Act Now or Swim Later: Seeing climate & being the change

How could you not have seen?
How could you have ignored what you were doing to the world we would inherit?
How could you go blithely on without a thought for us?
Or they may look back with praise and gratitude for people who refused to look away
Sing the names of those who sacrificed to reverse the destruction
May the light we kindle today place the importance of the future we are creating upon our eyes and deep within our hearts
May we be the ones who looked
May we be the ones who took action


Readings

 

Time of remembrance

Silence first for the dead and wounded

Frightening - makes us feel unsafe

Makes us wonder about who we can trust - can we believe in good

Millions of people in London with cars and knives… Any of them could… they don’t. Aberration. One in millions

Intentionally cruel nature of this… hits hard… fear… but many have died from intentional benefit cuts. Many more have died due to fuel poverty

There are cruelties that are done dramatically and intentionally to cause fear. Let us not allow them to make us afraid. Let us not allow them to make us mistrust. Let us not allow them to lose our belief in good.

And let us watch and resist those cruelties that happen slowly - without drama - far from the sight of the cameras. Casual cruelty that kills nonetheless.

Despite cruelty, let us work for good. Let us believe in good.

 

If we will have the wisdom to survive, Wendell Berry

to stand like slow-growing trees on a ruined place,
Renewing it, enriching it,
If we will make our seasons welcome here,
Asking not too much of earth or heaven.
 
Then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live here,
Their houses strongly placed upon the valley sides,
Fields and gardens rich in the windows.
The river will run clear,
as we will never know it,
And over it, birdsong like a canopy.
 
On the levels of the hills will be green meadows,
Stock bells in noon shade.
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down the old forest,
An old forest will stand,
Its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
 
Families will be singing in the fields.
In their voices they will hear a music risen out of the ground.
They will take nothing from the ground they will not return,
whatever the grief at parting.
Memory, native to this valley,
will spread over it like a grove,
and memory will grow into legend,
legend into song, song into sacrament.
 
The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling light.
This is no paradise or dream.
Its hardship is its possibility.

 

No Return Policy, by Jamie Uy

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Est[ablished]: dawn of time/discovery of Arctic
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$13 for fossil fuel magnets to tack on refrigerators back home
$15 for three death metal/hard rock mixtapes by Pollution Apocalypse
$17 for freeze-dried ‘not my fault’ excuses, water-resistant.

Thank you for shopping at Paradise.


Message, by Ama Josephine Budge

First thing I want you to do is write down the most important thing you own, the thing that makes your life easier, funner, more manageable, something you get up for in the morning. But it has to be an inanimate physical thing, that you bought, or that someone else bought for you. Write this down on a scrap of paper and fold it up as small as you can and hold it tight in your palm. 
 
I suppose I became actively involved in thinking about climate change about four years ago. A colleague of mine at art school started writing about seeds. I thought she was just another white-tree-hugger without a cause to occupy her. But she was my friend, so I gave her the time-of-day, and slowly she started to plant those little seeds, miniscule, infinitesimal fragments of seeds, in the fertile ground of my subconscious. That was when I first started taking an interest in climate change, but it was still very much on the periphery of my consciousness and really didn’t go beyond recycling and trying to avoid internal flights. 
 
Climate change is a little bit like the pimple in the mirror, getting bigger and redder and angrier despite, or perhaps because of, the increasingly copious amounts of concealer and foundation we apply to try and discredit its existence.  For those of you who aren’t aware – I’ll give a very brief explanation of what I mean when I say “climate change”. Climate change can be understood scientifically, as an abrupt increase in the earth’s temperature known as global warming – ten out of the last thirteen years were the warmest on record. The majority of climate scientists agree that this is due to an increased consumption by human beings, particularly since the industrial revolution, and the subsequent high-quantities of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) released into the earth’s atmosphere. Climate Change effects are the tangible results of global warming: the melting of ice caps, the rising of sea levels, and consequential flooding, but it also means more extreme heat and high winds, increasing droughts and desertification.'
 
It wasn’t until I went back to my own country, to Ghana, to a beach I had grown up on,  to a shoreline as familiar and comforting to me as the lines on my right palm, that I really saw climate change manifesting in front of me. I went back to that beach, just a 40 minute drive from our house, and found that it wasn’t there anymore. What had before been about 500 feet of hot, white, dreamy sand, was now a mere 100 feet of dirty, plastic-bag strewn sand, dirt and rubbish. The very next year my granddad became cut off from his family because the railway line to Devon was made impassable by the floods in South West England, and the year after that when I went back to that beach the ocean was obscured by a giant sea-wall, an attempt to stall the erosion of the land that had already claimed whole villages up and down the coast of Ghana. 
 
