Humans are a peculiar species. It is inarguable that by most scientific measures we are thriving. Virus like, we have spread to almost every conceivable corner of the globe, from Antarctica to scorching sun baked deserts, and from far flung tropical islands to once inhospitable swamps and marshes. We’ve even started reclaiming the sea in cities around the world and building human dwellings of all shapes and sizes on the water. The life expectancy of people living today is far higher than it was for those living a hundred or two hundred years ago. We are technologically advanced in a way that even the great Leonardo Da Vinci could never have foreseen.

Yet in some ways, this is down to chance and circumstance. As a species we don’t act collectively for the good of our kind; quite the opposite. We regularly destroy and kill each other in wars; we create systems that allow millions of people to starve to death, to live without adequate shelter and to not be able to afford basic necessities like food or medicine. Our progress is often driven by a profit motive, or if not initially is it almost always hijacked by big business looking to make big money. As articulated by thinkers like Marx originally, and in recent times by the likes of Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek, this type of approach inevitably leads to crisis after crisis, which leads to a global approach to governance that is best described as short termism, or even firefighting. That is, each crisis is a fire that needs to be put out and dealt with. That happens through a variety of measures, whether it be military, economic or through some sort of social reform. Then a rebuild begins to happen, one year at a time as short term budgets are passed and then changed the following year until sooner or later the policy makers have stumbled headlong into another crisis and the firefighting begins all over again. There is an argument that all species operate in that way but that argument breaks down on the fact that we are essentially far more developed in a cognitive sense than any other animal on Earth. We have been blessed with the intelligence, consciousness and the tools to operate on a different level; that is to plan for the future, to be aware of risks coming down the line, and to behave in a way which benefits the species as a whole, collectively. The fact that humans don’t do that given the evolutionary advantages bestowed upon us is, in the opinion of the writer, peculiar.

The climate crisis is one of the starkest examples of this and it works as an example because at some point this crisis will impact everyone on earth, even if it will hit the most underprivileged first and hardest, as these things tend to do. This is the big one, the one we can’t escape from. If the planet becomes uninhabitable for human habitation a big house in Kensington or a secret offshore bank account is unlikely to save you. If there’s no food growing and half the landmass of the world is on fire, you’re fucked buddy, just like the rest of us! With the cognitive firepower available to us we’ve been able to employ all kinds of scientific endeavour highlighting the problem, determining the cause, modelling the catastrophe to come if we don’t act, and outlining the best possible courses of action to take to avoid disaster. As polar bears struggle to survive, birds find their migration routes becoming harder to navigate and up to one million plant and animal species at risk of extinction, they can only look on in wonder at the skills and tools at our disposal to save the planet. Yet what are humans actually doing about the existential crisis that is engulfing them at the very moment that I type these words? Well, not much really. That is to say there isn’t much of a collective response from governments around the world to seriously tackle the crisis and transform the world we live in to a greener one. Of course there are individuals, groups, and certain governments doing an incredible job trying to raise awareness, make changes or come up with technological solutions to the crisis but right now, it isn’t enough.

In 2009 almost every nation in the world met to discuss climate change and to build upon earlier agreements like the Kyoto Protocols. Agreements on some issues were reached, though almost none of what came to be known as the Copenhagen Accord was legally binding. There were lines about ‘strong political will to urgently combat climate change’ and targets to stop temperatures increasing by more than 2˚C. There were lots of acknowledgements that the science was right and that climate change unchecked would be devastating for large parts of the global population. Island nations talked about rising sea levels and as if it needed pointing out, they explained what that would mean for them. Developing nations lambasted the fact that the economically rich had developed through carbon intensive industries and that they were now being told that approach was not an option. The big hitters like the US, UK, China, India and Germany cajoled and were cajoled alike, as they plugged and protected their own interests whilst seemingly trying to strike some sort of a deal. By January 2010, the signatories had to submit their targets for carbon emission reductions among other things. Most of those targets are currently being missed, the books are being fiddled, or the target date has been pushed back (or changed altogether in some cases after the more substantial Paris Agreement in 2016).

All of that was ten years ago. My recollections of the coverage it received are a little bit sketchy due to a hectic lifestyle that consisted largely of drinking too much and having no permanent address. It made headlines of course and was discussed on the odd afternoon radio phone in show. But for all the words of the politicians (cheap commodities indeed), there was no real sense of urgency about the whole thing. It certainly wasn’t being widely reported or discussed as a ‘climate crisis’.


