What I tend to do is click on the headline about a hurricane tearing up another country, or watch thirty seconds of the latest news footage of a flooded UK street, then flee the scene of the latest attack on my mind, taking refuge in professional wrestling rumours, science fiction TV shows or football opinion columns. It’s a defence mechanism, self-preservation in the short term. A natural, common paralysis in response to raw fear brought on by prophecies of doom. Mine has been worse lately, since the conversation around the climate crisis went mainstream, constant imaginings of tall trees, black against the crimson sky as they burn to a crisp in my thoughts, leaving ash sculptures of beautiful unique species in their wake. I wish someone would convince me climate change isn’t a thing at all. I liked my life before I knew it was happening and I’ve struggled with many aspects of it since. But I want to do something about it.
I have an introspective mind and an unruly imagination, my blessing and my curse. It’s just the way I’m wired. One of the chief reasons I earn my living by making artwork and illustration, also the trigger of my rage every time I’m confronted with non-recycled toilet paper. My anger, fired every which way, unfocused, multi faceted, like Cyclops from X-Men with his glasses off comes from my perceived powerlessness in the face of such widespread exploitation of the earth’s resources. It’s easy to see that we’re trapped in a capitalist system, one of the richest countries in the world, accelerating the heating of the planet more than most other continents. Make no mistake - I’m as much a part of it as the next person.
Eventually, at the end of the cycle something gives way and I sit there on my sofa staring through the wall, wide-eyed and pale skinned until my wife asks if I’m OK. I say ‘No, not really.’ We talk it out and the conclusion is that all we can do is our bit; the little glass jar of deodorant that can be recycled, my vegetarian diet, taking the bus to work where possible, enlisting a green electricity provider, sharing what I know with those who are unaware but willing to listen. We agree that it’s futile without action from consumers, companies and authorities alike, but not worth slipping into despondency over when we can still do something about it by lending individual skills and time to those with a greater outreach and louder voice.
A friend said to me recently, ‘How can Janet up the road, managing three kids on her own be expected to worry about sorting her recycling?” I feel dismay in my gut because Janet should be puking in her lap with horror at the idea of those three kids left to die on a hostile, ruined planet after she’s gone, yet his point is valid. I understand why she’s not, because us humans, we focus on what is immediate, the things we need to do to survive not as a species, but as an individual, a family in the here and now, making the money to feed those three kids this week. Locked in the present moment, the idea of extreme weather events, famine and droughts, despite their very real threat is no more than a vague, far off movie scene playing in our subconscious. That may unnerve us for a minute, but it fades as such scenes are quickly replaced by urgent matters like getting into work on time or having the car fixed. For others, it’s too much, so we run and hide on Netflix each night. We all share the need to make good in a system which leaves us no choice but to do what we have to in order to make enough money to get by. But does that not mean we too share the power to put it on pause and demand change within this system, that all of our children’s futures be taken more seriously? After all, it is the few who harbour the lion’s share of the world’s wealth and power doing the most damage, emitting the most carbon.
Greta Thunberg started to campaign for a response, sitting there, a child alone with her placard, not going to school because she felt the same all-consuming hysteria that leaves me stumbling around the city feeling like an alien as business continues as if there were no threat. She’s become a shining example to all of us that we are not so alone. Don’t us lot with wrinkles and love handles not at least owe it to the kids to meet them halfway?
Buying those little pots of deodorant makes me feel like I’m farting against thunder when I see cigarette butts littering the streets, cans in the river, the roadside bushes jammed full of Coca-Cola plastic bottles, McDonalds wrappers and Starbucks cups blowing down the road on a daily basis. Corporations so critical to the economy neglect the opportunity to make real change in favour of more profit, when they have the opportunity to lead by example.
I have this fantasy that we find a way of convincing every citizen in the country, for just one day, to not go to work. Pause everything. Then demand significant action - remind authorities that people united have power. The climate crisis is here, now. Devastation in the Bahamas, Pecan Acres, Lousiana flooded, a community evacuated and moved to higher ground, America’s first climate refugees. As bad as these crises are, they are nothing compared to what the scientists warn us is coming, sooner or later for us all without significant change to the way we use the world’s resources.
I’m striking on Friday 20th September, telling my clients so ahead of the U.N. Climate Change summit because it’s clear that this defining issue of our time is being dangerously overlooked and it is a chance to show we can’t afford to stand for it. I love my job, the people and companies who commission me to create images, but one day looking my children in the eye knowing I was complicit to the incomprehensible destruction of the world we held in our hands is a prospect that means the work can wait until Monday.