“Why aren’t the Brits panicking?”

There’s a thread on Reddit called “Why aren’t the Brits panicking?”. It was presumably started by someone from the States, given their choice of epithet. It’s certainly not a word I’d use to describe myself, what with its uncomfortable evocation of tabloids and expattery. I saw some right-wing troll (or, more probably, bot) on Twitter using the term ‘Britons’ in relation to Brexit, suggesting that his normative understanding of British identity draws on a mythical idea of pre-Roman/Norman/Windrush purity without jollof rice or vaccines.

Nonetheless, it’s a fair question. I’m a ‘Brit’, if you like, and I don’t appear to be panicking, despite the fact that in three weeks’ time there may well be troops on the streets to quell potential food riots, and all sorts of infrastructures whose existence, let alone importance, I have remained blissfully aware of all my life could collapse overnight. (The amount of unknown unknowns is, inevitably, unknowable.) If there’s a glimmer of sanity in Theresa May’s head that scenario won’t quite come to pass (yet), but if so we can be sure that Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson will be doing all they can to spark an immediate civil war and (in Farage’s case) will be given plentiful access to the airwaves to do so.

Philip K. Dick wrote that sometimes it is an appropriate response to reality to go insane, and this would appear to be an opportune moment to do so, except for the fact that people all around the world are very noticeably not panicking about rapidly rising temperatures or the return of the far-right to power in some of the world’s most powerful countries, which might give us pause to think: how do we “panic” if no one else seems to be doing so? Perhaps I am panicking without quite being aware of it. After all, we already have food stored under the bed and precautionary plane tickets booked for the end of the month. And yet, in the meantime, we still need to eat, sleep, see friends, take the baby to the park, go to work; there are Michael Jackson documentaries to watch, and subsequent arguments to pursue online with people who (mystifyingly) refuse to accept the facts; there are articles to read which reflect intelligently on how we should react to the final evidence of Jackson’s corruption: should we continue to play his music? Write it and him out of history? And yet, it’s been a central element in our shared emotional life. More, one might even say, then the European Union…

So what’s a reasonable reaction to news that shakes the ground on which one stands? It may be rational to panic, to scream and run away, but where do we run to? It is, in the words of this article, “easier not to believe” such terrifying truths, especially when, away from social media, so few people seem to be even slightly perturbed by what’s happening. Maybe our sense of how to behave is akin to how we construct our identities: in the words of the sociologist Charles Cooley, “I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am”. The reason that British people are not panicking is partly that other British people are not panicking. After all, not panicking is what we’ve all been doing on a wider scale in relation to even more terrifying news about our climate.

No amount of frozen metaphors about frogs in boiling water or memes of dogs in burning rooms can begin to do justice to our failure to respond adequately to collective existential threats. Michel Foucault talked about how power operates through a shifting process of normalisation, where even the most radical changes to our daily lives can be incorporated into our picture of the world, while Pierre Bourdieu developed the concept of habitus, according to which it’s practically impossible for us to think beyond the parameters of our working assumptions about our lives and our reality. Not only do we live in an environment saturated with reassuring messages about the future, we live, speak and breathe those messages, reproducing them in our thoughts, posts, conversations and actions. We see adverts for events that take place in April, May and beyond, myriad timescales which take no notice of March 29th, market imperatives that must supercede whatever happens in news headlines, just as everyday life and consumption has so far managed to outlive any number of terrorist atrocities or climate catastrophes in cities we visited just a few weeks or months before and just as the global market was able to incorporate the election of Trump, Bolsonaro and Salvini with nary a blink. When we were considering what to do at the end of March and trying to make plans for the following month, I made the following suggestion: Imagine we know there’s going to be a hurricane or a flood, one whole scale we can’t predict until just before it happens. But perhaps a better analogy, given that Brexit is first and foremost an ideological project, is a terrorist attack way beyond anything Isis could dream up; given the nature of such attacks, we don’t know whether it will hit the particular station or square we happen to be passing through, but it won’t stop us travelling or holidaying or going to work or shopping – although actually, you might want to strike that last one off the list, and the first and second come to think of it. As for our jobs… Dostoevsky wrote somewhere that the greatest strength and weakness of human beings is that we can adapt to any set of circumstances; post-modern society thrives on disruption, according to any number of Ted Talks. The statement that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism has been attributed to everyone from Frederic Jameson to Slavoj Žižek to (I seem to recall) Peter Andre. In such a setting it’s impossible to overcome the sensation that, as Thomas Pynchon puts it in ‘Against the Day’, “there will always be time”.

