The Last Frog in the Pot

Being a bit of a climate change… Hawk? Sparrow… You’d think I’d be devastated by the USA pulling out of the Paris agreement – and I might well have been, even though I knew it was coming. But then the world reacted.

Severe vocal condemnation from world leaders everywhere – except Theresa May of course, whose value to the UK in relation to our American allies is now asymptotic to zero.

Yet another massive protest outside the White House. Traffic in Washington DC must be becoming a perennial problem.

Reminders that literally only two countries in the ENTIRE WORLD did not sign up to the Paris accord (Syria because it’s entrenched in a catastrophic civil war, and Nicaragua because they don’t think the Paris agreement went far enough). Think about that. North Korea signed up. Iraq and Iran signed up. Palestine and Israel apparently agree on two things: climate change and – as Tim Minchin observed in his outstanding peace anthem – not eating pigs.

Emmanuel Macron has won plaudits for his takedown of the US move – “make the planet great again.”

Landmarks in France and Mexico have been lit up green in a sign of support for the Paris Agreement.

China and Europe have jointly promised to redouble their efforts in the fight against carbon emissions. Some counties in the world are already well exceeding their commitments and are vowing to continue.

Universities, States and businesses throughout the USA have sworn to continue the fight and maintain their climate commitments. Elon Musk has quit his advisory role to the administration over the President’s decision. Even Trump’s own daughter Ivanka has urged him to take climate change seriously and and not quit the agreement.

I guess what I’m saying is: until this actually happened and someone somewhere pulled out of the Paris Agreement, I had no idea how seriously the governments of the world were really taking the issue. I didn’t know if one single loose thread would be enough to make it collapse entirely, with other governments around the world pulling out in turn due to a misguided refusal to hamstring their own economies when a key competitor was refusing to.

But no. For one thing, most of the governments of the world understand that advancement toward clean energy is a *good* move for jobs and the economy. As one commentator put it, Trump’s move isn’t really bad for the environment, it’s bad for America. But more than that, they fully appreciate the inescapable, simple truth of the problem: that if we don’t cut carbon emissions, billions may die.

If anything then, Trump’s long awaited withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has actually given me much more faith. The movement will succeed.

Well, notwithstanding the fact that all this Earth-lovin’  has started about 20 years too late. Don’t forget to move away from the coast, y’all. Storm’s a-coming. But I’m ​starting to believe we might be able to weather the worst of it.

American newspapers have said: the Republicans either think that God is going to solve climate change, or they don’t believe in it. Well, I believe in climate change. And the only thing that God needs to do something about is Donald Trump.


The Sustainable Environmentalist

Fighting for the good guys in the climate change war is beset with misery. Let’s face it, we get the rougher deal: the end-of-the-world levels of angst and terror, guilt about our carbon footprints and frustration at the lack of progress… versus blissful ignorance, limitless growth and laughing cheerily to the bank; unfalteringly confident that everything is gonna be awesome forever. Why oh why didn’t I take the blue pill?

It’s easy to see how a climate denier can keep getting out of bed in the morning (even if you’re less sure how they manage to sleep at night), but us poor climate change activists are a limited resource. And like everything from the soil to the sky: if you want it to keep doing what it does, you have to show it a little care.

So in the face of a bleak future, what helps me keep going? Well, to be fair I just came back after quitting for a year and I wasn’t contributing very much before that. But this time I wanna keep it up, and I think things like this will help me. Maybe they’ll help you too.

