“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.”
When T.S. Eliot wrote “The Wasteland” a century ago, he probably didn’t have the current climate crisis in mind. Nevertheless, the most recent global environmental conference, COP 25 could have concluded with the same lines. The Council of Parties 25 was held in Madrid, Spain in December of 2019 with a prologue of dire warnings that we were “on the point of no return” in our ability to avert a climate catastrophe.
But much like the thoughts and prayers that go out to the victims of violence following every horrific school shooting and mass killing, the best we could give to all of those youthful climate strikers was, “See you next year.” The nations most severely affected by accelerating climate change pushed for stronger targets for carbon pricing and emissions reduction.
They were blocked every step of the way by China, India, the United States of America and Saudi Arabia. Also blocked were decisions committing to strategies covering “loss and damage” — how countries already counting the cost of the climate emergency can be compensated.
The Japan Times reported about the conference proceedings on December 14/19 that: “The United States, which is leaving the Paris agreement, has aggressively blocked any provisions that might leave them and other developed countries on the hook for damages that could total more than $150 billion per year by 2025, observers and diplomats have said.”
And counter to our youthful teen protesters, there is no “generational divide” about these issues. The divide is between the consumer and conserver ethic. I am 73, I took my class n the first Earth Day march in 1970 and I have been teaching about and lecturing on and practicing environmental literacy ever since. When I began The Periwinkle Project (education towards environmental literacy) in 1989, one of my inspirations was a young teen activist from B.C. named Severn Suzuki. Thirty years later, a young teen from Sweden carries the torch. From one generation to another, a letter to you both.
Dear Severn and Greta,
Our thoughts and prayers are with you, and the generation about to inherit Earth. Like Gilgamesh and The Flood (retold later as Noah and the Ark in biblical mythology) the warnings were given, but few heeded them. In the beginning it was simply “accelerating climate change” and global warming that led the headlines.
In 1988, the World Meteorological Organization warned us that “Humankind is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, all-pervasive experiment upon the atmosphere of Earth, the consequences of which will be second only to global nuclear war.” This frightened you so much Severn, a young teenager, that you took your message to the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. On behalf of children everywhere, you reminded us adults that, “We are what we do, not what we say.”
Ten years later you walked out of the second Earth Summit in Johannesburg as corporations and “environmental tourists” hijacked the agenda. Thoughts and prayers. Four years after that, Conservative Minister of the Environment, Rona Ambrose, Chair of the 2006 UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, informed the world that Canada would not meet its carbon reduction commitments as Stephen Harper’s government backed out of the Kyoto Protocol. We sent you more thoughts and prayers.
Three decades later Greta, you have taken a young teenager’s concerns for environmental security to the world. Another young person fearing for her future in an age where “accelerating climate change” has now been acknowledged as a “climate crisis”, even a “climate emergency” by most meteorologists, insurance companies, military analysts, and governments not held hostage by fossil fuel economics. You crisscrossed the globe and used the networks of social media to tell adults that we have stolen your childhood and your dreams.
Armed with the best scientific knowledge that any generation on Earth has possessed, adults flocked to the International Climate Conference in Madrid this past week to address what UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called ‘the point of no return.” Greta told the conference, on behalf of young climate activists everywhere, that, “We are desperate for hope.”
The results of COP25 in Madrid were, according to the UN, “disappointing” as nations bickered over carbon pricing and ocean protection. Next year, we promise to look at it again. Next year. We promise.
In the meantime, Severn and Greta, our thoughts and prayers are with you.
I was up early on the morning of December 15, 2017. I had gone through my normal routine of brewing a Buffalo Soldier coffee and toasting some Amazing Grains Raisin Bread before turning on the early TV news.
The first image that came up on the screen is burned into my memory. It was a photo of two bodies dressed in white robes, at the edge of a luxurious swimming pool in what appeared to be a Dan Brownesque ritual death.
The bodies were beside each other, almost posed in a surreal state of eerie calm in the midst of their apparent wealth. It turned out the bodies found in a that wealthy Toronto neighbourhood belonged to billionaire couple Barry and Honey Sherman. The theories surrounding their bizarre deaths circulated as quickly as that photo disappeared from the TV screens.
For anyone who saw the photo that day, the immediate reaction was of a ritual murder or suicide pact. It was too posed, too staged. There was a message being sent in the way the bodies were arranged so calmly beside each other in their final rest. There was no blood or gore, no house smashing struggle, no dragging of battered victims across the pool deck. No.
There was only this photo of two bodies symbolically seated beside each other gazing out over their swimming pool as if in final contemplation of their wealth. The initial judgement of the police was that the Shermans had died either in a suicide pact or a murder-suicide.
Enter the Sherman family lawyers, and a private autopsy, Extreme wealth has its privileges. Also, suicide has a deleterious effect on the settlement of estates and insurance policies. Especially when one of the parties wills seems to be missing. After much high profile back and forth, the police declared that the Shermans were murdered, by perpetrator or perpetrators unknown, and still unknown to this day.
Today, two years later, the police will be updating their report on the mysterious Sherman case. One of the missing pieces of the puzzle appears to be that Honey Sherman revised her will only two days before her death. My mind flashes back two years to that photo that is imprinted indelibly in my memory. Maybe I have read too many Dan Brown novels about symbols and ritualistic deaths, but I stand by my first impression. Someone was sending a message. Who?