Our relationship with the environment must fundamentally change 

I’ve been outside of the UK, but that hasn’t left me ignorant to the oppressive heatwave searing the country just weeks ago. Or perhaps a month ago. I actually have been distracted and have lost touch with domestic events. Anyway, historically, the heatwave was incredibly unusual. It should have been perceived as an alarming, panic-inducing, action-on-all-fronts disaster. Concerningly, it seemed to prompt almost none of this reaction.  

Heatwaves are becoming more frequent and hotter in the UK. It’s not a coincidence unrelated to climate breakdown. Our planet is, unfortunately, changing, to become more unpredictable and inhospitable. Those, much as I wish they weren’t, are facts indisputable by logic. The planet is set to be ravaged by this changing climate, driven in large part by our own actions. Whilst that’s not ideal in terms of culpability, it’s good news in that we are not helpless, we just have to accept our blame and alter our behaviour. It’s a curiosity of human psychology that we continue in deliberate ignorance, choosing apathy or disbelief despite overwhelming evidence. 

Apocalyptic predictions have already been issued regarding the earth’s future. Climate breakdown can already be held responsible for human deaths. Models might vary in their precise level of catastrophe, but are united behind the simple belief that extreme weather events will become more frequent, pandemics and famines will grow more common, with impacts like crippling the global economy in addition to making huge swathes of the planet unliveable.  

Ironically, that’s part of the issue. Scientific reports read like tabloid journalism. The tabloids themselves certainly aren’t taking climate breakdown seriously, mocking the recent heatwave, in the most inappropriate example. In such an environment, any self-respecting person understandably responds to all outlandish predictions with incredulity, in line with hearing claims like ‘Brexit is a success’ or ‘Liz Truss doesn’t look like a half-melted wax model escaped from Madame Tussauds’.  

To tackle the climate crisis, it must be rationalised and approached with our full capacity for innovation and determination. We need a collective understanding of exactly what we face, and bravery in this sense, for the challenge might appear insurmountable. But if that’s true, there’s no value to anything we do. If we give up to our impending extinction, our species becomes worthless, for with our destruction comes the destruction of everything we’ve ever built, every memory any single person has every contributed. 

We must discard our complacency, and accept every individual has a role within the collective action. I appreciate, of course, the role of ‘personal responsibility’ as propaganda from special interest groups to shift the blame from themselves, often the most culpable, but it’s still important. Every act will help, which isn’t intended to burden every decision with immense pressure, but to encourage positive actions. 

Of course, fossil fuel and oil companies are heinously at fault. Rampant profiteering has left them positioned to dedicate huge sums to greenwashing, and has positioned them with the power to manipulate politicians and banks to secure favourable deals and funding. Jokes about Liz Truss aside (briefly, because she’s almost impossible to take seriously), she appears to be the Conservative frontrunner, set to be the next Prime Minister. Overlooking how frightfully embarrassing that will be to our national image, she has been tied to right-wing thinktanks funded by fossil fuel interests. Just as many green initiatives have been stalled in the US by the intervention of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who is overtly owned by coal interests, the climate crisis will likely be side-lined in the UK too.  

We all inhabit the same planet, and in the approach of our final decades, it might feel self-righteously satisfying to play the blame game, but it won’t ultimately have any practical benefit. Instead, our entire relationship with the environment must fundamentally change.  

We will need to drastically reduce our emissions. We might need to accept occasionally being uncomfortable for the sake of preserving resources. We have to equalise the playing field. At present, the richest can ignore the climate crisis, affording expensive air conditioning during heat waves whilst their peers succumb to hyperthermia. They, however, are precisely the ones with the most influence to shift the balance. 

Have you read the news? 

