My life seems very strange at the moment. I find myself frequently swinging from intense awareness of the near-time implications of the climate and ecological breakdown to being absorbed in the normal routines of daily life, living as if we still have forever and life will carry on as it is until we all die peacefully of old age. It is surreal to be participating in small acts of civil disobedience at work by surreptitiously sticking XR ‘climate emergency’ stickers around the place, whilst at the same time spending hours at a time engrossed in work that, I suspect, will be completely irrelevant within the next decade. It is strange to be moved to tears by speeches from outside Parliament following UK MPs declaration of a ‘climate emergency’ as I cook a baked potato for dinner and plan what I will wear to the conference I am travelling to tomorrow. It is surreal to be discussing my daughter’s career aspirations with her at the same time as knowing in my heart that huge changes are ahead and it is unlikely she will have the career, or future, that she dreams of.
Since travelling to London to join the rebellion at Waterloo Bridge my internal landscape has shifted. Or rather it has begun to shift less dramatically from oblivion and distraction into despair and panic because, as I expand my social circles to include people who are aware of the catastrophe we are facing, my knowledge and expectations of what will happen to society because of climate change and biodiversity loss becomes more integrated into my ‘normal’ life. Even though climate catastrophe is still the first thing I think of when I wake in the morning, and even though I am still often plunged into intense emotional flashbacks when my attachment wound is triggered by the fear of what is to come and how alone I will be with it, the ecological crisis feels more real and less like something that I have made up or exaggerated in my own mind. I feel less isolated with the knowledge and awareness I have now that I am meeting other people who are also awake to the magnitude of what is happening.
And it helps that there is growing awareness among the public that things are ‘not okay’ and the government needs to act, even though I know many people, including activists, haven’t explored the science as much as I have and haven’t quite fully grasped the urgency or the fact that is almost certainly too late to avert ecological breakdown now so we need to start working on harm reduction and damage limitation. It does help, though, that it is becoming more acceptable to express concerns and fears and it is becoming more normal to be met with discomfort when I mention climate change rather than ridicule or surprise that I would be experiencing anxiety and sadness over something so distant and unrelated to my (although someone at work played a ‘practical joke’ on another colleague and turned his office into a ball pool while he was on annual leave – 100o plastic balls filling the small office amused most people but totally enraged me, so how much real awareness there is of the crisis we are in is unclear).
Of course it is hugely encouraging that the UK Parliament this evening is the first in the world to admit that we are in a climate and ecological emergency. Of course it is inspiring to look back and see what has been achieved over the past few months and to think of what could be achieved in future if we all pull together to help the transition. And of course it is reassuring that so many people are waking up to the reality of our predicament. But it is also easy to get swept along and forget that all we’ve seen so far are words, not actions – at the same time as a climate emergency is being declared new coal mines are being approved, fracking continues, the High Court today rejected an appeal against the legality of the new runway at Heathrow, and the economy remains focused on growth, with well-being still being measured by GDP. And it is easy to forget that even if the UK miraculously does what is needed, we are just one country – even if it reduces its emissions to net zero (it’s actual emissions, not the ones calculated according to Michael Gove’s lies) by 2025 there is still so much more that needs to be done and hundreds of other countries that need to act also, if we are to avert utter catastrophe and devastation. And it concerns me that if declarations of climate emergency don’t lead to immediate and drastic action they will end up doing more harm than good, because they imply we can be in an ’emergency’ and yet carry on with business as usual. Ideas of a ‘green industrial revolution’ and calls for a Green New Deal and the creation of ‘green capitalism’ concern me because they are not enough and they don’t challenge the toxic heart of the system that is killing the planet and causing so much suffering. It is capitalism itself, and our obsession with consumption, that must be toppled, and I’m not sure there is time for that transition to happen before capitalism self-implodes and takes us all down with it.
It is also unclear how much people are really willing to change and sacrifice. What are people prepared to lose and leave behind to give us a chance of surviving as a species? We don’t just have ten years to start making some changes – within ten years the way we live must be completely different if we are to have even a chance of avoiding catastrophe. I’m not sure people understand what is meant by catastrophe either, that when climate scientists talk of environmental catastrophe they mean disaster on a global scale; floods, droughts, wild fires, crop failure, water shortages, wars over resources, mass starvation and possible human extinction – in the near-term, and in the global north as well as the global south, where the tragic impacts of climate change are already being seen and felt.
