Don’t get sad, get mad…
Okay, let’s get the ranty stuff out of the way. George Monbiot has ratcheted up his rageometer in response to the Government’s decision to put fracking before renewables, citing the relationship between the fossil fuel industry, the City and the Conservative party as the motivation. “These people are not serving the nation. They are serving each other,” he says. It’s not just the UK government that comes under attack from Monbiot: leaders of Germany, Australia and the US all get a whipping. I’m not sure I’m sufficiently well informed to support or contest this, but I do know that unless I fit solar panels before April 2019, I won’t get paid for the energy that they feed into the grid. According to the STA (Solar Trade Association), the number of solar panels being installed in the UK has fallen by more than 80 per cent, a result of an industry strangled by government policies despite being one of the cheapest sources of electricity.
Which, given the current crisis, seems to me bonkers, if not immoral.
The “people’s rebellion”
Monbiot sees a “people’s rebellion” as the only way forward. Now I’m an inveterate abider of rules. I don’t walk when it says Don’t Walk on pedestrian crossings, irrespective of traffic, I’ve never lied about my age (not even on a dating website) and I’ve been known to take a half mile detour because of a road no entry sign. On foot. But I’m with George on this one.
The good news is that the people’s rebellion is happening. It’s well-mannered and peaceful, but a revolt all the same. Thousands marched to Whitehall in September for Chris Packham’s Walk for Wildlife, and a stonking 700,000 protesters (estimated…I’m not sure anyone actually counts them) gathered in Parliament Square recently for the People’s Vote March for a second referendum on Brexit. I didn’t go but I cheered aloud, alone in my kitchen when I heard Delia Smith take the microphone and announce she had never felt so strongly about a political cause in her life, and that now more than ever we needed to be working together with other nations. Let’s hope fracking prompts the same collective resistance, and Saint Delia is there to bless the cause.
On 31 October, Monbiot will speak at the launch of the Extinction Rebellion in Parliament Square, a movement he describes as devoted to disruptive, nonviolent disobedience in protest against ecological collapse. Go George…and the masses.
Meanwhile in the provinces…
I can’t say the spirit of rebellion was quite so alive in my local town on Saturday, when I joined local Friends of the Earth campaigners with their stall promoting shoppers to Use Less Stuff. Said stall was situated not far from a stand selling helium balloons in anticipation of Carnival night. (What are these made of…latex, nylon?) A number of passersby stopped to chat, mostly the converted, and others responded positively, especially around plastics. But there was a fair bit of overt brush-off in terms of body language and avoidance. Some of this will be an understandable aversion to intrusion…I’m not that wild about being stopped myself when I’m out and about. But I sense it’s more than that. I’m not sure if it’s complacency or denial, but my gut feeling is that an awful lot of people just haven’t got the climate change thing. I was sorely tempted to do a Dad’s Army Private Frazer impression, shouting We’re all doomed! in a Scottish accent and making my eyes go poppy. But I’m not sure it would have made much difference and anyway, I’m meant to be peddling hope.
Barbara Kingsolver on optimism
The American novelist Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible, Flight Behaviour) manages the hope/despair balance in her fiction in a way to which I can only aspire. In her new novel Unsheltered , she weaves together two narrative strands, one involving a science teacher, whose employment is threatened by his enthusiasm for Darwin’s new ideas in 1871, the other a woman struggling to keep her family afloat in 2016. In an interview with Lidija Haas, Kingsolver explains that both historical moments involve a challenge to our assumptions about natural and economic laws, the ‘beliefs that “ice would stay frozen and there would always be more fish in the sea”, that growth and consumption could and should go on forever….that each generation would have more than the last..”
I haven’t yet read Unsheltered but it’s on my Christmas list, (eco-guilt may drive me to Kindle but I still love books made of trees) because the connection works for me. Darwinism forced a shift in perceptions that was unthinkable. We’re in a similar place, and it’s no wonder we feel wobbly. As Kingsolver says, “At the end of an era, people keep grabbing harder on to the world that they know.” I think we need to understand this resistance, in ourselves and in others, as we seek to effect change.
Kingsolver calls herself an optimist, and her novels leave me hopeful, if rattled. In the real rather than fictional world, I’ve witnessed so much passion and determination, in the media, on-line and in person, to limit environmental damage and fight to ensure our government makes the right decisions, that I too am optimistic.
The last few nights here in Somerset we’ve had fiery skies and a huge moon. “It’s following us,” my three year old grandson said, as I brought him back for a sleepover. To quote Kingsolver once more, “Only if you love something will you inconvenience yourself to work on its behalf.” I reckon an awful lot of us are prepared to do just that. Let’s keep it up.