If something affects you, it becomes important. If it does not affect you, then it usually has no importance to you, although it is still there and it has importance to other people. When we read of wars and people dying, we may feel sad that thirty Afghans or twenty Iraqis or ten Syrians or half a dozen Palestinians have died in some act of violence designed for someone to sustain or achieve power over others. Then we “move on”.
The feeling does not last more than a moment and we turn our attention to the problems that affect us. When one poor British soldier dies we pay far more attention to that single death than we ever paid to the dozens of deaths of the foreigners. Some folk honour the life that was and is now wasted. A tribe rarely grieves when members of other tribes die.
It is the nature of the beast that problems close to home seem more real and pressing than those far away. A year ago most folk in the United States of America thought that climate change was not real. Many politicians said so. Many of their electorate agreed with them and as a result the majority of Americans were unsupportive of climate change measures.
With climate change there are so many arguments for and against that whatever side of the argument you are on, you can pick out half a dozen facts and prejudices and use them to support your view. There are more than two sides to the climate change argument and there are thousands of facts and prejudices.
But for Americans climate change has become not some far off war in a place a long way away blurred through the distorted lens of a television programme, but a thing that has snuck up on them and now stands with all its ugliness directly in their faces. It has been a bad year for the climate in continental United States and millions of Americans have been affected by unusually extreme weather, all happening in the course of 2012, which they could not ignore because it affected so many of them personally.
There has been a drought. Farm yields are down on average yields, significantly so. Many farmers have lost large amounts of crops to drought. Prices of all grain crops grown in the United States have significantly grown, unlike many of the crops. The drought has had other effects. In places where there has been drought there have been many forest fires. There have been storms and hurricanes including a super storm (as they called it) which affected New England and New York creating billions of dollars of devastation. Many lives were ruined and were not the USA a rich and sophisticated developed nation there would haven been a million deaths.
There have always been droughts in the United States, and there has always been bad weather. It is a huge continent and has the extremes of weather that every huge continent experiences but 2012 has been more extreme than ever and has had the combination of extreme weather events all happening at once. Sea levels are rising faster than even the climate change scientists predicted. The Arctic region is melting faster than predicted. The sea is becoming more acidic than scientists who hold that climate change is caused by humans predicted. All of these events have been right in the face of Americans; they have been too many events which have been too violent for Americans to ignore.
As a result Americans now believe. More than sixty percent of Americans now believe that climate change is happening and its causes the activity of human beings. Measures to mitigate climate change are not now opposed. Soon Americans will be calling for more anti-climate change measures in an effort to protect themselves, their possessions and their livelihoods from the forces of nature that we humans have unleashed.
In Europe we can have a rather patronising attitude to America. We are, of course, the older, wiser and less successful brother, and we have a habit of smirking at the naivety and youthful brashness of the young sibling, but wisdom is not the exclusive virtue of the old and folly does not confines its contagion to the young.
In Britain probably around half the population believes that climate change is manmade and happening. Our weather events have been less severe in 2012 than those in America. Here in England we have had a lot of rain and we from time to time have a lot of rain. Sure, the summer of 2012 has been in England the wettest on record, and now when the winter rains come we have many floods, but these events are in the face of relatively few. It seems that this year we will have to buy imperfectly shaped vegetable by supermarket standards. I never liked seeing rows of perfectly formed potatoes; they looked odd and unnatural to me, so buying potatoes with shapes that do not fit some supermarket’s buying executives idea of a norm is not a hardship but how things should be.
I remember learning of a village in Kenya devoted to growing mange tout for Tesco, which lost its income when Tesco found a neighbouring village that could grow the mange tout straighter and no doubt cheaper. Tesco served our prejudices as to appearance of food and price of food, and the first village lost its income having believed in the honour of a British supermarket. Who could predict that people would want straight mange tout?
So this winter our carrots will be bent and our turnips misshapen. There will be fewer sprouts around (for some no hardship) and these staples will, like wheat, all cost more because of the weather. We will not think of climate change when we sit down for our Christmas lunch, but perhaps we should.
The people who die needlessly in far off lands because of greed and corruption live in deadly places; many leave for peaceful lands; in peaceful lands we are moving our climate into very unhealthy and deadly territory. I fear that soon climate change will be staring all of us, no matter where we live, firmly in our faces, and we all may believe too late to change.