It’s January 17th again tomorrow… 3 years since that Tweet. I toyed with big ideas, I toyed with letting it go, but here I am, late evening 16th, putting together some thoughts. As we are discovering, accidental tweets are the very least of President Trump’s questionable activities but, for me, this still represents the day I decided to take the power accidentally given to me and use it as I saw fit.
In the last 3 years we have undoubtedly seen a big increase in climate change coverage. Both the United Nations and Sir David Attenborough have told us that we are at a point where we must act. Climate scientists all over the world are telling us the same thing. We have seen the news footage of the fires and the floods. Coverage of the climate crisis has become inevitable. A combination of alarming and heart-breaking events, and outstanding large-scale, high impact, high visibility activism efforts from this world’s youth, from Extinction Rebellion, from outspoken individuals like Greta Thunberg, mean that we are having to accept the truth that the climate is changing in alarming ways and to devastating effect.
Those in power continue to behave as though arbitrary political borders come with isolated biospheres. The term ‘green’ appears only to apply at the point of usage, rather than taking a global perspective. Our leaders – occasional rays of hope notwithstanding – continue to lead us away from each other and towards crisis. A ‘grab-it-while-you-can’ mentality is seeing new coalfields opened and new oil exploration, even though fossil fuels have no place in 21st century living. If we closed them down now and put our effort into renewables, the massive subsidies for these industries could be used to retrain every single worker displaced by transition. But that does not provide the blue collar votes, the photos with the guys or the lucrative post-term directorships.
My daughter is much less tiny than she was on the day Trump tweeted me. She has lots to say and lots of questions. We are spending much more time in Croatia as I would like her to speak the language and – as English is my mother tongue – I really struggle to mother in my father’s language. It’s beautiful here. I am enormously lucky I have the choice.
I am enjoying spending more time away from the frenetic nature of life and work in Brighton. My UK-centric, Anglo-Saxon, lens on the world is being challenged. I’m living a more rural life, which makes any chat about changes in the climate much less challenging. It is much easier to see the effects when your summer veg is looking a bit singed around the leaves because, let’s face it, nobody’s grandmother can remember a year like this one. And everyone knows that the village squid-catching festival used to result in a feast and now the winner’s catch might make it into double figures and food has to be laid on.
When Trump got elected and the referendum result followed so quickly, one of the things that sticks in my mind is one of my Balkan friends: “what hope is there for us?” It’s a good question. Even without the climate crisis, our Western politics of inequality and greed are leading us into some pretty murky waters.
There is a difference though. On the Balkans, people are used to fighting for survival. Hundreds of years – certainly for this most recent Slavic lot – of various occupiers; existing where Austrohungarian meets Ottoman empire, where Warsaw Pact meets Nato, 50 years of so-called communism and then a very bloody civil war. The verb Balkanization exists because of Balkan history. Corruption in politics is expected though derided. Talking about politics and the state of the world is a national pastime.
Currently though, the Balkan states, in particular those outside the EU, represent a very specific threat; a threat to breathable air.
Of the former Yugoslav states, Slovenia and Croatia have managed to join the EU, the remainder lay cradled in an EU nest (or in the EU waiting room, where most of them are nervously pacing) – geographically in Europe but regulatorily some distance away
With a crumbling infrastructure of coal power plants and a new found relationship with Chinese investment, the Balkans is once again proving that it is still able to be at the centre of an undesirable ripple.
One of the worst offending power plants – Ugljevik – emits more SO2 (Sulphur Dioxide, a harmful air pollutant) than all the German power plants put together.
Given that air does not respect borders – given that it has the ultimate freedom of movement – all of these problems are all of our problems.
My inspiration to write a Trumpiversary post came – rather aptly – from stumbling across this tweet today. I asked what could be done and @Igor_Kalaba very helpfully sent me links (with handy summaries). What needs to be done is what needs to be done everywhere; we need action. We need to force our leaders to make it easy for businesses and communities to lead a low fossil fuel, less polluting life.
We have this one planet that we live on. The raw materials we need in order to survive do not respect political borders: we share water, air and earth in a way that is intricately connected. We know this. We feel the connection. We need leaders who feel that same connection and hold respect for our planet and all its people. We need global, agreed, enforceable regulations.
We all need to start following that (not so) ancient proverb: We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, rather, we borrow it from our children. If we are able to start thinking this way individually, then we will perhaps collectively, naturally, start to find solutions to the climate, resource and existential questions. Our current politics, whether in so-called progressive Western democracies – or the Balkan version – don’t work the way we need them to. Without the financial and resource freedom to expand our thinking – from the month-to-month, year-to-year to thinking generationally, it is hard to see solutions. Likewise, and just as importantly, those who we elect as our leaders should not think in 4-year election terms, but rather take a 100 or 1000 year view of the people they lead.
One thing I will say is that, wherever I am, and whichever language I am speaking, people can and do find connection. We can do this. You, me, all of us, we know we can. We have to do it; it isn’t going to happen without us.
With thanks to Ann Light, Igor Kalaba, Krste Pangovski and Rebecca Kent for their help and input at very short notice. And Tom Slominski for finding that last typo.