  1. Smugness. I am powered by smug. Smug helps me find the will to do anything. I’d give you some examples but I think the next few points will take care of that for me.
  2. Self-aggrandisement. You are so smart and insightful. You are a titan of the climate movement. You are as relevant and persuasive as Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben. You will save the world. Just as soon as anyone starts listening to you.
  3. Front line glamour. Twitter is great for this: feeling like you’re taking the fight to some of the biggest names in the dirty energy sphere. Go on, drop them a tweet, there’s always a chance they’ll see it. Hell, the other day I signed one off with “Are you listening, @realDonaldTrump?” – I like to think he was. It’s cathartic and satisfying and I’m far from being the only one who does this. I recently saw a tweet to @myronebell saying “I hope your children are the first to die,” which for me was probably taking it a bit far.
  4. At the end of the day… You’ll be proved right. Whatever else happens you’re gonna be handing out some of the biggest I-told-you-so’s in human history. Your children will be able to look you in the eye. And if the leaders of this new world want to go about solving the resource crisis by some Logan’s Run style solution, your efforts might even buy you a reprieve. Hey I did my best guys. Put someone else in your nutrient harvester.
  5. Stop reading George Monbiot’s Guardian column for a bit. Maybe even just set the current affairs to one side for a couple hours, yeah? Go outside. Feed the ducks (with rice or peas, you knowledgeable nature lover, you). See if Mark Ruffalo is in a new talkie. The world will probably still be there when you get back.
  6. Don’t get sad, get mad. Refocus your energies. When this old world starts getting you down, scapegoat someone who’s partially responsible and let your righteous anger flow. This is probably a very effective route to becoming an activist in the first place. When you can’t face the sadness, it’s time to bring the fire.
  7. Finally, and ironically this is the most serious point… You’re gonna need to maintain a good sense of humour. Ideally a pretty black one. Because the reality of climate change is so terrible, so bleak, so scary that it’s hard enough to believe never mind campaign against. So never forget to laugh and love, and remember you’re alive because these are the things that keep people going – and remind us what we’re fighting for.

Engaging the Enemy

Hi! I’m back after my impromptu year off. I had another kid, which retroactively is my excuse. So. How was 2016? Did I miss mu-AAAAAAAAH MY GOD!


Hi! I’m back after my impromptu stroke. What the hell, 2016? Donald Trump winning the US election after the deaths of so many celebrated stars of music, fiction and film must be the apocalypse that follows the rapture. And 2015 seemed to end so well.

Against the wishes and expectations of literally everyone I know and every source I rely on for news and information, the UK are leaving the EU, the US have elected a president who hates women, Muslims, Mexicans and the planet Earth… And the far right are becoming bolder, from anti-semitic graffiti on war graves to the murder of an inclusionist British MP.

Who are these people? Not the racists and killers, I mean the silent millions of ordinary people who are winning these elections. Nobody in the establishment and the mainstream media actually knows them, and that’s the problem. They don’t feel represented and they’ve started showing out in force to make their voices heard. They’re angry about being silenced, angry at their diminished wealth and prospects after the financial crash in 2008, and they’re blaming everything around them. Populism is back, bringing with it the rise of the far right. The far left have a look in too – hello Corbyn, hello Sanders – but nobody can mobilise anger like a hot-headed bigot. And when people are mobilised, amazing things can happen. There’s something in that. 

The West is in the midst of a political hot mess, but for those of us who choose to focus our campaign energies on climate change, the problem we have to confront is that a climate denier is moving into the White House.

A Frog In A Pot is back. And this time, it’s not about preaching to the choir. It’s about taking the debate to the enemy, engaging the non-believers, and encouraging the forces for change to keep fighting against the stacking odds. No more ruminating in the safe zones, hiding in the liberal bubble. No more protecting our apathy by pretending that we can’t make a difference in the world beyond, that we can’t change minds or motivate the jaded into taking meaningful action. We’re going to the front lines and we’re gonna make the powerful see that where climate change is involved, we expect to be represented. And what better place to start than right here:

God save me.

101 Damned Nations

For my birthday this year, the world leaders (well, their immediate underlings) had a whip-round and gave me a new, landmark agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and so prevent global warming from killing everybody. I didn’t know they cared.

According to most accounts, COP21 has gone pretty well. The delegates themselves seem pretty pleased – there have been some satisfied little smiles in the press – but I suppose the real test of the document is when they all look at it again after three days’ sleep to see if, in their sleep deprivation, they haven’t manufactured a text comprising entirely of gobbledegook masquerading as legalese.

I didn’t envy the bastards, I must admit. With every one of the COP summits being quite literally nonstop tedium and wrangling for a full fortnight, I fear if I were sent as a delegate I wouldn’t COP very well at all.


