Thursday 2 December 2010

Negotiating the Summit

I am not a climate scientist. I'm not any kind of scientist. Our whole culture of “Scientists say...” or “Scientists have shown...” in books and newspapers about every aspect of our lives, can leave me feeling alienated and excluded. But, as they say, ‘some of my best friends are scientists’. And whoever we are, we need to reenfranchise ourselves to life.

This June, during a Carbon Conversation I mentioned the fact that climate change seemed to have disappeared from most other conversations in the wake of Climategate and Copenhagen. Was it just me? No. Others were also struck by its absence.

Even though by this time climate scientists and the UEA had been vindicated publicly, the scandal and ensuing media attention seemed to have magically disappeared global warming out of the general consciousness.

Or given some license to vent their spleen against it.

One Carbon Conversationer said someone she knew had taken to aggressively denying climate change (and therefore justifying a high fossil-fuel lifestyle) since climategate, despite the turnaround. Was this any old excuse for taking no responsibility for one's/our impact on the planet? Was it that the vindication of facts and people just wasn't as exciting as scandal and schadenfreude? That it didn't feed those old serpents of discontent?

"I hardly dare talk about climate change outside this group," said Lois!

Whatever way we look at it, an international community of scientific researchers has provided consistent data for decades now pointing to human-induced climate change. The science is there. The facts are there. And if we pay attention we can see it for ourselves, in our daily lives, whoever we are, wherever we are. Here are some examples from my own life:

Mexico 1980s
In the mid-80s I lived and studied in Queretaro in central Mexico. After the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City and the resulting exodus, the town’s population swelled to over a million (from 450,000) in just a few years. This meant more building, urban encroachment on the rural outskirts and more use of water aquifers. This disturbed the annual summer rainfall cycle. The town became drier. It was a frequent subject of conversation. What had happened to those fierce and reliable summer storms? This was years before I was environmentally conscious but instinctively I knew something wasn't right.

Over London 2006
I was returning from India in March 2006. I didn't know it yet but this would be my last flight. As we entered the airspace of London at dusk, I was struck by the amount of buildings, and the lights. The vast warehouses, the supermarkets. This was one city among thousands in the world. I could almost feel the heat emanating into the atmosphere (and 2006 was a cold March!). This was two years before I joined Transition. But something about flying wasn't feeling right by now.

In Suffolk - Present
I’ve been collecting vegetables from Malcolm for eight years. He’s worked a smallholding for twenty-five years in Suffolk. He told me that though the weather can (and does!) get cold in the winter, the general ambient temperature has increased. This has made a big difference to some of the produce he is able to grow. And Brian, who runs a garage near where I live, told me during last January’s ‘heavy’ snowfall, that he remembers huge snowdrifts 6 feet tall in the 60s – ‘you don’t see that here now.’

So what about Cancun? Apart from its being an artificially created beach resort city built for purpose about forty years ago on a pristine patch of the Yucatan coast of Mexico - the epitome of the leisure side of industrial society. And ironically situated in the land of the ancient Maya, whose civilisation is thought to have collapsed after two thousand years between the 8th and 10th centuries AD due to severe droughts. Didn’t someone say the Maya calendar was set to end in 2012 with a prophecy for the endtimes?

Well, for me Cancun’s climate week is not just about politicians and governments meeting to decide the future fate of the earth and ourselves. More than anything this year’s climate summit is about bringing climate change back into our conversations as something we all need to engage with as planetary inhabitants. Whatever the outcome and agreements or none which come out of this week in Mexico, this is not the time to sit back and give others the responsibility for the restoration of the earth.

It’s time to get aware of ourselves as living members of the biosphere. Time to talk and act from that awareness. Time to give back to life itself.

Photos: Climbing towards the summit of the Temple of The Magician, Uxmal; A Cancun beach; Kukulkan's (The Feathered Serpent) Temple "El Castillo" Chichen Itza - all in Yucatan 1991 by Mark Watson/Charlotte Du Cann

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