So we need to prepare and adapt and limit the damage as far as we can, but also things need to change. It scares me almost as much as irreversible climate change and mass starvation that things will carry on as they are indefinitely, that in acting a little but not enough we will just be kicking the can of over-consumption and exploitation of the natural world further down the road. Instead of transitioning to a fairer and kinder world where we nurture ourselves and each other and understand we are the environment, not something separate from it and able to control it, we will just be tinkering around the ages and putting off the inevitable for a few more years, decades at most. This worries me because our current way of life is unsustainable. Not just physically, from a resources point of view, but emotionally, mentally and psychologically also. We are so cut off from the natural world. We are living in a system which puts us in constant competition with everyone else, a system which makes us sick and tired and stressed, a system which leaves us isolated and lonely and unable to meaningfully connect with others or ourselves. The obesity crisis, alarming levels of mental health disorders in the young, the epidemic of loneliness in the aging population, childhood cancers, knife crime, mass shootings, poverty, terrorism, rape and domestic violence, animal abuse – all these things and more point to a human race that has gone so very wrong, a species that is poisoning itself in an attempt to control nature and protect itself. I find being part of this world deeply painful, my heart hurts for all the humans and non-human animals who are suffering so greatly, and sometimes it feels as though human extinction is for the best – our time is up. And, as I’ve written before, I’m not concerned about extinction itself, but I am concerned about what happens between now and us going extinct, how much suffering and loss there will be, what we will do to each other in the process.
An awareness of all this is intense and hard work. There is deep grief to work through, fear I must learn to soothe, and joy I must struggle to still connect to as this horror story humanity is writing continues to unfold day-by-day. Sometimes it is easier to lose myself in activism and blind hope, rather than a more active hope that is based on the reality that comes after despair has set in. Sometimes it is easier to make plans with my daughter than consider the truth that our dreams may not come true. I often find myself jolting back into an awareness that this is really happening and I lose all focus at work and find it hard to motivate myself to do anything. I’d hoped I’d be able to start living differently as a result of this new level of awareness I’ve had the past few months, but it seems in some ways it has merely amplified my existing struggles. It is like complex trauma on a grander scale, where present day life can be so very okay one minute and then suddenly I am plunged into an emotional flashback and the threat of annihilation experienced decades ago feels like it is happening right now. It is a strange place to be, swinging between such different world perspectives, and these are strange and difficult times to be living in for sure.
I found myself glued to my Twitter feed and Instagram live streams last week, strangely soothed by the events unfolding at the international rebellion in London and across the globe, and reassured by the fact that no one was lying about what is ahead, pretending there is more hope than there is, pretending that action will stop the catastrophe that is ahead of us. It made me feel less crazy to see just how many people ‘get it’ and how many people care enough about what is unfolding to risk getting arrested, charged, even imprisoned. It was a relief to see the outpourings of love and respect for the people rebelling, a relief that so many understood why it had come to this, why action of this kind was needed, why the disruption was regrettable but unavoidable. In my algorithmed social media bubble it was almost as though the whole world had woken up.
I made the decision on Wednesday of last week to travel to London at the weekend to join the South West rebels who were holding Waterloo Bridge. An imminent house move, a twelve year old, and PTSD meant only a day trip was possible this time, and I was unsure whether it would be worth the time and expense, whether my presence was important enough, whether I would feel it had made any difference my being there – just one person. Somehow I just knew I needed to go though, to join with others and have my voice heard, and to take comfort in connecting with others who feel as I do about the climate and ecological crisis we are in. And I am so glad I listened to the whispers of my heart and did in fact go, despite my mind trying to tell me I wouldn’t make any difference. I feel as though my presence was noticed and important and I am so grateful to have been able to play a part, however small, in the transformation in public consciousness that has resulted from the peaceful protests by XR activists over the past 10 days.
I left early on Saturday morning, my bag full of orange Legal Observer bibs that needed to be taken back to Waterloo Bridge from XR rebels who had now returned to Exeter. It felt nice to have a job, a purpose. I wasn’t sure what the day ahead would be like, I had very little expectations at all, and that felt nice. Freeing. The train to London was lovely and quiet at 7.56am and I journalled the whole way, enjoying the peace and space to get my thoughts in order. I emerged from the tube at Waterloo into beautiful sunshine and, as I made my way to the bridge, I felt excited to hear drums and voices and singing, and to see the huge ‘rebel for life’ banner which spanned the width of the bridge. I did an induction with a group of others and was struck by the diversity of the people there as I got chatting to a pastor and his wife, a university student, a theatre artist, and an eclectic mix of others from various places across the UK. I then wandered around the bridge, trying to find some of the rebels from my home city, and eventually found one at the well-being tent who put me on sunscreen duty – basically walking around the site and offering sunscreen to all the clusters of people involved in the occupation of the bridge. This was a beautiful job as it was an eerily hot day for April and many people had not thought to bring sun protection so they were very grateful to be offered sun cream. Everyone was so friendly and warm, really approachable and open. It felt so different from walking around busy streets in the city where I live. There was a real party atmosphere and I walked the length of the bridge several times, admiring the trees and plants installed by rebels, the banners and placards, the paintings on the bridge. There were speeches and performances by poets and musicians. It was like a festival, but with a purpose. I’m not really a festival-person, I find them triggering and difficult, but this was different because relaxing and enjoying myself wasn’t the purpose, being there was the important part, and any joy or fun was just an added bonus.