So hats off to these determined ladies and gents for a fortnight of hard work and for going all the way to Paris with basically zero opportunity to visit the Louvre or something. And more than that, bloody good going not doing a Copenhagen and stumbling over the finish line with a very lacklustre deal (rumour has it there would have been no deal at all that time around if not for Ed Miliband’s intervention. He should have made more of that at the general election).

Is this new agreement really any good though? I’ll let more thorough commentators guide you through it (translation: I had a look but I didn’t understand it at all and then my mind wandered off and I started thinking about Batman). But as usual it seems nobody is in total agreement about whether we’re happy or not. The argument seems to run like this:

We have created an ambitious, rock solid agreement.

The wording of the agreement implies that all the terms are optional.

Yes, but the text includes a clause that every few years we all have a meet-up to swap progress information.

Optional meet-ups.

There’s a good feeling. There’s a sense of momentum, that we’re really gonna do this.

Uh-huh. What about the emissions targets? These will still see global warming to 3.5C by 2100…

Ah, but we’ll review those targets every few years as well and push for better targets.

Seems sketchy. Why didn’t you just commit to better targets now?

I don’t understand the question.

What do you say to the island nations who are telling you that even 2C of warming will see them drown as the sea levels rise?

Well, we’re gonna look at maybe doing something to possibly help mitigate the possibility of that happening by shooting for a 1.5C target.

We’re already at 1C now. You have half a degree left. How likely is that to happen?

I don’t know but I’m glad we’ve got those islanders to sign a piece of paper saying they can’t sue the developed nations for any loss or damage caused by the climate change we created with a century of burning stuff…

That’s a big relief.

You said it.

So it’s fair to say there’s a few holes in this thing. But under the cynical, lanky epidermis of my fragile physical frame beats the heart of a long-suffering optimist. I think I do believe that the momentum to kill fossil fuel burning is in place, and that the negotiators at COP21 genuinely believe in what they’ve achieved. And they’re right to. I think the world really is now on a course to a zero-carbon economy. But I’m afraid it’s all too late.

Here in the UK (while our chief negotiator Amber Rudd was, fairly, congratulating herself for noting the absence of aviation emissions in one version of the draft agreement) a decision on whether a new runway was going to be built at Heathrow or Gatwick was due to be announced. This was suspended for a further 6 months, but not for environmental reasons – all sources are very clear that “neither” is not one if the options. And as recently as Thursday night, hundreds of millions of pounds in subsidies and lucrative tax breaks were awarded to existing dirty power stations and diesel-burning energy generators to keep them on standby, so they can be called upon as a boost for periods of high demand on the national grid.

Her Right-Honourableness Mrs Rudd has signed a strong agreement, but getting the juggernaut of progress to change course is no mean feat and it’s never achieved quickly. And that’s a factor for every single one of the nations that attended Paris. Perhaps that’s why the agreement made today was made so much in advance of when it comes into force in 2020.

But we’re already living in “decade zero”: climate change for the rest of the century is being determined right now and we are running out of time. 3.5C emissions commitments are not enough, and by the time they come round for review I’m not clear how 2C will be achievable, let alone 1.5C to save those island nations.

This isn’t a deal that’s right for the present, I fear. Sadly I think we needed this exact agreement decades ago. I guess you might say that 2020 is hindsight.

So looks like we’re all going into 2016 with a lot of work to do. But then, what else is new? Have a great Christmas, dear reader. In January we go back to work.

Plea from an Unread Inbox

Please push for the strongest possible action on climate change at COP21

Dear Amber Rudd

I’ve known for months I was going to write this message to you. Ever since the election, in fact. In another universe it might have been Ed Davey, or perhaps Caroline Flint or even Lisa Nandy. But it’s you I need to address. You, now, at this critical moment.

I’ll level with you. I despaired at the election of a Tory majority. Real, incredible despondency. I’m not writing to you to explain my political leanings, or even to criticise your party particularly, so I won’t dwell on that.

