Last Friday, as hundreds of thousands of kids stayed away from school to protest the inaction of the world’s politicians on tackling the imminent crisis of global climate breakdown, there were headlines that Greta Thunberg, the girl who inspired all those students, and a heap of adults into the bargain, was nominated to receive this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
I believe, however, that the Nobel committee should not award her the prize.
I am not saying she does not deserve a Nobel Prize
But she should not get it now.
And I think she’d agree. Because Greta Thunberg doesn’t want a Nobel Peace Prize.
I will say straight off that I’ve never spoken to Greta Thunberg. I have no inside knowledge of her thoughts, hopes dreams or opinions.
But I think that if she ever reads this she’ll agree, at least with most of what I’m about to say.
She doesn’t want the Nobel Prize.
She wants climate action.
She is not sitting in the cold and rain of Stockholm every Friday dreaming of an accolade.
She didn’t decide to make her life harder and studies more difficult by staying out of school on Fridays but keeping up with her work by knuckling down on Saturdays instead because she thought it might get her some international fame and everyone would hail her as the salvation of, if not mankind, and the rest of the extant species on this planet, then at least our civilisation, as far as it’s worth saving.
She is doing all this to ensure she has a future.
That we all have a future.
A million dollars might be a nice thing to have to in your back pocket. It could help her go to Harvard or some other stupidly expensive college in countries where there is no free education – though I suspect very college on the planet will he happy to have Greta enrol, free of charge.
But even were she to keep it in her back pocket – and I’ve serious doubts about that – a million bucks is fuck all use in a world that has been shat upon by climate breakdown.
It’s hard to imagine what million dollars might buy to ensure survival in a world devastated by climate breakdown because we don’t know how that’s going to turn out. Perhaps she could buy farms in her native country and grow grapes, if anyone could afford wine, or perhaps melt water from Greenland will block the Gulf stream and Scandinavia will be as bad as Labrador is now for viniculture.
Nobody knows what’s in store.
We only know it would be different to how things are now.
But I digress.
Greta, and everyone following her example is hoping we have the same world we have now, complete with school exams, universities, functioning farms and forests to visit on the weekend.
None of this is certain, however, for the simple reason that our politicians are too busy sucking up to those so rich that they’ve already bought farmland in several northern countries, have already secured a clean water supply for their children and grandkids, and are ready to reap more money from our collective destruction that they’ve not done what they signed up to do – work for our collective good.
And until it is certain, this future we dream of nowadays where we get to live just like our parents did, living to retirement age, enjoying a few years of sitting in the garden, watching the flowers grow and the bees visit them, then Greta isn’t going to be satisfied with any accolade you could award her.
When she has done what she has sent out to do: ensured that her government and other governments do what they need to do, have promised to do – secure our collective survival – then I’m sure she will gladly accept the Prize.
Until then, it’s just a distraction, and, to be honest, it feels like a ploy, a bribe, a pat on the head and a “go along with you now and play, Greta, but well done for the effort, and sure we’ll look after things from here.”
Or am I wrong?
You know when you have that day that you just don’t want to work?
Okay, who the hell ever wants to work, right?
But really, when you just can’t motivate yourself to tackle the pile of stuff you have waiting to be attended to. Even though you’re sitting right there in the office, staring at it, with no other option than to sit there staring at it for the next few hours.
I’ve been feeling like that the last few days.
I can’t concentrate. Work (English and science classes, and the piles of paperwork that go with being a teacher in Spain) is just a sword of Damocles hanging over my head that I am wilfully ignoring.
Oh, I got to classes, talk to the kids, but I turn up and ask them what we were doing in the last class, or I rely on my colleagues to tell me what we are doing in our shared conversation classes, and get some kid to do the photocopies while I fill time.
Though the filling time I do is not just filling time.
I have been talking to my students about the Global Student Climate Strikes that are planned for tomorrow. I ask them if they’ve heard about #FridaysforFuture, about Greta Thunberg, about the student protests that have been happening across Europe in the last few months.
Most of them hadn’t heard of it.
I try to get them interested in it, get them to understand the stakes, the reasons they should join in.
Because I really think they should.
Because I can’t.
And that last sentence is a kind of lie.
But for years I’ve been following the climate change problem grow, like so many others, with a sense of foreboding, of frustration and helplessness/hopelessness that threatens to overwhelm.
