Part adventure travelogue, part popular science journalism, part conveyor of big truths, Ben Rawlence‘s The Treeline is a beautifully written, mind-opening account of how trees are migrating north in response to climate breakdown. It’s a page-turner and yet also book I lingered over, because there were so many passages that necessitated an intake of breath, followed by a solemn stare into the distance, and then a re-read to make sure I had fully understood the devastating implications of the new information just imbibed.
Yesterday I saw a Goldcrest, Europe’s smallest bird. There are 600,000 breeding pairs in Britain and they are reasonably commonplace in the coniferous woods which they make home, but it is the first time I have spotted one in the Brecon Beacons. More to the point, they are stunningly attired- “a tiny bird with a big hairdo” according to the Wildlife Trusts – and so make a big impression, first with a flash of green on the wing and then the bright yellow mohican on the head (orange in the male).
Oxfam’s annual wealth report, Inequality Kills, has rightly attracted attention for revealing how the incomes of the world’s ten richest people have doubled during the pandemic, while the incomes of 99% of people have effectively reduced during the same period. But the report, along with other recent analysis, also provides further critical evidence of how economic inequality is driving climate breakdown. As such, it is a problem that is not just confined to a handful of billionaires but the excessive consumption patterns of the wealthiest few hundred million of us, who compromise under 10 per cent of humanity but cause over half of its greenhouse gas pollution.
Cranes, large white wetland birds, standing 1.3 metres tall with flamboyant tail-feathers that bob about as they graze, were hunted to extinction in Britain four hundred years ago. But last weekend we went to visit a now thriving resident population at the Slimbridge Wetland Centre on the Severn Estuary near Bristol. It was a magical and uplifting experience, and it turned out that the Cranes shared the billing with an astonishing cast of other beautiful wildfowl.
Revisiting a half-finished blog from the end of 2021, I was reminded how angry I was hearing Shell’s CEO proclaim green credentials one minute, and in the next breath complain that being told to cut his company’s emissions in line with national targets was “unreasonable”. The job of the climate movement is to make it unacceptable to enrich yourself through destroying the eco-systems on which we all depend, and rally the majority of people behind political and economic approaches that instead enable human civilisation to survive and thrive.
As the dust settles on COP26 it is clearer than ever that the climate crisis is not going to be averted by inter-governmental negotiation. That’s not to ignore the momentum generated by COP26, or the incremental progress made in Glasgow. But the commitments on the table from national governments when the gavel came down fell well short of locking in action to halve global emissions this decade, and that was the ultimate indicator of success or failure. As a result there is an even more urgent need for cities and other non-state actors to lead immediate science-based climate action, and increase the impetus on national leaders.
The formation of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, an independent group of scientists which published its first reports over the summer, may turn out to be a pivotal moment for humanity getting to grips with the climate emergency.
I approached The Ministry for the Future, eco sci-fi master, Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest book, with some trepidation. I was anticipating a grim imagining of a near future in which human civilisation descends into chaos as a result of failure to respond to the climate crisis, something I am generally trying to escape when I find time to pick up a novel. But while there is plenty that is frighteningly real in Robinson’s narrative – from millions dying in droughts, floods and fires, to the rise of global eco-terrorism as a generation realises that the one-percent really are willing to sacrifice their futures for short-term profit – ultimately ‘The Ministry of the Future’ is a manifesto of hope.
Analysis for C40’s Mayors’ COVID Recovery Taskforce shows this clearly – a big, fast global programme of green stimulus will create 50 million good new jobs in C40 cities alone, while also being the best route to protect health and enable us to get on track to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and make it to zero by 2050. So while we should rightly celebrate the moment when President Biden takes the USA back into the Paris Agreement, what is really going to matter in his first year in office is whether or not he is able to push through a green and just COVID recovery stimulus.