But I do want to tell you why it bothered me quite so much: why before the election I was pleading with everybody around me to vote for anyone but the Conservatives (and UKIP, but that goes without saying); and why when the result came in I had my head in my hands, groaning in anguish.

It’s all  because of a single moment of clarity which hit me about 12 months ago; a moment where suddenly I understood.

Climate change is going to ruin the world.

We’re an arrogant species, it’s fair to say, and instinctively prone not to worry about a problem which isn’t right in front of us, so until then I wasn’t afraid.

But it is right in front of us.

A potential 5C temperature rise by the end of the century would mean the death or displacement of millions, even billions of people. And the likelihood of this terrifying scenario will be determined by how much we do to prevent it between now and 2030.

That puts you, Amber, and the government you’re part of, right in the thick of it at one of the most crucial moments in human history. The success of the Paris climate summit, and adherence to the agreement by every nation of the world, will control the fate of all our families, our children and theirs; the generation growing in our arms.

So the reason I feared a Tory majority so much is this one. Your party has far more climate change skeptics than Labour, and a track record for supporting business before environmental interests. I always feared this government would be weak on climate action, without the Liberal Democrats holding your feet to the fire.

At first I regained a cautious optimism when you were appointed. I read what you had said about Margaret Thatcher’s forward-thinking attitude to environmental issues, and your belief that preserving the environment is – or should be – a core principle of conservativism. I think that makes a huge amount of sense.

But then I hear things, Amber. Cuts of subsidies for renewable energy sources. Increases to North Sea Oil subsidies. Suggesting renewables should stand on their own two feet while apparently not expecting oil to do the same. Sell-off of the green bank. Attempting to greenlight fracking in national parks. Telling parliament we’re on course to achieve our carbon commitments while privately admitting we’re destined to fall short. And most recently, just days before the Paris conference, canceling a £1bn carbon capture competition right before its conclusion.

All this and more has happened under a Conservative government, while you have been manager of the DECC. It all makes me wonder. How much does this matter to you? Really? Do you think it the most important thing in the world? Because it’s so important that you do.

The hour is late and the situation is so desperate than few people dare to admit it. And I have to wonder if you’re one of them or not. I honestly have no idea. Only you can know. Only you can examine and analyse your own beliefs and decide what you think matters most to the future of our species.

This time last year, I thought I understood climate change already. I understood the mechanism for global warming, and I was vaguely aware of the consequences of it.

But now I know that until you really feel it, really appreciate the magnitude of the impending catastrophe; until you fathom the millions if not billions of lives it will cost and the subjugating effect it’ll have on the lives of the survivors; until you fear it, really, openly and to the core of your bones… you do not understand it.

I understand it now. And I and everyone else who understands it really hopes that you do too. Fate has decided that you are our representative in Paris, the head of our negotiating team. This is it. Our last, great chance.

I urge you to push for the strongest possible action at the Paris climate talks next week. And the many millions like me who will be demonstrating on the streets of cities worldwide this weekend need you to know: we want action. We want you to make this happen, and we are behind you all the way. Because nothing matters more than this.

Yours Sincerely
Thomas Smith

Plausible Deniability

I decided well before starting a climate change blog that global warming denialists were not gonna be in my target demo. Because they’re crazy. And with that comment I’ve quite decidedly nailed that particular flag to the mast.

But – I pretend you ask – surely you, sir (you’re very polite), were once a denialist yourself? Is this blog not an attempt to convert other denialists? Not at all. As a point of clarification, a frog in a pot isn’t a climate change denialist. You put a frog on the pot to boil, and it knows it’s getting warmer. It even knows that it doesn’t have to stay in the pot. But the water is pleasant and warm (at first), and the frog is too lazy. But it doesn’t deny anything.

It’s a pretty dumb way to live, but climate change campaigners can work with that, and find some way to convince the frog to save itself. Denialism is different. A denialist is more like a potato in a pot. It doesn’t know the water is getting warmer, it cannot be convinced of this plight, it certainly doesn’t think it should do anything about it, and ultimately we all end up in the same terrible casserole.

