"To think is easy. To act is hard."
Never were words more true - think about it. I think about the things I want to do; thinking about them is easy. Getting down to doing them is so hard that most of them go un-done. And little wants and wishes pile on top of last year's wants and wishes and the big wants balance precariously on the top of the heap, for a while propped-up by to-do lists and well intentioned plans but too soon they too are replaced or forgotten and sink into the bog of lost dreams. But these are small, personal things. And small personal inactions. What of the bigger things that we think about?
We can all think about the big things such as world politics and economics. We can all worry about them. But to act on our thoughts? That can be hard. It risks taking us beyond our comfort zone. It risks making us confront those who would perhaps disagree with us. It is easy to think - to worry - to hope. Goethe was right - it is hard to act. Those who do are often exceptional and brave; often true altruists. They act for us. They show us both what needs to be done and how to do it. History is littered with them. We have stepped on the shoulders of these people for our collective benefit: people like Frederick Douglass (anti-slavery); Elizabeth Fry (prison reform); Pierre Toussaint (anti-slavery, education and relief of poverty); and household names from Pankhurst to Ghandi to Schindler to Yousafzai and many, many others brave enough to risk all in order to make a difference. I want here to mention one more - I will address the title of this blog soon (!) but first let me tell you about Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his leading role in the repatriation and feeding of displaced peoples in Europe after the first World War. Before his humanitarian work, he was a professor at the University of Oslo and an Arctic Explorer. He was a polymath - explorer, sportsman, oceanographer, social campaigner, humanitarian and scientist. Why do I mention him? Because today we need more Nansens. More people in positions of power who are scientists and believe in science.
I would like to say, 'It's obvious.' But sadly, to many, it apparently isn't.
This is where this procrasti-ramble begins to look more like a rant. I could apologise but I'm not going to. Read on and you'll see why.
Climate Change is not make-believe. Climate Change is climate science. And the science is very frightening indeed.
Nansen - the Norwegian Nobel laureate - wouldn't recognise parts of the Arctic today. Because there are parts that he explored that no longer exist. Look at NASA's satellite images of the shrinking polar ice cap if you need proof.
These are Climate Change facts - they make uncomfortable reading:
- the planet is warming up - 18 of the 19 warmest years, since temperature records began, have been since 2001. What does this mean? - More and hotter heatwaves; more drought; more extreme weather events; more displacement of people due to crop failure, famine, water shortage, hurricane damage and flooding. Rising temperatures also allow tropical disease distributions to expand - dengue fever into the southern US states and malaria into southern Europe. Rising temperatures also cause the sea to expand and ice to melt.
- the sea level is rising by more than 3mm per year. By 2065 the average sea level rise around the globe could reach 30cm. Low lying island nations face annihilation. In Indonesia, the capital Jakarta is swallowed by the sea so regularly and so devastatingly that it may have to move. In England, our coastal communities are eroded and fall into the sea and this will only get worse due to the next fact.
- the arctic sea ice cover is shrinking at a rate of more than 12% per decade (this is more than one million km2 of ice lost per decade - yes! That much. The loss is absolutely vast). And to make matters worse, it is melting earlier each year. Why does this matter? - As it melts it contributes to rising sea levels. Melting earlier means that the area of ice left is too limited for polar bears to hunt and feed their young. Pictures of starving, emaciated polar bears and their dead cubs will haunt man long after the last polar bear has died.
- atmospheric CO2 is at its highest level in three million years. Why does this matter? - CO2 is a greenhouse gas. It gets trapped inside our atmosphere and forms an insulating blanket. Like all blankets this has a warming effect and it warms the planet up. There has always been CO2 in our atmosphere but we have massively increased the amount. CO2 is released by burning fossil fuels; by deforestation; by industrialisation and intensive farming. So the rapid increase is caused by us. There is good news though - CO2 is absorbed by anything that photosynthesises; any green plant. And there is a massive CO2 sink that sucks CO2 out of the air that we breathe and in return replaces it with oxygen. We can't live without oxygen. The sink is the Amazon rain forest ... but we're burning that. Burning consumes oxygen and releases a CO2 bomb into the atmosphere.
- if none of the above is bad enough, think on this too - as the oceans warm; as extremes of weather become more common; as land habitat is lost - there develops a race to extinction. We are losing plant and animal species at a faster rate than ever before. And a small point to remember is that with their loss goes the potential for novel cures for disease - often found in rare plant species.
- The refugee crises created by all of the above will create a desperate diaspora and inevitably lead to wars.
This is not Fake News. This is happening now.
The people of Iceland, last week, held a funeral for a disappeared (melted) glacier - called 'Ok'. They wrote this on a commemorative plaque -
"Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it."
We can think - easy! We can worry - easy!
But can we act?
For a moment, let me step sideways and tell you a little about Edward Lear. You might by now be wondering why this blog entry is entitled 'The Owl and the Pussycat.' I'll explain.
Edward Lear - epileptic; son of a bankrupt father; youngest of 21 children; artist; depressive, and by all accounts socially awkward - didn't have the easiest of lives and he famously found release in the conjuring of words into nonsense rhymes. He published probably his most popular nonsense poem, The Owl and the Pussy-Cat, in 1871.
In 1871, people tended to take climate for granted - when it rained it rained. Despite the loss of 28 ships in a storm in the North Sea in February of that year, Edward Lear still chose to put his beautiful pea green boat to sea. It was a long journey - 'They sailed away, for a year and a day.'
For long journeys today, most of us usually chose to travel in probably the most polluting form of transport possible - flights. But not always -
The Owl and the Pussy-Cat, August 2019
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful sixty-foot boat.
They harnessed the gales, to cross an ocean with sails;
Washing footprints away while afloat.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a watching world,
"O lovely world! O Earth, wake up!
This Is A Race We Can Win
This Is A Race We Must Win!”
Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let people be carried! too long have they tarried:
Let them join your song of Uprising.”
They sailed away, for two weeks and a few days,
To New York where the CAS meet
And there in a Tower an orange Piggy-wig glowers
With climate trampled under his feet,
With Climate erupting under his feet.
"Dear Youth,” asked the Owl, “are you willing to howl
For our Earth?” Youth growled, "We will."
Let Paris stand strong, and bring governments along
To recycle, sustain, and stand still.
“Stop pollution!” Ignite a revolution.
As time runs like sand, let us stand hand in hand,
Rewrite evolution, and sing
“This Is A Race We Can Win
This Is A Race We Must Win.”
A race we MUST win!
A race we will win if we act. If we hear the words of activists like Greta Thunberg; if we act on them, there is a chance our children and grandchildren will have a future.
The full Goethe quote is ...
'To think is easy. To act is hard. But the hardest thing in the world is to act in accordance with your thinking.'
It is remarkable that it takes a child and a climate action youth movement to show us this.
The first act of action for those of us who are adults is not to listen and worry but to hear - to intently hear - what our children are saying.
Have a safe trip Greta. I hope the world hears you.