A Letter To My 11-Year Old

Dear Milly,

Us adults owe you – your generation – an apology. I think you know what I am going to say but I should say it anyway.

You know the way the weather is so unpredictable and even the meteorologists seem to consistently get it wrong? And you know the way Mummy with her asthma can’t go outside during any extreme cold or hot? And you have heard that hundreds of our animals are becoming extinct each day? And you know at primary school, one of your teachers seemed almost obsessed with informing you of the Sustainable Development Goals and burgeoning global warming? And you know the way I have become obsessed with how much meat-eating, car-driving and paper-using we all do?

Well, it’s because hundreds of knowledgeable scientists around the world are saying it is because we, humans, may well only have approx 80 more years to live on our precious earth. They are saying that unless we cut our carbon emissions to zero within 20-or-so years, it will become so hot and or wet on the planet, humans will not be able to live here any more. Yes, the earth will become uninhabitable by humankind.

Unfortunately, our friends in the environmental movements cannot seem to get our world leaders to act fast enough on these issues so hundreds of people have pledged to get themselves arrested carrying out repeated non-violent direct actions in order to highlight what on earth (literally) is going on. They say that renewable wind and solar energy should be used A LOT more but I have heard MPs say that it is too complex or too expensive… Not true apparently and certainly not compared to the cost of losing our home: OUR Planet Earth.

So I have come here to say sorry that we have made such a hash of things environmentally. You have stood with us at Balcombe (anti-fracking site) years ago and you have done your bit with Mummy even as you are fed up with rocking up to political events with so many strangers. So I am praying that as you reach adulthood, you will become more involved with this work to slow down this catastrophe and maybe even one day agree to let Mum get arrested even just once. It’s true that there are so many avenues through which to carry out this awareness-raising work but I have been an activist for so long, I feel it is time to make that sacrifice. To be honest, most cops can’t wait to get most of us out of the police stations if they arrest us at all!

I hope you can accept this apology knowing that we are doing our bit to address these issues now, albeit a little too late. Most of all, I am sorry that I sometimes drive you spare banging on about these critical issues. After all, as you keep reminding me, you are “only a kid”.

Love,

Mummy Andria

Photo: Milly having fun whilst protesting the arms fair with CAAT in 2013/14.

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.

Letter From An Apocalyptic Future Pt. 3

(Part 1, Part 2)

But then, at that tortuous point, a peculiar thing happened: something in me awoke.

There arose in me an overwhelming peace and a feeling of love larger than the earth-embracing sky. I found myself thrown open like I’d never been before and began to see the world with new eyes and a heart that could finally allow itself to be completely and entirely broken, utterly riven, and finally revealed to itself in its full tenderness.

For there was no longer anything to resist or to protect.

There was no longer a problem to be solved or a victory to be fought for. There was absolutely no space left for striving or for making anyone wrong. Finally, at the end of the day, at the end of time, all that remains is the crystalline knowledge that all we ever have is this one moment: rich, fragile, all-encompassing, infinitely precious.

And I experienced this moment as pure love.

Love as the ground and inner being of everything. Love as the space within which everything occurs. Love as the silence which contains every sound. Love as the womb of creation. Love as the enfolding void.

I felt love for this Earth as never before and for all beings without exception: insects, animals, plants and humans; viruses, billionaire frackers, terrorists and Trump — all fragile fleeting forms of tender life, vulnerable to all manner of ills, all living bravely beyond themselves into uncertainty and then death, all desiring only life and more and more life, existence infinitely precious and sweet.

I felt love for the sky above, its clouds floating along. I felt love for the birds so light who give us what is left of their song while they can. I felt love for the dawn, which will continue to spread splendour over the eastern horizon after we’re gone though there won’t be eyes to behold it or hearts to rejoice. I felt such love for the children of our world, my own son among them, some of whom will be playing and laughing until the very end takes them into silence. I felt only love for everyone, whatever their active or passive roles in bringing about this tragic end. Yes, it was clear to me that no-one is to blame. All things come to pass through the mysterious agency of ultimately impersonal forces. And yes, I believe these forces boil down only to love.

Over the last three years I have of course descended from this pure state of abiding love, spiralling again and again through grief and confusion, distraction, denial and the rest, but never for very long. I always return to what has become a baseline: the presiding pulse of sublime love and peace. The world increasingly conspires to return me to it. Every joy and every sorrow give way quite quickly to the awareness that all this, every cause of joy and sorrow, will soon be gone. And that makes even the sorrows poignantly beautiful. There is in this a deep relief, considering the multiplying causes of sorrow arising amidst this daily escalating crises.

Soon I will see my son die, or he will me, or we’ll be incinerated together along with millions of others. And soon after that our Earth, our beautiful, poisoned Earth will be without life upon her rocky surface.