These were a few of the little ways climate change started to become visible to me. Now that I have begun to research it more thoroughly – and I am by no means an expert – I feel it in the tightness of my lungs every time I go on the tube because the air quality is so bad, the way that when my hair got soaked through with rain and I washed it, the water became black and my hair broke off at the ends for weeks. I see it in the mangy-ness of the foxes, in the sixteen-degree February days, in the lack of snow. I notice it when I look at babies and my biology starts to twinge at me with broodiness, when I think about how ill-equipped my x-box obsessed nephew is to deal with what the scientists, environmental activists and un-corrupt government officials say is coming. 
 
But climate change does that. It creeps up on you, you start to see it everywhere, and you become a bit – well – jumpy. It’s like anything you start devoting your life to working against: sexism, anti-semitism, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia. You start seeing and hearing it everywhere, from everyone, and you can end up…well… hiding in your wardrobe thinking we’re all done for. But that’s not what I want to talk to you about today, in fact that’s exactly the opposite of what I want to talk about. Because the sudden increase in post-apocalyptic movies coming out – from 2012 to WallE to The Day After Tomorrow, Mad Max, The Road, even Planet of the Apes – really isn’t the point. In fact it’s all a part of the distraction. A part of what Naomi Klein calls looking away – even when we think we’re looking it dead in the face – we’re really just finding another way to look away (and usually – certainly in the case of Hollywood blockbusters - to feed capitalism, the biggest enemy of climate change at the same time!) 
 
Society generally gives you two options – recycle, don’t buy more than one car, don’t have more than two children, don’t fly more than one plane a year, by bamboo nappies and you’re doing your bit for the planet. OR we’re all going to die anyway so let’s go out with a bang. The third option is of course, climate change isn’t real, we’re all going to be fine and it’s just a conspiracy between Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and Greenpeace to destabilise the right wing and the jobs market, but I’ve only got about five minutes left so I’m not going to get too far into that option. 
 
What I’m interested in, what I’m writing about, researching, talking about, even dreaming about sometimes, is what we’re going to do right now. Not tomorrow, not in ten years time, not what our children are going to do, but what we’re going to do, right now. The American feminist Donna Harraway calls this ‘staying with the trouble’ which basically means: it’s too easy to keep leaving the job to someone else to deal with, in fact that’s what got us in this mess in the first place. It’s too easy to think – well yes I know there are droughts in Sub-Saharan Africa and floods in Bangladesh, and earthquakes in Japan and a lot of people are dying over there and I feel really bad about it when the Oxfam adverts come on TV but I have a job to do from 8am to 7pm and a school-run to share, and a mortgage to pay, or a pension to earn, or a community centre to run, or bulbs to plant and I really haven’t got any more in me to do anything else! Even though all of that is true, and all of that is valid, and none of this is a guilt-trip, we don’t have the choice to opt out any more, because this is happening now, and it’s happening to us as much as to future generations and to them over there. But unlike future generations, or (most of) them over there we are living in one of the highest emitting countries in the world which means we have so much power and so many choices. 
 
In other words – I’d like to call on some quotes from two of the wisest men I know, and some of the only men I trust… The first is Gandalf. Do you remember that scene when they’re sitting in the mines of Moria and Frodo says:
 
“I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
 
and Gandalf replies…
 
“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.”

gandalf-01-1024x640-thumb-1024x430.png

And this is really what I want to leave you with today, thoughts of who those other forces at work in the world are. Because if the will of evil is in this case, white supremacist, patriarchal capitalism (and we can have a whole debate on that over tea and coffee later for those of you who don’t agree with me), how can we work to be a part of the will of good? A part of the will of resistance? A part of a movement that is happening all over the world, that has been happening, because we’re not standing alone here. And WE get to choose what to do with the time that is given to us. Naomi Klein calls this idea Blockadia; that actually climate change is human-kinds greatest hope to come together and stand against oil companies, and fracking, and demand the British borders are opened to the thousands of migrants currently dying in the Mediterranean sea because they are our problem. Because they are climate migrants as much as economic migrants or asylum seekers, because their countries are at war or in drought largely because we wouldn’t give up on extracting their oil and other fossil fuels at whatever cost necessary. And because we destroyed the economies they had before European colonialism. And because, even if you don’t believe any of that, then you must at least remember what it was like seeing the RNLI rescue dinghys punt down a high street in Yorkshire last December. I wonder what makes us any different to the migrants in the boats leaving Turkey except the colour of our passports, and sometimes our skins. 
 
It does all really come down to whether or not you believe in good. Because the other thing that’s not the point is the fate of humankind, whether or not we survive – that is not for us to decide either. But we do get to decide who get’s the best chances of survival – because right now all the cis-gendered, able-bodied, rich white men are sitting in a boat and they’re making sure there’s no room for anyone else - and here I come to the second man I trust – naturally Dumbledore (although this is really more of a Harry quote): 
 
“It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew - and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents - that there was all the difference in the world.”
 
