn’t act fast enough Europe will suffer. If the EU doesn’t act now, China will suffer. And so on. We’re all interconnected, as are our economies. When one part of a global economy nosedives, so does the rest.

Australia might just be facing a perfect storm. When you blend dire predictions with government inaction and a climate that might already be changing off the scale, the future doesn’t look rosy.

It’s time to force the world’s governments to act on our behalves, to try to secure a decent future for our children. Will you go to jail for the cause, the greatest challenge mankind has had to face since we made our way out of Africa? Can you support the cause in any other way? If so, we’d love to hear from you.

Together we can make great things happen.

 

Sources:

(1) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-45107504

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drought_in_Australia

(3) https://www.sane.org/

(4) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/26/climate-change-will-hit-australia-harder-than-rest-of-world-study-shows

(5) https://www.theweathernetwork.com/news/articles/five-awful-ways-extreme-heat-affects-the-human-body/51464

We need an Apollo programme for climate change

By Bill McGuire

      A recent visit to the cinema to see the excellent First Man, which follows astronaut Neil Armstrong on his path to immortality, reminded me of the big anniversary coming up next year. I find it hard to believe, but 2019 will see the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, way back in July 1969. I was a schoolboy at the time and remember it vividly. In many ways, this seminal event was the beginning of the end for the hugely ambitious US space programme. Despite another five landings following, and all the drama of the Apollo 13 emergency, the final two moon missions were scrapped, along with plans for a moon base and manned mission to Mars in the 1980s. There has been no return to the Moon and – notwithstanding wildly optimistic ravings from Elon Musk and other internet billionaires with more money than sense – a human presence on the red planet seems as far away as ever.

      It is probably not entirely a coincidence that interest in space and reaching out to other worlds began to fade at a time when concerns over our own was growing. Today, few in their right mind would prioritise space exploration over putting our house in order down here on Earth. A house that is in severe danger of being trashed beyond repair by a conspiracy of climate breakdown, environmental degradation and mass extinction. Notwithstanding this, space still has a major role to play down here on the surface. Specialist satellites play a key part in observing and tracking many of the features that flag up how quickly our world is falling apart, including ice cover, sea-surface temperatures and land use. The Apollo programme, in particular, also taught us a vital lesson; just how quickly something can be accomplished if it is wanted badly enough. This is encapsulated in a short clip from the now famous speech President Kennedy made in 1962, during which he announced the intention to put a man on the Moon. 

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.

      Swap ‘stop climate breakdown’  for ‘go to the Moon’ and these few sentences describe perfectly the can-do thinking that a war on climate change requires. It may be Kismet, but Kennedy’s speech was made seven years before the first moon landing; the same length of time over which Extinction Rebellion demands that UK carbon emissions reach net zero. So, it seems obvious. What we need is an Apollo Programme for climate change. An all-embracing crusade that strives to cut emissions to the bone within seven years. To do this will require retooling the economy and rebooting our wasteful lifestyles to make falling carbon output the measure of the success of our society; not rising GDP, the number of families with two cars, or how many fighter jets we have sold to Saudi Arabia.

      The driver for the Apollo programme was simple and straightforward – get to the Moon before the ‘Russkies’ do. When the alternative is global catastrophe, an Apollo Programme for climate change shouldn’t really need to be incentivised. Knowing that we will bequeath to our children and their children a world that is not desecrated beyond redemption should be sufficient. Nonetheless, there are welcome incentives too. A zero carbon world will be a cleaner, safer and – almost certainly – a happier one. So what’s not to like. The sooner we start the better.

Bill McGuire is Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at UCL and author of Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanic Eruptions. He was a contributor to the IPCC 2012 report on Climate Change & Extreme Events and Disasters.

INCOMING

By Bill McGuire

 

     I blink away a droplet of sweat and draw Bea’s thin frame closer. She looks up at me, shivering despite the heat. In the darkness, the small girl’s face is a pale, featureless smear, but I know it bears a closed expression; the brown eyes nurturing the haunted look they have held since the day her mother was killed. The night is sweltering and starless; the feathery fronds of the young palm beneath which we crouch, hanging motionless in the still air. Across the short stretch of water ahead of us, the towering steel and concrete wall of the Bulwark is bathed in cold, blue light. The dark maw of the Huntingdon Seagate is the only break in the unassailable barrier which, to the left sweeps southwards in a long curve, and to the right marches into the distance along the shore of the Cambridgeshire Bight. A container ship the length of half a dozen city blocks, lights blazing from stem to stern, eases slowly to a halt; heaving-to alongside three others queuing to enter the great port concealed beyond the Seagate. The ship is the latest in an almost continuous train of supply vessels that navigate the polar routes from Asia to feed the insatiable appetite of London Max, the greatest of the European city states.

