When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realise that one cannot eat money

I was listening to ‘Still Processing’, an excellent podcast presented by two culture writers with The New York Times, when they introduced that week’s guest. It was David Wallace-Wells, the climate columnist for New York Magazine, and the author of The Uninhabitable Earth, a devastating look at what our future will look like on Earth if global warming continues unabated. The article he wrote by the same name, which went viral in 2017, made for terrifying reading, and the book, with its chapter headings like ‘Heat Death’ and ‘Plagues of Warming’ doesn’t appear any more cheerful.

Wallace-Wells predicts that we have approximately 12 years before we reach a catastrophic level of environmental destruction that will be almost impossible to come back from. At that point, I had to switch the podcast off because I felt so anxious. Twelve years is soon. There’s something quite bittersweet about the fact that so many of us have fought for a world in which we are equal, where basic human rights are afforded to all people, regardless of their gender, sexuality, race, or religion, and after all that, there might not even be a world left to save.

I don’t claim to be an expert in this field — shamefully, I must admit I find the material too anxiety-provoking to read enough of it to even call myself ‘well-versed’ — but I do trust the experts who have dedicated their lives to measuring and monitoring the impact that global warming has had.

When the Pentagon released a peer-reviewed study this January that analysed droughts, battle deaths, and politics, I believed the researchers when they said there is a link between climate change, violent conflict over increasingly scarce resources, and an increase in migration and asylum seekers because of displaced peoples.

I believe scientists who have been warning us for years now that the world’s temperature is rising, as are our sea levels, and that as a result, we can expect more frequent heat waves, extreme weather conditions, the extinction of certain eco-systems, a massive threat to food security, due to worldwide crop failures, and an outbreak of war as a result.

I don’t understand people who do not believe this. I don’t understand why our politicians, not just here in Ireland, but on an international scale, are not prioritising the combatting of climate change above all else. As Tim Winton wrote in a recent piece for The Guardian, “those who lead us and have power over our shared destiny are ignoring global warming to the point of criminal negligence. Worse than that, their policies, language, patronal obligations, and acts of bad faith are poisoning us, training citizens to accept the prospect of inexorable loss, unstoppable chaos, certain doom… That’s not just delinquent, it’s unforgivable.”

Winton also talks about an attitude of ‘business as usual’, and I have been struck by the fact that many of the vast, multi-billion-dollar corporations that deny climate change, do so because their primary concern is the accumulation of more and more money. I can’t help but wonder — where are they going to spend their ill-gotten gains when the world is a wasteland? My father, who has been interested in environmental change for at least two decades at this point, used to paraphrase an old Native American saying when I was a child. “When will the white man realise that he can’t eat money?”

The proverb goes as such — “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realise that one cannot eat money,” and that has never felt more relevant than it does today.

We cannot allow ourselves to fall into a state of apathy. We can all take steps to lead a more sustainable life. My sister told me recently that she was trying to only buy skincare and makeup that came in glass bottles rather than plastic. I have been trying to buy less clothes, only purchasing that which I really love and know I will keep, rather than buying something cheap that will ‘do’ for one or two wears, adding to the enormous landfill of fast fashion. (Buying vintage/thrift shop clothes will also keep your carbon footprint down.) There are grants available to install solar panels, something will become a necessity in years to come when our access to oil is cut off. I’m biased because my parents own a butcher shop but as our culture moves away from mass consumption of beef and dairy, I think it’ll be important to eat less meat but to buy better meat, supporting your local butcher as much as possible. Recycle as much as possible. Use your voice and your spending power — support businesses who are invested in a transparent, sustainable operation model. And most of all, keep the faith. The climate change strikes and protests which have been taking place all over the world — ignited by 16-year-old Swedish student, Greta Thunberg — have given me hope. We owe it to these passionate young people to protect the earth they will inherit. As the bible says, “and a little child shall lead them”.

Louise says

READ: Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. This has everything you want in a debut: a startingly fresh voice, characters you fall in love with from the very first page, and a joyous turn of phrase that makes this book almost impossible to put down.

READ: The Furies by Katie Lowe is best described as Prep meets The Craft. Witches, murder and teenage girls — The Furies is the book of my dreams. I am obsessed.

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