At about 3pm the police moved in. Hundreds of them forming a circle around the lorry which was blocking the bridge. At first it was disconcerting but I soon got used to their presence. No arrests were made for a really long time and it was unclear why they were there really – protecting our ‘right to peaceful protest’ perhaps? Rebels locked on under the lorry and the police began dismantling the camp – carrying away plants and trees and hay bales, taking down the tents and gazebos. Having heard the story of how the bridge was taken at my local XR group’s meeting the night before it was incredibly moving to be there as the police began taking back the bridge. Things started to get quite hectic – the Revolutionary Socialist Party (I think that was who it was) had a very loud speaker and there were a lot of impassioned and angry speeches and performances taking place whilst the police were starting to arrest the locked on rebels. The atmosphere was getting stressful for the rebels and someone asked if everyone could sit down and try and calm things down a little.
A woman led a meditation asking us to hold compassion for species who are going extinct, people we love, and people who are suffering, and I cried a lot during this. It all felt so raw and real, what is happening, what humanity is doing to our beautiful planet. And then myself and another rebel led some gentle singing to calm those who were locked on under the lorry because they were feeling very tense as they awaited arrest.
People gonna rise like water, change this system round, in the voice of my great-grandaughter, climate justice now.in the voice of my great-grandaughter, climate justice now.
We sang these words over and over again, gently, peacefully, with others joining in and adding harmonies at times too. It was beautiful, soothing, and incredibly powerful to be there, deescalating in the face of such tension as the police slowly released the locked on rebels and carried them away to the waiting police vans. I was filled with such reverence and awe for the arrestees willing to sacrifice their freedom for the future of humankind, for those who were there holding the space, providing well-being support, making food, co-ordinating the speeches, and everything else that was needed to make the arrests possible and ensure that knowledge of the XR demands was spread far and wide. And I was filled with such bittersweet love for the earth we live on and all who depend upon it.
As I walked to get my train it all felt so surreal, the occupied space that was so vibrant and full of love and heart energy suddenly seemed so small and irrelevant, even though when I was there it was so all-consuming. Evening sunshine, tourists filling the streets, stressed out car drivers and bicycles zigzagging through the crowds… all seemed so incongruous after what I had just been part of. It was hard to believe that there were still so many people who knew nothing of the rebellion, of what it was for and why, of the people working so hard to try and give them some sort of a future. There are still so many people who are not yet aware of the climate crisis or what it will mean for them. It has felt like that all week really – normal life seems so surreal and strange. It is like living in two parallel worlds – the truth, and the daily pretense that we can carry on as we are forever.
What has amazed me the most since Saturday is how peaceful and comfortable in my own skin I felt that day. It’s not a feeling I often have anyway, but especially not among crowds of people where I have nowhere safe to retreat to. Normally even on a busy train journey I need to take diazepam because I get triggered, but I didn’t take any at all that day (until I was home and my brain was buzzing from over-stimulation so I took it in order to sleep). I think this is testimony to XR’s focus on non-violence and deescalation, and the regenerative culture and emphasis on resilience and individual well-being that permeates all they do. Looking back, I can really see how present these things were at the site and how different this is from so many other mass mobilisations of people I’ve been involved in in the past. Their vision works. It keeps people calm, it soothes, it comforts, and it helps turn our fear and sense of isolation into love and connection and hope for something better, not a fairytale ending it’s true, but still hope that we will have a more peaceful transition into whatever is coming than the chaos and struggles we are currently headed for.
I became vegan in 2013 for three reasons – the animals, the planet, and my health. Over the past 6 years being vegan has become easier and easier and it has been comforting to watch the rise in people opting for a plant-based diet because they are concerned about the welfare of animals or have realised the massive contribution the meat and dairy industry is making to climate breakdown and biodiversity loss. It has also been nice to not be seen as ‘odd’ and ‘difficult’ when I am out with friends and work colleagues, because nearly every restaurant has a vegan option now and it is rare to find someone who doesn’t know what vegan means. However, something about the proliferation of mainstream vegan foods leaves me deeply troubled and it is something I have been thinking through over the past few months. It is easy to get excited when another huge business launches a vegan range, or a vegan alternative to a popular meat dish becomes available in the supermarket, but once that initial excitement has died down I am always left with the fact that for many veganism is an attempt to break free from the consumer culture which harms our planet so greatly, and that turning veganism into big business goes against these aspirations.
Most who decide to become vegan are not just making the decision to change their diet, they are also choosing to embrace a different way of life, one that respects animals and the planet and does not see humans as any more important than any other species. So being vegan is an ethical stance which opposes the human use of all animals for food, clothing or entertainment, and this involves not just eating differently but also making different choices around clothing, make up, beauty and cleaning products, which charities money is given to, which medications are taken and so on. Of course it is impossible to live under our capitalist system which has the exploitation of the natural world at its heart and not contribute to the ill-treatment of animals in any way; our food is transported by lorries which have animal fat in their tyres, the parent companies of ethical make up brands usually fund and take part in animal experiments, the vaccinations and medications we give our pet animals are tested on other animals, the supermarkets we buy our vegan products from are making money from animal abuse, and so on. However, as far as possible, living a vegan life involves making choices which do not involve the human use and abuse of animals.
