Monday, 9 November 2015

To COP or not to COP - that is the question... by Philip Ralph

You may well be aware that in the next few weeks there are some extremely important talks on the future of our planet happening in Paris. The COP21 Climate Summit is taking place with representatives from all the governments of the world heading to the ‘City of Light’ to negotiate a lasting settlement on global CO2 emissions.

To say these talks are important is like saying breathing is kind of handy for being alive. The science is in. The data is clear. And even if these two things weren’t the case, the evidence of our own eyes tells the story clearly enough. Floods, storms, heatwaves, forest fires, droughts, species extinction. Man made climate change is threatening the future of life on this planet – not just human life, all life. 

We have been playing with our giant chemistry set, the Earth, since the beginning of the industrial age and now, as we pass the milestone of 1°C of warming with no end in sight, we are entering ‘uncharted territory’. 2015 is the warmest year on record and temperatures are set to rise still further with 2016 predicted to be the first year in which the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reaches 400 parts per million (ppm). It’s safe to say, no matter what we do, things are never going to be the same again... This is our new ‘permanent reality’, folks...

And I’ve lost you, haven’t I?

Let’s say you’ve got this far. Let’s say that you actually clicked on the link to this blog and read this far. I can pretty much guarantee that you are now thinking of something, anything, else. I can pretty much guarantee that, no matter how concerned you are by what’s happening, no matter how engaged you are in doing something about it, no matter how much of an eco-warrior you consider yourself to be – you’ve still switched off.

Because this is utterly terrifying stuff I’m talking about here. It’s so terrifying and so huge that it’s incredibly hard for us to stay engaged and not flee into our minds or bodies to anything that brings us comfort. And, believe me, I’m not writing this to make you feel guilty or to force you to change or become an eco-activist. I’m writing this because I care passionately and with every fibre of my being about what we’re doing to this beautiful planet of ours... and I want to run away too.

I want everything to be alright. I want to bury myself in DVD box sets and holidays in the sun and nice food and a warm house. I want everything to stay as it is. And yet, the way things are isn’t especially making me happy. In fact, most of the time, it makes me miserable. So, why don’t I want to change it? Because I know this life. I know this way of being. And the future... is really scary...

All of these issues and questions are with me on a daily basis. I imagine they are with you too. And I can’t talk about them because I feel like I’m bringing up God at an atheist’s convention. I feel like I’m committing some kind of social faux-pas even to mention the words ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’. It’s just not cool (no pun intended...). It’s tantamount to talking about death. We just don’t want to think about it even though it’s the one absolute certainty that we all share. Only now, climate change and all it’s consequences are running death a close second and they may well catch up in the next few years. So, why the hell aren’t we talking about it?

Fern and I share these concerns. We are trying to live our lives by them. We are struggling to make our choices by them – not because it makes us feel virtuous and smug but because it makes us feel better. It makes us feel like we’re doing what we can. And also – and this cannot be overstated – it makes us feel so much happier than all the activities that the economic growth model of living wants us to partake in. So much happier and more connected to our own souls and to other people.

Because we share these concerns we wanted to go to Paris for COP21. We wanted to be there, with all the many hundreds of thousands of deeply concerned citizens from around the world who are making the trip to let their voices be heard. We wanted to be there so badly... but we can’t afford the trip. And we wondered what difference two more people would make. And we wondered if there were something we could do that was closer to home; something that might directly impact our locality here in Swansea; something that might connect us to other local people who feel deeply concerned and can’t make it to Paris...

And that’s why, in collaboration with many of our good friends, we are organising and hosting COP SWANSEA 1, 2 & 3. These three events are a space where, we hope, people will come together to talk about this huge issue that hides under our daily lives without being spoken of. We hope people will come and simply be with each other and allow their fears to be heard. So often, when it comes to activism or marching or protest, fear turns to anger. And as Yoda says, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering.

We want to provide a space where fear can be seen for what it is – and that fear can be shared and, together, we can find a way to use that fear for positive actions and change. We’re not stipulating outcomes, we’re not insisting that actions must come from these meetings. We know they will and we trust that they will help in some small way to alleviate the fears of those who attend.

We’re also going to show some films – three extraordinary documentaries about the current crisis. Chasing Ice, The Age of Stupid and This Changes Everything.

I don’t know about you but I usually avoid films such as these like the plague. Why? Because I’m terrified and feel powerless and so often films like this only make me feel worse. But we believe, in coming together and talking and sharing our fears, we can find our way to something that enables us all to move forwards.

The direct inspiration for showing films at the COP SWANSEA events came a few weeks ago when Fern and I attended a screening of the film HOME by Yann Arthus-Bertrand at Swansea’s Environment Centre – our venue for COP2. HOME is an extraordinary film containing stunningly beautiful images of our world and the damage we are doing to it. You can watch it free online in its entirety. See below. (I recommend watching it on the largest possible screen you can... and having some tissues handy...)

Fern and I – and our friends Jo and Yanis – sat and watched Home together with some forty other people. At times I could barely bring myself to look at the screen, so painful and heartbreaking was it to take in the images I was seeing. I found myself utterly devastated by the film and, even when it tried to offer some sense of hope and positivity in its final minutes, I remained locked in my grief.

When the film ended, the audience sat in total silence. And then we instantly launched into announcements about all the various actions and meetings we could go to in the coming days and weeks... But we needed so much more than announcements...

We needed space. We needed time. We needed to be together in our shock and grief. We needed to be able to cry. We needed to be able to talk. We needed each other.

And so, that is what we intend to do at COP SWANSEA 1, 2 & 3. We’re going to meet each other, show some films and then we’re going to be together with however they make us feel. And we know that out of that togetherness will come comfort, will come solace, will come action.

We couldn’t make it to Paris. That’s okay. We can still find ways to come together and let our voices – our fears and hopes – be heard. We very much hope you’ll join us.

Tickets are on sale now. These events are non-profit – all monies raised will go towards covering costs (film licenses and venue costs).


  1. love this Phil, resonates, and yet I do talk about death often, so CC will come its just harder...
    PS Charlotte and I are doing water labyrinth's in local small towns and will just ask people about COP and go from there

  2. How about 'tick boxes' for "essential, crucial, life-saving" (instead of "funny, interesting, cool"). Hope to be there for 2&3. Thank you so much for creating this - I love your commitment and passion; you two shine brightly.