 

     A shabby little ferry exits the Seagate, bumping and bouncing on a creamy, v-shaped, wash that briefly ruffles the black, oily, surface of the otherwise flat calm water. Its open deck is packed with weary incomers; indentured labourers returning home from 12-hour shifts to the vast favela that straggles for a dozen kilometres along the north shore of the Bight. Dwarfed by its enormous bulk, the ferry crosses the prow of one of the great ships, turns hard to port and heads directly for a  rickety wooden jetty poking into the sea from a cluster of ramshackle huts. Just as a collision seems inevitable, the helmsman simultaneously spins the wheel and cuts the engines, swinging the boat violently and leaving it to clatter side-on into the row of battered tyres that shield the jetty’s fraying edge. Cowed and exhausted, the passengers stumble over the ferry’s shallow gunwale and shuffle the length of the jetty to queue at the checkpoint where Idents are checked by a pair of city protectorate guards. Incomers are counted in and counted out so that none are tempted to overstay their welcome. Any who do pay the ultimate price as the tamper-proof subcutaneous toxin capsules are triggered remotely after a 24-hour period of grace.

 

     I sense a presence, corroborated by a hoarse whisper: ‘Davie!’ and turn to find DB at my shoulder. A waxing moon momentarily evades the cloud cover, casting a sickly yellow glow on the newcomer’s face and picking out a puckered scar that draws his mouth upwards at one corner, so that it seems to be curled in a constant sneer. A tattooed hand, holding two idents is paraded in front of my face. DB attempts a grin, revealing broken and missing teeth and croaks three words:

‘It is time.’

Bea shies away from the grim apparition, burying her face in my side, but I smile my thanks, take the thin metal plates and stuff them inside my sweat-soaked shirt. DB pats me on the back and utters one further word:

‘Go.’

Cloud scuds briefly across the moon and when it emerges again he is nowhere to be seen.

 

     Taking Bea’s hand, I stand, uttering a soft groan as my knees sound their objections. We duck out from beneath the palm fronds and walk the short distance to a track of compacted sand and pebbles that follows the seaward edge of the dune field to the jetty and its attendant clutch of hovels. To the south, the sky beyond the Bulwark glows a ghostly white from horizon to horizon; the low cloud broadcasting far and wide the extravagant light from a gigacity that stretches uninterrupted for hundreds of kilometres to the Channel. I turn my head towards the north and home. Here, beyond the dunes, darkness holds sway, save for a few guttering palm oil lamps in the sleeping favela and the pinpoint flickers of campfires on the distant wolds. Shutting out emerging thoughts of Ruth’s candlelit smile and a past life that – like Ruth – is dead and buried, I do my best to look purposeful. I increase my stride so that Bea has to trot to keep up, and fix my gaze on the ferry and the future.

 

   By now, the returning incomers have passed through the checkpoint. A few have paused to sink a glass or two in one of the tumbledown bars, but most have followed the winding path through the dunes to bed and welcome oblivion. Already a sizeable crowd has gathered at the jetty, awaiting embarkation for the return journey. Some talk in barely audible murmurs. Others slap their faces to shock themselves fully awake; readying body and mind for another shift of grindingly hard physical work for a paltry handout and the chance to win the residents lottery, which – for one in a million – will guarantee citizenship and transform their lives. Most stand silent; yawning and scratching. I am surprised and shocked at the number of children, some very small. They rub sleep from their bleary eyes with tiny fists or just stand there; pitifully thin arms hanging limply at their sides; pinched faces drawn. Many clutch at the legs of an adult, desperate for a last drop of parental companionship before they are siphoned off to pick clean the filters of the desal plants or to reach those difficult places in the air-con ducts. Neither size nor age are barriers to work in the great city of London Max.

