Living on the Edge

Climate change sceptics are going to have a field day on Monday 3lst March when a UN report will say some pretty stark things about global warming/climate change. Watch out for arch sceptic Nigel (father of the Domestic Goddess) Lawson on your radio and TV screens the whole day long. It’s all so predictable and just a tad boring.

The potential for climate change to take humanity to unknown and scary places as Mother Nature seeks to generate what British scientist James Lovelock referred to as the ‘preferred homeostasis for life on planet earth’[1] has already been experienced by many communities around the world; and the global landscape is shifting annually.

This winter an exceptional run of severe storms and high winds not only overwhelmed communities in the South West of England but also transfigured coastal landscapes, as ancient landmarks were simply demolished by a raging sea.  

In 2009 the President of the Maldives and his ministers convened an underwater cabinet meeting, a stunt to highlight the threat posed to the island by rising sea levels. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has projected that a rise of just seven inches could make the 400,000 inhabitants of the Maldives the first environmental refugees.

In 2006 Lohachara Island in India’s part of the Sundarbans, and home to 10,000 people, was literally washed off the face of the Earth. The event was described as marking ‘the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists had started coming true’. Rising seas caused by global warming had claimed its first casualty. Did the island not pop up elsewhere a couple years later? Spooky. 

Lovelock believes that by 2040 the world population of more than seven billion will be dramatically reduced through floods, drought and famine; that the earth’s self-regulatory impulses will likely prevent any extraordinary runaway effects that will wipe out life itself, but the parts of humanity which survives will be "culled and…refined."

There is a possibility, he claims, that parts of the earth will become a massive extension of tropical deserts…“and catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years”.[2]
Wild fires in California

Whilst Lovelock’s use of hyperbole gives the subject an absurd edge, and he has since admitted to being alarmist, there is acceptance among climate scientists of the real possibility that parts of the earth will become uninhabitable for human and other life forms. Indeed, the United Nations estimates that by the middle of the century there could be as many as 150 million environmental refugees at any one time.

Extreme weather patterns - predicted to hit Asia the hardest - may have taken a swipe at the USA, UK and Australia, in recent times but the scale of disaster in developed countries has not yet reached cataclysmic proportions. Hence the status quo on action around climate change remains at a kind of ‘dead man walking’ tempo.

Terrance O’Connor, a psychiatric social worker, relates a story perhaps apocryphal, about an incident that occurred in psychiatrist Frieda Reichmann-Fromm’s practice in Germany. A patient who presented with numerous and irrational fears was successfully treated after three years. A few weeks after the treatment ended, the patient, a young Jewish woman, was picked up by the Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp.[3]

We don’t need experts to tell us that something in our atmosphere is poisonous and not conducive to wellbeing; that something is going on with the earth that is not in our long term best interest. Like Reichmann-Fromm’s patient we know; we feel it in our bones.

[1] Lovelock, James. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1989
[2] Independent Newspaper 2006
[3] Terrance O’Connor, Therapy for a Dying Planet, IN Roszak et al’s Ecopsychology


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