PLEASE ORDER AT THE BAR… YOU ARE HERE… NORTHERNMOST PUB ON EARTH… read the chalkboard with an artistically licensed drawing of the Earth as seen from space and an arrow pointing almost at the North Pole. Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago halfway between northern Norway and the North Pole. You may be thinking of wooden shacks with reindeer skin rugs and no modern amenities but I was actually in Barentz Pub located just off the lobby of the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel, with a glass of local beer (there is a brewery located on the islands) watching the world cup on television as a group of noisy American tourists argued about who was having which pizza. That isn’t to imply Longyearbyen isn’t a beautiful place full of character and charm. It absolutely is. We’d seen beluga whales in the fjord and nesting eider ducks by the airport all before we’d even stepped off of the airport shuttle bus. As far as airport to city connections go, this ranks right up there. Svalbard is a vast, sprawling collection of islands covered in either vast arctic tundra or snow covered peaks. Polar bears roam wild and the landscape can be incredibly dangerous. There are less than 50km of roads in all off Svalbard, and the few small settlements in the islands are connected and traversed either by boat or in winter snow mobiles and husky sleds. So, the bus journey to town was short and relatively sweet. The feeling that you’re in the arctic is gloriously surreal and it is a feeling that re-emerges and becomes a theme of your time there – “I’m in the high arctic”. You learn quickly that the locals don’t fully share that sense of awe and find it bizarre if you repeatedly say that to them.

The reason I mention all of this is because whilst sat enjoying that first beer in a foreign land in our year of the lord 2018, I was thinking, and perhaps troubled by an encounter we’d had with a local earlier that day as we’d been getting our bearings around the town.

His name was Tor, he spoke perfect English and he was advising us that we were in danger of heading into a nesting colony of Arctic Terns and were likely to be dive bombed and pecked at by the birds, which is a more painful experience than you might imagine and can draw blood from an unsuspecting victim. We thanked him and struck up a conversation, starting with the usual pleasantries about how stunning the landscape was and asking if he was a local? He was, born and raised.

“It’s changed a lot, some for the better, some for the worse. Tourists used to be less, only by plane from Oslo. But now we get big cruise liners in the fjords in the peak season. Very busy.” It’s a common tale and one that excites a strange reaction in a tourist, for you know that mass tourism can be problematic and will change the dynamics of a place. Yet you yourself are a tourist and are guilty of being part of that change. Of course, Tor acknowledged some of the benefits that tourists brought with them, mainly money but I still sensed that he thought things had gone too far. Showing no animosity to me and my girlfriend, a pair of tourists at that, he carried on telling us a little about some of the local industries and how he made a living by fishing and by helping with bits of wildlife monitoring, using his local knowledge. It was what he said next that stuck with me and which was playing on my mind as I drank my pale ale. “The fjord used to freeze over in the winter, up until about 20 or 25 years ago it became part of the sea ice but that doesn’t happen now, the waters are open all year round.”

It was an ordinary conversation but climate change was a theme. Wherever I went in the world it was there, looming somewhere just out of sight. The great threat. In my journal entries from that trip I wrote of a day out on a boat:

There was a dreamlike quality to it all as we floated along, time in hand and free from civilisation. In the next fjord we checked for polar bears, as we were going ashore for lunch – reindeer soup. No bears sadly! But an incredible spot for food, soundtracked by the occasional arctic tern and the booming of the collapsing glacier.’

The booming of the collapsing glacier. Not very poetic I grant you, but I can still hear that deep rumbling sound as the ice collapsed in on itself. I can remember the waves splashing against the side of the boat and lapping up onto the ice strewn pebbles of the beach we had stopped at, as chunks of ice fell off into the fjord sending gulls and guillemots alike into the air. The glacier was melting and through a combination of satellite images and old sailing logs and maps it was possible to see by how far it had retreated. Only a couple of generations ago the very place where we were eating our soup had been covered by ice. Now the glacier was probably 50 metres away. It was astonishing; it suddenly seemed very real and completely tangible. That was what the rising global temperature actually meant. It could be measured in metres and tonnes of ice. It was being witnessed within a lifetime. The very water where later that afternoon we sat and fished was glacier only a decade or two ago.

This was becoming a common theme over the course of the second half of the decade. The more I travelled, the more of these stories I heard and experienced. In Switzerland there was endless talk about the melting glaciers, poorer snow cover during skiing season, the changing of the landscape within a generation. In places like this it was real, palpable and having an impact on the people who lived there. Not just an economic impact. In the hotel we stayed in at Lauterbrunnen, the proprietor talked about the melting ice and warming temperatures in a way that suggested a psychological impact. There was nostalgia for how she had known the area in her childhood and she clearly had a deep love and respect for the landscape and the glaciers that she was witnessing disappear, bit by bit, year after year.