 

     We join the back of the queue just as one of the guards opens a low gate allowing the early arrivals to pile on to the boat in a stampede to grab one of the few benches in the prow, upwind of the filthy engines. The queue quickly dissolves into a melée, and we are swept towards the boat in a scrummage of elbows, fists and frayed tempers.  At last we are at the gate and I hand our idents to the guard. The network of cooling tubes that criss-cross the outer surface of his red light-armoured suit makes him look like some sort of alien being. No – not an alien – a flayed human; arteries and veins exposed to full view. Features and expression hidden behind the reflective visor of his air conditioned helmet, the guard gives the thin metal plates little more than a passing glance. He looks us up and down – a thin, prematurely grey, man and a scrawny little girl in a torn and grubby dress –  then waves us on. I lift Bea over the shallow gunwale onto the packed deck and follow behind. The guard snaps the gate shut, the ferry’s engines launch into an ear-splitting roar, a couple of shoremen toss the hawsers to the crew and we are off amidst a fugg of palm diesel smoke.

 

     Forced up against the gunwale at the back of the boat by the press of bodies, I hold Bea close and she clutches at my waist, burying her face in my crotch. The journey to the Seagate is short but unpleasant; the salty tang of the sea air compromised by overtones of none-too-clean bodies marinating in the night’s damp heat and the ever-present stink of the palm diesel. As it always does, the smell takes me back to the day Ruth died. A day like any other until the kids appeared.

 

     They seemed friendly enough; half a dozen or so in all; a few girls amongst them. They were seeking food, but didn’t appear armed or dangerous. Still, I should have known not to let my guard down. I only turned my back for an instant, but the next thing I knew I was lying on the ground in the hut; head-splitting; hands tied in front. Bea was next to me, screaming. Ruth was slumped in the far corner, also bound and very still. There was smoke and a strong smell of the palm diesel that we used in our small generator, and flames were already licking at Ruth’s feet. The fire spread with unbelievable speed. By the time I managed to struggle to my feet, Ruth was hidden by a curtain of flame and chunks of burning wood and straw were falling from the roof. There was nothing I could do for her. I kicked at the wall closest to us; the rickety corrugated iron sheets requiring little effort to batter down. As best I could, I grabbed Bea’s ankles with my bound hands and dragged her through the gap and away from the hut. A minute or so later, there was nothing left of it but a smouldering heap. Bea didn’t stop screaming for a long, long, time and hasn’t spoken since.

 

     Eventually, I managed to free our hands. We needed shelter and food, and there was no reason to stay, so we headed for Darbee. Up until then we had kept well away from the wreckage of the city because of the collectives, but our situation now was desperate and I had Bea to think of. Luckily, I am pretty handy with a crossbow, so the Rustlers – one of the less psychopathic collectives – took us under their wing. Most of the time, my job was to provide some muscle on scavenging trips and to pot any live meat wandering around, but there was inevitably some involvement in less savoury episodes, which I am not proud of. But there was little choice if I wanted to accumulate enough valuables to barter for the forged idents, and by then I had decided that if Bea was to have any life to speak of, we had to get inside the Bulwark.

 

     I am shaken out of my retrospective as the ferry is struck side-on by the wash from a monstrous tanker, encroaching too close and moving too fast in its urgency to return to its Asian roots. The boat bucks violently, causing the passengers to surge as one to port; the sudden redistribution of weight tilting the deck dangerously. From the small cabin amidships a string of profanities drifts in the direction of the rapidly retreating ship.

 

     The Seagate is close now. The entry lights remain red following the tanker’s hurried exit, so the helmsman throttles back the engines, and the ferry bobs uncomfortably just outside until a row of green lights grants passage. As the ferry crosses the Bulwark’s threshold, I gape upwards at the immense slab of concrete and steel that hangs fifty metres overhead. Despite its impregnable appearance, the gate shows its age; the surface scarred and crumpled by the increasingly savage storm surges that assault the Bulwark during the winter months, when the gate is almost permanently closed.

 

     Even more astonishing than the gate itself is the enormous bay that opens up beyond. Along its entire length, countless spider-like cranes are in constant motion; sliding up and down their rails beneath brilliant arc lights like a troop of meticulously choreographed dancers. Around the clock, in an unending ritual, container after container is scooped from the decks of a stream of gargantuan freighters, to be added to the many thousands that cram the dockside. More luxuries for the inhabitants of London Max awaiting onward transport to the stores, boutiques and restaurants; more material distractions to keep guilty minds turned inward, away from the awful reality of the world beyond the Bulwark. Far to the left, a fleet of palm oil tankers pumps out the lifeblood that keeps the extraordinary gigacity functioning and its 200 million residents cocooned from the chaos and despair outside.