Whilst I am hugely glad to see the number of people following plant-based diets increasing, and veganism becoming more mainstream, I am also concerned that big business is co-opting the vegan movement to further increase profit. Seeing McDonald’s launch a ‘vegan burger’ made me feel quite ill – the way the farms used by McDonalds treat animals, the amount of waste the corporation produces and the size of their carbon footprint, makes McDonalds the complete antithesis of everything veganism stands for. Buying a ‘vegan burger’ from McDonalds still means helping McDonalds to make a profit and thus enables them to continue exploiting the planet we depend upon for survival, directly harming animals in the process. I am similarly troubled by the amount of vegan convenience foods available now. Of course in essence the increasing availability of vegan foods is good because it encourages more people living busy lives to give up meat and dairy, something that is essential if we are to halt ecological breakdown and survive as a species, but they still enable the global capitalist system to become even more entrenched. Processed foods which require huge amounts of carbon to be produced are not really vegan, and foods that contain palm oil and thus involve the mass destruction of rainforests are not really vegan either. Much as it excites me that Oreos and Party Rings are ‘accidentally vegan’, eating these foods does not fit with my vegan vision of the how the planet should be. And whereas it was once hard to get hold of vegan foods so that much of the diet of vegan individuals involved minimally processed, home-prepared foods, veganism is now big business and vegan alternatives to many popular meals are now widely available and it is possible to be vegan and have an incredibly high carbon footprint with regards the food you eat.
And whilst veganism involves understanding our place within the planet’s ecosystems, one of the fundamental elements of patriarchal capitalism is the separation of humans from nature, and the desire to have control over the natural world. It is this which enables humans to treat animals with sadistic cruelty, often as a way to strengthen masculinity, and to drain the planet of resources so that whole ecosystems are being destroyed in the name of ‘progress’. Veganism is in direct contrast with this, and so it saddens me greatly that veganism is now being used as a way for massive corporations to increase their profits further. Although being vegan is far easier now, I often find myself nostalgic for the days when veganism was a way of eschewing capitalism also. And it makes me want to take veganism further in my own life. For me being vegan also means doing as little as possible which harms the natural world, because animal lives are lost directly and indirectly by the destruction of the environment in which they live. This means anything which has a huge impact on climate change and ecological breakdown – flying, the fast-fashion industry, single-use plastic, deforestation for palm oil plantations – are not really vegan either. For me part of being vegan is choosing not to fly, avoiding products with palm oil in even though they may be labelled vegan, buying second hand as far as possible, not buying drinks in plastic bottles, not buying overly processed foods or foods flown in from thousands of miles away. Our capitalist system is driving catastrophic climate and ecological breakdown, and therefore anything which strengthens the capitalist agenda and promotes profit over the well-being of people and planet are in direct opposition to veganism. It is this that makes me uncomfortable with the capitalist co-opting of veganism.
Ultimately, as I wrote about in my previous post, it is very difficult to live the kind of lifestyle that many of us would ideally live; we are all bound by this toxic system and I would rather individual people were seeing the wide array of vegan foods and moving away from the consumption of meat and dairy and other animal products because they are awake to the suffering inflicted on non-human animals. However, for me it is also important to be aware of what vegan really means, beyond dietary choices, and consider whether the foods I choose to consume are contributing to the destruction of wildlife and habitats in a less direct but equally as harmful way. It is my opinion that true veganism involves minimal exploitation of the natural world of which we are a part, and involves treading as gently as possible on the earth – clearly this is in direct opposition to capitalism and I do really struggle with the way big companies have jumped on the bandwagon of vegan ‘meat alternatives’ as I feel this undermines and subverts the vegan message.
This evening many people in the UK will have watched the David Attenborough documentary on climate change. Many will – hopefully – be shocked into awareness of just how dire our predicament is, others will still not quite take on board the reality – it is not that we have around 11 years to find ways to make things a bit better, we have 11 years to make drastic changes to the way we live, our economic and social systems, our priorities and communities, in order to survive as a species. And it will be survival; it won’t be ‘business as usual’ on a smaller scale than now, it won’t be a global capitalist system obsessed with growth and development but with sustainable solutions and powered by renewables instead of fossil fuels – we need to completely change the way we live and work in order to adapt to the growing climate and ecological crisis we are in in. It is system change or human extinction. This is the stark choice we are faced with.
