Global warming bloody terrifies me. The mention gives me that pit-of-the-stomach, slightly panicky sense of helplessness. It rises on reading articles about food production, changing weather patterns, water shortages, rising sea levels. The just controlled panic filling my head with something beyond control. Yet, what do I do? I click off the analysis, move to safer territory. A blog, perhaps. The archives of the Paris Review. Often the quick sugar-hit satisfaction of Twitter.
That’s a privilege I currently have, that when reflecting on those personal responses – the self-interested reactions of ‘me’ and ‘I’ - there’s an awareness that, just for the time being, they are anxieties that can be dismissed. I can feel nervous about the future, caught up for an instant in questions of ‘what if’ and ‘oh shit’ and ‘why at this point in history?’ (and the inevitably selfish – ‘but there’s too much I want to do!’) Occasionally these queries will expand into conversation with friends or family. We’ll discuss newspaper reports or scientific studies. But then we slide back into security of the everyday. Books, work, creative projects, administration, meals, walks, excited midnight talks. The world around us.
But is that the problem? We can see plenty of tangible consequences, be it endless floods or unpredictable and catastrophic weather, but by and large it can be ignored – for now. Safer to focus on the immediate. But, although the phrase ‘act before it’s too late’ seems a bit Hollywood blockbuster in tone, the sentiment is right. Maybe we’ll be looking back on this time in fifty years, collectively kicking ourselves at our sluggishness.
I admit that it’s a subject I’m not hugely well versed in. I probably know more and take further interest than many, but there are hoards of others with extensive knowledge and understanding. Sadly none of them seem to be in government. I want to educate myself further, but, again, that panicky feeling arises and it’s easier to turn to other topics – or look at it through a particular lens, such as the environmental impact of ethical fashion.
Like many issues, it’s also a question of the individual versus governing bodies. What can we do on a personal level? How to be proactive? Or is it mainly up to the state and big global companies to enact change? Will those companies ever take steps to value anything above their profits, or this that just naïve idealism?
So many queries, so few tangible answers. It’s unsettling to think about. Engaging with the problem of global warming seems to expose the very fine, vulnerable threads that stitch our civilization in place.
Those threads have also provided the basis for some compelling, terrifying novels. The texts that have had the biggest impact on me weren’t newspaper articles or commentaries – but fiction. The first, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour, is a stunning novel charting the fall out when a colony of orange monarch butterflies settle in an Appalachian forest owned by a poverty-stricken farming family. It’s a story concerned with marriage, social injustice, fragmented eco-systems, climate change and the corrosive role of the media. Both brutal and beautiful. The most powerful aspect is in that uncomfortable mix of imagination and reality. The premise itself may be fabricated, but the science isn’t.
The second is The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson – a startling, multilayered narrative imagining a repeating world (and a human race who mess up again and again and again). Winterson herself observed of the book, 'I have said many times that I believe our time to be unique in the history of the world…. Stone Gods isn’t a pamphlet or a docu-drama or even a call to arms, it is first and foremost a work of fiction, but I am sure that change of any kind starts in the self, not in the State, and I am sure that when we challenge ourselves imaginatively, we then use that challenge in our lives. I want the Stone Gods to be a prompt, but most of all, a place of possibility.'
Maybe we need more of those places of possibilities – ways of discussing and thinking about and opening up dialogues to address something growing ever more imminent. A place that we can access, but also switch off from when needed. A place where the terrifying can be tackled head on. And a place that isn't one's head at 4am when all thoughts are magnified.
A green outfit in a green place - I know, not the most original. But it was partly the countryside around me that prompted this post, so these images felt apt. Photos were taken last holiday. My jeans and Paul Costelloe shirt are both second hand, the evening coat is vintage and the vertiginous heels were from eBay. All jewellery is vintage.