Off the Map

“History’s a strange thing. A day went by recently that it’ll remember. But we scarcely noticed at all. Merely a whisper was felt … here we are. Crossing the last thresholds of the greatest event in human history, and it barely makes the news.” – Umair Haque

This week, news broke that sometime in the next four years, the planet is going to breach the 1.5 C rise in global temperature that we have long been told is the tipping point to avoid. The breaching of the 1.5C threshold, which scientists have warned could have dire consequences, should be only temporary, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), but it takes us into new territory. We are off the map.

In general, the response has been disinterest. It’s not that nobody cares, but it’s either too terrifying or the rest of the social dysfunctionality is too crushing for any real response.

On the radio this morning, the items are: a celebration of the number of cruise ships visiting Orkney; a celebration of the number of American tourists visiting Scotland, and the blossoming number of transatlantic flights; news that the proposed bottle deposit scheme will be dropped; extended coverage of the relationship breakup between Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby; and the breaking news that Eddie Murphy is lined up to be Inspector Clouseau in a Pink Panther reboot.

The media we consume reflects our general air of complete indifference but also confusion. Extreme weather events are being experienced across the world, in Italy, the Formula One grand prix scheduled for this weekend has been cancelled, and at least nine deaths have been reported so far as torrential rain submerged the dried-out landscape of the Emilia-Romagna region, forcing thousands to evacuate. In Nunavut, Canada, temperature records were broken last weekend. On Saturday a temperature of 21.2C (70F) was recorded by a weather station next to Hudson Bay, beating the previous record of 14.5C by an astonishing 6.7C It’s not yet summer and Canada’s boreal forests are already on fire.

This pattern of drought and torrential rain is seen everywhere. In Somalia, the torrential rain and floods, coming on top of the country’s worst drought in four decades, has forced 250,000 people to leave their homes. If you think the ‘migrant crisis’ is a problem now, you haven’t really thought this through.

In Australia, following the example of our own lovely government, the government has rushed through emergency legislation against climate activists. The move – which appears to have been hashed out on talkback radio on Thursday morning, comes after the mining and energy minister, Tom Koutsantonis, told the industry the state government was “at your service”.

South Australia’s minister for energy and mining has told a conference of the oil and gas industry in Adelaide that his state government is “at your disposal”.

Tom Koutsantonis made the extraordinary comments during his address to the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association national conference on Monday morning.

He said oil and gas companies were needed to achieve net zero by 2050, claiming “we cannot transform our economy to net zero without this industry”.

“The South Australian government is at your disposal, we are here to help, and we are here to offer you a pathway to the future,” he said.

We knew, of course, that our political class is aligned with, and often funded by, the fossil fuel industry, but as the breakdown continues, this relationship becomes more exposed and more grotesque.

As the state of the climate emergency becomes more stark, a new pattern is emerging, where ‘ordinary people’ are protected from ‘disruptive protestors’ so they can go about their lives, get to work, and so on. In the populist playbook, now not confined to some far-right conservative government but absolutely normalised and mainstreamed, the anger that should be directed at government intransigence, corporate greenwashing, and general inertia is redirected at the bloody environmentalists.

The new Australian laws, which threaten to impose fines up to $50,000 and possible three-month jail terms where a person “intentionally or recklessly obstructs the free passage of a public place” are of course mirrored here at home. The new Public Order Act 2023 has been designed to allow the police to shut down every form of effective protest. It is not just completely repressive; nor is it that it specifically imposes blanket bans on protests against new roads, fracking, or any other oil and gas works – it operates on the basis of ‘pre-crime’. That is, it is going to arrest you and imprison you for an anticipated crime. This is not dystopian sci-fi. This is now.

Even as the undercover policing inquiry continues to reveal appalling abuses by police spying on peaceful campaigners – the police are being given new unprecedented powers of arrest and surveillance. As George Monbiot has pointed out: “These are the state-of-emergency laws you would expect in the aftermath of a coup. But there is no public order emergency, just an emergency of another kind, that the protesters targeted by this legislation are trying to stop: the collapse of Earth systems. We are being compelled by law to accept the destruction of the living world.”