Many who are waking up to the emergency we are in, or even just those who have a growing sense that ‘all is not as it should be’ when it comes to the environment, seem to feel an increasingly desperate determination to do more in their daily lives to reduce their carbon footprint and the amount of plastic they are using – carrying a reusable coffee cup around, buying less new clothes, choosing locally-grown organic foods, buying biodegradable cotton buds, turning off lights and not leaving devices on standby, driving less, recycling more. I have attempted to incorporate significant changes in the way I live for many years, for my own health and that of the planet, and have at times found it overwhelming, confusing, and, often, expensive. It is so hard to know what to do, which choices are better for the planet, whether it is better to buy organic tomatoes in a tetra-pak or non-organic ones in a tin, whether it is worth the extra expense of buying a bamboo toothbrush given how much plastic packaging our food comes in, whether organic produce packed in plastic is better than loose items that are non-organic, whether there is any point paying extra to buy shampoo in a recycled bottle when it is likely it will end up in the sea in Indonesia once I recycle it anyway.
Sometimes I find these choices paralysing. And other times I find the way I want to live so far removed from the way I am able to live that I just want to give up completely. I want the system to change so that we have more free time, more community, more love and connection with nature and each other, but I am also caught up in the same system that is killing us – lacking in time, lacking in money, too tired or busy to see my friends, forced to do and consume things I know are bad for the environment and unhealthy because the alternatives are too time-consuming and expensive. I would love to give up my car, buy all local foods and cook everything from scratch to reduce packaging waste, stop buying my daughter new clothes, and all the other things that would make a difference, but I am constrained by time and money and energy , and I have to enable my daughter and myself to live in this system and not be excluded, laughed at and judged. I feel like every day I make tough choices and compromises and I berate myself for not doing better – for sometimes buying soups in plastic containers instead of making my own, for getting my shopping delivered and therefore buying fruits and vegetables in loads of plastic instead of loose from the not-s0-local greengrocers, for buying my daughter a new top from H&M to wear when she goes out with her new friends, for buying ethical make-up and skin care products online that then arrive wrapped in excessive amounts of packaging, the list goes on.
I also battle every day with PTSD and dissociation, I am a solo parent, and I work full time in a demanding job. The pressures of daily life in the face of these three intersecting challenges are all-consuming at times, and I find living in our current patriarchal-capitalist system overwhelming and saddening. I find trips to the supermarket and town triggering when I am bombarded with choice and the extremity of our consumption-obsessed culture, as well as animal exploitation everywhere. I get tired out from spending my evenings after work taking my daughter to swimming training and I feel dissociated and overwhelmed after busy days and weeks where I have been interacting with lots of people at work, making meals, shopping, cooking, providing emotional support for my daughter. All of this leaves me depleted and struggling to live differently in a system that does not allow us space to breathe. And it leaves me needing to make choices that protect my emotional and mental health – driving to isolated places where I can get some much needed space from relational triggers, buying things that make my life easier, regular baths to ground and stabilise me. All these things feel necessary to survive living within our current system, but I know they are not helping the crisis we have found ourselves in.
More and more though, it is becoming hugely obvious that individual choices and actions cannot save us. In fact only 40% of the changes needed to avert climate and ecological catastrophe can be made by individuals – the rest need to come from government and corporations. We cannot recycle our way out of the plastic pollution crisis that is threatening biodiversity and poisoning the planet. And we cannot solve the crisis of global capitalism by choosing to consume differently, by buying tonnes of ‘ethical’ and ‘green’ and ‘recycled’ products that are transported hundreds of miles and will still end up in landfill in a few years time. In the face of the 4.65 trillion dollar fossil fuel industry we are powerless as individual consumers. And let’s not forget when we talk about the fossil fuel industry we are not just talking about energy consumption but the intricately linked and ever-growing plastic industry which is suffocating our planet – Coca Cola produce 200,000 plastic bottles every minute, Nestle produce 1.7m tonnes of plastic packaging annually, Unilever 610,000 tonnes, the list goes on. In the face of that the change needed seems insurmountable, and of course it is for individuals – we need the system to change, then individual changes will follow.
I know I will continue to choose and live differently, as best as I can, while living within this toxic system and trying to make the most of the time we have left. As I wrote in my previous post it is important to me that I lead by example as far as possible, and show another way of life, not based on mass consumption and exploitation of the earth, is possible. I am vegan and I don’t fly and I buy as little as possible. Not flying is a big deal in my career and will have profound implications for my ‘future’ career, and yet I know that this and being vegan are the only individual lifestyle choices that make a difference and it is important for me to stand by these choices (I am also vegan because I refuse to play a part in the exploitation of non-human animals, so even if this did nothing to reduce my carbon footprint it is still the way of life I would choose). And I will continue to try my hardest to recycle and make ethical and ‘green’ choices, but I am trying to release some of the guilt and pressure I feel for not always being ‘good enough’ because it is a ploy of neoliberal capitalism to put the responsibility for change firmly on the shoulders of individuals rather than governments and corporations. And I am trying to release some of the guilt and pressure I feel around my habits because it sometimes takes me away from my daughter and, if the predictions about what is ahead for us are accurate, I want to enjoy being with her and being able to keep her safe and happy as much as I possibly can while I still can, rather than spending my time beating myself up for being just another person struggling in this system created by humans but that is out of our control.