 

   Minutes later our ferry is enveloped in an army of boats of every shape and size, jostling for a berth at a battered jetty matching the one across the water. Every available patch of quayside is occupied by an enormous souk; a profusion of stalls, sheds and pre-fabs; grocers, bars, knocking shops and small businesses, which cater to the basic needs and desires of the incomer horde. But I have no eyes for these. My gaze is fixed above and beyond, at the multitude of brilliantly-lit towers of glass and steel that hem in the port like some bastardised surrogate of a primaeval forest.  Many are so high that I have to crane my head far back to see their upper levels. Some even penetrate the cloud base; their pinnacles fading into Stygian gloom. The spectacle is so overpowering; so beyond anything I have ever experienced that, for a brief time, I forget Ruth; forget Bea; forget even why I am here.

 

     The battle for a berth won, the helmsman cuts the engines and the ferry is secured. The incomers queue to exit the boat and shamble slowly along the jetty to where four city protectorate guards cluster around the entry checkpoint. Two officers in red – one tall and lanky, the other short and squat – man the rapID portal that checks the DNA of incomers against the DNA profiles stored on their idents. Nearby, two green-clad subordinates slouch against a railing, helmet visors open, contemplating the throng with a mixture of boredom and disdain. I wait until most of the others have disembarked before stepping carefully onto the slippery wood of the jetty and reaching back for Bea. I feel sick; partly a conspiracy of palm diesel fumes and the ferry’s motion, but mostly due to the growing realisation that this is it; the culmination of everything I have worked towards for the last year. In a few minutes, we could be in. Either that or facing two years hard labour before being ‘repatriated’ to the so-called northern hinterland. I look down in anger and frustration at Bea, clutching at my thigh and trying desperately to fight off sleep. She would never survive the ordeal.

 

     The more I try to stay calm; the twitchier I get. My heart is thumping in my chest and my breathing shallow and rapid. My bowels feel watery. Bea is blind to my torment and to the cardinal importance of the moment. She is unfazed by the wonders of London Max; her demeanour unchanged; her thoughts trapped in the past – in a burning hut far to the north.

 

     Progress along the jetty is slow as incomers enter the portal one by one to have their idents verified. There are maybe twenty or so ahead of us in the queue when my attention is drawn to a scuffle ahead, where three lads are awaiting ident confirmation and entry. The light above the portal flashes red, and the grating sound of an alarm flags the interception of yet an illegal. Now, one of the youths – a skinny red-head – is shouting, one arm raised in an attempt to snatch back his ident, which the lanky officer holds just out of reach. Lanky says something; the sound coming out harsh and metallic through his helmet mic. The youth is not to be mollified, and throws himself forward to make another grab. Lanky is far too quick, jabbing him hard in the kidneys with the fingers of a gloved hand and bringing him to his knees. In seconds, his shorter colleague has the youth’s hands behind his back and securely tied. Stirred from their torpor by the commotion, the green-clad guardsmen are quick to respond to events; their bolt rifles swiftly unslung and trained on the youth’s two companions. All three are bundled to one side and forced to hunker down close to the jetty’s edge under the watchful gaze of the greens. The remaining incomers in the queue have seen it all before. They stand sullen and patient; eyes averted; awaiting their turn.

 

     The next in line – a tiny boy – is waved into the portal by the short officer. I watch as he takes the boy’s ident, inserts it into a slot on a small panel and makes a few taps on an adjacent screen. The boy places a thin forearm facing upwards on a metal plate above which hovers a robot arm holding a needle. A sudden downward movement and the needle pierces the skin and extracts a miniscule sample of blood. In just a few seconds, the boy’s DNA profile has been determined and compared with that stored on his ident. A light flashes green above the portal and the boy is ushered through; waiting patiently on the far side while his father takes his turn.

