I go online for listicles of 'hilarious tweets since everything sucks.' This is part of our modern dialogue: we're doomed and we're having a laugh. On my Facebook feed there was a cartoon of the Titanic upended, with a speech bubble coming from a little figure on the ship's bow: 'if we're sinking how are we hundreds of feet up in the air?' The caption reads: 'Republicans on Climate Change.'
Climate change is happening, if you're awake, or it's a hoax, if you don't want to believe in it. There is a third option, for those who can only kid themselves so far: it is happening but we're powerless, so let's have a good time while we can. The orchestra on deck plays on.
Steven Pinker, in his optimistic tract on human progress, 'The Better Angels of Our Nature,' described the obscene representation of atomic power In 1950s pop culture. Before reality sank in, candy was advertised with a mushroom cloud, and the bikini bathing suit was named after a site destroyed by nuclear tests. The bomb was provocative. It was sexy. It was unreal.
Climate change remains unreal for now. Mummified bodies appear, one by one, as glaciers melt in the Swiss Alps, and meanwhile Buzzfeed serves lists of tweets 'that people need, because it's 2017.' I laugh. I fret. I recycle, cut down on meat, research the carbon footprint of companies, and then book cheap flights to Spain. Driving through serene countryside in East Lothian, under a full moon, in an eerie peace, my boyfriend listens as I set about diminishing existential catastrophe: 'You can't think about it every moment of every day. You'd go mad.' I think about it until I cannot. I think of the disgrace of being part of a generation preparing our excuses for the next lot. This is what we live in: distractions, laughter, shame.
I wish for a time when we did not know so much. The story-book hills of the 50s, 60s, 70s. The district nurse, the village church, wedding bells and funerals. A fairy-tale Britain of integrity and repetition. Our splintering little island was never this, but in 2017 a new sinister nostalgia is mobilised. The people voted by a hair's breadth for Brexit. We cannot think about what we know about the world and our future. So we turn inwards and backwards and tie ourselves in knots.
I fret, driving through twilight in a serene silent land, far away from danger. I think I've finally struck upon what irks me with the climate change deniers. 'Of course nobody wants climate change to be real,' I splutter. Some climate change deniers believe in it just as much as the rest of us, but they refuse responsibility, refuse to take action. 'They're trusting the rest of us to rescue them,' I shout impotently, one small person with an axe to grind. I'm trying to make climate change a personal issue; diminish it so I can take it in hand. Yet I'm also envious (wildly, bloodily) of the people who have chosen to escape their troubles by a simple sleight of mind.
Climate change jokes abound on the internet, in drole tweets and Facebook posts. I read websites with names like BoredPanda and Distractify. I click on news sites and see the preserved hand of a victim of a plane-crash from 1966, in the snow. The tender sight of fingertips, fingernails. We are connecting the dots in old mysteries about missing people. Climate change is drawing back a shroud of ice so we can return loved ones to their families. A strange and ghostly victory.
Amid the first drastic signs of change, we take painstaking care to recover a few mummified people; unable to tolerate the idea of deceased humans forgotten or disrespected. Those corpses come into my dreams, warning of what will happen next. How long will our sacred ideas about ourselves hold out? Climate change is unreal. It's a story. It's fodder for tweets. Until reality sinks in.