There is so much I want to write about on this blog already, so it is hard to know where to start. For the past two days I’ve been glued to my Twitter feed and instagram, watching the rebellion unfold in London and across the globe, wishing I was there and knowing I will be next time, when I’m not in the middle of a house move. I met with local members of XR on Monday to sing in my city in solidarity with those in the capital, but whilst I am feeling inspired and moved to tears by all the activists joining in love and peace for us to have some kind of future, I am also feeling deeply sad and fearful. As Jem Bendell’s opening speech made clear, our future climate is no longer under our control and we need to open up to the reality that change is coming whether we like it or not – governments now need to get planning for how to feed us and keep us safe for as long as possible.
I think for this first post I will provide an edited version of the post I wrote on the blog I write about my journey to heal from complex trauma and dissociation, as it gives some background to where I am currently with the climate crisis and where my efforts will be in the future. I’ve been in a dark place for the past two months but I can already see that joining with others and using my voice and my words will be the way I will help to make a difference during these difficult times for our planet. On Sunday I wrote the following, as an attempt to begin to work out what I will do with my life and how I will continue my healing journey as I integrate this new awareness about what is ahead for us. And I wanted to do this in a way that engaged with the scientific consensus and the research by human geographers, engineers, political theorists, sociologists and so on who have taken the science and started to work out what it means for us, as humans, in our lifetimes and that of our children. I am struggling greatly with how I continue to work on my own healing, how I will be able to feel better, whilst around me the world as we know it is being destroyed. Part of the purpose of this blog will be to help me find a way to do this whilst bringing light and joy to the lives of others and taking positive actions now that may help humanity in the future.
I don’t think the fact that we are experiencing dramatic climate change and alarming loss of biodiversity, or that we are killing ourselves and non-human life with pollutants and toxins, is open to dispute anymore (by anyone credible at least). It is clear that we are in the midst of catastrophe – the recent devastation caused by Cyclone Idai, unprecedented wildfires, floods in the US, loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rises, loss of habitats (including human ones), insect populations decreasing by 60%, intense heat waves, children dying of air pollution, plastics found inside people and non-human animals, news reports that a tonne of plastic waste is being dumped in the ocean every minute, the list goes on. The past 22 years have seen the hottest 21 years on record, globally, with the past four being the hottest yet. What scares me most is that all the ‘worst case scenarios’ predicted for 2020 in the 1990s are now coming true – things are at the very worst of the worst they were expected to be, worse even, and still the burning of fossil fuels and industrial agriculture continues. And climate change is non-linear, with tipping points and feedback loops and a huge number of unknowns that could accelerate the warming to the point that the earth is uninhabitable by the end of the century. Whilst some of this is common knowledge, what is less commonly acknowledged is that climate breakdown and ecological collapse threaten our existence; we are in the sixth mass extinction and this isn’t just ‘a pity’ for the species involved – the ecosystems we are dependent upon for food and survival are dying, and with them – so will we. Our current way of life, unbridled neo-liberalism and free market competition, the constant quest for “growth” and “development,” are threatening our existence and yet the powerful elite do not care as long as their riches are protected. As David Attenborough said recently, ‘we are in terrible, terrible trouble’ and ‘time is running out’ – the patriarchal, capitalist separation of humans from nature, of our existence from that of ‘the environment,’ has masked this threat. We talk about ‘saving the environment’ without realising we are the environment and it is ourselves we need to save.
Climate change has been on my radar since I was a little girl. From the age of 9 or 10 I would lie awake at night worrying about “the state of the world” and I was really passionate and outspoken about environmental issues, telling my family and anyone who would listen that there was nothing more important to worry about, no point fighting for justice for humans if we had no planet to live on. And lately it’s really hit home to me that climate change and ecological breakdown is not just an environmental issue, it’s a human rights issue, it’s an issue of justice – those who have contributed least to the catastrophe are already paying the highest price, and the most vulnerable in our societies also, those with the least resources and support, will be hit hardest when the crisis accelerates (at the beginning at least). Having been vegetarian since I was 6 or 7, I went vegan in 2013 because I realised that we had no hope of reducing climate change without eliminating the meat and dairy industry. (Of course I care about animal welfare hugely too, in fact I see us as no more important than any other species which is why, probably, I find the likelihood of human extinction easier to contemplate than others do – we are not special and if other species can go extinct, so can we). The winter of 2013/14 was especially stormy and wet and unpredictable – it was frightening and I spent much time with my two best friends at the time talking about climate change, and about the skills we would need to help us in the turbulent times ahead. It’s come up in psychotherapy quite a lot, along with fears and anger and frustration over our consumerist culture and over-consumption and how it is destroying our quality of life and the planet, but for the past few years I’ve been taking time to heal myself and my concerns for Mother Earth have been sidelined (though my work is still on related issues of justice so it’s not that I ever stopped caring).