 

     A thought strikes me like a sledgehammer and I have to stop myself groaning out loud – the needle! The incomers have their blood sampled every day. Over the months and years their forearms have become pockmarked with a diffuse pattern of tiny but obvious red dots. According to our idents, Bea and I have worked as incomers for two years, but our arms are unmarked. My knees sag and I am overwhelmed by a wave of despair as the awful implication strikes home. The guards can’t fail to notice. Despondency turns quickly to anger. Why didn’t DB tell us? He must have known. Dog Breath was far from agreeable to look at, or to be near, but I trusted him. Now this. Maybe the idents were no good either? I knew the Rustler’s forging facilities were primitive andfar from biologically secure, so there was always a risk of contamination that would result in a poor DNA match. Looking down at the two idents in my hand, I can’t help but wonder if they are nothing more than worthless pieces of scrap. I would find out soon enough.

 

     The queue shuffles forward a little more. I am dimly aware that my face has taken on a hunted look, eyes darting left and right of their own accord, but there is no possibility of escape. At last, there are just two incomers between us and the portal. The light flashes green, and again, and then it is our turn.  The corps-commander’s insignia on one shoulder marking him in charge, shorty signals us forward with an impatient flick of a red-gloved hand. I detach Bea’s arms from my leg, whisper reassurance in her ear and gently usher her forward. She places  an arm on the plate, and a new needle rotates into position. Before it falls, I screw shut my eyes and wait for the exclamation from the guard that will signal the loss of all hope.

 

     My eyes fly open at the expected outburst, but it comes from an unanticipated source. The bound red-head who, for some time, has been muttering expletives to himself, suddenly aims a blast of invective at the guards and attempts to get to his feet. Momentarily distracted, shorty turns away as the needle jabs Bea’s arm. As she lets it fall back to her side unnoticed, I dare – for a moment – to hope. My renewed optimism lasts barely a second as a flashing light on the touchscreen flags a mismatch between Bea’s DNA and her ident profile. Designed, it seems, to humiliate; to broadcast our misfortune far and wide; the light above the portal flashes red and the screech of the alarm reverberates across the quayside. Bea turns to look at me, wide-eyed and terrified. I stretch out my arms, ready to embrace away her fear, when events take an unlooked-for turn.

 

     The flashing light and the alarm have spurred the red-haired lad to struggle to rise again; his snarling mouth spouting a concoction of obscenities and spittle. A green-clad guard stretches forwards to club him down with the butt of his bolt-rifle. Seeing an opportunity, one of red head’s companions, crouched on the jetty-side, trips the off-balance green and upends him into the scummy water. By the time the two officers have unslung their rifles and taken aim, the third lad – this one tall and dark-skinned – has ripped the helmet off the second green, and holds the point of a short but wicked looking knife to his throat. Shorty’s response is to send a fizzer close by knifeman’s right ear; its thin trailing filament crackling in the still air and the bolt sending up a puff of steam as it shatters the rainbow sheen on the water’s greasy surface. Knifeman neither moves, nor speaks, but his intention should another bolt be forthcoming is clear. Pressing harder with the knife point, he breaks the unfortunate guard’s skin, launching a trickle of blood that runs slowly down his neck and drips onto the front of his green suit’s chest armour. Stand-off. Lanky covers the still- bound red head and the second lad, while shorty’s rifle sight never deviates from knifeman. The captive guard’s eyes are closed; his lips working rapidly as if in silent prayer. No-one speaks.

 

     I stand rooted to the spot, arms enfolding Bea, both of us stock-still and forgotten. Hardly daring to believe our extraordinary fortune, I put a finger to my lips, take Bea’s hand, and walk with her through the portal. I don’t dare look behind me, but the hairs on the back of my neck bristle with fear and the anticipation of a fizzer. As we near the quayside and safety, a scream and a series of crackles forces me to turn in time to see knifeman fall backwards into the water; his senseless body jerking and flailing. The second youth is down too; heels drumming vigorously on the wooden slats of the jetty. Red head crouches, bound arms held awkwardly above his head; a dripping green guardsman – breaker of the stalemate – patting him down for hidden weapons. The tall officer is bent over, listening impassively to an animated shorty, whose body language spells anger and frustration. Shorty points in our direction and lanky turns his head to look.

‘Run!’ I urge Bea forward.

‘Run, sweetheart – as fast as you can! Daddy’s behind you.’