But perhaps, in the end, Brexit is not the cause of the (apparent absence of) panic, but rather its consequence. Maybe panic is setting in at the level of politics, and that’s what Brexit, much like Trump, Salvini et al, is an effect of. Maybe for many people the notion that their decision has somehow had an impact on world events serves to assuage the sense of doom and helplessness they feel in their daily lives.

In the meantime, then: Michael Jackson. I’m writing this in an airport. All around me people are going on with their lives: chatting, sipping coffee, unfolding pushchairs, tapping out sanctimonious diatribes about other people’s complacency on their devices. It’s soundtracked at this moment by some Motown classic which might be called ‘I believe you’. If I sit here long enough I’m sure to hear one of the totems of our culture: maybe ‘ABC’, ‘Rock with you’ (one of my personal favourites) or maybe (possibly, apart from the pedophilia, his nadir) ‘They don’t really care about us’. On the way into the terminal I saw a young woman wearing the same jacket Melania Trump when she went to sneer at terrified children ripped away fron their parents: ‘I DON’T REALLY CARE, DO YOU?’. I briefly thought about remonstrating with her, but didn’t want to create a scene. Which raises the question: how does one show that one cares? And related to that: what does it mean to panic? Maybe initiatives such as this and this can help us to, to borrow a phrase, take back control of our fears and frustrations in a way that’s doesn’t involve lashing out at conveniently-placed scapegoats.

Update: Someone on Reddit responded to this piece by accusing its writer (me) of being ‘ill-informed’, ‘stupid’ and ‘apathetic’. Here is another version written especially for him:

Having posted to his blog yet another diatribe about how Other People’s inertia, apathy, laziness, complacency, cowardice, greed, ignorance and selfishness were responsible for austerity, Brexit, Trump, Salvini, Climate Change and so on, and how it was not just incumbent upon Other People but actually pressing, urgent (and some or other synonym for those previous two words) for those aforesaid Other People to take action up to and including risking their personal relationships, livelihoods, freedom and physical safety to stop, overthrow and/or prevent those things, there really was no higher priority for Other People than that as it was a matter not just of principle but also of survival, so basically why weren’t Other People panicking or revolting, what was wrong with those Other People, like were they all fucking stupid or mad or evil or something like that, having typed all that, chosen a fitting image, selected some appropriate tags and clicked Upload, he caught the train to St. Albans, took a wander round the local gallery/museum and perused the street market, stopped for lunch in a pleasant café before visiting the cathedral and graffiting the words ‘YES, WE ARE ALL TO SOME EXTENT APATHETIC AND COMPLACENT IN THE FACE OF SUCH TERRIFYING THREATS AND HORRIFYING REVELATIONS, WE TEND TO DENY OUR OWN ROLE IN QUIETLY ALLOWING ABUSE TO BE PERPETRATED, THAT’S KIND OF THE POINT’ on the walls of the 13th century crypt, and then catching the train back to London to spend the rest of the day reading a book about climate change denial, eating the remains of the curry he and his wife had ordered off Just Eat the previous evening and watching the rest of the Michael Jackson documentary.

The (near) impossibility of taking climate change seriously (enough)

I step away from the climate change demonstration and stroll down the street past the Queen Elizabeth II Convention Centre, where dozens of people are lazing around in the warm late February sunshine.

No, that doesn’t work.

I leave the global warming protest and amble down the road past the Queen Elizabeth II Congress Hall, where scores of individuals are enjoying the warm early spring warm rays of warmth from the warm late February warm sun.

I think I see the problem. It can’t be spring in February. Spring begins round about Easter, which this year (and I don’t think this has anything to do with climate change) isn’t until late April. Speaking of which, the 22nd isn’t really late February either; as TS Eliot would no doubt agree, February is the shortest month, so it’s actually mid-to-late February right now.

Naomi Klein wrote that climate change “speaks in the language of fires, floods, storms, and droughts”, which is certainly the case, but it also says things like “this is lovely” and “it’s like being in Greece!”. Given that I know several people who were planning to spend half-term skiing in Switzerland, this February heat actually feels a little…chilling. All the same, there are people on the steps outside the ICA eating ice-cream, and it would be to begrudge them their day in the sun. Hannah Arendt famously wrote about ‘the banality of evil’; few would have anticipated how pleasant the Apocalypse would turn out to be.