The UK heatwave in February and the first round of youth strikes for climate on February 15th triggered me hugely and led to a lot of worry about what climate change and ecological breakdown would mean for us and the creatures dependent on the earth for their survival. It was at this time I really came to understand just how serious the crisis is, and that it’s not a future problem or a problem for people far away, it is a threat to our way of life and our existence right here, right now. My daughter, Nina, and I went on the youth strike for climate on March 15th and after this, rather than feeling hopeful and inspired, I felt utterly defeated and isolated – it all felt so real, seeing thousands of young people fighting to have a future, and yet the strikes just felt as though they were much too little and much too late. For a long time I’d written off my anxiety over climate change as part of my PTSD, pathological in nature, and something that I needed to deal with by staying present and focusing on my own life and security. That evening I googled ‘anxiety over climate change’ and found absolutely loads of resources to help people dealing with their fears and grief over the breakdown of the environment and the implications it will have for human life. Whilst it was a relief to know I wasn’t alone in my fears, it suddenly made the whole issue even more real. It turns out people are going into therapy to deal with fears and grief over the ecological breakdown, and it is known that climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’ (this is how the military refer to it, stating that it increases stress on water, food, and energy systems, that can then increase the likelihood of conflict – domestically and internationally) so whilst the effects of climate change are causing depression and anxiety, and PTSD for people already directly affected by climate disasters, the stress of climate change awareness also intensifies existing mental and emotional health problems.
I’ve been confused and lost for many weeks now, reading reports and journal articles and absorbing myself in the science, the academic research that has grown out of this science, what the activist movements say and, whilst there are different interpretations of what we should do based on the scientific knowledge we have, there is consensus that we are in a dire predicament. And I think, basically, I am starting to come to the acceptance that it is probably too late to avert climate catastrophe, and that with food scarcity in the Northern Hemisphere (another two summers like the last one we had here where grain production dropped by around 30-40%, and we are in extreme trouble from a food production perspective) and drought and famine in the Southern Hemisphere, will come mass migration, wars over resources, and probably societal collapse. The World Bank reported in 2018 that countries needed to prepare for over 100 million internally displaced people, here in the UK due to rising sea levels as well as further afield, due to the effects of climate change, and this is not including millions of international refugees.
And so the question for me now is how do I move forward with this knowledge in a way that is meaningful but does not involve getting lost in denial (which includes most types of activism and a lot of lifestyle politics – apparently going vegan and not flying are the only two things that really make a difference, the rest of the changes needed are all things that can only be implemented by world leaders, and I’m already committed to these two things). I don’t have the answer to this question but it is something I have begun to talk about with my therapist. I don’t want to fall into depression over this because, as my very wise daughter said, if we worry about it all the time now then it may as well be really bad already. It is more important than ever to stay present and enjoy the safety and security and peace we have now, because things are likely to change drastically sooner than we ever expected. I also don’t want to lose sight of the healing I need. In fact it becomes more important than ever that I become as strong and resilient as possible, and am able to build relationships and community, in light of what is ahead. This is something I struggle with – I want to reach out and find new people who are also awake to this, but relational trauma makes this so very hard. I am scared I won’t be accepted in new communities, even though logically I can see that the types of people aware and fighting for climate justice are likely to be kind and open-hearted.
Despite all the unknowns, what is clear is that change is coming – either this will be an end to global capitalism and neo-liberalism and humans will once again seek out deep and meaningful relationships with each other and the natural world of which we are a part, or it will be societal collapse, catastrophe, mass starvation, and possible extinction. At times it feels like I am lost in a horror story, a nightmare of humanity’s own making. It doesn’t feel possible that we have a fight for survival on our hands in our lifetime. The youth climate strike last week felt so surreal – how could I be there protesting to get government to take action to save humanity, to enable my daughter to have a future? How is that necessary? The science is clear now so how are we needing to protest this stuff? It is infuriating and absolutely heart-breaking that corporations are allowed to destroy the planet and the ecosystems we depend upon and we are powerless to do anything. How is this happening? How is it being allowed to happen? How has the wealth of the elite few been allowed to threaten the future of the whole planet and all who live upon it? And what was even more scary were the looks of confusion and bewilderment from passers by, who have no idea of the ecological crisis or what it will mean for them. I’m not completely sure where I will go with my activism now, but I know I want it to be in line with the deep adaptation agenda and that I want to get active and sing a lot whilst raising awareness of the crisis with XR, whose members mostly believe it is too late to avert climate catastrophe but that, if we take drastic action and change the system, we will be able to mitigate some of the worst impacts and possibly prevent near-time mass starvation and possible human extinction. I definitely know that part of my work now will be to raise awareness and focus on getting governments and the media to tell the truth about this crisis. It feels utterly abhorrent to me that as a species we are facing a catastrophe of this magnitude, that humanity is under existential threat, and yet the vast majority of people know nothing about it because it is not on the news or talked about in Parliament. People have a right to know, they need to know, so they can choose how best to spend the time we have left and start to give up the things we cannot carry with us as civilization changes, either by choice and action or by us destroying our home to the point where it can no longer sustain life as we know it.
