‘I’m surprised you still want an iced black Americano,’ said the barista, not unkindly.
I was looking for a place to catch up with a friend who was visiting me in London from Malaysia and thought, why not meet at this delightful café near Borough Market? It’s a stone’s throw from the shared office space I had started working from and was a recent discovery for me. Iced black coffee became my medicine of choice during the scorching summer months, and the barista knew it. But today was a rainy, grey autumn day, she said, a portent of winter – why was I not transitioning to hot coffee?
‘I’m in denial,’ I joked. ‘As far as I’m concerned, we’re still in British Summer Time, and in my mind it’s only early autumn. Possibly still late summer.’
She laughed and nodded. ‘I like how you think,’ she said. ‘And this weekend it’s going to be a wonderful sunny 20oC.’
‘That’s lovely, but also a little bit scary,’ I confessed. ‘The weather we’ve had this year is just not normal.’
I don’t know what I was expecting in response. But certainly not what she – a young, articulate, hipster southern European (judging by her accent) – came up with: ‘Oh, well, I think all of this is just part of our natural planetary cycle – everything is OK.’
Probably what made matters worse was the woman who was eavesdropping and decided to interrupt us. Also, southern European, again judging by her accent, and wearing an off-putting goofy smile, she said to me, ‘Don’t be such a doom-monger.’
I said, ‘We’ve had record-breaking temperatures and drought this summer in the UK, complete with wildfires and 3,000 excess deaths – how is this normal?’
‘Well, the summer wasn’t nearly as bad as you say, and every tiny bit we are doing makes a huge difference for the better,’ said European Pollyanna, the disturbing smile never leaving her lips.
I started shaking my head, maybe a bit too vehemently.
The barista said, in an effort at faltering diplomacy, ‘I’m not getting into this.’
The scene where Jennifer Lawrence berates the climate-sceptic newscasters in the black comedy Don’t Look Up flashed through my head. ‘Oh my God,’ I thought, ‘I need to pull myself together.’
‘I’m not getting into this either,’ I finally managed to reply, still a tad defensively.
‘Here’s your iced Americano,’ said the barista with a forced smile. ‘Thanks so very much,’ I said with an equally forced smile. Mad European Pollyanna then ambushed the barista and said, ‘It’s so lovely to hear you speak so much sense!’
Perhaps if it was another day, I would have reacted differently. But this was the day that Liz Truss, the UK prime minister, resigned after only forty-four days in power, unable to outlast the shelf-life of a lettuce. It was also the day Malaysia’s Election Commission announced that polling day for the country’s snap elections would be held on 19 November 2022 – during flood season. I had spent the morning attending online meetings and briefings and reading about climate-related developments in the leadup to COP27, the upcoming UN climate talks in Egypt.
Anwar Ibrahim, SCRIPT for a Better Malaysia: An Empowering Vision and Policy Framework for Action, Institut Darul Ehsan, Shah Alam, 2022.