There’s a standard question that gets posed in EFL classrooms: what would you do if someone told you the world was going to end in seven days? The obvious answer, one that rarely comes up, is I wouldn’t believe them. What if we reframe the question: what are you doing in response to the overwhelming evidence, brought to us by all non-corrupted scientific authorities over several decades, that our way of life is destroying our habitat? The answer, if we judge our actions rather than our words, is the same. We don’t believe them.

In his book ‘Exterminate all the brutes’ Sven Lindqvist’ wrote about the roots of the Nazi genocide in European colonialism. He ended it with the words: “It is not knowledge we lack. It is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions”. As it happens, I’ve just witnessed an example of such bravery. Someone I’d been talking to just a few minutes before, the organiser of a protest at the almost total lack of climate change information contained in the National Curriculum, daubed the message TEACH THE TRUTH in red paint all over the entrance to the Department of Education, and then sat quietly in front of it waiting to be arrested. In doing so, he put both his freedom and his livelihood as a teacher at risk.

Billions of dollars have been spent covering up the causes and consequences of climate change. It’s only now, with the first generation to directly, unambiguously face its consequences coming of age, that the resultant taboo on taking it seriously is starting to, well, melt. Adult society is very adept at living amidst the starkest contradictions and most brutally unjust realities. Whether it’s our own society’s vivid legacy of racism and imperialism, or the staggering physical, psychological and social damage wrought by consumerism, we ignore a very great deal which should make us change how we think and behave.

What’s an appropriate response to Lindqvist’s exhortation to draw conclusions and (by implication) behave responsibly? How much courage do we need to take such actions? A couple of weeks ago in Bristol I came across graffiti reading “Anna lives!”. This is presumably a reference to Anna Campbell, the young local woman who went to Kurdistan and gave her life fighting for the YPG*. Reading about her life and her father’s tribute to her bravery put me in mind of the tribute in the Turner Prize 2017 show to the philosopher Simone Weil, who lived a profoundly ascetic existence in line with her principles. According to Wikipedia, some claim that the refusal to eat which led to her death, at the age of 34 in 1943 came from her desire to express solidarity toward the victims of the war.

If the alternative to quietude is too terrifying for the vast majority of us to contemplate (and I absolutely, but not proudly, include myself in that category), what are the broader consequences of passivity? We all, I presume, experience a sense of frustration with the world as it is, lashing out in various ways at random people and objects, usually through a screen, often (in my case) at the screen itself when some process gets in the way of my venting of my pent-up annoyances. Many fall for the oldest trick that power has up its sleeve: taking out their frustrations on conveniently-placed scapegoats. The Big Idea that inspired this website – more than a hunch than a theory – is that our civilisation’s response to the knowledge of its impending self-destruction is: racism. It can be no accident that all prominent far-right demagogues, from Trump to Farage to Salvini to Bolsonaro ad infinitum, have lying about climate change as a core principle.

But then, it would be wrong to attribute all the blame for our complacency on those in political power, or to pass the buck to the media for their incessant insistence on weasel words like ‘unprecedented’. We all (myself very much included) deny climate change by rarely bringing it up and changing the subject when it does come up. My project for the next few months, and the impulse for coming to the protest today, is to carry out academic research to find out how this works in classrooms. I need to make contact with climate-aware teachers who’ll let me observe their lessons and talk to me on record about what happened and happens in class. Would I have come to the demonstration had I not had that aim in mind? I’d like to think so, but then much like anyone else I do like to interpret my own (in)actions in a positive light. Had I stayed at home, I’m sure I would have been able to think of some plausible excuse to tell myself.

*****

I walk in the door to the sound of an extremely high-pitched and insistent sound. I recognise it at once: it’s that bloody smoke alarm bleating for a new bloody battery. When we first moved in here the same thing happened and it took a lot of cursing and banging to get it to shut the fuck up. I only managed to get the battery out and stick it back in place with substantial difficulty. Later, when the Grenfell Fire happened and we were living in Rome, I remembered that incident and wondered whether our then-tenant had ever had cause to need the smoke alarm. It must have been him who replaced the battery which is now expiring.