There’s a major cost of living crisis developing? That’s not good. Soaring energy costs are set to deliver a devastating winter, that much I’m sure is common knowledge, and doesn’t need recapping. It’s not all gloomy, however. The upper echelons of the energy sector have been profiting fantastically. Oil and gas companies have been accused of the greatest racketeering operation in history, whilst Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also been manipulated by oligarchs to pour billions towards the Kremlin. If we needed more evidence the energy crisis has been engineered by imposing deliberate restrictions on supply, a Russian gas plant has been pictured burning extraordinary quantities of natural gas, wasting it and further exacerbating climate breakdown through the emissions released. 

The system is utterly broken. The annual bonuses paid to water company executives rose by 20% in 2021, despite them failing to reach sewage mitigation targets, seeing immense discharge close much of the south coast. I won’t insult anyone’s intelligence by unnecessarily elaborating on the reasons why dumping vast quantities of human waste into fragile ecosystems is a less than celebratory result.  

The government missed its first deadline to announce whether a new coal mine would open in Cumbria, to shift the steel industry’s reliance upon Russian coal. The danger, of course, is in butchering climate targets made late last year. Michael Gove was supposed to issue a statement on the 7th of July, but fell victim to Boris Johnson’s staff culls. His successor planned to reach a decision in August, but that remains to be seen. 

To be slightly more positive, since the unending barrage of despair grows boring, let’s talk about rewilding. With woolly mammoth hybrids on the precipice of returning to Siberia, European Bison have been reintroduced into Blean Woods, Kent. This offers a fantastic opportunity for visitors to greet these amazing animals, support Bison population numbers, and witness them reshape the landscape into something more healthily resembling native woodland.  

This summer, more than 100 hen harriers have hatched. It’s hoped the fledgling birds will remain protected after leaving their nests, despite being one of the most persecuted species in the UK, frequently clashing with commercial hunting. With any luck, enough people care enough to counteract those who don’t.  

The Natural World 

Of all the reasons to stay alive, the natural environment jostles at the front. We are organic matter, requiring an intimate connection with the surrounding world for our mental and physical health. It must be appreciated as an integral part of our lives, not a detached feature ripe for either exploiting or voyaging into. The artificial distinction we have created in ‘civilisation’ and urban areas makes no sense, and is detrimental to the planet. 

Whilst travelling along Western Australia’s coastline this summer (winter for the locals) I spotted the dolphins, dugongs, and orcas. I swam with sealions, manta rays, and a whale shark. I witnessed evidence of perhaps life’s foundation on this planet, the rivetingly-exciting stromatolites. These experiences, delving into foreign habitats, were exhilarating. I’m also supremely conscious of how important our presentation of nature is.  

We are the environment. There are forces in play that vastly overpower our own, and remain pivotal to our ongoing survival. ‘Tourism’ into the natural world severs this connection, depicting it as a marvel to then be left behind once we’ve returned home. In this regard, I found the Monkey Mia resort, in Shark Bay, extremely disappointing. Each morning, they operate extensive ‘dolphin interactions’ from a jetty and designated section of beach. Wild dolphins have been conditioned into visiting this stretch to receive fish, so human guests might watch them feed and leave. Then the people head off too, to fish, barbeque, and otherwise lounge around the resort. Pumping in 100,000 such tourists every year, it’s precisely the kind of environmental voyeurism that casually corrupts our relationship with ‘nature’, exhibiting its marvels at their tamed worst.  

Profits extracted from withholding or exploiting the natural world always leave a sour taste. Often, I console myself through reassurances any money earned is repurposed for necessary upkeep, or future research. That is ordinarily the case, and Monkey Mia, to its credit, had a research station. But it’s undoubtably a business, charging each arrival $75 to access their dolphin show.  

Later that same day, we took kayaks out into the bay. A pod of wild dolphins, entirely of their own accord, started a hunt within smelling distance. We were forced to paddle away just to abide by distance regulations, so ambushed were we by their proximity. 

We need to transition away from actively destroying the environment, towards a more sustainable future that appreciates the natural world as integral to our own lives.  

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