Notes From the Margins…


  • May 07, 2019
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For rightwing media commentators steeped in climate change denialism – and let’s face it most of them are -the Extinction Rebellion protests and the involvement of children and young people in the school strikes movement have been an object of scorn and derision.

Some of these esteemed pundits, like Brendan O’Neill from Spooked Online, will tell you that environmental activists are millenarian cultists who ‘hate the modern world’. Others see the presence of adolescents and children in the tv studios as a sign of cultural and intellectual reversion to collective infantilism.

What cynics, these sages ask sadly, have manipulated our young people and filled their adolescent heads with the foolish idea that the future of the planet is in jeopardy, to the point when know-nothing children feel they know more than grown-ups and bunk off school to save the world?

Yesterday, amid the fevered media anticipation of the first ‘sighting’ of the royal baby, a searing report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) gave an answer to this question that should have been on the front pages of every newspaper.

Prepared by 150 international experts from 50 countries,  the first state-of-health report on global biodiversity since 2005 confirmed what scientists and conservationists have been saying for some time; that human activity is responsible for a catastrophic depletion of the biomass that threatens our own survival.

According to the report,  an astounding 1 million of the 8 million estimated plant and animal species (75 percent of which are insects) on earth are threatened by human activity, and humanity in the last fifty years has already resulted in a global rate of species extinction tens to hundreds of times higher than the average rate over the past 10 million years.

The report listed a number of factors responsible for this outcome, from climate change, population growth, and changes in land and sea use, to plastic pollution and invasion of alien species. But its conclusions are clear and unequivocal: humanity is wiping out more species than at any time in  history and only ‘transformative change’ at an international and local level can prevent the continued depletion and devastation of the natural world.

The report tempers these alarming prognoses with policy recommendations that can be taken to mitigate the damage and ensure that ‘ Nature can be conserved, restored and used sustainably while simultaneously meeting other global societal goals through urgent and concerted efforts fostering transformative change.’

It lists a wide range of things that need to be done to safeguard the environment through ‘ commitment to mutually supportive international goals and targets, supporting actions by indigenous peoples and local communities at the local level.’

It is part of the ongoing tragedy of our times that the report’s emphasis on ‘ enhanced international cooperation’ is entirely at odds with the fanatical hostility of ‘populists’ like Farage, Bolsonaro and Trump towards anything that smacks of ‘globalism’ or global governance.

These are politicians for whom the melting Arctic is a commercial opportunity and climate change is a globalist scam or anti capitalist plot.  They embody 21st century late capitalism at its most self-interested, sociopathic and nihilistic, and the same can be said of many of the commentators and pundits who share their views, and have been pouring contempt on the Extinction Rebellion protesters and the school strikers these last few weeks.

The IPBES report should galvanise us to take action and put pressure on our governments to take action,  and to assume the responsibilities that our improbable position as the dominant species on the planet now imposes on us.

It should also remind us that the children who are going on strike and passing through our tv studios are wiser, more responsible and more caring than the adult blowhards who insist there is nothing to be concerned about.



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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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