Monday, 22 September 2014

The Quiet Voice of Change

Yesterday and tomorrow are big deals. I'm not wishing to discredit today, but the significance of September 21st and 23rd elevate both days into the status of "momentous". Tomorrow, world leaders unite for the UN's global summit on Climate Change; a summit where leaders are to be encouraged to do more, to cut more carbon and to release more funds to support change.

A big deal, you could say, yet for many it is another day for cynicism. After all, we’ve been here before, we’ve witnessed this several times over and we know how futile many of these meetings are for hands-on action and for significant change. The United Nations Climate Change conference takes place every year and has been happening ever since its first gathering in Berlin in 1995; whilst the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (also known as the Earth Summit) was first established in 1992. Thus these meetings are not revolutionary and these topics up for discussion are not new. Sadly it seems that one of the biggest obstacles in making a start on climate change is that it has become a cliché before it’s even been understood.

However what has changed is that time is no longer on our side and suddenly these topics are rather pressing.

  • Global temperatures last month make August 2014 the warmest month since records began. Average temperatures have climbed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius) around the world since 1880; the last two decades being the hottest in 400 years and possibly the warmest for several millennia
  • Arctic ice is rapidly disappearing, with the region predicted to have its first ice-free summer by 2040 or earlier. Polar bears and indigenous cultures are already suffering tremendously from the sea’s ice-loss, whilst glaciers and mountain snows are rapidly melting across the world
  • There has been an upsurge in the amount of extreme weather events across the world over the past twenty years, with wildfires, floods, heat-waves and strong tropical storms attributed to climate change.

This is a big deal. Virtually every climate scientist in the world agrees that we are currently on the brink of a human-caused climate catastrophe. Yet, even though climate change is happening right now; even though it is having real consequences on real people every day, it is still all too easy for a government to turn the other cheek for the sake of retaining popularity and power; there are after all powerful vested interests determined to obfuscate the obvious. Here's a wonderful little 83 second video to illustrate our global apathy.

However there is a sense that change is in the air. Lingering antipathy towards the likelihood of tomorrow’s summit inflicting significant global change has perhaps been counteracted by what happened yesterday…

Yesterday was a busy day across the world. Two thousand seven hundred individual marches took place in one hundred and sixty one countries across the globe. That’s a lot of people saying the same thing: “It’s time to change”. From Delhi to Aleppo, from Papua New Guinea to Cebu City in the Philippines, people took to the streets to add their voice to the cries of the masses. 400,000 people marched in New York alone, with yesterday set to stand as the largest climate change-related demonstration in history.

But it’s not just about big numbers. The premise of any revolution is to raise your voice, and when that voice is crying for help, even one single voice matters. Yesterday, the small voice of Arusha was added to the cry of the world. Arusha is a city in the north of Tanzania; a country that all too often feels the negative effect of climate change, yet a country that is not the perpetrator of the crimes. For example, the Maasai community are already suffering from the changing weather patterns, with water sources drying up and nomadic migration becoming much more restricted. Reportedly, school students representing Maasai communities marched across their lands yesterday in a call for action to protect their ancient Serengeti homelands from the impacts of climate change.

Arushans joined their brothers and sisters in one of just a handful of marches across Tanzania; an occasion which promised to be an exciting and momentous event for many reasons. Organised by local environmentalist and global activist Lelo (Elvis) Munis, the small crowd gathering in the late afternoon sun felt positive about the march ahead. Dressed in green, and armed with a sense of quiet determination for their voices to be heard, a crowd soon collated ready for the march around the city.

However, the small voice of Arusha was to be silenced before it even made it out into the world.

Unfortunately yesterday’s chosen date for global action happened to coincide with some rather heated political tensions within the city. Chadema, the main opposition political party in Tanzania (whose name - Chama Cha Demokrasia Na Maendeleo - means Association for Democracy and Development) had just been denied the right to protest peacefully about governmental legislation over the draft constitution, a cause for huge controversy across political parties. Opposition parties had joined forces and applied democratically for country-wide peaceful demonstrations to be held this weekend, but were denied opportunity. Police were thus nervous about the potential for riots and, seeing the possibility of a green-clad crowd mass serving as fodder to spark off unsolicited political action, were determined to shut us down.

Despite our protestation and the urge for understanding and addressing of the bigger picture, local police were not to be swayed by the larger global issues on the table yesterday, instead focusing on the immediate dangers lurking in their environment. Thus our voices were told to quieten down and we were told to abandon the march and leave the city.

However, the march must go on and, as mentioned, even one voice is louder than an empty silence. So the few determined souls left standing in the setting sun took our steely determination and our cause out into the wilds of the surrounding lanes and walked in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the world.

Small yet mighty, the Arusha March for Climate Change added its voice to the global cry; “no more procrastination” being the maxim.

 As small a voice as Arusha may have had yesterday, it still had one. And, once heard, a cry for help cannot be ignored. Add that cry to the hundreds of thousands of cries across the world yesterday and somebody somewhere will listen.

What is happening right now across the world is not something to scoff at; something to turn your nose up at or to ignore. Like it or not, want to face it or not, the negatives of climate change are inevitable and simply ignoring them is akin to wishing for your grandchildren to perish. Left unchecked, the world is on course for a 4.5c temperature rise which will mean total annihilation, and it’s more than just a little bit insane (or just plain masochistic) to ignore that.

Yesterday and tomorrow are big deals. The world spoke yesterday, and its leaders need to listen tomorrow. As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” Time is not on our side and whilst people march and governments argue, nature acts. So let’s hope that tomorrow, people can listen to the voices of yesterday; can plan together for the day after tomorrow and can learn to hear the quiet voices of nature speaking inspiration for what it is they have to do.

No comments:

Post a Comment