What do we owe future generations? Earth Day special
The Queenager: Eleanor's Letter (April 23rd 2023)
Generation X has been sleeping on the job - now we need to do our bit
Greetings from rainy London where I am glad to say I got back in the Ladies Pond this morning. Felt so good to be back in the water after two weeks away. (Thanks for all of your sweet messages I am pleased to say I have got the all-clear on my mole and all is healed. Phew! I was so relieved when I got the letter saying it was all ok that I cried. Often we don’t realise how much stress we are carrying about something till – poof – it goes away. Am feeling very grateful.)
So yesterday was Earth Day and on Friday I joined some mates on the Climate Justice march in central London (yes that’s me and two Queenager pals at the protest outside the Home Office).
If you believe a lot of the drivel in the newspapers about “eco-zealots” and “climate fanatics” (just two descriptions of us in the Daily Mail today) I’d just like to say for the record that the reality was a well-meaning gentle crowd (pretty like the kind of people you’d see at Womad) mostly 40 plus, a lot of grey hair and floaty Queenagers in anoraks, definitely more Waitrose than Iceland. There were a few coloured-haired students (banging drums and doing the best chants) but given that the last protest I went on was Black Lives Matter during lockdown, post George Floyd’s despicable murder, this crowd was markedly older and whiter. That’s not so surprising; Black Lives Matter pulled a huge angry community onto the streets to complain about perennial racism which had come to a head in the horror of Floyd’s killing. The callousness of the cops ignoring his desperate pleas and the fact that the whole world saw the video galvanised an instant and furious response. Rightly.
Global warming is a massive but slow-burning disaster (literally). We all know that it is coming. But it is easy to just ignore it and continue with business as usual; melting poles or glaciers can feel a long way away, despite the best efforts of David Attenborough et al. But in the last few years it has felt closer to home; more extreme weather events are beginning to affect all of our lives. I will never forget the 40 degree heat in London last summer. Walking down the stairs from my relatively cool bedroom the heat in the lower part of the house felt like a solid thing; it was hard to breathe. Frightening. And my house has windows that open and a through-breeze and outside space. Also it was only a couple of days- not weeks in sweltering-ness like in Delhi or Greece.
The latest IPCC report – it was published last month, you can read the headlines here – should make us all pause. According to hundreds of the world’s top scientists there is now NO doubt that global warming is man made: “human-caused climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe” or that we are heading for 1.5 degrees of warming this century (maybe even the more serious 2 degrees if we don’t act fast). What is more hopeful in the report is its insistence that if governments, individuals and companies start taking serious actions to cut emissions NOW, there is a chance that we can start reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere enough to turn things around. What the report makes clear is that funds for new carbon-capture technologies, or to switch energy creation from fossil fuels to renewables – from central banks, and business and government are not being made available fast enough. Particularly in the developing world.
This matters, because as the report says: “Deep, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would lead to a discernible slowdown in global warming within around two decades and also to discernible changes in atmospheric composition within a few years”. Given that if we get on the case it is not all gloom and doom – you all know I am one for a positive outlook wherever possible – I reckon it behoves all of us to start doing what we can. Now.
So what can we do? Well I’ve been canvassing some experts for you and here are their suggestions.
1) Lobby your local MP to do something about emissions and to hasten the shift to renewables in the UK and to STOP more fossil fuels being dug out of the ground (the current government has just given the go-ahead to more drilling in the North Sea because of the recent energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine.) It is a truism in politics that politicians only act on things the public make a fuss about. So send an email, write a letter, turn up at a meeting.
2) One of the most effective things you can do personally is to shift your pensions and investments out of fossil fuels and into green investments.
3) Consider shifting to an electric car particularly if you have an old diesel one.
