“The End of the World Is Nigh”

July 1st, 2019

This was the message on a placard that a man on our London high street used to carry. Or rather, it hung around his neck as he shuffled along, head down. He was a gloomy sight: shabbily dressed, his features perpetually downcast. He was what we used to call a “sandwich man,” with a placard on each side of the body, back and front, and the human uncomfortably wedged in the middle.

In the optimistic days of the 1960s, we paid him little mind. What was his problem? We dismissed him as a religious fanatic, who had been reading too much Old Testament prophecy and needed to go out and have some fun. He was just mildly amusing.

He was very different from the glitzy evangelistic preachers in shiny suits of the 21st century, who nevertheless have much the same message for us all. We need to repent, and right away…and pass the collection box, please. Then we can forestall the End of the World As We Know It.

If only it were as simple as that.

On Twitter today, two young women were exchanging comments, after sharing a short video by the leader of the Labour Party in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn. “Well, clearly we are all going to die,” was the conclusion (I paraphrase). Mr. Corbyn’s message was blunt, and we know. We know. We are in crisis.

Beat the Heat graphic sent by the Office of the Prime Minister.

Beat the Heat graphic sent out by the Office of the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, the National Water Commission (NWC) puts out pretty graphics showing us that (as of today) the Mona Dam is 37.5% full – and no sign of rain. In Kingston, we are smothered with a blanket of Sahara dust, vehicle emissions, and general air pollution. Adding to this is a huge, persistent bush fire on Long Mountain, overlooking the city, which has been burning for ten days non-stop. No one seems to be paying it any attention, as it smokes away.

In the rest of the world, yesterday a “freak” hailstorm hit Mexico City at the end of a hot summer’s day, burying vehicles in five feet of something that looks like icing on a cake, and damaging hundreds of buildings in its ferocity.

PHOTO: RUDRANATH FRASER Prime Minister, the Most Hon Andrew Holness (right), greets residents of St. Thomas during the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the new Morant Bay Urban Centre in Springfield in the parish on Wednesday (June 26).

PHOTO: RUDRANATH FRASER
Prime Minister, the Most Hon Andrew Holness (right), greets residents of St. Thomas during the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the new Morant Bay Urban Centre in Springfield in the parish on Wednesday (June 26).

Meanwhile, on our island of dreams, the stream of upbeat messages from our Government revolves around…building, and more building. “Development!” is the cry. “Growth!” “Prosperity!” and so on. A new Morant Bay Town Centre is lovely (even if the ubiquitous “junk food” establishments are going to set up shop there). What is not so lovely is the Prime Minister’s promise of mining to bring jobs. Carving up the hillsides of St. Thomas, with deforestation the obvious result – as well as a decrease in our already poor air quality – hardly seems a sustainable or climate-friendly pursuit. How about climate-smart agriculture in the fertile lands around Morant Bay? How about a Green Business Incubator, a model for the rest of the island and perhaps the region? How about heritage tourism and hiking tours in the hills? Could St. Thomas have at least a few of the fruit trees promised by Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw? Breadfruit do extremely well in eastern Jamaica.

And so we continue blithely. We are building, widening roads, making it possible to import older used fossil fuel vehicles (why?), booking more flights to Jamaica, more mining, more building… What other climate-unfriendly pursuits are we embracing?

It’s a whole universe of pretty animated graphics of concrete and more concrete, with a few decorative trees. We see them every day. Yet, it is all unimaginative.

It seems to me that many of the actions our Jamaican Government is taking are inimical to reducing our emissions and adapting to the climate emergency. Our officials from the Climate Change Division are working hard overseas to pursue the “accelerated ambition” that is needed, while other countries drag their feet. Back home, though, what are we doing? What bold moves are we making to deal with climate change? The policies and the plans are there, but the time for talking is over. Have our political leaders even been talking to scientists like the brilliant (but increasingly tired) Professor Michael Taylor? Can we start acting on our many plans and policies, please, before it is too late?

‘Hope is not something that you have. Hope is something that you create, with your actions.’  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (left) and Greta Thunberg. Photograph: Stephen Voss, Anna Schori/The Guardian

‘Hope is not something that you have. Hope is something that you create, with your actions.’ Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (left) and Greta Thunberg. Photograph: Stephen Voss, Anna Schori/The Guardian

Here are a couple of comments from a conversation between the youngest Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (age twenty-nine) and the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (age sixteen):

Hope is not something that you have. Hope is something that you create, with your actions. Hope is something you have to manifest into the world, and once one person has hope, it can be contagious. Other people start acting in a way that has more hope…

I know so many people who feel hopeless, and they ask me, “What should I do?” And I say: “Act. Do something.” Because that is the best medicine against sadness and depression.

Actions give us a sense of purpose. In an emergency, one must act. Let’s just get on with it.

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