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Just doing what you can

A pandemic can lead one to think in apocalyptic terms, I concede, but it's hard not to witness the US heatwave of recent weeks, and the unprecedented flooding in Germany, and not get a sense of unease, a tiny conviction that the Earth's had enough and decided to get rid.

No? Just me then.

Hyperbole aside, you'd have to be particularly cloth-eared and uncomprehending not to have noticed the increasing frequency of extreme weather events. It would seem that anthropogenic climate change is here, and it's not fucking about.

And yet, many people don't seem to have noticed, or to have only noticed in the vaguest and most abstract of senses. Because....well, life just goes on. I can understand to a degree, we've all had a lot on our plate recently, but either a lot of people are in denial, or have yet to drawn the link between their own lifestyle and the hatchback that just floated down the High street. Life goes on, the news is full of stories about where we can go on holiday, the roads are nose to tail with cars. Something here doesn't quite add up.

I can guarantee you that Germany and the US have a lot more environmentalists now than they did a couple of months ago.

It's been said that there are no atheists in foxholes, but does it take a catastrophic event to make you sit up and take notice, to make some alterations to your life? Because by then it's probably too late. I don't mean to be hectoring, or preachy, but I'm pretty sure that our way of life is unsustainable, and the evidence that this is the case is piling up, disaster by disaster.

Part of the problem, of course, is the helplessness engendered by the vastness of the problem, and it can be hard to imagine what you, an individual, can do. And you know what, that's perfectly valid, it's the sort of problem which can only be tackled by co-ordinated international state and corporate co-operation, and while there are some belated moves in that direction, I wouldn't hold my breath.

But equally, bright eyed and bushy tailed entreaties to maybe recycle a bit more, or, as Allegra Stratton notoriously suggested "skip rinsing the plates before you wash the dishes" don't seem to engage with the scale of the task at hand. Re-using a few plastic bags isn't going to stop the sea levels rising.

This complacency is in no small part the fault of our political classes, for whom pointing out the gravity of the situation makes no electoral sense. No one wants to be told that, sorry, it's time to stop taking those flights, time to stop eating that meat, time to keep the car on the driver and walk. Boris Johnson once said that his position on cake was that he was pro having it and pro eating it. Like so many of our PMs pensees, this is deeply cynical and unsustainable, but also, on a primal electoral level, appealing.

The big lie is that we can solve this while just carrying on as normal. It simply isn't the case. Even if every car in the country converted to electricity, we still need 18% fewer miles to hit the targets we've set. There seems to be very little movement in this direction.

The gap between the rhetoric and reality is huge, and of course it's unfair to simply expect people to abandon the way they've always lived. Unfair and unworkable, in a country designed for cars, their removal is impractical, and with public transport infrastructure in such a sorry state in rural areas, a recipe for misery.

I don't have any simple answers, but I've always been a believer in doing what you can, not in some ludicrous Strattonesque tokenistic way, but I do believe it's possible to make profound changes to how you live, and to find a way of living which is less burdensome on the planet. I'm not saying give up driving, or holidays, but I am saying that maybe think of ways around them. It's as much a matter of habit-breaking as anything else. And it's us that need to do something, because Lord knows those in charge aren't. 


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