Perhaps “potato” implies that they’re stupid. But of course, it really isn’t as simple as all that. Some of them are stupid, obviously (and that from someone who was once very active on climate change, or was it just what his mother made him do?); but equally there are many, many intelligent and reasonable people who believe in a lot of mad shit that I don’t buy. And while my carefully cultivated self-importance would gladly have me believe that anyone who ever disagrees with me must be wrong, my rational mind forces me to concede that I can’t possibly be right about everything. Because nobody is.

(I’m right about climate change, though. Seriously. Casserole.)

So what makes these weirdos reckon, against all the evidence, that climate change doesn’t exist? How can they possibly justify – even to themselves – that it’s some kind of hoax or liberal conspiracy?

My curiosity about this led to me descending – very carefully – into the welcoming bosom of the beast. With a unique terror that the project would backfire and get me brainwashed and assimilated, I read a couple of their articles, listened to one of their charismatic figureheads (Marc Morano on the Guardian’s climate change podcast), chewed over some of their arguments… And I was converted! Yay for carbon dioxide! See-oh-two! See-oh-two!


Obviously I wasn’t converted. I did learn a few interesting things about climate denial, for example that lately they seem to have adopted the underdog role (like the tagline over at Climate Change Dispatch – “Because the debate is NOT over”), and generally admit to some global warming which is partially due to CO2 emissions. But the key take-home message I got from my little foray is this: that the enemy is just like us. Despite the fundamental disagreement that climate change proponents and deniers are at loggerheads over, the two tribes have an awful lot in common. Both sides worry about their families’ future, both believe that the opposing movement is infested with corruption and conspiracy, and both are adamantly convinced that they have science on their side.

Ah, science. That most misunderstood of mistresses. I’m an engineer, so I’m no stranger to the scientific method. But from an engineer’s perspective, science is a discipline that delivers tools and materials we make stuff with, making the relationship akin to the one you might have with your postman when he arrives with your mail-order from B&Q. Nonetheless I’d recognise science well enough to pick it out of a lineup, if you stood it against a height-marked white wall alongside homeopathy, astrology and crystal skulls.

Within science there is good science, bad science, and valid opposing views that are always competing to be recognised. Science is never certain, that’s not how it works. There are contradictory theories everywhere: what matters is the consensus, which even then could be wide of the mark.

Unfortunately – considering how enormous and desperate the problem is – climate change has an overwhelming scope and complexity. There are more factors at play than you can count. Hard to convince people the world is getting warmer when, due to an extraordinarily complex interaction of different factors, some places are experiencing longer, colder winters. For the vast majority of people, the belief we hold depends totally on the trust we place in individuals who tell us what they say is the truth. It’s pure faith, nothing more.

The people who deny climate change, and think that science is on their side, are sort of right. If you want to find the scientific paper or study that “proves” you right, you will likely find it. If that’s what you think science is, then science is on everybody’s side – and therefore nobody’s.

So the truth is that there’s very little actual science involved in the global climate change debate, just tribes and opinions based on faith in ideas that may just be masquerading as science. That makes the row between deniers and proponents actually more akin to a religious debate than a scientific one: loud, tribal, and highly unlikely to change anybody’s mind. Actually maybe that is like science.

Surely the secret, then, is to work out what is and isn’t real science in this debate. Can I do that? No chance. I’m not a climate scientist myself or an expert connected with the field, so I have no concept whatsoever. No way can I tell what conclusions I should draw from the raw data in any given experiment. And though I’m told that a staggering 97% of climate scientists agree global warming is real and human caused…  Well, that’s just it – I’m told that, I can’t prove it. Nor can I disprove the various other sources which say otherwise.

This is unsettling enough to give me pause. You may know from my Revelation that I went from basically not giving a rat’s backside about climate change to actively trying to combat it in some small way, and the thing about going from blindly accepting that something exists to blindly doing something about it is that what you believe suddenly becomes important. Climate change is just something I took as a given, because of information I’ve idly absorbed over the years. And now I want to act on it, but am I really going to throw my valuable time into such a casually formed belief? How do I actually know it’s real, when there are others who are so sure it isn’t?

