I have thought a lot about how to approach this message; should I lay out the case for climate change as a real phenomenon? Should I describe the risks, or the worst case scenarios? Should I lay out a multi-step plan in an attempt to provide practical solutions? I decided, after considerable thoughts, that although all of these are very important they are probably things that are best done by others. My comparative advantage, in so far as that’s an appropriate phrase, is in describing my personal experiences. It is in describing some of the ways in which our beautiful planet has shaped and framed my life so far.
I’ve been lucky enough to both live in and visit some of the world’s most beautiful places. Home was, until last year, the remote North-West Highlands of Scotland, a region so wild and rugged that poets, adventurers and recluses have sought it’s shores and mountains for centuries. I recently returned after a prolonged absence and was struck – as I always am – by how deeply the windswept, barren landscape lives in my bones. I climbed a treacherous, winding path above my house and sat, breathing hard, on a flat rock that has been a favourite of mine since I was a child. I couldn’t, that time, pick out the great red deer feeding on tender grass shoots, or the cries of a white-tailed eagle as it soared above me, but I knew they were there. Just as I knew that ptarmigan were scuttling pompously around me, that sandpipers were screeching hysterically on the shores below, and that – least welcome, but still somehow integral to the place – if I lingered to long the dreaded highland midge would arrive to sample my plasma.
Knowing all this – knowing and loving a landscape and an ecosystem that is how it has been for thousands of years – gave me an immense sense of both well-being and of the richness of life. It was beautiful, it was (and it’s horribly cliched I know!) perspective-giving, and it was something that felt eternal.
I’ve had similar feelings of absolute peace, serenity, and even (old-fashioned word!) joy a number of times in my life. These are perhaps the moments that I feel happiest, and they have been caused – every single time – by witnessing the bounty of the natural world, or by wild, beautiful places. The Arctic, and the snow-covered peaks of the Alps or Dolomites, never cease to provoke awe or to inspire. The endless grass-covered plains of East Africa are, as well as being an incredibly fragile ecosystem, the home of some of my happiest memories. And, since my late teens, scuba diving, and living briefly but happily on equal terms with the myriad jewel-covered fish, has been a guaranteed happy place.
I cannot imagine my life without this increasingly rare resources. The thought that I might not be able to rediscover them forever, or to share them with my loved ones, fills me with despair.
And I think that that is a perspective that is too often overlooked. Too many people think of ‘the environment’ or ‘the climate’ in the abstract, thereby rendering them a distant, disembodied problem. We need to see this fight in terms of more personal battles. At the current rate by the time our descendents read this we are likely to have lost the robins of our bird tables, the lions we dreamt of following, and a huge proportion of the mighty oak trees that we climbed in our youth. This is what we are fighting for, and it needs to start now. I hope, for everyone’s sake, that we have succeeded.