 

     Countless experiences since we were burned out of our home have taught Bea to recognise desperation in my voice, and she needs no further urging to take off along the jetty as fast as her small legs can manage. I follow close behind; my body protecting her; my progress hobbled as I am forced to match Bea’s pace. We are almost at the end of the jetty when the first fizzer misses my shoulder by a fraction. I can smell the ozone as the electric charge ionises the air, but the bolt thuds harmlessly into the quayside ahead of us; the attached filament drifting onto the wooden jetty. We leap the few steps down onto the quayside as two more bolts fizz overhead, one embedding itself in the jetty’s wooden gateway. Seconds later, we are enveloped in the noise and smells of the market; our passage slowed by the crush of sweaty, ripe, bodies, but our safety assured by the sheer number of people who jam the narrow spaces between the stalls and shacks.

 

     I usher Bea onwards; hands on her shoulders as we shuffle through the crowds. I have no idea where we are headed or what we are going to do, but I can’t keep a wide grin off my face. We have made it; we are in! Even while I shake my head in disbelief and sheer delight, a small part of my mind is already picking away at our predicament. Where will we sleep tonight? Where will we live? How will we live? I’ve heard that illegals can easily find work; no questions asked. I am under no illusion. It will be hard, but it can’t be worse than trying to survive in the savage and lawless world beyond the Bulwark. Involuntarily, one hand reaches into a pocket and fidgets with a scrap of paper; a contact supplied by DB that, until now, I have not tempted fate by thinking about.

 

     Wading onwards, we find ourselves at the maglev loop, its sleek carriages slowing, but never stopping as they cart the incomers speedily and efficiently to work and return them, sucked dry of spirit and stamina, to the ferries. Keeping Bea close, I forge a way across the powerful current of humanity and into a narrow jitty. Its pitted and potholed surface is littered with rubbish, and worse, but the food smells from the stalls that jostle close along either side are too enticing to ignore. I collapse into a battered rattan chair outside a baker and hoist Bea onto my lap. Neither of us has eaten for more than twenty-four hours and I know Bea must be desperately hungry and thirsty, though she never indicates as much. Installing Bea on the chair, I walk a few paces to the shack’s serving hatch. Moments later a scruffy little boy, no more than eight year’s old, is ushered out from the back kitchen by an apparently disembodied pair of very hairy arms. Barely able to see over the counter, the boy says nothing but stares at me expectantly. So much of the food on display behind the serving hatch is new to me that I struggle to make a choice. On the young boy’s recommendation, I plump for a pasty filled with some sort of meat, and choose a couple of jam-filled tarts for Bea. Ingrained wariness of cholera, which rages unchecked beyond the Bulwark, prompts me to turn down an offer of a jug of water and two smeared glasses, instead taking a couple of rusty cans of a fruit-flavoured drink. Like the favela, the port market is alienated from the city’s cashless monetary system, and I am relieved when a small, silver earring is accepted in payment.

 

     I swallow half my pasty in one go; cramming it into my mouth and savouring the tingling warmth of its spicy meat filling. I place the cans and the jam tarts on a small table and, remaining standing, watch as Bea reaches tentatively for the nearest tart. She picks it up and examines it closely, touching a finger to the jammy centre and placing it to her lips. For a few seconds nothing happens, then the corners of Bea’s mouth start to lift in the beginnings of a smile; the first for far too long. I realise that I have been holding my breath and expel it in a long, shuddering sigh; purging from my body the pent-up fears and doubts of the last few days; the last year. I smile as Bea takes a huge bite of the tart; her upper lip jam-smeared and her eyes brighter than I have seen them since the fire. Even as she eats, tears trickle down her cheeks and mix with the red goo. It’s as if she too has been holding her breath – ever since her mother’s death; holding everything in until this moment; this first flicker of light in a dark and desperate year. I lean forward and hug Bea close; my eyes wet; my food forgotten. Everything would be alright now. They were going to be fine. They were in.

 

This story was originally published in Knock Twice: 25 modern folk tales for troubling times.

Focus Canada – What will the Canadian climate look like in 2030?

By Kate Goldstone

There’s a lot of talk about saving ‘the planet’ but planet earth will survive whatever we do to its climate. While the planet itself doesn’t need saving, we are fighting tooth and nail to save the human race and our fellow creatures, whether they happen to be furry, scaled, many-legged or feathered.