The only thing that really seems clear and certain is that we don’t know what will happen, there are too many variables, too many unknowns – it is bad and it will get far, far worse, but we don’t know exactly when or how. Sitting with uncertainty is hard. It is something humans are bad at generally and for those of us who grew up in abusive and unpredictable environments it can be especially hard. No one knows what is going to happen or what the best thing to do now is. Should we continue to fight or just enjoy the time we have left, making sure we express gratitude for our comfortable existence whilst thousands are already dying and starving due to climate change? Ultimately, the past few weeks have led me to confront my own mortality, which is something we must all do at some point of course, but beyond that it has forced me to confront my own vulnerability, and the fact that I may not live till old age or be able to protect my daughter from what is ahead. We all live with the vague and uncomfortable awareness that we could get injured or ill or have our life cut short in some way, or suffer a loss we find it hard to recover from, but we have no experience as a species of living through a period when our time on this planet may be coming to an end. It is hard to know what to do. If some of the predictions are correct and there will be a societal collapse within a decade then fuck it, fuck debt, I’m going to rinse loads of credit cards and have a lot of fun with Nina (without flying of course). But if things just get progressively worse and the cost of food rises astronomically due to shortages then having debts will add to my stress, and ultimately could stop me being able to afford to feed us both. So it seems wise to be cautious, whilst at the same time knowing it is impossible to prepare for what may come and that there will be no point being angry with myself in the future for making the wrong choices now.
I do know that however hard things get financially my therapy will be a priority for as long as possible, even though it does prevent me getting out of debt and saving for the future. I know sometimes I get frustrated that it takes so much of my salary, that it means less money for fun stuff, but ultimately it is what will help me cope with what is ahead and will help me build the relationships I need to support me in the dark times ahead. And I also know I want to continue to heal and let go of some of the guilt that I could find joy and peace and contentment in my heart whilst our beautiful earth is dying. I know I want to make the most of every precious minute with those I love. I know that spending as much time as I can with my friends who don’t live nearby whilst train travel is still possible is hugely important. I know I want to avoid town and supermarkets because I get triggered by consumer culture. And I know I want to spend as much time as I can in places that are still wild and relatively undisturbed, remembering how beautiful the earth is and how deeply connected to it we all are. And I know it is important to me to live in a way that aligns with my values even if they will not, by themselves, enable humanity to avoid what seems to be coming – avoiding plastic, eating locally-sourced food, reducing waste, reusing as much as I can, buying second hand clothes and other things, not allowing Nina to become absorbed in fast fashion, not flying or driving unnecessarily. And it is important to keep in mind that even if these things don’t help the bigger picture, they are part of me living the best life I can, whilst at the same time accepting I have to be part of this capitalist, patriarchal society – I have to ‘make a living,’ I have to let Nina have new things so she is not bullied at school, the pressures of our society that I resent still constrain me and do not allow me the time I wish I had to live in a way that further minimises my impact upon the Earth. I cannot escape the things that are destroying our planet, however much I wish I could.
When I think about what I want to prioritise in the months ahead, it is clear that they are things I would want to be doing to heal anyway – yoga, meditation, wild places, cycling, time with people I am close to, saying no to things I don’t really want to do, living gently and recognising what is important to me. I want to lead by example, like I do with veganism, and show a different way of life not based on mass consumption and exploitation of the earth’s resources and creatures is possible. Maybe we will not move away from global capitalism as a society until it is too late,, but at least I will have shown it is possible to live and not be consumed by material possessions and the constant quest to buy “the next big thing”. I want to live a gentle life – in many ways the type of life that is necessary for someone healing from developmental trauma is the type of life needed to heal Mother Earth also. In some ways this new level of awareness has helped me shift my reactions and occasional resentment around ‘my busy life’ – I want to gift Nina her joy of swimming for as long as possible, I want to see her glowing face when I collect her after training and she talks excitedly about swimming techniques I know nothing about, I want her to feel strong and secure as we face the unknown together. And I want to find a better balance with my work, work which is important but not enough to save us from what is ahead. I want to keep work in perspective, something which is important to do anyway of course, but the need for this feels even more pressing now. I want to get out of debt as soon as I can at the same time as still enjoying life now. I want to take action but not let it consume me or stop me absorbing and grieving the reality, which is that planet earth is dying, and we are running out of time.