“We must not destroy life, we are better than that”. From the many speeches given at London’s climate march on 29th November by speakers including Jeremy Corbyn and Vivienne Westwood, it was these words of the comedian Francesca Martinez that left the most marked impression on me. Amidst the powerful rhetoric of the day, this sentence stood out for its simple statement of the truth: in climate change we face an unprecedented loss of life, from the level of the individual to that of entire species.
Martinez’ point was that we may be the only example of life in the whole universe, and to destroy that would be unthinkable. Not that we haven’t done so before; it is estimated that humans have caused 322 animal extinctions in the past 500 years. We even had our first documented case of an animal being made extinct by climate change as early as 1999 with the disappearance of the golden toad. An often repeated warning at the march was the possibility of a quarter of earth’s species becoming extinct by 2050. There is no new evidence to wait for; now is the time to act.
For those who of us see each irreversible extermination of a creature that took millions of years to evolve as a tragedy in itself, it can be hard to find the truth in the second half of Martinez’ statement, that “we are better than that”. However, events such as last Sunday’s march demonstrate that a great number of people (at least 50,000 in London) believe that rescuing our planet and the life it supports is worth missing a roast dinner and an afternoon watching television.
As the Greenpeace vanguard gathered by the Wellington Arch at 11:30 AM, the collection of hardy individuals dressed in polar bear suits looked set for a lonely, wet march down to Parliament Square. There were still enough there to attract a police helicopter (complete with spotlight), but it was only when the protest reached the Hilton on Park Lane that the crowd really began to swell. Following the first set of speeches, the thousands marched down Piccadilly towards Parliament, led by a beautiful parade of animal costumes including towering giraffes and nodding zebra.
One of the wonderful things about a march like this one is the huge variety of backgrounds and ages that you see, from veteran activists to young children with their animal face paints. The prevailing mood is one of love for the planet and the atmosphere is very familial. Of course, there are also those calling for revolution and wishfully sending David Cameron back to Eton with as colourful language as possible. One of the most common themes even amongst the speakers was the particular failure of capitalism to deal with climate change, instead exploiting the earth for its own gain.
It is true that politics plays a key role in how we create and remedy climate change, and we have not always (if at all) toed the line of what’s best for the future of earth and all its inhabitants. In the past, there has been the excuse of ignorance, at least towards climate change, but that is a luxury we no longer possess. Our treatment of the earth must be our highest priority, and it must be above party politics and the individual. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the right or the left if you have no planet on which to live, and a commitment to environmental health should be central to any party’s manifesto.
To give climate change the prevalence that it deserves as, in the words of scientist Thomas Stocker, “the greatest challenge of our time”, we need to make politicians aware of its importance to us. 50,000 protesters in London is fantastic, but, as The Independent points out, meetings over climate change take place long before debates such as those in Paris, which are more for show than anything else. The climate is changing constantly, and therefore our reaction to it must be just as constant. We need more people to make more noise more regularly.
Humans have created great things from the pyramids to democracy, but the results of our treatment of the earth will dwarf any of these achievements. We have in our hands the opportunity either to destroy this world or to save it. It will not only be the children brought by their families to the climate march that will see the outcomes of our choice, but also the many who are already experiencing it in countries like the Philippines. One of the most moving speeches I heard on Sunday was that of a representative of these islands, who had travelled thousands of miles to exhort the British public to work to prevent further destruction of his country. His positivity was incredible, and it was evident that even he thought humanity capable of something better than ruining our planet. However, the final judgement will be with those children who marched with their parents. Will they say that they watched as humanity destroyed life, or will they be able to say triumphantly, that we are better than that?
For more snapshots of our earth and its wonderful plants and animals, follow Earth to Us. I hope you will enjoy exploring the world with me as we listen to some of the fascinating stories that nature has to tell us.