Near the start of the year, LinkedIn asked various thought leaders and global influencers to discuss some of the things that they wanted to achieve in 2014 and their hopes for the world in one years time. UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, re-stated his concern that the world is running out of time to address climate change issues within the next ten years. His very reasoned response was met with a huge amount of unrestrained bile from climate change sceptics. It’s not unusual for the usual suspects to deny what’s going on in the planetary system, but two things resonated with me about this particular thread.
1. It took place on a social networking site for professionals. LinkedIn is sort of a grown-up version of Facebook where people market their skills or develop or maintain links for their business networks. Why would somebody indulge themselves an impotent rant in front of future potential clients or employers?
2. Most of the respondents were from the US and they responded to the looming climate crisis as if it were a national, or local, issue. One of them went so far as to parody the Lord’s Prayer in order to satirise Al Gore! When people around the world think of climate change, they don’t automatically make a connection with that particular documentary or individual. Climate change is THE global issue of the day, making the financial crisis look like an irrelevant aside!
My guess is that the inhabitants of the world of climate change denial are becoming more angry and more personal in their attacks because they are desperately trying to convince themselves that they are still right. Niagra Falls freezes over and flights out of New York are cancelled because of the polar conditions at unseasonable times of the year, but they’ll still claim that it was some form of left-wing hoax! If science and physical reality can’t convince people to get up and do something now, the task of making the case the need to rapidly change the way we live must fall (again) to the artists. Writing in The Observer following the debacle at Copenhagen in 2009, Tim Adams stated: ‘‘It has been said in recent days, about the latest failure of the politicians at the Copenhagen summit to agree a substantial response to the worst nightmares of climate scientists, that they lack the imagination to envisage the future. Perhaps, prior to the summit, they should all have been required to read The Road’.
HIV/AIDS was combatted in the developed world by high profile media campaigners in the 1980s before the advent of anti-retroviral drugs. In the same way, we are learning about the imminent nature of a global climate disaster by Hollywood disaster movies and the emergence of new literary genres such as cli-fi.
As somebody who is interested in the spiritual/ethical beliefs that people have and the way these can impact on their relationship to work and social attitudes, it is rare to find examples in popular culture of concern for the natural world being discussed alongside religion. Exactly 25 years ago today (April 17th 2014), the Boston rock group Pixies released an amazing album called Doolittle. I hadn’t heard of them until 1989 when I saw a ‘yoof’ tv programme (by the name of Planet X if memory serves). The presenter said something as nonchalant as ‘here’s a new band from Boston and they’re called the Pixies’ and they launched into the first song on Doolittle, ‘Debaser’. They looked very ordinary (the bass player Kim Deal wore a peach coloured suit that made her look like she had stopped off on her way to interview for a receptionist in a doctors surgery), but the music was unlike anything I had heard before. I bought the album on vinyl the next day and immersed myself in it.
If the music was incredible, the lyrics were fascinating. One track in particular seemed to throw the discovery of the hole in the Ozone Layer (a recent event at that time) together with oceanic pollution, Charles Darwin, numerology, humankind, the Devil and God! One music magazine said the track (Monkey Gone to Heaven) was an ‘environmental anthem’, but it would be truer to say that it’s attitude is one of deep ecology rather than environmentalism.
‘If the ground’s not cold
Everything is going to burn
We’ll all take turns
I’ll get mine too’
Our battle to save the planet is becoming more urgent and is intrinsically linked to issues of human suffering such as poverty and discrimination. Artists, activists and creative people seem to know this better than policy-makers and mainstream politicians.