Unfortunately the beeping noise I’d being accompanied by another insistent cry: the baby is demanding something called bettabetta. She’s in the kitchen pointing at the cupboard and her demands are almost, but not quite, in perfect synch with the bloody beeping of this nightmare of an object, the design of which makes it very, very hard to access the battery. I can’t remember what bettabetta is and I’m trying desperately to hack the battery out of the device whose beeping is becoming more and more insistent.

The whole episode takes a full two minutes, less a Two-Minute Hate than a Two-Minute Extreme Frustration. As the battery finally pops out I manage to remember that bettabetta is the baby’s name for Weetabix. She calls it that because I’ve always referred to it weeta-beeta, which is actually, it’s turned out, too complex for a two-year-old old to articulate. (It subsequently transpires that she also calls it Weetabix.) I quickly stuff the smoke alarm back into its fitting on the ceiling and get out the milk and cereal. Once things are becalmed the baby remembers (DICO! DIIIICO!!!) that I promised we could have a Friday nite pre-pizza disco while we wait for her mum to arrive. I plug in the disco lights I bought for £9.99 on Amazon and, obedient to the whims of the iPod shuffle, we joyously frug around the living room to this.

*It would be wrong not to acknowledge that while Anna Campbell gave her life in the fight against Isis, Shamima Begum and her friends must have felt very deep down that they were doing the right thing in going to fight for Isis. That Begum still felt that way despite witnessing how horrendously her new friends regarded and treated her fellow women is not a point in her favour.

Forget the Paris Agreement. We need some new Nuremberg Trials.


Some old and ugly white people, not one of whom has any scientific credentials, all of whom despise their own children/grandchildren and none of whom possesses a soul, toast their success in ensuring the rapid elimination of the human species.

People have often laughed when I’ve argued that climate change denial should long have been treated as an imprisonable offence. You may also disagree with me; in my defence I ask you to consider what the…(people? No, that’s not the word) are celebrating in the above photo. The concerted efforts of a specific group of pseudo-scientist fraudsters and staggeringly corrupt media commentators to spread doubt, ignorance and confusion on behalf of corporate interests have ensured that if the human race is to survive more than a few decades, it will be in dire circumstances and with a vastly-reduced population. To any trolls wish to make light of that sentiment, I would point out that I am the father of an impossibly adorable nine-month-old baby and stress that I regard all of the people in the above photo as mass murderers of infinite future generations of human beings. (To anyone sent here from 4chan, I appreciate your desire to demonstrate your commitment to overturning all bastions of post-enlightenment wisdom and ridiculing liberal unease, but please go and play at defending pedophiles for the evening instead.)

I’ve sometimes been accused in the past of hyperbole when it comes to this topic, so I will make the following sentence as circumspect as I possibly can: Those who have dedicated time and energy to making action to prevent or mitigate climate change impossible are the enemies of the entire human species, guilty of plotting a genocide many times greater than those of Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot multiplied together. It is no accident whatsoever that their number includes a very high proportion of holocaust deniers. (Scratch a climate liar, find a nazi. Punch a climate liar in the face and film it, I’ll send you $60 by PayPal.) Displaced repressed fear of an overheating planet is what most fuels attempts to build a post-modern fourth reich. No climate denial conspiracy, no “President” Trump. You’re welcome to disagree with me on this, but only if you first agree it’s a very good point. (And if you didn’t know that Climate Change may well have been a major factor in the war in Syria, it might be because, like everyone alive including me, you don’t like to read stories involving the climate. Knowing about that does help explain why those who deny climate change hate refugees, and vice versa. As I said before, it’s no accident. Find me more than one climate liar who’s not a close associate of the far-right and I’ll buy you a copy of the book ‘Why I tell lies on behalf of oil companies’ by Piers Corbyn.)

One of the only remaining means by which human beings might wake up to the scale of the emergency which is upon us would be if the facilitators of ecological breakdown were to be brought to justice as publicly as possible. There is a precedent: the infrastructure of human rights came out of the realisation of the immortal horrors that mortal human beings were capable of. The creatures responsible were quite rightly eliminated from the face of the earth. How it might come about is a mystery, but it seems to me that the scale of the betrayal of the climate lying movement justifies a similar response. We need a Nuremberg-style trial for all those guilty of lying about the causes and consequences of the changing climate. Much as I know it would delight that group of pro-diluvuan misanthropes to hear someone say this, they are quite simply the worst scum who have ever existed, and humanity cannot start to address this trauma as long as they continue to be present on our planet. Cheers.