Yes, the sun will still set in the West, but there will be none left to weep at its setting.

The worst that could happen is happening. It came slowly, then suddenly. And we brought it on through our own choices, our failures to choose better. And yet, around everything, somehow there is something untroubled, something vast, indestructible and whole. I call it love. Where it is felt, fear is absent.

*******

 

Author’s Note: This piece was written in the shocking summer of 2018, while unprecedented wildfires burned across the Northern hemisphere, the Great Barrier Reef died-off by a third and the Arctic sea-ice further melted and thinned. This year it became clear that previous models predicting climate change to become disruptive by 2050 and catastrophic by the end of the century seriously underestimated the rate of climate collapse due to the non-linear effects of positive feedback loops and tipping points. Increasing numbers of renowned scientists and analysts are now saying that the global climate may already have gone into an abrupt and irreversible breakdown, the effects of which will become catastrophic within the next decade. It may already be too late. But there might still be just a little time left to make radical changes to prevent anthropogenic global climate breakdown from cascading into apocalyptic proportions. But only if we act now and resolutely, individually and as a global civilisation. The future of life on our planet is in our hands. It is time to rise up and demand that our governments take the necessary steps to reduce carbon emissions, invest in clean energy technology, decommission and safely dismantle nuclear weapons stashes and nuclear power stations and legislating against irresponsible consumption while massively promoting and incentivising One-Planet living. They won’t do it unless we make them.

Rise up in the name of life on Earth!

extinctionrebellion.org

Letter From An Apocalyptic Future Pt. 2

(Part 1)

“If everyone does a little we’ll achieve a lot”, seemed to be the mainstream platitude of the time, promulgated by those seeking to sustain the consumer disaster to those too stuck in it to seriously consider an alternative. The reality is, of course, that if everybody does a little then little gets achieved. And that’s what happened.

It was an excruciating time. While living simply and radically reducing the negative impact of my life on our planet to almost zero, I’d come to realise that not only was this kind of step necessary for ecological survival, but it was also what we needed to do for the sake of our basic wellbeing. Living close to the earth in a small heart-centred community felt greatly more than anything that was going on in modern ‘civilisation’. But very few people could see far enough beyond their own personal dramas, glowing screens, sense of entitlement to luxury convenience, in order to perceive an alternative. Amidst the many sparkly distractions of the consumer circus and the status symbols of power and success, no one had time for the sacrifices of simplicity or its quiet beauty.

I think that most people were just too far gone to explore any remedy.

Opening to the real necessity and possibility of radical change would only have revealed the horrendous depth of the disaster that most people’s lives were embedded in. People just couldn’t look at how monstrous the world they were living in actually was, beneath its face-paint and bling. To do so would have been to see their lives and themselves laid bare in a hideous way. It was too much the collective psyche to bear.

So it was a complex time for us few radical earth-dwellers. On the one hand, we were experiencing deep nourishment from our community and the land, living in a way that wasn’t hurting anyone else or our planet. On the other hand, we were one of a handful of tiny islands in the midst of a great destructive ocean. I went through a lot of anger at the levels of blindness and apathy; contempt for my spineless fellow humans; grief for everything I saw was being lost or thrown away.

Such a priceless thing to exchange for baubles, this Earth.

It was almost too much, witnessing the wanton destruction of our blue-green jewel of a planet. And yet that seemed to be what I was asked to do: to endure this destruction with open eyes and heart unclouded by the opiates of distraction.

In the end, exhausted, I finally dropped through almost endless despair into a state of resignation and complete acceptance. Something in me died. It was all over. We just weren’t going to make the changes. The temperature would continue to rise. Species loss would accelerate. Ecosystems would continue to deteriorate. Natural disasters would become more frequent. Food and water shortages would intensify. Nuclear war would break out. Civilisation was going to kill itself, taking along with it the rest of life on this planet. No amount of positive action from a very minor segment of the population was going to have an impact on the rumbling juggernaut racing towards global destruction. There was no longer any point in hoping for a solution.

Such a strange thing to accept. So vast, the implications. So devastatingly sad. Grief isn’t really big enough to fully let in the scale of this loss.

We weren’t made for this.

I was breaking beyond endurance.

Letter From An Apocalyptic Future Pt. 1

It’s August 2021.

There’s no longer a question as to what will happen next: Life on Earth is coming to a close.

Global temperatures have risen half a degree in the last three years alone. Last winter there was no sea ice in the Arctic at all. This summer it seems as if half of the Northern hemisphere is ablaze with wildfires. The 250 species which were already exiting stage left each and every day a couple of years ago have now increased in number to over 600 per day, all of whom will soon be followed by the rest of the characters still in the play.