Intelligent, respected friends on my timeline tell me that the environmental movement is ‘the most influential political movement of our time’, and that Net Zero is being achieved. To point out that this simply isn’t true and doesn’t relate to the realities of our predicament – provokes anger and resentment.

How can we justify or understand such complacency? I suppose, at some level, we want to suppress this reality. We want to celebrate a record number of cruise ships and American tourists, and that bloody recycling scheme sounds terrible, doesn’t it? The Scotsman, always with its finger on the pulse, has a story in its ‘Environment’ section: ‘Climate change: Are Spain, Portugal, and the rest of the Mediterranean getting too hot for a summer holiday?’

Mediterranean countries are suffering from catastrophic climate change. But rather than write a story in your Environment section about what that might actually mean for the people who live there, the story is parsed as a problem for us ‘Brits’. The problem is NOT about climate catastrophe or that parts of Europe are becoming unliveable, the problem is an inconvenience to our holy right to fly away for our summer hols.

We are, of course, complicit in sustaining these fantasies and these narratives. Like with politicians, we probably get the media we deserve. It’s comforting to think that if Spain gets too hot, we can just fly somewhere else, or that, despite overwhelming evidence, we are probably on course for ‘Net Zero’, whatever that means. It’s comforting to think that the establishment of draconian new police laws won’t affect you and that new powers will be put to good use by the trusted authorities.

As we break 1.5 degrees, believe that if you will.


Comments (32)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Antoine Bisset says:

    This does not involve me. I cannot afford to fly away on holiday. Also, this planet used to be a lot warmer. The dinosaurs loved it. Why shouldn’t we? Also note that humans were not around at the time, dinosaurs did not go on holiday by plane or drive cars. The planet is a ball of hot magma at the core, and tumultuous activity on the surface. Day and night, we are bombarded by radiation from the Sun.
    Somehow, our human carbon dioxide is to blame, despite the obvious fact that there is barely enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to sustain plant life.
    If we achieve Net Zero all life will be extinct.

    1. Drew Anderson says:

      Okay, so you don’t fly. But given the howlers in your post, its unlikely you’ll be aware of all the things, you personally, have done that contributes to the issue.

      Achieving net zero doesn’t take any CO2 out of the atmosphere; net zero is merely the point that we stop adding more.

      There isn’t “a ball of hot magma at the [earth’s] core, the core is molten iron.

      Here’s a tip: if you know next to hee-haw about a subject; best not to drag your knuckles across the keyboard, to display your profound ignorance for all the word to see. Keep schtum, or do some research, before making a fool of yourself would be my advice.

      1. Paul Packham says:

        Drew Anderson, the clearest definition of net zero I have seen
        “ Achieving net zero doesn’t take any CO2 out of the atmosphere; net zero is merely the point that we stop adding more.”

        1. Roland Chaplain says:

          This is precisely why it is so important to stop colluding with the “Net Zero” con. Use the much more stringent criteria applied by those who talk of “Net Positive”, “Real Zero”, “Climate Positive”, etc. Also, identify with the Global South call for “Loss and Damage” restorative climate justice at a level that truly represents repairing all those “losses” and factor in slavery, colonialism, exploitative extractive corporate activities over the past 3 centuries, etc. Finally don’t forget how many of us in Scotland are ourselves suffering the real “losses” reflected in levels of poverty and deprivation emanating from those same causers of the “Loss and Damage” in the “Global South”. Our challenge is to break the systemic causes embedded in our economic and legal system now also so dangerously embodied in new laws designed to suppress the telling of these truths.

      2. Antoine Bisset says:

        Golly! You are terribly rude, also missing my point. At this moment people are spending lots of money on building “factories” (processing plants) to remove carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and bury it under the sea. So called carbon offsetting is a fraud?
        No sense of humour either, I’d guess?