It looks an awful lot like non-scientists like me have no chance in being able to conclusively discern the likely truth from the conflicting offerings. Certainly not without becoming experts ourselves, and who has time for that? So with different sources saying that science says different things, it’s time to stop investigating the science, and to start investigating the sources.

But unfortunately my private investigator’s license lapsed, and they made me turn in my hat and gun 😦 And since I have no budget to hire one either, rather than investigating per se I’m gonna roll up my sleeves, make a cup of tea, and have a right good sit and try to figure out something that makes sense. Not the route to a definitive answer, that’s for sure, but maybe good enough for one I can stand by in an argument.

There’s an old maxim from somewhere which simply says “follow the money”. Or to put it another way, who profits from the crime? Who benefits from public belief or otherwise in climate change, and who bankrolls the scientific research which supports each viewpoint?

That climate-denying scientists have often been funded by the fossil fuel industry is widely assumed and occasionally proven, demonstrating a clear conflict of interest. But I’d be remiss not to mention the point made by renowned climatologist Judith Curry, who argued that government funding is also at serious risk of causing bias in climate research – and there’s much more of it. Curry, it seems, is very much resistant to the well circulated (and admittedly politicised) projection of a 4C temperature rise by the end of the century, as well as the 2C target accepted internationally as the maximum we can stand. She makes a good case for robust, honest science on both sides, not leaving genuine skeptics in the cold. A denialist? Perhaps, but it’s hard to argue with that point.

It’s worth mentioning too that there’s a lot of chicken-and-eggery going on here which further muddies the waters. Do funding bodies essentially pay researchers to support or reject climate change as they desire? Do the scientists decide what they believe before requesting funding? Or is it more common that scientists just do honest work, and it so happens that the particular area they’re working in tends to produce results that lean towards one camp or the other, and both federal and industrial funds seek those out? Maybe both sides are as bad – and good – as each other. I don’t think there’s an easy way to tell conclusively.

But I’m gonna put my private investigator hat on again, because there’s… Hang on, where did I put…? Oh that’s right, I had to give it back. Right. No hat. Sorry. Where was I? Right. Try again.

There’s a missing piece of the puzzle here. If we imagine both sides of the scientific argument on climate change are prone to bias, that’s fine. But what about the motive? The governments and organisations all over the world who fund research which ultimately supports the common climate change model get nothing out of that except a terrifying headache. I’ve seen it argued that the politicisation of the issue means that liberal lefties and the like are using it as a way to undermine and ultimately bring down big industrial institutions – especially in the fossil fuel industry – which are typically the domain of right-leaning conservatives. This smells like bollocks to me. In fact, it’s like a guy getting fired for knifing coworkers in the office narrowing his eyes and saying “You guys have always been jealous of me…”

No, I don’t believe that. See, the thing about climate change is: nobody wants it to be real. In fact the forecast can be so grim sometimes that I’m sure most people would gleefully latch onto even the most lacklustre argument against so that they don’t have to worry about it anymore, but of course our children’s lives depend on us being stronger than that. It’s a big deal and we have to do something about it – expensive, extensive, complicated and challenging things. Things our world governments don’t want to do. It’s hard work, and the outcomes may make them unpopular unless they really pull off something special. Nobody profits by convincing the world climate change is real if it isn’t.

So how about the other side of the coin, sources trying to disprove climate change or sway our collective belief away from it? Well, that’s a different kettle of fish altogether. There are people who fund, support or control media organisations, lobby groups and politicians that will promote denialism, because it favours their own ends. Denialism, for them, is part of a wider (and unforgivably short-sighted) strategy to make sure the world never changes. The world belongs to them, and keeping it locked down tight is the safest and easiest way to make sure it never escapes.

So the fossil fuel industry stays profitable, and nobody is forced to diversify, adapt, or go out of business. Keep the spin going, and you can just relax comfortably atop your stack of filthy cash, and let the world burn all around you until at last the flames start to lick at your toes and the edges of your banknotes. Because it will come for you, too; but at least it’ll spare you until last.