There’s a difference between acting now and swimming later and not acting now and swimming later. Not acting now, which is of course still active, it’s just not pro-active. All we have to do to get to the swim later scenario, is everything we’re already doing.
 
But isn’t this all talk? I haven’t really told you any tangible ways to work towards what climate scientists are saying we need - ‘Close to 100% reductions are needed by developed countries already by 2030 for a reasonable chance of 2°, let alone a 1.5° [increase].’ Niclas Hallstrom, Director of the What Next Forum in Uppsala, Sweden said last year. A two degree increase looks like a 10% drop in crop production across the continent of Africa by the way – leading to the loss of thousands of lives and livelihoods. There are, of course plenty of books out there you can read which talk, in varying degrees of extremity, about the big and small changes you can make to your lifestyle to start working towards let’s say a 4 degree increase by the end of the century (that’s if your lucky) – I can tell you now that one of the first things will be to not have a car and not have a child. But I think that the change the climate needs is actually much deeper than what you drive or what your family looks like. It’s about what you think you need and how you view yourself in connection to the rest of the world. What is more important to you, the stuff that soon enough we won’t be able to power anymore or save from the floods or carry with us in the dinghys, or the life we are all connected to?
 
So if I started with a scientific definition of climate change, I’d like to finish with an activist one. When talking about the importance of Black futures month in the United States, Shanelle Matthews, Director of Communications for the Black Lives Matter Global Network said: 
‘Through dreaming and radical imagination, we can manifest and develop the communities and build power to create the conditions that we need and want for our lives….I have come to understand our obligation to dream and radically imagine the world we want and need as one with deep-seated moral and ethical implications as well. We have a duty to dream and radically imagine with fervor and passion and to embrace creativity, innovation and a fail-fast-to-learn-fast approach – a duty to yield ego and build collective power. We have a duty to have intimate and human conversations with people with different political opinions without compromising our integrity or our own imagination, the kind of conversations that can realize real improvements in all of our lives, conversations that start movements and facilitate the process of organizing our country into a safe place for all people. It’s a dreamy process – as it should be – and it’s a process and a space that leads with inclusivity and a commitment to justice, not intimidation and fear.”
 
Daring to imagine a world in which a Syrian refugee is no different from us. A world in which we rely on the kindness of stranger to survive. A world in which they are not strangers, but relatives in this family which includes plant and animal species, this family in which we are actually no more important than a blade of grass, or a bacteria cultivated through the creation of yogurt. It’s a radical shift. It’s a radical and terrifying thing to imagine, because if you really take on the implications of what that could mean. It’s very hard to carry on as you did before, the world looks different, and what you do and how you do it feels more important. You feel more responsible and you feel more powerful. You needs start slowly, slowly to shift from the consumable to the resistant, the communal, the imaginative. So maybe all I’m asking you to do, all I’m defining this activist climate change-being as, is imagining. If you can’t move to a plot of land, off the grid with zero emissions and grow your own rice, start by imagining, and most-importantly teaching others around you, and especially children, to imagine. And that’s a start. 
 
Now, do you still have that scrap of paper clenched tightly in your fist? I’d like you to slowly unclench that fist, I’d like you to open up that palm and look around at the people around you – look into their eyes. Smile maybe. Now reach over to someone you do not know and give them that piece of paper, with all the love you can squeeze into the gesture. 
 
It’s a start. Thank you.


Ama Josephine Budge is a London-based writer, curator and artist whose work navigates explorations of race, gender, diaspora and feminism. She works as communications officer at New Unity, building on her experience in communications and administration at Creative Islington, and her social justice and events experience. 

Ama's work challenges neo-liberal feminisms, working to activate and catalyse movements that emphasize human rights, ecological revolutions and de-gendered identities. Ama was a writer, curator and co-editor-in-Chief for HYSTERIA feminist collective from August 2014 - June 2016. She has worked with Autograph ABP with the Missing Chapter Collective from 2015-17. Ama has also been interviewed by Vice and Dazed Digital, written for The Independent and RoadFemme amongst other subversive publications, and has spoken internationally on climate change and feminism, queer practices of resistance, and black LGBTQI+ resistance.

Ama is currently completing an MA in Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy at Goldsmiths University and is about to complete her thesis on Queer Modes of Encounter with Climate Colonialism and Pleasure as Resistance. She is the co-founder of Black queer performance night The Batty Mama and is currently programming the I/Mages of Tomorrow anti-conference, hosted by the Centre for Feminist Research, Goldsmiths.