4) Eat less meat (good for your health too)
5) Limit your consumption of stuff – I was particularly struck by Evan Raskin, of Earth Day’s comment that: “We must never lose sight of who is emitting the majority of climate pollution and who has the greatest capacity to implement large-scale solutions. 71% of all carbon emissions stem from only 100 companies and the richest 10% of the global population [yes that is us] contribute as much climate pollution as the rest of the world combined.” I’m not going all hair shirt on you, but I am asking all of you Queenagers just to be a bit more conscious about the climate and your impact. We can all make small changes that make a difference. I’ve started visiting my local charity shops when I get a ‘new outfit’ itch rather than buying something new. Or recently I rented a dress for a big occasion rather than buying a new one (you can do that with winter coats and bags now too). Tiffanie Darke – on our Noon Advisory board – has kicked off a Rule of Five campaign where she and other fashionistas are pledging to only buy five new things a year (don’t worry socks and underwear don’t count). If all of us make small changes together that can make a big difference. If you must fly, for instance, make it long-haul, take the train for shorter distances. Use more public transport or cycle. We’ve all got far too much stuff anyway… If we all make small shifts that can add up to a big difference (particularly if we put pressure on our politicians, particularly now in an election cycle).
That’s why we are doing our Noon/Rule of Five Earth Day Clothes Swap at the Rosewood Hotel on Wednesday. (free to Paid Subscribers to this newsletter)
To try and suggest a few tweaks we can all make which together can add up to significant change.
It’s time we got serious about this – our generation buried our heads in the sand on this for thirty years; the science has been pretty clear that climate change is happening since the early 1990s. As a former editor on a national paper I feel particularly guilty that I should have done more to raise the alarm. Why didn’t I? It was tricky. The organisation I worked for was pretty equivocal about whether climate change was really happening for at least two of those decades; we’d have to use words like ‘alleged’ and run counter opinions whenever we ran articles climate change. We all know now there was a concerted misinformation campaign by Big Oil to confuse the public about the science (akin to Big Tobacco not wanting the truth out about the dangers of cigarettes as it would hit business). The reluctance of some parts of the media to engage or to really educate the public is still very real – some of the press are much more interested in bashing ‘eco zealots’ and berating them for disrupting the marathon or the Coronation. This is classic media playing the man not the ball. Attacking the activists and their tactics rather than engaging the public in the science and the existential threat. That is partly ideology (the worst offenders tend to be media companies who are in lock-step with big business and a consumption-is-good view of the world) but partly because climate change is a hard story to cover. It is usually abstract. It moves slowly – the opposite of eg a football game or something unfolding in front of us in real time. And for many people immediate problems in their lives such as racism or the cost of living crisis are more pressing.
I’m not surprised it’s the Womad/Waitrose classes I saw out on the Climate Justice march. They – we – are relatively rich in time and education, we aren’t imminently in danger of arrest or worrying hugely over whether there is food in the fridge or our kid has been unfairly stopped by the police, harassed or attacked. In the hierarchy of needs, most of ours are met. We are fortunate enough to have the head-room to worry about the planet. We are probably also more likely to be educated enough to read and understand the IPCC report (if you haven’t do). And more likely to be in tune with nature – to notice that the glaciers where we are lucky enough to go to ski are vanishing, or the snow season is shortening. Or to have time to go on walking holidays and notice and care, or have gardens where we can watch birds, or time to swim in the ponds. I truly believe that much of the ignorance/reluctance to engage with what is happening to our world stems from a profound dislocation from nature. Those of us who are more in tune with the natural world understand that everything is connected, that harming our eco-systems ultimately harms all of us because it is all linked.
My father often jokes: What do we owe future generations? Personally I feel that we owe them our commitment to doing what we can to clear up the mess that has happened on our watch. I feel Generation X has been sleeping on the job; that if we’d been more engaged and activated more the world might not be in the parlous state it now is. But as you know I am a great believer that it is NEVER too late and we are NEVER too old to make a difference. So Let’s do our bit.
Thanks for reading.
ps If you’d like to come wild swimming with me, we’re doing anotherNoon One Day Retreat at Wasing on Saturday July 8th. Please come and join us! Tickets available on that link. Yoga, swimming in the beautiful lake, free run of this beautiful estate, a walk to a 1500 year old Yew Tree where we will hold a Noon Circle. Lunch, chat, fun, joy. I can’t wait! Here is my newsletter about the last one
By Eleanor Mills