        1. John Learmonth says:

          Don’t worry Antoine,
          The current ‘climate crisis’ will soon go the way of the global cooling scare of the late 1970’s when the great and the good were telling us we faced a new ice age that would wipe out humanity, remember that one?
          Life will go on… always has.

          1. John says:

            I didn’t realise that ostriches read this site.

          2. Which part of the science do you struggle with John?

      3. Fit Like says:

        The planet’s core is solid iron, due to gravity. The outer core is a swirling mass of liquid and partially crystaline iron that gives the planet magnetism. This is accurately deduced by seismology. The are both highly radioactive, generating sufficient heat to melt a vast amount of iron. Climate change is based on the relative energy absorption of CO2 molecules compared to N2, O2, Ar, etc. It’s not a problem for the planet (there has been way more CO2 in the atmosphere), but due to rapidity it poses exestential challenges for flora, fauna, and fungi, especially entities that are not as crafty as people.

        I don’t think that will be in any way halted by replacing glass recycling schemes that don’t involve cash transactions with a glass recycling scheme that involves cash transactions. Tripling the cost of petrol and diesel, and closing Peterhead power station would probably make a difference.

        1. Fit Like says:

          …And tripling the cost of kerosene might do something about the rediculous reality of being able to fly from Scotland to the Canary Islands, and back for £40.

        2. Hi Fit Like – yeah I wasnt suggesting the bottle deposit return scheme was a game-changer in terms of climate change – but mentioned it as part of a wider failure and backlash in which ‘recycling’ is seen as an improbable and unachievable goal in 2023.

          1. Alasdair Angus Macdonald says:

            You were right to mention it because things like this become a proxy for the more serious issues such as the use of massive amounts of coal, the use of oil in transport. It is these that are the big factors and it is from these that the rich and powerful screw huge amounts of wealth out of the rest of us, not to say destroying the health of millions of poorer people.

            So attention is directed by the media and paid politicians to present things like the deposit return scheme as indicative of the ‘crackpot ideas’ of climate change campaigners and to divert attention from the bigger issues. They use these things to divide and rule – presenting proponents of the scheme as seeking to destroy the livelihood of ‘small’ drinks businesses and their employees. Another example is the introduction of the Low Emissions Zone in Central Glasgow, which is presented as destroying taxi businesses.

            Another strand within this approach is to imply, that if the campaigners can’t get things right on small issues like deposit return, then their arguments on the bigger matters such as hydrocarbons MUST BE FLAWED!!!

          2. SleepingDog says:

            @Alasdair Angus Macdonald, a lot of media is substantially advertising-funded, and apparently a lot of sales, marketing and media executive types rank highly on the dark triad scales including psychopathy. Anecdotally, I can well believe this is true. What would happen if we banned all advertising and promotion of planet-harming things? There’s a darkly-amusing statement from an Australian gambling lobbyist in the documentary I linked to, who says something to the effect of if the government introduced this policy, people might stop gambling! Well, shadow puppeteers have to believe in their craft, but apparently they also believe that good governance can counter it and put people back on the right path. It is odd that people can criticise other states’ propaganda and be oblivious to the propaganda that washes over themselves every day. But scales can fall from eyes, puppet strings can be cut, exit signs can be erected in the cave of shadows.

  2. Alasdair Angus Macdonald says:

    “The media we consume reflects our general air of complete indifference …”

    While I agree with the thrust of your article, I think you are being far too dismissive of ‘our’ attitude, where I assume by ‘our’ you mean the majority of the population. I think this does us a disservice.

    I think most people are concerned about the effects of climate damage and do what we can, in our small ways to try to mitigate it. However, what inhibits us in bringing about change is powerlessness. And, what the media are created to do is to demoralise people into accepting powerlessness and to direct them to blame ‘others’ – people of colour, east Europeans, the welfare Scroungers, Irish, Jocks, Taffs, women, gats Lesbians and, especially, trans people.

