Fight or Flight?
When someone like Professor Sir David King says he’s scared by the number of extreme weather events we are seeing – far more and with greater frequency than the climate scientist authors of the Fourth IPCC Report predicted in 2014 – we should all listen. In fact, we should all be scared. Scared enough to realise that the time for meaningful action to tackle climate change is now – before it really is too late. Speaking to the BBC, Professor King, a former chief scientific adviser to the government, said: “It’s appropriate to be scared. We predicted temperatures would rise, but we didn’t foresee these sorts of extreme events we’re getting so soon.”
There is an understandable concern about growing “eco anxiety” amongst teenagers – the first generation which is likely to be really seriously affected by the impacts of climate change and yet who may not be in a position to make the real changes needed to arrest catastrophic global warming – in the law, in industrial processes, in sustainable energy supplies, in less resource intensive “stuff”. The UN’s weather chief Petteri Taalas, the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), has said that using words like “scared” could make young people depressed and anxious. He says that scientists should “stick to the facts, which are quite convincing and dramatic enough. We should avoid interpreting them too much”.
In response, Professor Jo Haigh – until very recently Professor of Atmospheric Physics at Imperial College London and co-director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment – says: “David King is right to be scared – I’m scared too….We do the analysis, we think what’s going to happen, then publish in a very scientific way…Then we have a human response to that… and it is scary.”
One of the guests in our latest Planet Pod podcast was Henry Scott, a youth climate striker and a member of UK Student Climate Network – a group of mostly under 18s taking to the streets to protest the government’s lack of action on the Climate Crisis. They are instrumental in mobilising unprecedented numbers of students to create a strong movement and send a message that young people are tired of being ignored. Their message: “Standing Up for Our Climate Until Our Leaders Take Action”. A manifestation of this was the Climate Strikes on Friday 20 Sept which saw millions of people – young and old – around the world take to the streets in protest. Henry is young, intelligent and articulate. He is also scared for the future – not just his and his friends’ future, but the future for all of us on the planet. But he also amazingly positive and has taken the time and trouble to think about what changes he thinks are necessary to pull us out of this climate emergency. Far from being driven to despair by the science and its implications, Henry has been spurred by this to take a stand, to make a noise, to say to those who can – let’s make a difference now before it’s too late.
Being scared spurs us to action – to “Fight or Flight”. Let’s all join Henry and his young colleagues by fighting for the climate.