We don’t know if there’ll be some kind of denouement lasting several years or simply an abrupt end counted in weeks and months. What we do know is that the curtain is about to fall. No-one born today will live beyond the age of 10. Many will starve this winter. Many more in the coming summer.

Whatever chance there might have been for us to turn this thing around and evolve beyond the crisis point we reached over the past 30 years or so—we missed it. That window of possibility has firmly closed. Strangely, we knew it was closing. We knew we had to make some radical changes in order to squeeze through. But there simply wasn’t sufficient will to do so, not individually or collectively. The apathy was too strong. The marketing industry was too powerful. The corporate influence on government was too powerful. Forces both personal and systemic simply couldn’t accommodate themselves to the changes required in order to transition into a sustainable way of being. And now there’s no longer any hope of our planet’s biosphere surviving beyond the next decade. It will all soon be over.

Either catastrophic ecological collapse will trigger economic breakdown which will, in turn, trigger the catastrophic wars that our governments are currently poised for to fight over the remaining resources, or economic meltdown brought on by fear and panic at the worsening ecological situation will trigger wars which will then push the dying ecosystems into full demise. Either way, the outcome is the same. The crazy-train is rushing headlong off the cliff-edge. It doesn’t really matter which way we fall into the abyss. Life on this planet is finished.

Many people are still living in denial.

“Everything will be ok. We can still sort this out.”

But the vast majority of climate scientists, ecologists, and economists are in agreement that we have passed the point of no return. Abruptly escalating climate change is upon us. Every day this fact sinks a little bit further into reality. While broadcast media is paralysed, still engaging the mock debate of ‘is it really happening?’, the internet is awash with evidence of the incontrovertible reality.

Many of the super-rich have been preparing for “The Event” for some time now, buying up small islands or swathes of land in New Zealand, Hawaii, Tasmania, preparing bunkers, assembling private armies. What they hope to achieve by extending their time by a few years after the apocalypse I’m not sure even they know. A reflex of habit I guess, an isolationist hangover from lifetimes of sociopathic dissociation from the fate of every man. Not that I blame them for wanting a few extra years. It does feel good to live, and it is very hard to face the prospect of the void.

I remember it was three years ago, in August 2018, that I fully accepted for the first time that the crazy-train wasn’t going to slow down and turn around. I’d been living for two decades in the shadow of the knowledge of the potentially world-destroying activities of human beings, oscillating between desperate hope and bitter despair. For the last five of those years I’d been living very small and light in a conscious community of people focused on healing our connection to the Earth and each other, housed off-grid in mud huts, working the land, cooking on fire, gathering water from the stream, embracing the radical simplicity that some of us believed the whole world needed to adopt if our planet was going to make it. Elsewhere others were doing likewise. Elsewhere others were protesting the disaster, risking prison and in some cases their lives in order to halt some of the destruction. Elsewhere many brave souls were striving to transform their lives in radical ways in line with carbon neutrality and ecological protection.

But really, we were very few.

(To Be Continued)

Now or never – a short story

Louise Williams heard the results of the IPCC report on 1.5 degrees and was inspired to write a short story. It’s the conversation she doesn’t want to have with her grandchildren.


Caris sat cleaning the tools while I knitted. She reminded me a lot of her mum when she was ten. Back then I had always assumed I’d have grandchildren, but in recent decades I wasn’t so sure. Lennon was busy around us, packing things into boxes, unable to sit still as usual.

“Granny,” Caris said, as if asking a question.
“Yes love?”

“We were doing history in school today, and they were talking about the turn of the century. Did you really have computers that were too heavy to carry?”

I grinned. “Well, yes, at first, then as I grew up they got smaller and smaller – more like the pods you get now, except everyone had them.”

“Granny, you don’t talk a lot about the olden days, do you? Our teacher said it was really different, though she’s too young to really know. Can you tell me?”

I sucked in some air.

“Lennon, how’s that packing doing? We’ll be off in two days, before the snow sets in.”

Caris stopped working and looked up at me. I kept knitting but found some words.

“It’s hard to explain, Caris. Truthfully, I guess I feel bad talking about it. When I was your age, my grandparents sometimes talked about the war and how rough things got. More often they didn’t tell you the whole story, but you just knew it was terrible. But for us growing up in the nineties, it was the opposite. We had so much, too much really…”

Just then Rob came in with our son-in-law Ethan.

“Grandpa!” cried Caris, “Can YOU tell me about the olden days? I’ve never heard you say much either.”

Rob grunted as he took off his boots. “Those days are long gone.”

Ethan piled up some of Lennon’s boxes. “He doesn’t like to think about what we lost,” he commented, and half-hummed a line from an old song we used to sing in the car: “If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor.”

Rob bristled a little. “There’s some truth there, but you know that’s not why we won’t go over it.”