That’s the reward you get for siding with the Devil when he comes to unmake the world. These people aren’t potatoes: these people are sharks.

So. I guess that’s what I think. And even if I’m wrong:


… Enough said.

At a young age we get a feel for what team we’re on, in everything from sport to science to religion to politics, and forever after keep the windfarm of faith turning with the bluster of confirmation bias. It’s the oft neglected duty of any active campaigner on any issue to give your belief a good shakedown and understand why you have it – and whether you should have it. Do it right off the bat and you could find yourself saving a lot of time and embarrassment. And with your beliefs galvanised you’ll be more determined than ever – and more resilient to challenges.

We can’t afford to so passionately support causes we only passively learned to believe, because we’re just as likely to be wrong as we are right. If that’s not a recipe for chaos, I don’t know what is.

And to any climate change deniers reading this – oh, they’ve gone.

The Rise of the Hypocrite 

Image credit: Chris Riddell, The Observer, 20/12/09

Once you become a…

Wait – what’s a punchy noun for this? “Green” is fine as an adjective but as a noun it sounds political. “A Frog In A Pot”? Well, no, because most people won’t know what the hell you’re on about and anyway it’s a better term for people who haven’t caught climatitis yet. “Climatitis” is good, saw that in the Guardian somewhere, but it’s not something you can be so much as something you can have.

You know what, I can think of one myself… I’m gonna go with “carbon-head”. All those in favour? Just me? Motion carried. So.

Once you become a carbon-head you start to think differently about everything. And it’s the strangest feeling, because to become a carbon-head is to understand that we don’t live in a sustainable society, and the use-by on the package is much sooner than some of us, or our children, would really like to live. At the very least we will absolutely lose our Western way of life; at worst we will all lose our lives altogether. In short, The End Of The World Is Nigh. Hey where can I pick up one of those sandwich boards?

But it’s very much like having Cassandra Syndrome, or indeed being one of those doomsday religious types (do we still have those?): you know that a serious global disaster is coming, of an apocalyptic scale, the gigadeath, even, but nobody else seems to know it or believe it.

There are two particular circumstances where I notice this most acutely. The first is when people talk about the future.


“I’m hoping to move back home to East Anglia eventually.”

“Are you crazy?! What about the floods? Where will your children flee?”


“I wonder what smartphones are gonna look like in 50 years.”

“Pretty bleak isn’t it? If we’re lucky someone might work out a way to power up the old Morse networks.”


“My pension is invested in oil and gas – they’re pretty stable funds overall.”

“Hahaha good one. Hahahahahahahaha.”


In case you didn’t get that joke, it’s funny because if those funds keep growing – if the Carbon Bubble never bursts – it’ll mean that between now and my friend’s retirement, humanity never gives up fossil fuels. That means colossal global warming, to the point that if we’re not all dead yet we might as bloody well be. Hahahahahahahahahaha.

But arguably much worse than badly thought out futurism is badly thought out, uh, presentism; because by definition it’s relevant right now. This is the second situation: where an obvious opportunity to counter climate change or at least discuss it appears, and everybody misses the cue.


“We have yet to decide whether Heathrow should have a third runway… Or we need another new London airport.”


“That was our correspondent reporting on the current situation in Europe. We now have Amber Rudd in the studio, cabinet secretary for energy and climate change. So, Amber Rudd… What do you think about the current situation in Europe?”


“For the foreseeable future, coal is the foundation of our prosperity.”


That last one was self-described “conservationist” Tony Abbott, Australia Prime Minister, in case you need his name on a list to give your kids when they ask you who fucked the planet.

So from your new, ethically-sourced ivory tower you may permit yourself a moment to laugh with incredulity at the cognitive dissonance of the world’s inhabitants… Until you realise that until like a week ago you were one of them. What car do you drive? Where do you buy your energy? Who did you vote for? Oh crap. The difference between cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy is self-awareness. Welcome to the fold. Maybe we are all frogs in a pot after all.