    Increasingly the media are more openly contemptuous of the majority of the people and we see this in the more arrogant unashamed corruption of this current government and the spineless Starmer’s pledge to monster minorities even more nastily.

    Fortunately, we have media, such as Bella, Commonweal, Talking Up Scotland, Scot Goes Pop, etc. which put the alternative case eloquently, while working on a shoestring. So, please do not flagellate yourself. You provide an invaluable service.

    While there is an urgent need for wealth redistribution, we need, also substantial devolution of power. And that is my main reason for supporting self determination for those of us who live and work in Scotland.

  3. Robert Hill says:

    Thank you for telling it as it is. I am 83 so probably will escape the worst effects of climate catastrophe but people born in this decade are more than likely in for a miserable future.

  4. SleepingDog says:

    Al Jazeera calls Australians the World’s Worst Gamblers:
    From an anarchist viewpoint, empires like the current British and its boss USAmerican one are criminal enterprises whose vast propaganda engines have created the most unhealthy of role models, rewards, norms and geopolitics. The kinds of global warning science fiction I grew up reading were systematically sanitised, camped up and/or eliminated from British television screens. It would be interesting to see what the Thatcher administration cooked up on that. Society must not be depicted because society is a system and systems-thinking must be strongly discouraged. Ditto ecosystems. The current culture wars are largely between reactionary ego-dominators and system-thinkers. At its most basic, being woke is becoming aware of the system, the first stage to changing it. Yet becoming aware can also branch off into despair, addiction, clinging to false beliefs and temporary mood boosts. There are also factions looking for change to suit narrow interests.

    There is an alternative political system that puts our living planet first, if we stay on the path out of the cave of shadows, and emerge fully awake in the sunlight of understanding. #biocracynow

  5. Rachel Findlay says:

    Mike, thankyou for this post. Says all that needs said very clearly, and particularly well. You capture my thoughts precisely with this especially the Scotsman bit (the attitude of god given rights to flights and holidays overseas) and in the utterly nonsensical and bitter actions of the UK government in supressing climate protest instead of addressing the problem. Flights, cars, use of land and feed for meat. All things many with disposable income feel entitled to as ‘normal’. And yet….things that should ideally be seen as rare treats, if at all.

  6. david wilson says:

    Of course so many of the momentous days on the calendar of history went by unnoticed at the time as the greater significance of how the events of that day would impact the world were impossible to predict at the time. That day is often one of the key triggers that when combined sets the catastrophe in motion when they finally collide further down the line. Nothing is inevitable until it happens.

  7. Tom Ultuous says:


  8. John says:

    Mike – this is a good overview of where we are at present.
    Everyone will have to change lifestyle and give up something if we are to effectively mitigate the increasing effects of raised temperatures. The problem is that those with the most will have to give the most and they are the most reluctant to do so. These people are also, due to their wealth and influence, also the most powerful people across planet. They have used this power to initially contest the concept of man made climate change and having lost that battle are now trying to both minimise actions to combat climate change and suppress people who are pointing out their destructive actions.
    I believe that majority of people are aware of climate change and would be willing to make the changes in lifestyle required if positive leadership was forthcoming however what we have is the opposite.
    I have never believed that people get the leaders and media they deserve they get the leaders and media that the powerful manipulate them to think they want.

    1. George Mackin says:

      If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.

      It is a pity that in Scotland we seem to have abandoned the bottle scheme.

      I agree with John’s point as regards significant swathes of the media intent hell bent whipping up ignorance, apathy and distraction. With notable exceptions. BC being a case in point.

      1. Alasdair Angus Macdonald says:

        It is not that Scotland ‘has abandoned the bottle scheme’, but the Tory government in Westminster is refusing to sanction it on the spurious pretext of the ‘Single Market Act’

        1. Derek says:

          The bottle scheme works well in mainland Europe. Here, part of the problem is change in sundry assorted things – beer as an example.

