A man in a top hat takes sunshine readings on the roof of the Guildhall in Bath A man in a top hat takes sunshine readings on the roof of the Guildhall in Bath Show image info

Bath Medical Officer of Health Dr Symons takes a sunshine reading ref: 42/45

‘To Believe Or Not To Believe… That Is The Question’

Written in 2019 by a member of a creative writing class, through a collaboration between Bath Record Office and the St. John’s Foundation.

Views are those of the author.

The Reverend Duel Taylor, Rector of Bath (1752-1767), in what seems a quaint approach to weather observation, kept a diary in which he recorded daily observations of the weather. The recently discovered ‘weather diary’ is invaluable in that it is a record of weather patterns for the period 1756-1761. Equally quaint were photographic images from 1899, showing the Medical Officer of Health for Bath City Council, Dr. W.H. Symons, taking sunshine readings on the dome of the Guildhall in Bath. Treasured artefacts from a bygone era that were brought to our creative writing workshop, courtesy of Bath Record Office.

Fast forward to the 21st century and weather observation, aided by state of the art technology, has become a sophisticated affair. There are complex computer generated models, graphs and diagrams; and automated networks of scientific instruments that monitor the weather around the clock, and around the globe. It is surprising then, given the benefit of technology, that such fierce contention around the issue of global warming should stalk the scientific community. Setting aside the matter of contention, NASA’s website proclaims, “…the vast majority of actively publishing climate scientists -97 percent- agree that humans are causing global warming and climate change.”

Among climate contrarians is the distinguished climate scientist, Richard Lindzen. He dismisses global warming as “alarmist nonsense”, and claims that “Global warming is about politics and power rather than science. In science there is an attempt to clarify; in global warming, language is misused in order to confuse and mislead the public.” Furthermore, he says, “The misuse of language extends to the use of models. For the advocates of policies allegedly addressing global warming the role of models is not to predict but rather to justify the claim that catastrophe is possible…”. Distinguished scientist, nobel laureate, Ivar Giaever, is quoted as saying that “…global warming has become a new religion.”

Scientists tell us we are in a new geological age: the Anthropocene - the age of humans. The risks to our planet, associated with the escalation in levels of carbon dioxide emissions, are real ones. According to the findings of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, “Over a million species of plants and animals are under threat of extinction … a direct result of human activity.” Following the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report of 2018, the United Nations Secretary, António Guterres, said, “We face a direct existential threat.”  

It takes resilience to peer into a not too distant future, to stretch the imagination trying to visualise the unimaginable; temperature extremes, food and water shortages, the disintegration of society, breakdown of law and order. Situations that could become the norm. The prospect of catastrophic scenarios fill us with alarm and trepidation. An uncertain future compels some people to bury their head in the sand, while others rally to ‘do something’. Though not quite on the grand scale as the philanthropic splash made by Pink Floyd musician, David Gilmour. Gilmour’s collection of classic guitars, recently auctioned at Christie’s, raised a staggering near £17 million for his charity, ‘Client Earth’. The charity’s website blurb reads, “The climate is in crisis. Nature is in immediate peril. We need action now.”

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation states that, “Livestock farming accounts for around 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. More than the global transport sector.” Deforestation, water consumption and water pollution all associated with the industry, have environmental impacts. According to animal rights group Viva! over a billion animals are killed in UK slaughterhouses each year. Some eight billion animals are killed each year when fish and shellfish are included. The human appetite for animal flesh and animal derived products is rapacious. Animals as commodities, sentient beings held captive in the squalor of factory farms, vested interests motivated by profit, the industry cannot be said to be one associated with compassion. The unpalatable truth of what goes on inside these gulags is obfuscated by animal body parts being processed and packaged, made ready for supermarket shelves.

In, ‘Meat the Truth’(2007), Dutch MP, Marianne Thieme - Party for the Animals, reveals the toll the industry is having on the environment. Documentaries like ‘Meat the Truth’, ‘Cowspiracy’(2014), ‘Dominion’ (2018), help promote a vegan lifestyle. Genesis Butler, Aiyana Goodfellow, Zohar Gaderi, youth activists who raise their voices on behalf of animals and the environment. Greta Thunberg, teenage Swedish activist and initiator of school strike for climate movement, has gained global recognition. On the cover of Time Magazine and nominated for a Peace Prize, she has received standing ovations. Greta has travelled to Rome for an audience with Pope Francis and has visited the Houses of Parliament. She is said to have chided UK politicians for supporting shale gas fracking, airport expansion and so on. Addressing members at the European parliament, she referred to climate change as an “existential crisis”, and uttered sage words when she said, “Why study for a future that is being taken from us?” At the UN’s COP 24 climate change convention, politicians and journalists were challenged by Greta on their knowledge/or lack of, in relation to the ‘Keeling Curve’ and ‘albedo effect’.

Extinction Rebellion, ‘International movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience to bring issues such as climate change to the fore’, took its campaign onto the streets of London in April 2019. A focal point for XR, a pink boat moored in Oxford Circus and sporting the slogan, ‘Tell the Truth’. Named ‘Berta’ in memory of Berta Cáceres, assassinated Honduran environmental activist. From its deck Emma Thompson, actor, held court. In response to hypocrisy claims having travelled by air first class L.A.-London, in what was a non-Oscar winning performance, she said, “I don’t fly nearly as much as I did because of my carbon footprint, and I plant a lot of trees.” In a similar vein, Al ’An Inconvenient Truth’ Gore, has been challenged on his carbon footprint, so too the delegates who show up in private jets at World Economic Forums. “…1,500 private jets have flown in to hear Sir David Attenborough speak about how we are wrecking the planet,” said historian and author, Rutger Bregman, Davos 2019. “The garden of Eden is no more…”, warned Attenborough in his speech. Bregman brazenly insinuated a correlation between the ultra-rich, tax evasion, and poverty, ruffling more than feathers among the elite.

In relation to fossil fuel reduction initiatives, Dr Yan Li, University of illinois said, “I believe the increasing adoption of renewable energy can save humanity from climate change.” Michael Shellenberger, co-author, Breakthrough: Why We Can’t Leave Saving the Planet to Environmentalists (2009), disagrees. Shellenberger expounds on the topic, ’Why renewables can’t save the planet’, in Quillette Magazine. The revered French writer, pioneering aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry(1900-1944), would be aghast were he to witness the transformation taking place in the Sahara/Sahel desert landscape. Massive renewable energy wind farm projects, fields of wind turbines or solar panels. “I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams.” Le Petit Prince(1943).     

“There is a growing number of people who conclude we face inevitable human extinction.” -Jem Bendell, Professor of Sustainability and Leadership, author,‘Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy(2018). December 2018 Bendell gave a talk in Bristol: “If it’s too late, what now?”. Members of the Climate Psychology Alliance were in attendance. Eco anxiety? - don’t suffer alone, “We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing each other.” -Louciano De Crescenzo.

M.E. Dawson, 2019