He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise
‘Eternity’ by William Blake
‘If the final hour comes and you have a seed in your hand, plant it.’
From Imam Bukhari, Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, book 27, Hadith no 479 (English translation)
From my vantage point in Brighton, UK, it’s a strange time on Planet Earth – for all the sound and fury, social media meltdowns, strikes and protests, it has felt to me this autumn of 2022 as though we are just miming political action, that in fact we have silently slipped over an indelible threshold beyond which nothing can help us: that we are now powerless to avert the coming global cataclysm – an unimaginable future of terminal chaos, writ large on the wall in charcoal from the fires in Australia and stains from the floods in Pakistan. I am writing in the immediate aftermath of COP27, the UN climate change talks in Egypt which, although it achieved a historical victory for developing nations in the form of a loss and damage fund, again failed to make solid commitments to measures that would limit global temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Though extreme weather events and their associated effects of famine, floods, disease, refugee crisis and war would still intensify at that limit, there would remain a chance of reversing some of the most disastrous environmental changes. Beyond 1.5° we hit planetary tipping points which would take us into wholly uncharted territory and are likely to bring about global civilisational collapse.
Perhaps the flame of hope is still just trembling: Alok Sharma, president of COP26 in 2021 in Glasgow, addressing the closing day of the conference in Egypt, declared that 1.5°, as a goal, ‘unfortunately remains on life-support’. Given, however, the chronic refusal of world leaders to remove the fossil fuel IV tubing and robustly revive the patient, we are still driving hard toward a largely unliveable planet. The vital question then, as we transition into a radically uncertain future, is how do we, as a species, prepare for the trauma, loss and, I believe, radical opportunities to come? For the lights aren’t going to go out all at once: human beings are numerous, intelligent and adaptable and even on a hot and largely barren planet some of us will most likely survive. How exactly we do that is up to us, and very much dependent on the stories we tell about ourselves and our times.