Keep calm

Paul Nash: The Menin Road

This is a picture of desolation. ‘I realise no one in England knows what the scene of the war is like’ wrote Paul Nash, war artist in the First World War. ‘I am no longer an artist interested and curious, I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on for ever. Feeble, inarticulate, will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth, and may it burn their lousy souls.’ He was angry. Those lousy souls were actually just like ours.

Men who come back from war often find that no one can listen. Many of them stop speaking about it. As a result, they are forced to operate with only a fraction of their minds, because of the mental space taken up by the unbearable hurts of war.

Desertification in Inner Mongolia. The Guardian June 17th 2011.

To some degree this is true of us all. We are all limited by the effects of past hurts. Without other people who can stay relaxed while they listen to us, it’s hard for any of us to face our worst experiences. We courageously try to ignore the unhealed wounds, that leak a bit, that itch, that suddenly give us a pang. We work round them. We’re fine!

The trouble is, denial becomes a habit. We can’t bear to think what climate change means, so we deny it in one way or another … Even those of us who see ourselves as environmentalists. We may not say ‘It’s not that bad, it’s not yet, it’s not here, we could do with a bit of warmth, don’t be alarmist, the scientists will find a solution… ‘ But in order to carry on living in this society, we accept its pleasures and priorities. When we’re not actually demonstrating, we keep calm and carry on.

This was a British motivational poster in World War II

Nash wrote of those ‘who want the war to go on for ever’. Today we are in the power of people who want global warming to go on for ever. And if we continue to keep calm – the old British wartime slogan  – and continue Business As Usual, it will. The globe will go on heating, and heating, and heating. Here in Britain at Christmas the daffodils are out. They are so confused, you would think they were human.

Where are we? What day is it?



In my opinion, climate change denial in the ‘developed’ countries is the biggest obstacle to change. 

I’m not talking big denial, I’m talking small, every day denial. There’s a big weight hanging above us from a string that’s fraying. What do you think of the new Star Wars movie?

It’s not our fault. Consumer capitalism is the very air we breathe. It’s hard for us to imagine ourselves making a viable life in another sort of society. Even if we can stretch our minds that far, it’s even harder to imagine how the transition would come about, and whether we’d survive it. Of course we don’t want to think about that! Are you mad?

But we have to. I once saw a video about two Holocaust deniers who were taken to Auschwitz and faced with a survivor of the camp who told them about her life there – this was my bunk I shared with my mother, here we queued up for water, and so on. Did they stop being Holocaust deniers? Did they hell! They couldn’t afford to. There was something they couldn’t possibly face.

Keeping up denial. It’s not always easy, you know. Some people are better at it than others. Distancing language is good – see the Paris agreement, illustrated in my last blog post. Serious talk, but distancing language. ‘Loss and damage? Come back in a few years….’ might be a loose translation of some of it. Geographical distance helps denial. I know about garment workers in Bangladesh being paid a pittance, but I don’t know any actual garment workers personally. choc_cream2The trouble is, I have now met some people who go hungry because of the actions of my country and other countries like mine. Of my country’s citizens. Of whom I am one. I have met these people, and I can’t forget their words and their faces.

It’s Christmas. I’ve got a freezer full of food.





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