First they abandoned the Puerto Ricans

I once tried to watch a documentary about the political status of Puerto Ricans. With all its myriad details of unincorporation vs statehood vs self-determination, it was considerably less entertaining than ‘West Side Story’. Now, for more than three million people, such issues may be a matter of life and death.

Donald Trump doesn’t know much about Puerto Rico either. He’s been told that it’s an island, and sort-of foreign and sort-of not, but he also knows that the people there can’t vote. He’d really rather just tell people things are going great and go and play golf. It doesn’t matter to him what happens to the people there. It’s an island, for Christ’s sake. Trump wouldn’t have the capacity to help even if he wanted to. He just has no intrinsic motivation to care about people who can’t do anything for him in return. (EDIT: The US has brought back Trump’s five predecessors to coordinate the reconstruction, due to the fact that the current office-holder so obviously does not give a shit.)

Trump also has no impulse control. Since he became president, he’s spent more than two months on the golf course. Although (as I wrote shortly after the inauguration) he’s the kind of leader that the US has imposed on so many other countries, it’s not so much that (as some claim) he’s following an authoritarian playbook; he’s too stupid, arrogant and lazy to read. Instead he’s an instinctive tyrant, his instincts conditioned by the crudest imaginable form of Social Darwinism. The notion that life is all about competition is a suitable ideology for someone who’d already been awarded the gold medal before they’d even drawn their first breath. This is not story he tells himself, of course. He just knows he’s entitled to go and play golf whenever he feels like it. His ideology, then, is Neoliberalism at its most basic: the market works for me, so it must work for everyone else. More competition is always good, because I’m the guy who owns all the starting pistols and the finishing tape. Now kneel before me – or, rather, stay on your feet or I’ll use the starting pistol on you.

Now, such a person has an instinctive understanding of threat posed by climate change. To people like Trump, the idea that society might – indeed, must – become more cooperative is worse than the reality that our habitat is collapsing. As Naomi Klein has cogently argued over the last few years, capitalism (particularly in its turbocharged, scorched earth variety) is simply incompatible with the continued existence of our species.

Of course, it’s easy to blame our leaders for our plight. There’s also the question of our own responsibility. We, as a ‘civilisation’, long ago collectively decided to ignore the implications. That is, after all why Trump was elected: there’s nothing less real than reality TV, so one way to escape from a frightening reality was to elect a reality TV star, someone who plays the role of a tycoon for the cameras. Facebook, Twitter have happened along, not quite by chance, at just the right moment to enable us to screen out those aspects of reality that make us uncomfortable. It’s no accident that Trump once declared that “All I know is what’s on the internet“. While Obama was the first black president, Trump is the first internet one. (Not to mention the “first white president“.)

Puerto Rico is an instructive case. It’s not like parts of Bangladesh, Houston, or Miami, i.e. part of a larger territory into which our perception of its suffering can be subsumed. It’s isolated, so presents a very stark test case of whether or not we actually give a flying fuck about our future. If we don’t respond to calls like that of the Mayor of San Juan, and not just with donations but with political action, we are truly lost. Every city on earth will face similar existential crises,often part of bigger ones, like the coming wave of crop failures. The market – the rising price of food and energy, which some are lucky to be able to afford – will only protect us so far. Its not just that our current leaders will let us starve or drown, they will actively ignore our plight just as they denied the circumstances that made it inevitable. We have to recognise that what is happening in Puerto Rico is a climate catastrophe, part of a much larger and even deadlier global transformation, and act accordingly by making sacrifices on behalf of those already suffering and by getting rid of political leaders who refuse to even acknowledge the nature of the crisis. We must build local and international solidarity networks and demand that those we elect to govern our cities develop infrastructure to withstand the inevitable. If we don’t do these things, there will be no one left to speak up for us.

We can no longer ignore why hurricanes – and earthquakes – are getting stronger

Earthquake Strikes Mexico City

“You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.” Sven Lindqvist.

If you’re not Mexican and you’ve lived in Mexico City, you’ve probably lived or hung out in La Condesa, with its tree-lined avenues, pavement cafes and energetic night-time economy. My wife and I recently spent a wonderful year (May 2015-May 2016) living in a 3rd-floor apartment on the corner of Calle Campeche and Calle Cholula, above a branch of the taco chain Tizoncito. Having seen the destruction around Avenida Amsterdam, just a very pleasant three-minute stroll or two-minute jog away, I hope our former home is still standing and that everyone who was in the building is safe and sound.

