You’d Better Start Swimmin’

                  “…or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a’ changin’ ”   Bob Dylan

The World Meteorological Organisation has just confirmed that 2010 was the equal hottest year on record, tying with 2005. This is in agreement with NOAA and NASA’s similar findings. It was a year of many extreme weather events, among which were the Sri Lankan and Phillippine floods, the Brazilian flash floods, then, in the middle of the year, the Russian fires and the Pakistan floods, and at the end of the year the Australian floods. And that’s not to mention the snow in Europe and the US. My wife comes from Brisbane, so it was a relief to know that friends and family escaped unscathed, but events such as this are so close to home that they begin to waken fears and forebodings of what could be coming our way soon.

The house that we used to own in Brisbane was in an area that was badly flooded, and since living in HK we have experienced the flood of June 2007 – was that the year? – which swept through the ground floor of our house, much to the delight of our kids. Funnily enough we had friends from Brisbane staying with us at the time, so they spent half of their holiday helping us clean up the mess. I also remember when I was a student living in digs in Morecambe in England many years ago watching the sea get higher and higher during one fateful night, which ended with Morecambe’s famous pier – and those of many other towns along the coast – being wrenched and twisted up as if it were made of rubber instead of iron and steel. The sight of the sea that night was truly frightening. It was as if the whole ocean was heaving itself up in a display of awesome power which was utterly unstoppable. All you could do was get off the streets and climb up out of reach of the floods once the sea crashed over the sea walls. Raw, untamed nature sweeping all before it. You could only pray for any fishermen caught out in it, of whom there were a good few.

Although, to use that tired and tiresome expression, you can’t definitely blame any single event upon global warming, it is perfectly clear that what has been happening is exactly as climate scientists have been predicting for years – extremes of weather which might switch from extreme drought to massive flooding, causing great damage, not only to lives and property, but to the soil that we grow our food in. How do you grow crops when you’re subjected to these kinds of events? You may not be able to blame global warming for any single event, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s verging on the criminal to blandly dismiss these events as caused by La Nina – sorry, it’s now Super La Nina – as in Australia, or privatisation, as a Russian commentator said of the fires there, or the will of Allah according to the Pakistanis. There are doubtless many contributing factors, but global warming now seems to be the driver behind just about all of the extreme weather being experienced; in fact, it seems to me to be the driving force behind the weather, full stop, be it extreme or not. Just about everywhere seems to be experiencing screwed up weather conditions to a greater or lesser degree, and it’s a common topic of conversation, except, of course, that absolutely no one mentions global warming.

I fear for the future of my children. I feel what I suppose is utter despair for these children and their whole generation, who are not in the slightest bit responsible for what is going to happen to them. Not only are we bequeathing them a world that will probably soon be ten times worse than 2010, a world in which floods, droughts, fires and famines will be widespread, but we are doing absolutely nothing to prepare them for it. This is in all probability the biggest challenge that the human race has ever faced and how pathetically we have responded to it. We have indeed been weighed in the balance and found wanting, to put it mildly.

Our Transition group is attempting to get some community initiatives going in the hope of building greater local resilience, but we’re making very limited progress. It seems all the more important to ensure that our children have some skills that will be useful to them. I want mine to be able to grow ten different vegetables; I want them to learn first aid, and to be strong swimmers; I want them to know how to get clean water; and I want them to be able to handle a rowing boat. In fact, I’m seriously thinking of getting a rubber dinghy to store up on the roof, and to get all of the family to learn how to use it.

I think I’d have to say that I feel ashamed to be a human being, so contemptible are the things that we do to each other and to the natural environment. Nevertheless, there are good people to be found around us, and our children above all deserve our blood, sweat and tears. If the planet has already passed irreversible tipping points, as some seem to think, then that’s about all that we can now offer them.


About transitionsl

I've been an English teacher for the best part of 30 years, teaching in England, Tanzania, Brunei, Australia and Hong Kong. I've always been interested in nature and environmental issues, but it was the discovery of Peak Oil about five years ago that galvanised me into trying to help my local community to prepare for what will be a dramatically different world to the one many of us have been used to. I've been helping to run a transition group, following the guidelines created by Rob Hopkins's Transition Movement in the UK. This blog is an attempt to engage in discussion with a wider group of people in Hong Kong on the ways to transition from our current oil dependency to a state of fossil-free local resilience.
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