And at the back of my mind here has been for a long time the suggestion that I should do something about it. Me. Get out and shout and scream and smash some faces in.
I was going to say smash windows, but I know that would be stupid. That kind of protest has the wrong effect. And I am not a smashing windows kind of guy.
But there are some faces that deserve to be punched.
We know who they are.
Those people who deserve to have their lives impacted by our anger, because our lives and the future of our children’s lives are impacted by their greed, their avarice, or their incompetence.
We all know that our world is being fucked over by a tiny number of individuals who could be overthrown if only we could find the collective gumption to do so.
I’m not a face-smashing kind of guy either.
I don’t know if it’s that I don’t like hurting people, even if they deserve it, or I’m worried that I’ll get my own face smashed back in return. But something prevents me from taking the extreme action that increasingly seems necessary to get any movement on this issue.
I’ve spent years teaching students about climate change, from back when it was called global warming. It’s just one of the things a biology teacher explains.
When I teach volcanoes there aren’t many examples to use. Mount Saint Helens, Hawaii. We still talk about Krakatoa.
Not with climate change.
Every time it comes up in the curriculum I have a new example to use to drive it home to students. Heat wave after hurricane, forest fires after floods after ice sheet breaking off….
Every year, I have to tell my students that nothing is getting done. That we aren’t doing what we did with the Ozone Hole and CFCs.
And I still tell them that.
But now, at least I can tell them to do something. That what I can’t do because of my stupid fears and worries about what people will think if I do stand outside a parliament and hold a sign, or stand up in a parliament and shout at the stupid politicians for their having their noses up the arse of multinationals and vulture funds and fears of being arrested and having my bosses decide I’m not trustworthy enough to be in charge of minors, is right now being done by a young girl in Sweden, who doesn’t give a monkeys what the politicians, or hardly anyone else for that matter, might think about her, and the thousands of other children following her example across Europe.
Standing up and shouting bullshit. Like other kids in other countries for other reasons before them.
And I got some kids to listen. I got one to petition the school to get permission to strike tomorrow. I helped him a little – but just a little, because I can’t pretend this is my fight: I already failed to fight, to put my fists up, to roll up my sleeves, dammit – and he got the school behind him.
But the principal says he, nor any student, can have permission to strike because the strike is nothing to do with Education. Apparently in Spain you can strike if the government wants to change the law to take your PE class away, but not if the government wants to piss away your entire future.
I hope some of our kids do strike.
I hope the teachers and the administration of the school see the news tomorrow.
I hope to hell the news shows the strikes – the media aren’t too much into this, apart from doing their bit to get some face time with Greta.
And I hope next Friday more just walk out.
Because they don’t need permission from anyone to fight for their future.
But they’re not looking for it.
We already failed them.
We can now only make amends.
Where Should I Plant this Sapling?
They say a man plants
A tree, not for himself, but
For his descendants. Well,
I agree, and have seen
The benefits of a mulberry
Planted by a man I never met,
More than a century past.
As the sentinel starts to sag
I’ve saved a sapling from
Between its roots and would
Take the next step for my
Generation before it falls.
But where would it prosper?
I fear the weather
Will not favour the same spot
As its forefather for much longer
Than half its lifetime,
And ere it gives fullest fruits
Will stand in different clime.
So, where should I plant this sapling
In a changing world?
Where its roots can anchor the eroding soil
As farmers harvest down to the last?
On a slope so the children of this village
Can reach the lower limbs
To stain fingers and lips on
Summer afternoons, should
Any remain after rains have
Deserted the landscape?
In a ditch to take some advantage
Of rich dampness as the rest
Of fields blister in the sun?
Or on a high knoll to stay dry
While surrounding ground soaks
Under incessant thunderstorms,
Turning this aridness instead wet?
It seems a bet to hedge;
I should plant a score
From hill to shore.
I’m teaching Climate Change in my first-year classes at the moment.
No matter what the topic, I always like to use examples to make things clearer to the kids – references to things in their own lives. I often refer to TV programs, movies, songs.
However, some of my references are dated – movies made before they were born, which, while classics, haven’t always been seen. In my English SL class last week, when describing the meaning of “a the height of one’s career,” I used a TV presenter, who first shot to prominence on the Spanish equivalent of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The show was called 50 for 15, referring to 50Million Pesetas – a currency that disappeared when the kids were toddlers.
But teaching Climate Change, I was struck by the fact that I don’t have to reach back very far to come up with an example of what I mean when I talk about the changes that are happening/ could happen in the future.
