Who else is tired of the words climate crisis? I am, and I’m the one who put it in the title. I worry that the more we say it the more it becomes absorbed into the buzzword abyss where it loses all meaning and crisis has the same impact as kettle or inconvenience.
And it is an inconvenience. The climate crisis is one hell of an inconvenience. It’s why we don’t shut up about it.
I keep restarting these blog posts without settling on what I want to say. Part of me feels like I have to make grand meaningful statements about the global climate breakdown, detailed analyses. Perhaps sometimes. And finding the words for this is a struggle: it’s overwhelming, it involves more numbers than we can ever visualise, and so many catastrophes and disasters that the warnings become numbing background noise.
Some people have said to me that they — personally, mind — struggle to care or engage too deeply with the climate crisis. They’ll recycle, sure, and they’ll salute their local coffee shop giving discounts for reusable cups and using biodegradable straws.
It’s not that they don’t care. It’s that when you try and drag them into a deeper conversation (because they failed to realise that they brought up Fridays for Future to a climate activist in what was supposed to be mindless chat at a party) and you start talking about the links between environmental justice and human rights, the Sustainable Development Goals… Well.
You see their eyes glaze over. Just a little: it’s not a la mode to be disinterested in the planet these days. But they heard developing countries and social justice and other things that can’t be fixed with a reusable cup and it goes right there in the bucket of huge overwhelming issues along with Brexit and wars in the Middle East and 164 things the internet told them they must do and they are not doing.
It’s not personal, is what I’m trying to say. There’s no doubt that the subject we are all most interested in is ourselves. I am interested in endangered species but talking about it is definitely a lot more exciting when I can let everyone know that I sponsor leopards through WWF.
Climate campaigns — and NGO campaigns at large — will go to great efforts to empower the audience and clarify what easy step they can take right then to fix global hunger or homelessness or help lonely elderly people.
So yes, it is a struggle to find new ways to bring home the enormity of the climate crisis (and now I’ve said that phrase so many times my opening paragraph feels hypocritical). Particularly, to take people past the stage of walking to work to reduce pollution, and engaging in the wider issues we can’t immediately absolve ourselves of with an easy purchase or minor lifestyle change: inequality, privilege, overconsumption and the need for an economic overhaul.
Two days ago I went for a walk by a lake in Ghent. There were benches dotted along the edge of the lake but each one had a sign that advised us not to sit on the bench to avoid spreading COVID-19. Samen tegen corona.
After having the predictable thoughts of ‘wow imagine if I had to explain this to myself from 6 months ago that would have been crazy,’ it struck me how a global crisis had had a direct personal impact on my life in that moment. Because someone got ill in Wuhan months ago, I now stand by the lake in Ghent and don’t sit on the bench.
I can’t fix the pandemic. I can stay at home, sure, and socially distance (with a lack of effort that is possibly worrying) and wash my hands. And I can message with my friends about the enormity of the situation and how difficult it is to picture how dramatically the world will change as a result.
But despite it being a global and inconceivable event, in that moment by the lake, it was personal.
And none of the issues that we choose to turn away from, or fail to understand, or are simply unaware of are actually separate from us. We do see the impact of the climate crisis every day. Every time you read a headline where the UN and leading scientists cry for action and you get that pang of holy shit the world is ending and I don’t know what to do except make a cup of tea and open Instagram, the crisis was personal. And every time your friends casually say they’re not sure if they want kids ‘what with climate change and everything,’ it’s personal.
So we disconnect from the news and digital devices at the end of the day and we focus on the positives and donate to charities and tell ourselves not to worry about things we can’t control. But we’re never really disconnected. The crisis is still there when we close the BBC and it’s there when we put off opening social media because we don’t want to get anxious again.
We don’t disconnect from the climate crisis, we just manage our relationship with it. I’m not here to knock that. Boundaries are healthy, after all. I never fixed carbon emissions by worrying in bed at 2am.
If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that our globalised society is deeply interconnected. It’s this constant interaction that contributed to the spread of the pandemic, but that same connection and coordination helped us stall its progress through Europe. We are taking on a crisis far bigger than ourselves — because we have to. When we stop reading about the pandemic in the news, we’re still in lockdown.
The point I’m making is: let’s not forget that most global issues are never quite as far away from us as we think they are. That’s kind of scary to think about and difficult to picture. But understanding those links and recognising that the climate crisis is a personal crisis at least gets rid of its portrayal as something nebulous and too complex to grasp.
Just as the crisis seeps into our everyday life and influences our actions, so do our individual actions seep into and affect the crisis — whether we want them to or not.
I write about climate issues. If you want to hear more, hire me or just want to chat about sustainability, find me on Instagram @coffee_and_casstaways, Twitter @casstaways, or email me at email@example.com.