Lucy Gavaghan shares her thoughts in an open letter on why we must all care about climate change.
There’s something that has caught my attention, something you may have noticed yourself. That is, how being concerned about the state of nature is often seen as a novel personality trait of some people rather than a universally essential outlook. Perhaps you are one of those people, or maybe you have avoided delving too deeply into certain topics because you know someone else who seems like more of an expert, someone whose passion could feel overwhelming.
It is easy to be taken aback by fiery chants of protesters or stark warnings of ‘tipping points’ and ‘crisis’ and ‘collapse’. We are, in large part, detached from the reality of climate change and global warming. This is the message of many activists and feeds into a logical call for a better understanding of the details of biodiversity and climate crises. Not only is there a lack of comprehension of how human activities tragically affect the environment but so many people are disconnected from the natural, wild world in its physical form. Spending time immersed in and consciously appreciating natural environments, like woodlands, moorlands and rivers, increasingly seems to be considered a novelty experience that may not be equally accessible to everyone.
The physical presence of nature has been corroded over recent decades and our connection to wild spaces and species has faded in line with this devastation. The environment has been reduced to a tick-off-topic in many business and academic fields… perhaps we are so able to marginalise discussions of the natural world’s state precisely because we have become dissociated from its presence.
Of course, there are many explanations for the destruction of nature by certain people, corporations and activities. Money and profit are, more often than not, powerful driver. However, even the most compassionate people may evade conversations that we need to have. Projections of temperature rise and its effects, for instance, are uncomfortable to confront. This discomfort and the sadness felt when we’re told about the pain caused to the planet can lead people to close their eyes to the reality of what we’re up against. Blissful ignorance? Unfortunately not - ultimately, avoiding the facts will help no one. I do honestly believe, however, that when people spend time exploring the natural world in real life and understanding how our wellbeing rests on its health and stability, it becomes harder to turn away. When we realise that we are all a part of nature, meaningful engagement and action often blossoms.
David Attenborough's recent documentary, ‘A Life on Our Planet’, is wrenching in a grit your teeth kind of way. It is upsetting and unsettling, yet laced with images and moments of beauty. It’s a reminder that we are part of something unique. Attenborough describes this as his ‘witness statement’. He reexamines his own understanding of the planet and traces the loss of nature and biodiversity throughout his life and career. The clarity of the documentary is powerful; it speaks to several issues in an accessible way. Attenborough describes “a series of one-way doors'' to explain how certain forms of environmental damage lead to irreversible change. It is brutally honest. The narration is raw and startling but far from hopeless.
My immediate reaction to the documentary was that it is clear that people go to nature in times of pressure and pain. During these times I feel little pull towards the sputtering sounds of engines or the haze of smoke on a skyline. I am drawn to open spaces and running water and the sound of birds. I am far from alone in feeling such love and need for spending time in nature.
It’s incredible to imagine how many humans have found comfort in the same pocket of nature, be it lakeside, a mountain or a wooded stretch of a local park. Often people associate these places with a loved one and we chase that feeling of release that we get in moments of ‘escape’. Taking the time to absorb the intricate beauty of natural life in all forms can be truly blissful. The fact that these natural places are increasingly being seen as exceptional as they shrink in size, health and accessibility genuinely frighten me. The prospect of spaces of uninterrupted naturalness being a luxury and a privilege really is sobering.
In ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’, David Wallace-Wells describes a changing climate, not as an occasional shock event or a predictable problem faced by people ‘somewhere else', but as the context in which people live (or will soon live). This framing makes clear that this is something that we need to be educated on. Believing that this is someone else’s problem or job will only drag us further from facing what has been destroyed, what remains and what needs to be done. On that note, it needs to be mentioned that to position ‘humanity’ as a whole as the perpetrators of worldly destruction distorts reality. Nemonte Nenquimo tackles this in her 2020 opinion piece for The Guardian that I strongly encourage you to read.
The idea that caring about the environment is much more than a novel personality trait comes sharply into focus once we accept the climate crisis as the context we are living in, rather than an isolated feature of our times. To see thriving natural spaces reduced to shrinking pockets of a concrete world would be a crying shame. Many now hope that concern for the environment weaves its way into all our minds, actions and conversations, to be sounded out in boardrooms and living rooms alike.
Some of what I’ve said may feel bleak. However, I have written this letter to start stirring in your mind, something that I think is beautifully simple: a reminder that we are part of the processes of nature, we can draw strength from it, and that there must be space for everyone in the fight for a better world.
It’s up to you how you choose to respond.
This article was sourced by Amy Houghton (Trending: Politics Editor) and the artwork was sourced by Rachel Watkins (Artistic Co-ordinator: Social Media). It was also edited by Amy Houghton and Tamara El-Halawani.