In Canada, like many other nations, anthropogenic climate change still isn’t being addressed seriously enough by the government, despite liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s impressive claims. So what’s going on in Canada right now as regards climate change? What effect is it having on the country, and do we still have time to stop the carnage in its tracks?

Canada’s problem? It’s ‘business as usual’

According to an article by CBC News (1) a ‘business as usual’ attitude can only mean disaster for Canada. At the same time the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (2) has highlighted how warming is accelerating faster than ever. It gives us a 12 year deadline to call a halt to the human race’s continuing excesses, and it affects you whatever country you happen to live in.

So far this year Montreal alone has seen 70 human deaths from excess heat, with stifling temperatures regularly exceeding thirty degrees and high humidity that made it feel more like forty degrees. British Colombia encountered the worst wildfires since records began. Flooding brought Toronto to a standstill. And while some areas of the planet have ‘only’ warmed by one degree recently, some areas of Canada have seen dramatic temperature increases of four and a half degrees or more over the past seventy years, including the Northwestern Territories’ Mackenzie region.

It gets worse. As Canada’s senior climate expert David Phillips confirmed, some areas of the country have warmed twice as much as average in half the time. And unusually harsh climate events, which used to happen rarely, are set to become a lot more frequent as well as less predictable.

In general Canada’s summers have warmed by one degree, and its winters by almost one and a half. Some coastal communities in Canada are already battling with sea level rise, along with the associated land erosion and flooding. And eastern Canada is also suffering. Once thought to be less vulnerable to climate change, the past decade has seen dramatic change there, too.

The impact on human life

David Phillips and his team have run ‘business as usual’ computer models to predict Canada’s future climate. And it’s looking pretty grim. Toronto, for example, could experience more than 50 days of temperatures over 30C in the next 30 years, and that also means a 50-60% greater risk of the horrific freezing rain events that already cause such havoc. 2013’s ice storm, for example, cost the nation an eye-watering 106 million Canadian dollars.

While increasing temperatures deliver a longer growing season for farmers, a warmer climate means the land and vegetation dries out and there’s more likelihood of wildfires and widespread smoke pollution. Plus, of course, even more CO2 emissions. But flooding is the biggie for Canada. Flood damage already costs the country more money than any other kind of extreme weather.

The Weather Network website(3) provides more insight. The Arctic’s Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut are all heating up faster than the rest of Canada, not far short of twice the rate. Ice melt is a growing issue, contributing to rapid sea level rise. The albedo – the proportion of light or radiation reflected by the surface of the ice – plus fast-thawing permafrost, are already causing issues around food security and housing. Public health and people’s overall wealth are set to be hit particularly hard in the north of the country. Inuit and First Nations people, who tend to interact more intimately with the environment, will probably suffer most as shorelines erode, permafrost melts, and roads and buildings are destroyed.

Places like New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador are seeing more storms than ever. There are more floods thanks to extreme rainfall and the coastline, where most people live, is the worst affected. Fast-melting Arctic ice is having an impact, with The Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut predicted to be amongst the worst hit by rapid Arctic warming. In a nutshell, things are looking about as bad as they could get.

Best and worst case scenarios

Canada has made efforts to improve things. It has signed the Paris Agreement promising to stop global temperatures shooting up more than two degrees this century, although it’s increasingly likely we’ll miss the target. But at the same time they’ve agreed a new oil pipeline, which sadly reveals how money and short term thinking still come first with the Canadian government despite the hopes raised by Trudeau.

Canada says it will lower its 2005 carbon emissions by 30% by the year 2030. But in 2016 projections revealed the plan was extremely unlikely to succeed, with CO2 emissions targets likely to fail. If things don’t change the year 2030 – just 12 years away – will see Canada’s coastal communities having to move inland, a move that’ll cost the government a fortune. Poor food security will lead to high food prices and more imports. The weather will become increasingly extreme and unpredictable. And if anyone decides to extract the vast reserves of oil and gas that lie beneath the Beaufort Sea, global warming will only accelerate faster.

Imagine the cost if Nova Scotia, as predicted, becomes an island? Imagine the impact on fishing in Canadian waters if the climate warms enough to drive fish away to cooler waters? After all, if the seas warm four degrees, cold water fish will either move away or die out altogether. The usual one in a hundred year storms could happen once every 25 years by 2050. Atlantic Canada’s balsam fir and spruce trees, which dislike warm weather, will die off, and it’ll take decades or even hundreds of years for warm weather alternatives to replace them.