“Why then, Grandpa?”

Rob and I exchanged looks. We had talked about this before. How could we dazzle them with tales of luxury and secure living beyond their wildest hopes? How could we admit that…except now felt like the time to tell the story, before we moved inland for the winter storms. Perhaps it would be the last time we’d all make it together back to the lodge.

“What else did your history teacher say, Caris?” I asked.

“Um, she said that everything was a lot more connected and organised, and computers led to an age of information. But at the same time, people ignored all the warnings. Is it true, Grandma? Did people really know about the breakdown before it even happened?”

Everyone in the room paused, even Lennon, who was only six but wise enough to grasp the question. I answered.

“Yes, they did. We did. Well, we did and we didn’t. Things were clearly changing, but they also stayed the same and there was a lot of confusion.”

“There were a lot of folks intentionally confusing people too,” said Rob, and I could see his old anger rising up. Well, let him let it out.

“How do you mean?” asked Lennon.

“You can’t believe it, but there were people with a lot of money and power who wanted to carry on just as they were, selling their gas, running their airlines, and to hell with the consequences. So they deliberately confused the public: they’d query the science, skew statistics, put out fake facts…and instead of standing up to them and pointing out their private financial interests, the journalists kept inviting them onto the TV to give their case!”

He was pacing by now.

“Of course, some of these folks were actually in Government! There were politicians with big money in fossil fuels, so they strongly opposed renewable energy and gave the push for fracking.”

Caris’ eyes widened.

“You mean, the GOVERNMENT knew and they covered it up?”

“They didn’t need to cover it up,” I replied. “They just distracted us. Everyone knew. We learned about it at school. Every year there’d be a new report about record temperatures, rising sea levels. People didn’t put two and two together. There they were, rock stars raising money for an Ethiopian famine, not seeing that this was all part of climate breakdown, and one-in-a-hundred-year disasters would become one-in-every-ten, one-in-three…”

I broke off. The news footage started replaying back in my mind. The 2023 drought across East Africa. Images of emaciated mothers choosing which child to feed. The 2026 floods in South Asia. The third European heatwave. A succession of hurricanes battering central America while wildfires swept across Australia. One crisis appeal after another. The fall of Mont Blanc in 2031, which finally made Western governments sit up and take action, but by then the permafrost was melting, releasing vast quantities of methane, and it was too little, too late. The global food shortages, then climate refugees, firstly from Africa, then Spain, Greece, Italy. Boatload upon boatload. The riots, the protests, the collapse…

Lennon had sat on Ethan’s lap. “If everyone knew, why did no one do anything? Couldn’t people have stopped it?”

“It wasn’t that no one did anything,” said Rob. “Some went to prison for speaking up. Some Governments tried hard to change things. They were fighting a huge wave though. It’s not like our leaders now, who take decisions for the good of everyone, even if it’s unpopular. Lots of leaders back then just did what they thought the people – and the media – wanted. They didn’t splash out on public transport or a nationwide insulation programme, because it wouldn’t go down well. They didn’t dare tax our petrol. They could’ve had the balls to change things, and they didn’t.”

“But if everyone had gone on the streets and protested, like the big demo in 2040, they’d have had to listen, wouldn’t they? Why didn’t the people just rise up?”

Ethan chipped in.

“Some did – I remember our friends at school going on a march. But most people didn’t seem that bothered. Politicians would rarely be asked about climate change when they went out canvassing or appeared on TV. It’s as though the threat wasn’t immediate enough, rather like the image of a frog slowly boiling in a pan of water. And the American film was right – it was so inconvenient. It was the age of consumerism and convenience, and most people didn’t want to let go of even a tiny bit of that. I guess, deep down, they hoped it wasn’t as bad as the scientists said.”

Rob nodded. “I used to hear some folks say, ‘There’s no point me changing my life, because the governments can’t sort themselves out and China is building a new power station every month.’ They were right, in a way. We did all feel sort of helpless.”

“It’s crazy”, I said, “when you think about it. We had the highest rate of education in world history, greatest access to information, such a spread of wealth and resources, and the clearest evidence of the coming future possible. I mean, it wasn’t even the future – it was already happening in front of our eyes. And we could have transitioned quite painlessly into a greener way of doing things and probably been happier for it. But we failed. We hoped technology would magically suck all the carbon out without us lifting a finger, or we pointed at China and kept our own feet on the pedal, or we looked at Africa and the Maldives and thought, “it’s OK, I don’t live there.” In one way or another, the world allowed it to happen. It didn’t have to be like this.”

Caris lifted her head from my lap and looked up at us, her eyes sad.

“And what about you, Granny and Grandpa? What did you do?”

Original: https://joyinenough.org/2018/10/16/now-or-never-a-short-story/