The trouble with the sort of news we have today is that it loses its shock value very quickly. Raging fires from Scandinavia to South America have hit the headlines in recent weeks – but notice how quickly they go off screen when another bit of news comes along. It ought to be different this year. The widely spread wildfires are a wake-up call if ever there was one. Loss of life, injury, loss of property are all on a truly worrying scale. We don’t seem to mind if they’re not in our back yard.
Singapore is a long way from Texas but it is very near Indonesia. As soon as the fires start to burn there we will mind, too. Thank goodness the Indonesian authorities have been working on the situation for the last few years and we have not recently had a bad case of what is euphemistically called ‘haze’. Our backyard has been relatively smoke free. We are grateful for that.
It’s time we recognised that in an overpopulated world, with access to easy and cheap travel, everywhere is our backyard. Even if, like the President of the United States, you ignore the demands of the collegiality of humankind, widespread burning is doing more damage to the climate than increasing motor vehicle ownership. It is an irony that humans struggling to reduce pollution find nature herself, triggered by our earlier profligacy, creating even more.
It is short-term versus long-term and in the sort of democratic system much of the world has, the long term isn’t far ahead. In the 1960s British Prime Minister Harold Wilson said “A week is a long time in politics”. He might change that to “A day…” if he were repeating it now. Everything is moving fast and what appeared to be a slow process of climate change seems to be one of increasing speed. From melting Arctic ice to 130 fires burning across America the evidence is there.
What are the disciplines we must adopt to help redress the damage we have done to the climate?
First, we must moderate everything we do. Excess has become the pleasure of choice, whether excessive eating and drinking, excessive travel or excessive communication via our mobile phones. Excessive consumption is all around us. Growth is the engine of capitalism and to maintain it we must, we think, persuade people to indulge, excessively. They don’t take much persuading. But excessive indulgence requires more rain forest to be cut down, more vehicles to be on the roads, more buildings to be constructed and, above all, more rubbish to be disposed of.
Now we see the damage we are doing to our oceans, cluttered up with plastic only a century after the product was invented. That’s your plastic and mine, not somebody else’s. When we burn our rubbish we created even more pollution in the atmosphere, further damaging the climate. Our healthcare systems are cluttered up too. Some of the cause is the desirable longer, healthier lives many are leading; a lot is caused by the unhealthy way most people live. Is it their right to do so? Not if it destroys the planet for my great grandchildren, is my view.
How then should we moderate our consumption, curb our excesses, cosset our climate?
Interpret what moderation means for each of us. Printing less now that we have the cloud to store data and easy retrieval to get it back. Eat and drink well, but eat and drink moderately. The healthy eating habits of my grandparents were based on the proposition ‘stop while you still feel just a little bit hungry’. It works wonders for the digestion. Avoid unnecessary travel. We can all communicate 24/7 with the rest of the world from our homes now. Nice to travel a little but excess unwelcome.
Moderation is a hard word for many people. It smacks of deprivation, something of which 20% of the world is very well aware but 80% simply don’t understand. Moderation should be part of our daily vocabulary. After all, we would like our heirs to think ‘moderately’ well of us, wouldn’t we?
We have the fire extinguisher in our hands.
May we use it wisely, for all our sakes.