For example, California – it was burning a few weeks ago; latest news out of there is a terrible mudslide. Opposite types of natural disasters in a short timeframe.
Even here in this very city, though, the oscillations are becoming ever more obvious. And rapid.
I described how Spain was experiencing a drought late last year. Reservoirs were down to 10 or 20%. On the 3rd of January, I was in a jeans and a sweater, enjoying the sunshine. I was sent a video of a snake the same week.
This poor frog was squashed by a car just outside the village that night – what the hell was a frog doing out on Jan 3?
On the 5th, it started raining, then snowing.
I posted this photo on my facebook page, joking how I’d always wanted a garden with a little river flowing through it.
It was gushing out of the gully under the rocks you can see behind the fence in this photo.
And some of it was filling the groundwater so much that I’d springs popping up in the grass.
This looks like a cowpat, but it’s actually mud pushed out of the ground by the water flow.
Pamplona was covered in snow.
The aqueduct of Noain outside Pamplona.
The reservoirs refilled past 50% in a few days.
And now it’s mild again.
So the kids get it. They understand Climate Breakdown. They can hardly not when it is staring us in the face like the barrel of a shotgun.
Question is, what can they do about it?
Because the previous generation who knew about it haven’t been able to do very much, yet.
I just signed this pledge, to reduce the amount of meat I eat.
The organisers seem to be mostly concerned about the slaughter of so many animals to feed us gluttons.
It’s true, that 56 billion animals are treated fairly shittily every year. But that’s not quite my main motivation…
I want to reduce global climate change impacts.
I watched this video from the satirical character, Jonathon Pie, the other day, about how people are upset that the British Govt don’t think animals are sentient, when of course everyone loves their dogs so much they dress them up in shiny winter jackets nowadays. He was taking the piss because most of the same people don’t give a toss about the environment or wildlife.
And he’s right.
But hey, if people stop eating meat because they can’t stomach the idea of a cute little piggy getting stuck with a knife and hearing that death squeal, well, that’s all to the good.
At this stage of the game, motivation does not matter. Only the end result.
Just like making petrol very expensive in Europe makes the emissions here not quite so fucking outlandish as in America.
So in order to save the planet’s bacon, as it were, we need to reduce meat consumption, and we can either make it expensive – like cigarettes- and/or make it unpalatable – also like cigarettes.
So how do we do the latter?
We put labels on meat that explicitly say, “Did you know that this pig (photo of cute pig) went through this (photo of bloody gutted corpse) to make this tasty ham?”
Perhaps followed by the sentence – “If you are okway with this, then go right ahead and enjoy the tasty meat…”
This will put off quite a few people.
Myself excluded, of course. I always have the actual animal in mind when I’m eating them. I’ve seen dead animals, seen animals die, had a hand in that death myself. That doesn’t make me a bad person, it just makes me a realist. It’s the folk who haven’t seen, and worse, don’t want to see, or even think about, the death that went before the packaging and purchase, who are the problem here.
It is not often their fault, though – the supermarkets and food companies have purposefully separated the nastiness from the tastiness. Who sees the butcher at work in their supermarket?
In Spain, you can still see dead rabbits, fur on, in the butcher’s counter, along with pig heads, baby pigs, chickens hanging with heads and legs on. That’s the way it should be.
But that doesn’t mean we aren’t fed a pile of shite at the same time.
This advert is running on Spanish TV at the moment. Watch it. It’s 20 seconds.
I have eaten this ham. It’s nice enough. But eff me, what the hell is that ad all about?
There’s not even a shot of the farm, never mind the pig.
Associating a cooked ham with strawberries, or mother’s milk is far from fucking natural, folks, let’s just make that clear.
Natural is seeing the animal on the farm. Natural is seeing it being butchered.
If you don’t want to see the latter, then no problem – just stay away from meat.
And we’ll all be happy – except the food companies.
The cranes started passing over Pamplona yesterday evening.
They were chased by the rain that came in overnight. The first in weeks.
Autumn has thus officially started.
And hopefully also this means the end of the fire season for this year.
While Ireland braced for an almost unheard of hurricane in the North Atlantic, in northern Spain and Portugal, forest fires were killing even more people than Ophelia killed.
There were dozens burning over the weekend and until Tuesday, when the rains helped to finally extinguish them.