I experienced three small earthquakes in my time in DF (the most common local name for the city). The first time I didn’t notice, or at least I saw belatedly on Twitter that there’d been an ‘#alertasismica’. I subsequently tried to find out if the public alarm system had actually worked, because I certainly hadn’t heard it. The second tremor apparently took place while I was in the metro one afternoon – I only heard about it in retrospect. The third one took place during our farewell party. As about 20 or so of us bounced round our ultimately oversized apartment at 3am, someone pointed out that the lampshade seemed to have joined in with the manic dancing. Sure enough, when we went to peer over the balcony, the staff and straggling customers of the taco joint were gathered in the street looking a bit chastened. Ah, chingale, we thought, and went straight back to ‘Born Slippy’. It turns out that we were immensely lucky.

By far the strongest and longest earthquake I’ve felt wasn’t actually in Mexico. It took place in Rome a few months after we’d left DF, on the eighth floor of the maternity hospital where my wife would just a few weeks later give birth to our first child. We were visiting a fellow couple and their brand new baby when the water in a plastic bottle began to shake, and then the building began to wobble. Everyone went quiet – I think that was one of the uncanny things about it. Outside, down in the street, some people were gathered in small groups and others were just getting on with their lives. It seemed to go on for several minutes but afterwards the sensation of physical distress and disorientation went on for more than a week. I immediately felt inspired to write this short piece of absurdist satire in an attempt to turn my fear into something…useful? Meaningful?

The stories I’ve read in the media and posted by friends in the last few hours are genuinely shocking. By no means do I want to make a disaster I didn’t even experience about me, but knowing those streets and recognising some of the buildings, not to mention worrying for the safety of friends who still live nearby, has been a sobering experience. There have also been reports of acts of immense courage. For all its manifold cracks and faults, I felt that Mexico City is a place in which those who share space look out for one another to a greater extent than in both London and Rome, especially given the relative absence of the State. Events like this, and those in Florida and the Caribbean over the last few weeks are not a good advert for cutting back on the provision of centrally-funded emergency services.

The courage that ordinary Mexicans display in continuing to make do in the midst of constant dangers, big and small, from disappeared daughters to bent traffic policemen, is immense. Partly by virtue of living in Condesa, we were sheltered from so many of the threats that chilangos take for granted. I hope that if I were still there I’d have the bravery and integrity to help out. It’s becoming clear now that, wherever we live, the rest of our lives now will both trigger our instincts of self-preservation and also necessitate acts of great selflessness. I pray that incidents like Brexit and the election of Trump are not conclusive evidence that the two are mutually opposed.

Although I’d be hard-pressed to compare it to dragging people put of broken buildings, it did take something like courage to investigate something I’d purposefully been avoiding: the relationship between earthquakes and the changing climate. This article, by the highly-respected academic Bill McGuire, sets out the link. It turns out that as the planet heats up (and particularly as deeply-compacted ice melts, and hurricanes hammer at the surface), the earth shifts. (Incidentally, if you haven’t read the article, which was published in an eminently reputable publication and summarises the results of some very extensive research which took place over several decades and was subject, like all significant academic research, to extensive and rigorous peer-review based on the systematic application of doubt, please do not comment below.)

It’s immensely difficult to talk about climate change. We’re neither evolutionarily equipped nor socially encouraged to take it seriously. The most powerful forces on the planet employ endless legions of trolls to shout down any discussion of its causes and effects, often in the name of (ahem) “free speech”*. Republican and Conservative politicians insist that it’s never the right time to address planetary overheating, particularly at those moments when its consequences are most visible and stark. Anywhere I post this online there will immediately attract those who, without having digested or even nibbled at its contents, will insist on screaming with spluttering toddler-like outrage that someone has had the temerity to try to feed them the C-words. Their campaign of intimidation around an almost impossibly intimidating subject has made climate change into a taboo, a heresy.

Now, in 2017, everyone – particularly politicians and journalists – who talks about hurricanes without mentioning the changing climate is being cowardly and dishonest. We also owe it to each other, and to the new generation, the one which, absolutely blameless, is already here, to face up to the fact that our failure to even discuss the dangers before us has much deeper consequences than we blithely assumed. An essential step is to get rid, by any means necessary, of those ‘leaders’ who, by means of scapegoating and by encouraging inane conspiracy theories, deny reality on our behalf. They are the sort of people who should have hurricanes named after them: #HurricaneRickScott or #HurricaneScottPruit may have had more useful political impact than #HurricaneIrma. Perhaps, given his government’s stated intention to throw limitless amounts of fossil fuel onto the fire, this particular disaster should go by the name of Enrique Peña-Nieto.

