Monday, 1 February 2016

My Climate Journey - Pt. 1: Melting Ice and the Kindness of Humanity - by guest blogger Patrick Driscall

“Fear makes us feel our humanity.” Benjamin Disraeli

What a year it’s been. Little did I know in January of last year, that by December I would be sitting on a bridge in Paris demonstrating against climate change, or that I would share many meaningful conversations about climate change at the COP events Emergence organised.

My partner Phil’s father Selwyn told me stories of how he had collected sheep dung from Singleton Park in Swansea during the war selling it from his bicycle to local gardeners for profit. Having realized it was a notable anniversary of the blitz on Swansea during World War 2 I found myself looking at pictures of the war damage in Swansea and was thoughtful about the effects of war on people’s lives.

Somehow, this internet quest led me to peace activism, Satish Kumar and from there to a peace walk being organized right here in my city by Emergence. I didn’t stop to think. I was going to do the walk in memory of my mother Esme who was evacuated from Brixton to Cornwall. The trauma of evacuation and the fact that she never had a chance to reconnect with her parents probably contributed to her suicide when I was seven. Another reason to join the walk was I myself now wanted to feel more connected to Swansea. From these beginnings, the peace walk was the start of something much bigger.

The Swansea Station to the Sea Peace Walk - 27th June 2015
 My climate change interest started in the 80s when we talked about aerosols, and the hole in the ozone layer! Inspired, I made quirky designer T-shirts to sell in London markets to help get the message across. Thirty years later living in Swansea, I realised the fast approaching COP21 climate change negotiations in Paris were the last chance saloon for taking positive steps to stop the world from overheating. I’d already planned to go on the London climate march and now became hopeful of making the Paris demonstrations.

The peace walk turned out to be an amazing and moving experience in good company.  I followed it by booking a place on a Harvest Walk also organized by Emergence.  This included a lovely trek up to Arthurs Stone on Cefn Bryn on Gower and hearing about local growing and farming. The experience reminded me of my activist youth and left me even more determined to go to Paris! A problem for me as a newcomer to Swansea was I was not well connected locally. I literally had no one to demonstrate with in Paris.

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” - Brene Brown

Listening to Fern Smith from Emergence successfully connect many people together I asked her if there was a way Emergence might organize something around climate change locally. I suspected there were other people like me who felt overwhelmed and even isolated in their quest to do something. To my surprise, out of the blue, a friendly phone call - how would I like to help out in some potential events she was considering?

These events were to be known as COP1, 2 and 3 here in Swansea. The events combined discussion, creative offerings from local performers, music and film screenings. It was fun to be part of the organizing team and to understand that by sharing our concerns and fears we could plan individual solutions and collective actions.

These COP events helped me see my own relationship with climate change. I was encouraged to face up to the guilt I feel, my own part in it and to recognize the breadth of the issue. There is no easy solution and the starting gun has already fired. Sparks flew as the audience let off steam. It was personal and at times challenging. Among the films we saw were Chasing Ice and This Changes Everything.

 The film “Chasing Ice” brought us up close and personal with the melting of the ice caps. En masse it has enormous beauty. When it melts it potentially spells disaster in many ways. The film graphically and beautifully proved it is disappearing and fast. I’m writing this having read that a few weeks ago the temperature at the North Pole shot up by 30 odd degrees in winter perhaps due to climate change. On Twitter there is a report that 35000 walrus are currently grouped on one beach in Alaska because they can’t find any ice nearby. 8000 Arctic Murre birds have been found dead from starvation on another Alaskan beach because the sea is too warm. Icebergs are arriving four months earlier than usual off Newfoundland. Where are we heading on this planet? What can I do about it?

Jack and Finn Harries ’s Arctic Mission video for WWF (kind of a follow up to Chasing Ice)

The enormity and range of issues that add up to climate change can be hard to take in. We really can’t do it all alone but we can do a lot in our own backyards and preferably together as part of this thing called humanity. Many of the best moments for me in the COP events were the conversations between us. Diverse opinions were expressed. Personal reactions and, experiences and inspiring potential solutions were shared. There was much to listen and learn and reflect upon.

The film “This Changes Everything” was a collection of stories brought together by Naomi Klein in her book. They showed the terrifying impacts climate change is already having on this planet’s land, food and people. Importantly it showcased ways in which people across the world were banding together to fight the issues, often with very different people sharing a common cause. Indigenous people were teaming up with ranchers, oil workers with environmentalists. There was destruction throughout, but also hope, as progress was being made. It challenged us to think again about the way we continue on a capitalist growth path and that this threatens our future on Earth. At the COP events there was live music and time to draw, write and discuss all helping us to express how climate change affected us. I felt empowered hearing stories of new initiatives; individual and collective, and found people’s personal reflections particularly illuminating.

 I had mixed feelings when I headed up to London to join the Peoples March for Climate Justice and Jobs. I was sad to be missing the local demos yet felt a strong attachment to London, having lived there for years. I hoped to march with a couple friends and the territory was familiar and easy. I felt this was a big issue that demanded people power on the streets. Arriving in London on the Saturday, I’d arranged to meet my friend Seppe and his new partner Mehmet. We shared a meal together in Soho. The funny thing was Penny Arcade who played a role in Andy Warhol’s film “Women in Revolt” had just been sitting in the very same seat I was now sat at having known Mehmet from his days in New York. I’d just missed her. She is apparently now a performance artist in her own name.

The demo started in squally weather that was enough to scare off my friends from coming. So slightly bedraggled I positioned myself with Greenpeace stuck behind some bear figures held on poles that threatened to knock our heads as we marched. There was an eclectic mix of music from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke who was dj-ing from a wooden ship on wheels. I quickly teamed up with a lovely woman, Jane from Sussex. She shared stories of her involvement in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at Greenham Common. Hearing about activism was an inspiring thread in my climate change journey.

Greenpeace Polar Bear - Climate March 2015- Patrick Driscall
The march was atmospheric and included many different causes.  It was exciting to see people from all parts of Britain and overseas. Jeremy Corbyn spoke as did Caroline Lucas of the Green Party and the leaders of the anti fracking campaign in Lancashire were particularly popular. The march ended at Westminster with further speeches including a rousing one from comedian Francesca Martinez and a song from Charlotte Church backed by a Welsh choir.

There were more than 50,000 people on the march. The overall impression for me was one of solidarity around climate justice. The will to change things was clearly expressed in the faces and voices of the people around me.

The biggest thing that stuck in my mind was when Jane said “they are all kind people here”. For me kindness is clearly connected to our humanity. It was our common humanity that was driving us forward that day. It strengthened my resolve to go to Paris.

Patrick Driscall is a head gardener and occasional journalist whose interests include growing, music, climate change, human rights and new economics.

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