          Breweries quite often don’t use label glues that are soluble in hot water, making labels difficult to remove. The label usually carries batch numbers and bottling dates.
          Breweries package beer shrink-wrapped on cardboard trays. If the bottle’s to be returned, they’ll have to go back to using re-useable crates.
          Logistics; delivery wagons will have to collect as well as deliver. This is good because it reduces the number of journeys, but it involves more paperwork.
          Breweries will become responsible for the cleanliness of the bottles, rather than their current supplier.
          Cans are a bit different, as they shouldn’t be going back to drinks plants but to metal re-processors. They need to come back into a system, though.

          I’m in favour of it, but there’s an increase in cost involved. That cost isn’t necessarily financial, though.

          As for “net zero”, it’s just that. We keep polluting but pay someone else to plant a load of trees to offset it. The answer is to consume much less unnecessary stuff.

    2. Thanks John.

      “I believe that majority of people are aware of climate change and would be willing to make the changes in lifestyle required if positive leadership was forthcoming however what we have is the opposite.” Strongly agree with this sentiment, there is virtually NO political leadership on this

  9. Collie Dog says:

    Everyone appears to have forgotten already there just recently happened to be a whole year, eighteen months, when almost as good as not one soul of us on the planet drove a motor vehicle or flew a plane, not for a day, not for a month, but for a whole year plus., and this was sanctioned by practically every politician in office. Funny how we seem to have forgotten. Or maybe a better phrase might be instant disremembrance. The difference that summer to air, leaves, birds, etc, for those who went outside without either fear or mask – nature in short – could be felt. City air and city greenery was the test. Edinburgh is far from being the most traffic-ridden urban conglomeration on the planet, but even here the difference that summer was fully tangible within weeks. In the attempt to remind myself now that we really lived to see that moment after a (born in the sixties) lifetime of its political unimaginability – a piece of medieval breathing space actually happening, and even in fact being cruelly mandated by mainstream politicians – is almost – I don’t know what to say – almost have to pinch myself to remind myself the memory is real, especially when we’re back to writing as fruitlessly normal again (like all this). Not sure which is the clearer testament to our collective insanity: our sad gullibility in the miraculous moment when we had the chance to wake up, or our capacity instantly to forget we were what we became in that year and a half almost within a week.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Collie Dog, the subject of a 2021 nature documentary:

    2. Hey good point Collie Dog. The many many gains and insights of the pandemic experience have all been cast aside in a frantic race to get ‘back to normal’ – in part consumed by conspiracism but mostly consumed by capitalism. You are 100% right – air quality, water quality and the re-emergence of cities as habitable places was all possible.

      I wrote about an aspect of it here:

  10. Alistair Taylor says:

    Thanks for writing this.

    It was 6 miles visibility in Calgary when WestJet landed last week. (For a while earlier in had been 2 miles). And that’s the 3rd week of May.
    The “new normal” and it ain’t good.

    I’m never going to fly in a plane again. (That is probably/ almost certainly a lie. Though, i could slither off and die. That might be the honourable thing to do? I don’t know. Ah dinnae ken.)
    The next 20 or 30 years are going to be messy. After that, I’m gone, for sure. Kinda relieved not to have any kids and grandkids. It’s an uncomfortable future.

  11. Wul says:

    Gov.UK is actually responding with alacrity and serious intent to the climate crisis: They are busy criminalising protest, dissent and industrial action and building a fascist state to control and subdue the predicted increasingly-desperate masses (us).

  12. Cathie Lloyd says:

    As you say Mike, we seem to be reinacting Dont Look Up. I wonder if there is any information about the reactions of populations who have suffered devastating climate change events, such as in Emilia Romano? How can we impress upon our fellow citizens that massive climate instability is happening here and now? Maybe growing food insecurity will drive it home here? Long supply chains caused by Brexit and the impact of floods and drought in places from which we’re used to sourcing our fruit will give rise to a dawning realisation ?

    Or an understanding of the way in which hostility to Greens and the war on woke is being manipulated by the extreme right?

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.