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.
At least eight people died and thousands were evacuated from their homes as torrential rain battered Italy’s northern Emilia-Romagna region, triggering floods and landslides https://t.co/a1jRT80QiO pic.twitter.com/jnFrVYSfBd
— Reuters (@Reuters) May 17, 2023
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.