* Such people specialise in belittling the suffering of anyone with darker skin, so climate change is an ideal topic for their trolling.

No one deserves to lose their home to a hurricane. Well, almost no one.

The question of whether or not it’s acceptable to use violence to stop fascism was resolved to the satisfaction of pretty much the entire human race in the middle of last century. Few in the late 1940s would have had much respect for the notion that genocide is merely a expression of the right to free speech. But if, as Patrick Mcgrath argued cogently this week, fascism is a monster which keeps growing new heads, then each one that emerges needs to be crushed with maximum force – or, as the finale of Psychoville spectacularly demonstrated, exploded.

Many of those fleeing hurricanes in Florida and Texas over the last week will inevitably have more awareness of and engagement with the problem of the changing climate than the writer of this blog. Others will, like me, be aware of the basic facts and share in the generalised but rarely-acknowledged terror at what a righteously vengeful planet next has in store. But there are inevitably many of those currently witnessing the destruction of all they hold dear who have actively dedicated much of their time and energy over the last couple of decades abusing mass and digital communication media to spread disinformation with a view to ensuring that such catastrophes would both take place and be wholly unprepared for by states with the duty and means to protect their subject populations. Many of them will even have lent their support to corrupt and venal political demagogues who have built their careers and fortunes on the spreading of staggeringly irresponsible lies  which deny the present and future suffering of millions of fellow human beings.

Many of those victims happen to be poor, dark-skinned and far away. It’s by no means an accident that the kind of scum who marched straight from 4chan to Charlottesville a few weeks ago divide their online time fairly equally between scapegoating and ridiculing foreigners, threatening and bullying women who dare to speak freely and attempting to disrupt every single online conversation about how scientific findings account for extreme weather events. Climate denial is a key component of 21st century fascism, the formal and explicit imposition of elite power through violence. (Hurricanes are extremely violent events – no wonder the manchild Trump appears to revel in their power.) Just as when those who seek to gain power by means of violence are pushed back by any means necessary, when people who have inflated their egos, boosted their careers and augmented their Paypal balances by denying the experiences of climate refugees themselves become climate refugees, who can spare them any sympathy? Of all the tragedies to be visited on the US over these few weeks, maybe the greatest, or at least the most ironic, is that Hurricane Irma appears to be steering clear of Mar-a-lago. While some may be #prayingfortexas or #holdinghandsforflorida, I’m hoping that the next extreme weather event brings in its wake a tsumani of divine justice. In the meantime, perhaps a more appropriate nickname for a hurricane ripping apart the south-west corner of the United States would be simply #RickScott.

Denial 2: On Blinkeredness

filterbubblesI noticed a couple of years ago when living in a fairly nondescript part of East London, in the kind of Olympically lifeless area where absolutely everyone comes from everywhere else and no-one sticks around for long, that in some parts of the country, and maybe the world, it is becoming more and more difficult to find a shop where get your hands on a physical newspaper. Conversations with my international students confirm this: the regular purchase of a newspaper is increasingly a minority pursuit, an odd and probably slightly quirky habit of people over 35 or so. Younger people inevitably get their news online, if at all – the news might simply consist in what their friends are up to on Facebook or maybe a glance at Google or Yahoo headlines. Given that so much of what we perceive of the world is mediated in some way, what does this imply about our collective experience of a shared reality?

A few years ago I remarked on my Chinese students’ reluctance to engage with information which might conflict with what they had grown up and been taught to believe about their own society. Despite the opportunities presented by the internet, they continued to prefer Chinese sites and to steer well clear of alternative sources of news, ideas and information despite having the language to make sense of what was being said. At the time I tended, rather patronizingly I now see, to regard this as a symptom of ideological brainwashing by the evil Chinese Communist Party, but since then I have come to see this kind of instinctive and wilfull blinkeredness as more generalized and not remotely restricted to authoritarian societies.