Unlike hurricanes, though, which are terrible, and indirectly related to man’s activities, these forest fires were only wild in the sense of the untamed destruction they could wreak. They were not natural. They were man made, purposefully started, and repeatedly so.
After so many deaths, there are now questions being asked of politicians as to how these arsonists can be stopped. Spanish news has little else, other that the Catalan situation – politics and fraud, even football has been put in the background by the terrible scenes of people trying to escape burning villages only having to turn back as the roads are flanked with flames, and others park inside a motorway tunnel to wait rescue, or let the fires pass overhead.
Because these fires have been a part of summer in places like Galicia for years. As soon as the weather dries, huge tracts of forests go up there. All directly caused by humans and usually set intentionally, with a few the result of stupidity and neglect.
The people of Portugal are naturally outraged, after a summer of huge fires has been followed by an autumn death toll almost as terrible, with dozens of people claimed by the flames.
The perpetrators must be caught and jailed for their murders, but also, the politicians and police, if it is the case, must be held responsible for letting this situation get to this state. Why have these people not been caught for their previous fires? – because there’s no way these conflagrations were started by first-time arsonists.
Why do people go out of their way to set fires, driving along highways in the middle of the night with fireworks tied to helium balloons?
It’s clear they have nothing better to do, and they’re assholes of the highest calibre, but there must be some other, external, motivation for most of the fires. What is it? Why has it not been identified years ago and why has it not been removed?
There are forests that could burn just as badly and even more easily in other parts of Spain, so why are there not so many fires elsewhere? Galicia has 40% of all fires in the country, and half the area burnt every year for the last decade.
Surely the arsonists are spread out in a broader swath across the country. Or is there something about the mind-set of Galicians that makes them excessively prone to arson?
The gorse fires and heather fires we have seen in Ireland in recent years were all set intentionally for financial gain – the current agricultural subsidy system means that farmers make more money if there land is considered in use, even if it’s not.
Ultimately, stopping them will require a change in the EU farming subsidy system to allow land go fallow without farmers losing money.
Is there a financial motivation in Galicia and Portugal for setting huge fires?
According to Ecologists in Action, this is only the cause of a small proportion of the fires set.
What other factors are in play?
The use of fire for farming practices is permitted much more freely than elsewhere.
In most of Spain it is not permitted to light fires in camping and picnic areas and other recreational areas during times of fire risk. Not so in Galicia.
Vehicles are also allowed onto forest paths in Galicia during the summer, which is prohibited elsewhere.
AND they allow fireworks in village festivals during the summer, which is just asking for trouble.
But as I said, the summer is over.
The cranes, luckily, don’t stay long in Spain during their migration.
When they passed before on their way north I wrote this poem. Hopefully it will ease the depression of these fires. Watching the birds certainly lifts the spirit.
The Great Migration
I’ve not yet seen the Serengeti,
Nor the caribou upon the artic plains
But up above my house in the hills,
I’ve been privileged to witness
The cranes migrating, calling
Eyes aloft to observe their long
Strings streaked across the sky
Huge wing beats by the thousands,
And can’t but wonder where
Those numbers bide in other times,
(Amazed such spaces yet exist)
And where they will find abode
In other climes.
It’s an important day in the US, and for all of us, given the way the world is heating up.
I know it’s a bad idea to dis the President if you want to get into the country, but for the secret service dudes reading this, please understand, this is an exception…
So here’s hoping it’s a happy holiday for us all, and we can see some people who went to see the musical Hamilton paid attention, and we can stop thinking about how bad things are going to be in the New Year, but instead have some hope. Here’s a couple of poems to mark the occasion.
The Clown Fools Us All
Remember when we thought this guy was a joke?
And now it seems so serious; yet still,
Even at this late stage, he could
Be red flagging us:
Showing us he’s seriously taking the piss,
Waiting for us to see it for what it is,
And pull the plug.
Remember when we used to say:
“Jays, we were blest with the weather today,”
As if we’d got lucky, and we didn’t worry,
Nor wonder what was coming?
Praying for an Early Spring
Sitting in shirt sleeves
This late January afternoon,
Lettuce sprouts in greenhouse,
Bumblebees in almond blooms;
Annuals keep flowering and
Geraniums haven’t faded.
Newts and salamanders swim in pools
Wondering, too, if it isn’t too soon
Despite the lack of ice and instead
Should still slumber.
