Did I get your attention?
Geez, it’s hard to get people’s attention these days. My Twitter feed likes to tell me what’s ‘trending’ whenever I drop in there. At the time of writing, the trends were:
More recent trends have been about the protests around the death of Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes, the way in which children’s clothing and toys are gendered, and the incarceration and possible pardon of Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste. About any one of these issues, and many more, there is a long list of tweets, opinions, links to articles, satirical remarks, cartoons. There are calls to change our attitudes, to discuss the problem, to make sure this doesn’t happen again, to push for our politicians to do something. We are inspired to bring attention to these events or problems. They are important, after all.
It’s odd, though, what doesn’t make the headlines. It’s completely understandable and even heartening that people will protest about the death of one person killed by police, but it’s odd that we don’t protest about the way in which ebola is still killing thousands. That’s a serious issue. Why aren’t our governments doing more about it? Why are we not taking to the streets, tweeting at them, writing them emails, calling them about that? What is it which catches our combined attention and inspires us to engage in international social movements, and why are some incredibly urgent problems simply not taken up with the same force or energy?
Why is it that more than twenty years after we established that climate change was real and that we needed to spring into action to help counter the impact, we still have done so little?
I know why. Despite devastating events like this sudden violent storm in Brisbane last week, we still see the world around us as permanent, unchanging. We might remark that this summer is warmer than last summer, or this winter’s storms have been more erratic, but weather is weather. We have other, important things to think about, right? And those other things are easier to focus on, because they seem interesting and they’re changing so fast. We can follow them online or discuss them with friends, and then something else happens, and we can discuss that and focus on that. We can rant about something in the news and then the next day there’s another thing to rant about. But those problems which go on and on… they lose their appeal. We want to be excited or outraged. We want instant feedback!
Sure, I would like to see some other topics trending. I could suggest that it might be good to see #climatechange or #walktowork or #foodsecurity scattered through my Twitter feed when I check it tomorrow morning. But not only do I think that this won’t happen, I am also not sure it is the solution. Trends change. What we need is consistent development; we need to make massive changes, each of us. For our world to be a sustainable one, we need to ensure that our politicians are not being bought off by companies whose agendas it is to keep drilling and fracking and polluting. Like sexism, or ageism, or racism, the roots of all our problems run very deep, and a simple campaign or a march barely scratch the surface. But unlike campaigns against and of the -isms I just mentioned, climate change is not getting the same exposure. There is no angry debate on Facebook or daily articles written about it. It’s confined chiefly to serious discussions about science. It’s not part of our daily conversation.
But it needs to be. Because if we continue to do nothing, those issues which I completely support, and which are certainly worth attention – like getting catcalls while walking down the street, or working for a pitiful minimum wage – those are going to be petty concerns, in the face of massive food shortages, and unpredictable weather events (causing deaths and injuries), and millions of people being made homeless due to rising sea levels.
See, when I put it like that, it seems like I’m being deliberately hyperbolic, and I think that’s part of the problem. Are people of colour being targetted by law enforcement? Certainly, and that’s the case in many countries around the world. Well, we could do something about that – we can discuss the issue, we can demand better training, we can talk to each other and to our children about casual racism, we can assess our own prejudice and rethink what stereotypes we’re accepting. All challenging on one level, certainly. But not as challenging as having to stop driving our cars, or stop using as much electricity, for example. Changing our attitudes might be difficult, but it’s nothing compared to how much we want to hold onto our lifestyle, or to improve the one we have. Dealing with humans is hard, but at least we can have a conversation with each other. With the weather? Not so much.
There’s no doubt that we need to work towards an equitable society. Of course there isn’t. But perhaps we could hurry up with that, because while we’re fighting over what is or isn’t racist or sexist, the world is getting warmer, the climate is changing and it’s not waiting for us to get our act together. And if we don’t, then we really are ALL GOING TO DIE.