Anyone looking through this blog would see that there are a lot of items about climate change. I’ve become very interested in this topic, and I’m going to write a novel about it (Slaymaker), which should come out in 2015.
What fascinates me in particular is the psychology of it. Have you noticed that, even if you have taken on board that this is a real threat, it’s extremely difficult to hold that fact in your mind? Or that to mention it too often feels like bad manners? ‘I’m sorry to trouble you,’ I feel like saying even as I write this, ‘I don’t mean to be a bore, but would you mind if I mentioned just once again that we’re plunging headlong towards a precipice?’
Somehow a whole battery of psychological defences come into play (the very defences, perhaps, that allow us to distance ourselves from the fact of our mortality) and these defences cause us to constantly sideline climate change as if it just were a detail, or some sort of minor irritant, rather than an existential threat to our civilization. On Monday, for instance, on the Today Programme on Radio 4, there was a discussion about the unprecendently weird weather in the UK in 2012 (not just in the UK either but in many other places including Australia) and the fact that we should expect this to continue. Later in the same programme there was an interview with Conservative MP Tim Yeo about nuclear power, shale gas and energy policy in general: yet no connection at all was made between the two items, and climate change wasn’t even mentioned as a factor to consider when weighing up the options.
On Wednesday, there was an item about biofuels on the same programme, in which an eminent scientist (Sir David King), questioned whether they really helped reduce carbon emissions, even though they could be used to meet our commitment to produce energy from renewable sources. John Hayes, the Energy Minister, told him that his concerns were ‘bourgeois’ and that he himself was a practical man whose main concern was to ‘keep the lights on’. The clear implication was that being concerned about climate change was a bit wet and middle class, and while he was prepared to toss a few sops towards the climate lobby, he wouldn’t offer more than that.
Well, of course many interest groups can be tamed with the judicious use of symbolic placation. But the physical world isn’t a lobby or an interest group, and it has no interest in symbolic gestures. We either do something about climate change or we don’t. It’s all the same to nature either way. The trouble is that it won’t be all the same to us.