Now obviously my Facebook news update page and Twitter feed are different from yours. I chose to follow or to be friends with certain people, and am of course aware that the information I receive in this way does not give me a particularly comprehensive view of what is going on in the society in which I live or around the world. However, news sites tend now to work in a similar way, or at least offer to let you have your news your way – just business and sports headlines if that’s what you’re interested in, with none of that bothersome stuff about earthquakes and floods and generally what’s been happening to people you’ve never even met.

To go back to when I was in the authoritarian society of China, it caught my attention that the results I got from Google searches tended to be quite different from the results I got outside China. This has been quite ably demonstrated elsewhere – if you type Tiananmen Square into google anywhere else in the world, you are confronted with the famous picture of the guy standing in front of the tank, whereas if you do so in China. you get some American people’s holiday snaps (and if you look for human rights in google in China, your internet connection goes down for five minutes). In China, then, we are dealing with a formal kind of censorship, acknowledged or not. Whether or not google colludes in this is not generally known. But what is clear is that, these days, something similar happens wherever we are in the world.

In the interview below Eli Pariser shows us what happens when he types Egypt into google: he gets a page of results which pertain to recent developments: the fall of the dictator and the ongoing revolution. He then shows us what happens when a less socially conscious friend did the same thing – the results he received were mostly related to holidays. Google uses a series of filters to show us what it thinks we as individuals do and do not wish to know. It does so automatically and for our own benefit – just as the authoritarian Chinese Commmunist Party does.

The kind of people I teach here in London are about as likely to type human rights into google as they are to buy a copy of the Guardian.The same is certainly true for climate change – any attempts, even in the most underhand and careful of ways, to raise the topic result in what George Marshall describes as a ‘spinach tart’ moment. Not only are they very unlikely to seek information on the impending annihilation of the human species or indeed on what we individually and collectively can do to prevent it, they are also, these days, extremly unlikely to come across any information on it, given the way that they, and we, increasingly experience the world through a tighter and tighter set of filters, for our own benefit and convenience.

However, for all that we may be inclined to hope that we can hide from the four horsemen in our own private and sealed utopias online, it transpires that this is not the case. According to a recent government report, it is predicted that climate change will play havoc with our internet connections: ‘higher temperatures can reduce the range of wireless communications, rainstorms can impact the reliability of the signal, and drier summers and wetter winters may cause greater subsidence, damaging masts and underground cables’. Maybe our best option would be to challenge climate change to a game of (offline) chess.

by Rich

Denial 1: On denialism

mmezqI mentioned to a friend that I had foolhardishly bought a ticket for a full showing of the nine and a half hour long Holocaust documentary Shoah. He responded that it would be effective aversion therapy for a Holocaust denier. Now personally I have never thought of myself as a Holocaust denier, but I guess there must be a reason why I have decided not just to subject myself to presumably the most upsetting and depressing celuloid experience of my life but also to pay a much delayed visit to Auschwitz this summer. Maybe, deep down, without knowing it, I am a Holocaust denier. Or maybe my interest is more casually macabre, like this guy (or on another level WG Sebald may have something to do with it). Perhaps we all are Holocaust deniers, in that most of the time, we go about our daily lives not reflecting upon the import not only of that most base of human achievements, but all the horrors that we know full well are going on around us, some of which we know at some level that we are deeply implicated in (and the means we increasingly use to try to escape from this reality allow us to also avoid our ethical responsibilities: a friend’s facebook profile reads, ‘Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine…’…hmm, no need to worry about the ethical consequences of what we do all day at work then). Perhaps, as someone wise once speculated, we simply choose to be blind.

As Zizek pointed out, some traumas are too, well, traumatic to be integrated into the human psyche. There is no rational or appropriate response to knowledge of the Holocaust. It simply defies our categories of knowledge and belief, shatters the coordinates of our reality. In a very similar way, there would be no appropriate response to the coming horrors of climate chaos, and no visible means by which we can alert ourselves, those we love and those who do not exist yet in order to somehow prevent it from happening. So we all, at some level, deny it is happening.

Speaking of the holocaust, the French philosopher Raymond Aron articulated very well how ideology works today: ’“I knew, but I didn’t believe it, and because I didn’t believe it, I didn’t know.” Sven Lindquist said something similar: “You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.” George Marshall of the Climate Outreach Information Network makes a similar point with reference to Climate Change: we need to stop calmly telling people about what is happening and concentrate on showing them how scared and angry we are. Actually, he didn’t say scared, I did. Here is a video in which he explains what he means; you can find much more of this sort of thing here: