I have been around for a few years and have seen generations of opinions worried about the future of the planet. I am one of them, but try to keep a balanced view of things between the delirium of people dancing round pink boats in central London, gluing themselves to everything that doesn’t move, on one hand, and American conservatism on the other.
From the evidence of credible things I read, I would be more concerned about the quantity of plastic in the sea and discarded in nature than the quantity of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Plastic is getting into the food chain, and into us as we eat fish and seafood. There are plenty of scientific articles here and there about the atmosphere. I don’t know which ones are influenced by ideology or capitalist greed. Really, only the scientists with access to the raw data would see things more or less objectively.
Global warming is caused not only by the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but also quantities of methane escaping from the earth’s crust. There are also the devastating effects of volcanos, like the one in Indonesia that caused the year without a summer in 1816. There are also sunspot cycles and the changing distance between the earth in its orbit around the sun. From samples taken from the ground, scientists have been able to detect the warm and cold periods in history over timescales of thousands of years. The rhythm seems to be quite constant including our present warm period.
As far as I can see, the pollution our industries are putting into the atmosphere is truly worrying. Still, progress has been made since the days of the London smog of the nineteenth century. Cars put out all sorts of nasty gases, and I know that I contribute through driving one of them. There is no public transport where I live! We are driven by the need to live and work, go about our daily lives and try to do our best to reduce the “footprint”. If I find plastic in the sea when out in the boat, I collect it, put it into a bag and into a dustbin when I get ashore. Such a gesture is pissing in the ocean when considering the “continent” floating in the Pacific Ocean and similar ones in other oceans! There’s plenty to worry about, and I am glad there are people dedicated to seeking technological solutions to clean up the plastic and reduce the crap getting into the atmosphere.
The buzz personality presently is the Swedish adolescent girl Greta Thunberg. She has had the courage to brave the Atlantic Ocean by sail, which must be a terrifying experience. On the other hand, she is trying to construct a kind of “eschatology” from our concerns about the earth’s atmosphere and seas. It becomes emotional and even sectarian, irrational and obscurantist. The solution to the crisis? The Luddites already declared war against technology, but it was more an issue of work and livelihood than the environment. If I were not using a computer to write this piece, I would be writing it on paper in candlelight, but there would remain the problem of publication. That is only a small example.
Some highlight the pseudo-religious dimension of the contemporary ecological movement. We were already banging the drum in the 1960’s and doomsday was supposed to be upon us in the 1980’s or whenever. As conservatism and populism are getting their own back after decades of left wing “politically correct” dogma, the counter reaction is already starting and it all rather reminds me of the time when I was a little sheltered child in the north of England, when there were army tanks in the streets of Paris. This is why I give no credence either to the ultra-masculine Right.
If the environmentalists of Extinction Rebellion and others are following some kind of pagan religion, it doesn’t trouble me. I grew up with nature and spent hours alone in the garden contemplating the earth, plants, insects and birds. I have always had the idea of God inhabiting his creation as the consciousness or λόγος of matter. I later learned to distinguish panentheism from pantheism. Perhaps some of our American hard-liners would like to see rows of garrotted bodies of heathens and heretics – all for the glory of God – but I would not. I call for moderation and the use of reason in our love for the Book of Nature. What I find most odd is the idea of a causal relationship between pollution of the environment and the old order of family, tradition and nation. The alternative is resuming a pre-technological way of life or killing most of the world’s population. Perhaps they don’t even think as far as that.
There is a point about all this. The culture of Judeo-Christianity made it possible for humans to place ourselves over the rest of nature to exploit it. That seems obvious, because we have to kill and eat living organisms to live, but non-Jews and non-Christians have to eat too! Plants suffer too, not just animals being slaughtered. That has always been a fact of life, but we can make efforts in the direction of reasonable farming and giving animals a humane and comfortable life until the day they have to die to give us food. It is known that some people converted to veganism had to resume eating meat for the sake of their health. Humans are omnivores and need animal protein in our diet. Indeed, there is something to be said for the ketogenic diet (more fat than carbohydrates and sugar) for some people with health conditions. Killing to eat is a fact of life, though we are called to keep the animals in humane conditions and kill them without suffering.
There is definitely a tendency to return to paganism as people react against the toxic masculinity of the Right. Many buzz-buttons have been pressed about seminarians being asked to address prayers to plants. Perhaps it seems silly, but we can experience an ecstatic love for the world around us. Just be alone in the middle of a forest and soak in the smells of earth, vegetation and every other sensation. Not all of us will admit the pleasure and fulfilment of such an experience, but I will. Trees are not gods, but God is present in them!
What we experience profoundly is not the same thing as trying to impose restrictions on others, demanding sacrifices without offering any alternative. I live in a village and we have no public transport. I drive a car. Distances are a little too much for relying on a bicycle. I would be criticised for using animals like horses, because they fart and emit methane! For the fanatics, it isn’t sufficient to reduce pollution. It has to be eliminated. But, it cannot be eliminated without killing the world’s human population. Even there, the means of committing the genocide: disease, gas, bullets, etc. would cause pollution. Then there are the millions of bodies to bury or burn. If I keep thinking about this, I will have to go to the bathroom and vomit! Their position is absurd, but we must not go to the other extreme.
I am not going to put Greta Thunberg in the pillory. I have avoided listening to her, so I should refrain from judging. What I do observe is her appeal to emotion. She has some of the Byronian Romanticism in her as she forecasts Byron’s apocalyptic vision of a devastated word with sails hanging on the spars of boats with no wind to move them, dead animals and leafless trees. She has sailed the sea, and that shows her courage. Is there much thought behind her immature discourse? That is a good question.
Progress is being made whilst maintaining human interests. London is no longer under a veil of smog because households may no longer burn coal and restrictions are placed on polluting vehicles in the Low Emission Zone. Such things are necessary. We either use public transport or pay a special toll for driving in the restricted area unless we have a modern vehicle than emits less pollution. That is fair, and we need to adapt our lives. I am lucky not to live in a city, and the filthy stuff my car pumps out of its exhaust pipe is more diluted in the atmosphere than the same coming from thousands of vehicles in a city. It is good that manufacturers are making the effort to produce cleaner vehicles. To give up the need for transport, we would have to return to a pre-modern life style. That requires the acquisition of a lot of skills we no longer have – and we would still be polluting to a certain extent. The animals also pollute by farting! What we can do is balance the carbon dioxide and hydro-carbon gases produced by animals and the same gas absorbed by sufficient quantities of vegetation. So, more trees, and I love trees. My own garden is a garden of trees more than anything else!
We ordinary people need to inform each other about the most objective scientific data so that we can consider it all rationally. Climate and extreme weather exist, but I don’t believe that the problem is entirely caused by humans. We have solar cycles, the temperature of the sea and physical effects of energy transfer. All that works on the atmosphere as it does in the sea. We can begin by learning what we can about the science and technical aspects. Everything we suffer from hot summers, flooding, high winds, torrential rain and cold weather has a precedent. Everything I see or experience today was present in the world in the 1960’s, more than fifty years ago, when I was a little child. We had freezing winters like in 1963 and warmer years. I don’t believe it is any worse now than it was then.
As I say, I am more worried about plastic in the sea than the atmosphere and the weather. As I write, people are dedicating themselves to stopping the pollution and cleaning up what is already in the sea – as best as possible. I don’t see evidence for a “climate emergency” even if we get very bad weather at times. No one likes to get his house flooded or lose a loved one to a river than has burst its banks. There has been catastrophic weather before man ever put any carbon dioxide into the air beyond a fire in his house for cooking and heating.
The “zero CO2 targets” are political claptrap. They cannot reduce all emissions without killing nearlty all the human population. There are plenty of conspiracy theorists who forecast our being put into a Logan’s Run type scenario of glass bubble cities and compulsory euthanasia at the age of thirty. One is Agenda 21, which would involve massive genocide and placing almost all land out of bounds for humans, made to live in micro apartments in mega cities. Ironically, such conspiracy theories are spread by anti-environmentalist right-wingers.
Another thing to think about. If what the über-environmentalists say is true, that there is an emergency and we have to stop producing carbon dioxide completely within ten or twelve years, then it is already too late. Who are we to think we have control over the planet and its weather? Why bother if we are going to die anyway? If the planet needs to be saved, we are not the ones to be able to do that.
I identify with the Romantic world view, which involves an intense love of nature. It also means that I want to go from a rational and scientific position towards my experience with nature. The rational part of me refuses the present apocalyticism of the fanatics and their desire to punish humanity. The Romantic part of me seeks to want to preserve nature, or at least avoid harming it for the sake of human profit. We are responsible for our world and we are stewards. There are many things we can do: be as clean as possible, sort our rubbish so that as much of it as possible can be recycled, keep plastic away from nature and above all the sea, use our means of transport sensibly and economically, buy our food from local farms rather than supermarkets whenever possible. Most industry in the western world is now bound to control emissions and clean the stuff belching out of chimneys. Russia and China are problems, because they still don’t care how much they pollute. Perhaps little Greta could sail there, though I wouldn’t recommend it for her sake.
There’s no simple solution, but we can just do our bit each one of us, keep our heads cool and above all be rational.