Can we stop it?

As a concerned individual human being, you’ve done everything you can to mitigate climate change. You’ve replaced your lightbulbs with energy-efficient ones. You’ve cut down on car use, or even sold your car in favour of public transport. You haven’t flown for a very long time. You buy less, consume less, warm your home a few degrees less in winter. You insulate, you make do and mend, you recycle and re-purpose. You’ve fitted solar panels, a wind turbine, a water wheel. It’s all good stuff. Actually it’s great stuff. But it still isn’t enough.

Unless the world’s governments act now, and act decisively, Canada will suffer more as time passes. As will the rest of the world’s people, and our fellow creatures. Are you willing to protest peacefully and even go to prison to give our children a future worth having? If so, join us. If not, maybe you can help in some other way? We’d love to hear from you.

 

Sources:

(1) https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/climate-change-canada-1.4878263

(2) https://www.ipcc.ch/news_and_events/pr_181008_P48_spm.shtml

(3) https://www.theweathernetwork.com/news/articles//canada-climate-change-water-earth-fire-air-2030-global-warming-sea-level-rise/104395

The Bad, The Worse, And The Downright Criminal

By Bill McGuire

 

Forget the Good, the Bad and the Ugly- it’s the Bad, the Worse and the Criminal, we need to bring down.

I guess we’ve known it all along, but when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions it seems – as far as industrialised nations are concerned at least – that there just aren’t any good guys. Now it’s been confirmed by a new study just published in Nature Communications1, which forecasts what the end-century global average temperature rise would be, based upon the current emissions policies of individual nations. Heading the cast of scoundrels is a clutch of the usual suspects; China, Russia, Canada and Saudi Arabia – along with a bunch of smaller nations – whose policies, if matched globally, would see end-century temperatures climb to more than 5°C above those of pre-industrial times.

Not far behind is another gang of countries, including the United States and Australia, whose national climate targets, if matched worldwide, would see temperatures up 4°C or more by 2100. Before we cast stones, however, we in the UK don’t have much to crow about either. If the rest of the world followed our example, temperatures would still be 2.9°C higher by the century’s end – easily high enough to bring about catastrophic, all-pervasive climate breakdown2. And that’s with most of our manufacturing emissions outsourced to China and elsewhere.

The authors of the study make plain their hope that national emissions pledges, made as part of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, will be tightened in coming years so that the global average temperature rise may still be kept below 1.5°C. The way things are going, however, it would be fair to say that such a target remains pie-in-the-sky. For a start, there is no binding enforcement mechanism to ensure that pledges are kept. More importantly, they are simply not enough. Even if all signatories stuck to their emissions targets, the global average temperature rise would still be 3°C by 2100. If self-reinforcing feedback effects start to kick in seriously – as is highly likely – this could be a calamitous 4°C or even 5°C.

When set in the context of last week’s World Energy Outlook report, which predicts that global carbon emissions will still be heading skywards in 2040, the overall picture looks dire. Fiddling while Rome burns doesn’t even begin to describe the snail’s pace changes that are taking place across the energy and emissions reduction landscapes. We have to act big and act now. Rapid transitions that can change minds and change policies, virtually overnight, have happened before. Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, the US economy was re-jigged in just six months from its peacetime ambitions to a full-on wartime footing. If it happened then, it can happen now. We are, after all, in a war situation. A war that will end either with anthropogenic climate breakdown brought to heel or with our world and our society shattered. The focus of our government, and those of all nations, has to change NOW. Forget Brexit; forget GDP; forget growth for growth’s sake. The mindset has to be turned around so that success is measured by how much and by how quickly we slash greenhouse gas emissions – pure and simple. Net zero emissions by 2025 is the goal.

It’s a huge call, but history teaches that if we want it badly enough, it can be done.

Let’s go for it.

 

Sources:

1du Pont, Y. R. & Meinshausen, M 2018 Warming assessment of the bottom-up Paris Agreement emissions pledges. Nature Communications  9. Article number 4810.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-07223-9

CHECK HOW BADLY YOUR COUNTRY IS DOING: http://paris-equity-check.org/warming-check