So it’s time to do something about this. First order of business: write your own name under Tony Abbott’s on that list to give your kids. Now. Let’s get out there and make a difference! Tomorrow. Or perhaps after the weekend…

Look, I am one lazy-ass frog. And I realised shortly after becoming a carbon-head that my sudden enthusiasm for the climate mission didn’t extend to a desire to make any actual change to my lifestyle. It took me a while pondering over this to realise that my problem is actually quite a lot more nuanced than that, and perhaps you can relate to it.

There are so many aspects of our lives that have a negative environmental impact that it becomes overwhelmingly difficult, if not impossible, to fully decarbonise your existence in a hurry. In fact, in the moment you realise that, you also start to understand why entire countries are struggling with it so much.

And much like the many nations of the world, the way you end up dealing with this is by abandoning the whole idea and carrying on as you were. You can’t switch to a zero carbon lifestyle just like that, because almost nobody is willing or able to make the level of sacrifice that would take.

And even if you did, you still wouldn’t be carbon neutral because you live in a society that very much isn’t. The moment you need anything from anyone, or use any facility or tool that exposes you to the outside world, you lose control over your carbon footprint. Bam! Suddenly you find yourself, metaphorically, casting a lit match into a warehouse-sized vat of unleaded petrol. Could be worse, you’ll think to yourself. At least it’s unleaded.

It feels like there’s only two options. You’re either green, or you aren’t. You can’t do things by halves. You can’t make more effort to recycle if you still drive to work. You can’t buy Rainforest Alliance certified coffee if you buy products that contain unsustainably sourced palm oil. You can’t even campaign for action on climate change while you’re still running a gas boiler, buying mail-order from abroad, or even just keeping an account with a bank that invests your money in the fossil fuel industry (also known as “a bank”). Because to do any of these things would make you a hypocrite.

You were a hypocrite already, of course, ever since you’ve been committing all your carbon sins in full knowledge of the harm it’s causing. But if you want to avoid anyone noticing what a hypocrite you are, it’s much safer to do nothing and fake ignorance of the problem. Better to be an ignorant fool like everyone else than make a half-arsed effort at making a change and be called out as a fraud.

I know exactly how you feel. Before my “revelation” I had two false starts. Both of them triggered by comics, oddly enough: one in The Observer years ago, which I’ve used as the main image for this post (mimics a famous WWI propaganda poster – perhaps an odd choice considering its post-war regard but there you go), and another last year on XKCD. Despite the impact these had on me at the time – you know the one, that nausea, that accelerating pulse, that aimless guilt and fear – it never lasted. And the reason it didn’t was because, when I looked at what I’d have to do to decarbonise my lifestyle, I felt quickly overwhelmed. A large number of the options were either impossible, horrendously difficult, (ironically) unsustainable or would simply change my life far too drastically for me to be comfortable with it.

So what did I do? I got used to it. I guiltily carried on living exactly how I was, I kept my mouth shut, and eventually that uncomfortable guilt and fear finally melted away, and I carried on my life the way I always had.

So why is this time any different? Because I realised a very simple point: that it’s far better to be a hypocrite than to do nothing at all.

This realisation changed everything for me. It means never again having to give up on my good ecological intentions the moment I fuel the car at the Shell garage that just happens to be the closest to where we live. It means not giving up on this blog after going more than a month without posting anything (guys I been busy, ‘kay? Jeez).

It means, in fact, doing whatever it takes to make sure I keep the zero-emission flame burning. Because no matter how little I do to reduce my carbon footprint, as long as I do something then I’m helping to make things a little better than they were. I can feel good about that. And feeling good about stuff is a great motivator.

So if the risk of hypocrisy is what’s holding you back, don’t let it stop you. Embrace it! Be a hypocrite, let’s all be hypocrites, and be proud because together we are legion, and we will change the world. Even if the best you can muster on your personal path to green living is reusing your carrier bags or something, go for it. Once you’ve taken one step in the right direction, you can let the change bed in then take another step. Give yourself time, don’t worry that you aren’t carbon free yet. And don’t worry that you probably never will be. Life is a journey, after all. So long as you keep going.

But whatever you do, be honest with yourself. Because as governments the world over have shown: there’s hypocrisy, and then there’s being a fucking liar.