And though we’d love to see some snow,
It would be safer to let winter go
Unannounced, unpronounced, this year,
For fear it will freeze the very things
That would bring life to the spring.
This photo is from the week before, but one snowfall does not a winter make: the geraniums are still as colourful, the snow melted mostly that day, the sunny sky remained. The lettuces were fine; there are cheap strawberries in the supermarkets already. Unfortunately my phone camera didn’t work when I was trying to take a snap of the almond blossoms or the amphibians…
I’ve been pondering the future over the Christmas and New Year, mostly spurred by reading that as we go into a new year we can look forward to seeing some more wildlife in some places in Europe, but others are disappearing. In light of the recent Greek election and the rise of a new political party here in Spain which seems likely to take away power from the current entrenched and corrupt parties, I wonder what the future will look like. Since I just hit 100 posts on the blog, too, I thought today a good day to splatter you with my not-very-logical array of thoughts!
We are a very strange species, us humans: we have the ability to ponder and understand the past and future, which is, as currently demonstrable, pretty uncommon in the animal world. We think about the future and our past so much that we often seem incapable of enjoying, or even appreciating, the present. Yet at the same time, we consider the future only in the context of our current situation, and seem incapable of avoiding the oncoming train of change.
This Christmas, people in Europe looked back at a moment 100 years ago when men showed their common humanity. Right now after the attacks in France, politicians are falling over themselves to declare our unity against a common enemy. Yet we are stuck in the same paradigm – our politicians can’t get past the supposedly separate destinies of each different European country. They’re kicking out emigrants now, if they don’t have a job, sending them back to their home countries despite our purported freedom of travel and working. When they wanted to create the common market, they sold us citizens a stream of shit that we’d all be equal. When I moved from Ireland to Spain I was able to collect unemployment benefit until I found a job a few weeks after arriving. That’s suddenly something they want to stop doing now, though. Imagine New York kicking out Iowans because they lost their job? Ironically, if it were a real union, then there would only be migration for cultural or personal reasons, because policies would be applied across the union and people would have equal opportunity in their own land. The citizens who upped sticks and went to a land with a different language are the ones who invested in this union, and to treat them so badly now shows that it is all a facade.
Looking at the past seems easier than looking forward, or even around us. We follow constitutions people wrote thirty or eighty or two hundred years ago (depending if you’re in Spain, Ireland or the US) without considering their authors wouldn’t have a clue about our modern world – and would have a thing or two to say to us on that score, into the bargain, because I’m sure our world doesn’t conform to their expectations of the future.
Many of us follow the teachings of a man who was alive two thousand years ago – but do we look two thousand years ahead? Or two hundred? Or eighty? Or thirty?
No; we seem locked into the idea that all will be well. 350 years after that man died, everyone presumed that the Roman Empire would continue forever, and all was well, but the dark ages came.
Are we prepared for our dark ages? We know it’s entirely possible, but seem to be incapable of getting out of the way of it – blinking at the light like deer and about to be run over by it.
We would like our lives to be the same in the future (more or less: not all of us live in luxury of course). We like the way we live, we like our houses. After storms we reconstruct. But we have to realize that reconstruction is not going to be an option for too much longer if we don’t change other things. We won’t be driving cars in eighty years unless we stop using all the oil.
Staying somewhat the same will require an effort – and in some cases a change in how we do things.
I always remember my trip to Niagara Falls when I lived in America. I learned that during the day only half the water from the river goes over the falls: the rest is diverted. At night, just a third goes over. Not only does this produce electricity when the water is sent through the turbines rather than over the cliff, but it ensures that Niagara Falls stays in one place – right there, where they’ve built the town around it. If all the water went over the falls, it would erode it back towards the lake, and then the nice viewing platforms and lighting arrangements would have to be moved, too. People want to keep the cascade where it is, and they make sure it stays there.
Yet we want (or at least should) the temperature of the planet to stay the same, so we can remain living in the same places we are accustomed to, where the climate is just right for us. Moving would be a much greater effort than changing the way we do things so we can stay.
Unfortunately, not all of us can probably stay in the same houses because of the change that already faces us. But we have to find them somewhere else to stay, and that might mean allowing them into our areas where we think there are already too man people. Like the European immigration problem, though, the only way to confront the situation is from a stance of equality – and for some that will mean a lowering of our standards of living. If we don’t decide that we must band together to fight towards a common destiny, though, we’re all going to face a much bigger fight.