Jun 032011

Today I write no more than 50 metres from the sea, in a house overlooking the English Channel. It is right on a pristine pebble beach. There is a clear blue sky, with Brighton and Bognor Regis peering at us far from the distance to my left. This house, which belongs to my wife’s family, was built by her grandfather in the early 1970s – a shared family summer retreat that has given three generations and an army of cousins and friends pleasure over countless summer months. 

The next generation of the family may not be so lucky. The one after that almost certainly not. In 50 years’ time, the chances are that if I am still blogging and wanted to return to my current location, I’d either be drowning or sitting in a boat. Even the British government isn’t pretending that this stretch of coastline is one they can protect. If this little row of beach houses is lucky enough to survive at all, few would be willing to pay the buildings insurance premiums that will surely be demanded. Which presumably means that the balcony from which I write will, perhaps in my lifetime, be gone. 

The harsh realities of what is likely to come have never been starker than in recent days. We’ve had a report from Oxfam predicting that food prices are likely to double by 2030. The International Energy Agency has revealed that greenhouse gas emissions rose by a record amount last year, despite the global recession, leading to the highest carbon output in history. Limiting global warming to a two-degree rise (the generally accepted threshold for avoiding catastrophic climate change) is therefore probably now a pipedream rather than a possibility. We’ve seen the effect of a drought devastating crops throughout the UK. Water is being sprayed like mad on the fields behind this house. The National Ecosystem Assessment confirmed that nature’s services are worth billions of pounds to the UK, yet around 30% of those services are being degraded. Greenpeace activists are bravely trying to stop the Arctic being destroyed for our lethal addiction to oil, which is the chief culprit for so much of the climate crisis in the first place. 

I fear too many people are sleepwalking through this crisis. In most businesses, governments and indeed in some NGOs. The general public is definitely asleep on the ticking clock whose warning alarm grows ever louder. The media doesn’t help. The amount of news space given to Cheryl Cole not getting a job on a television programme in America and then repeating her misfortune in the UK actually symbolises a national disease, far more lethal than the new E-coli strain whose origins will doubtless at some stage be linked to some human interference with nature too. The column inches (not to mention BAFTA accolade) given to a troupe of incredibly stupid people from Essex says a lot at a time when any decent maker of drama, comedy or factual documentary is struggling to get anything of quality commissioned for mainstream television. 

Sitting in the sun as the waves lap over the sun kissed pebbles, a happy wet dog at my feet and a wife reliving her childhood memories, it’s hard to get too down about anything frankly. But this simple scene, with its modest homes, quiet community life and gentle seascape masks a calamity that will probably wash this place away forever. It’s worth thinking about when you choose your next car, buy your next washing machine, and decide which brands, politicians, media and NGOs deserve your loyalty in the coming years. 

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