It isn’t just melting ice that people are noticing. Increasingly wildfires are burning out of control and making headlines, from America, to the Amazon to Australia. In 2016 I spent time in Nevada and California a month into the summer season. Bernard DeVoto wrote that ‘the west begins where average rainfall drops below 20 inches’. Joan Didion wrote an essay titled Holy Water, where she discussed at length how water is stored and released to make sure California doesn’t completely dry up. I was thinking of those things when we took a trip from Vegas to see some of the sights. Seeing the Hoover Dam that day was a great experience, as was spending time at the Grand Canyon. The temperature hit 48˚C. That evening in Las Vegas we had a few beers in our hotel and then headed back to our room, cocktails in hand, to call it a night. As my girlfriend slept, I flicked through the channels, watching a panel discuss the NBA draft, a cartoon I’d never seen before that reminded me of Tom and Jerry, and various local news channels. Utah was suffering sustained, large scale fires in numerous forests throughout the state. Anchors were speculating that the season might end up being worse than the record breaking fire season the state endured in 2007, which incinerated an estimated 630,000 acres of land. I sipped my drink and changed the channel. It was abstract. I’d never been to Utah and didn’t know much about forest fires or fire season.

Later on that trip it dawned on me that my attitude that evening in a Las Vegas hotel room was part of the problem. (Usually stories about Las Vegas hotel rooms are far more interesting than this but please stay with me). From San Francisco we travelled into the Sierra Nevada, on the tourist trail to Yosemite National Park. The foothills leading into that mountain range are stunning in a way even the masterful John Muir couldn’t quite do justice to. Then, very suddenly, the landscape changed. We entered a desolate wasteland of charred skeletal pines and scorched earth, for mile after mile. Our driver explained that recent Californian wildfire seasons had been worse than ever, sometimes becoming impossible to manage and contain. At times, the park authorities and local population could do was pray for rain. It was real now. This wasn’t a news report on a hotel TV in the early hours of the morning, this was a landscape destroyed. The wildlife within it either gone or burnt alive. Death and destruction on a serious scale. Wildfires are actually part of a natural cycle. They happen and have always happened in certain parts of the world. The forest regenerates and the circle of life keeps on keeping on. However, two things are worrying about the fires that have raged over the last couple of decades but especially in the second half of the 2010s. Firstly, they are bigger, hotter and more destructive than ever before. That can in a large part be attributed to drier weather, a series of droughts and hotter temperatures – all symptoms of a climate crisis. The second thing that is worrying in terms of modern day wildfires is that the landscape that they happen in is so denuded and depleted that the loss equates to a larger percentage of the wilderness in relative terms than it would have done 200 or 500 years ago. Our fragile ecosystems can’t cope with such massive strain.

There’s a tendency to think that climate change impacts only wild areas. The Arctic, the Alps, the Californian hills and mountains. That simply isn’t true. Sitting on a balcony of an apartment on the Palm Jumeirah with close friends and a couple of bottles of wine, we had a discussion about the paradox that is Dubai in terms of the climate crisis.

You don’t get more man-made than Dubai, the metropolis on the edge of the desert. City of mega highways, super skyscrapers, seven star hotels and land reclaimed from the sea. Here, man has triumphed over nature and built himself a paradise. Car is king, petrol is cheap and expats from all over the world come here to make money one way or another. In the oil rich United Arab Emirates, the global green movement is seen more as an economic threat than an urgent necessity. Economically oil is the lifeblood of the place and Dubai is built largely on the proceeds of the oil boom of the later part of the 20th century. And yet it is inarguable that fossil fuels are a driving force in the rise of global temperatures and all the consequences that come with that. At one time, those consequences would have seemed very distant to the people in the malls, hotels and souks of Dubai. Increasingly though that isn’t the case.

That evening as we chatted and laughed, the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai skyline twinkling distantly on the night’s horizon, it was clear that the climate crisis might impact Dubai as hard as anywhere else on earth. For a start, the very place where we were sat was sinking. The Palm Jumeriah is essentially reclaimed strips of land (shaped like a palm tree, hence the name) that sticks out into the sea. Designed to create calm lagoons, vast properties and huge hotels sit on many of the branches of the palm, many only feet away from the water. That land, stolen from the sea is facing a two pronged attack and will eventually be stolen back. As mentioned previously, it is sinking. Very slowly, but enough to have architects and city planners worrying. More pressingly perhaps, the sea is coming for revenge and as sea levels continue to rise, significant chunks of Dubai and Abu Dhabi are at risk of being swallowed up.

As if that isn’t worrying enough, rising temperatures are a big worry in the Middle East. Hot and humid, Dubai is almost unbearable in the summer as it is. Expeditions outside don’t last long from late April through to September/October. A quick dip in the pool, a five minutes stroll on the beach and you crave the cool air conditioned loveliness of indoors. Stay out in the heat much longer than that and you risk feeling unwell. In 2019 Dubai recorded its hottest ever temperature, a balmy 52.8˚C. That is an unpleasant level of heat. Average temperature rises of 3˚C (a dire scenario which climate scientists fear we are on course for) could see that maximum temperate in Dubai increase by another ten or fifteen degrees, which would pose a serious and imminent danger to human life in the area.

This decade has seen some recognition from the authorities in the UAE that they are facing a catalogue of crises that require some action. In 2011 the country began work on a nuclear power station to reduce its reliance on gas and oil in a volatile global market. There is a very real threat to the country in the form of long term water shortages. That said, overwhelmingly the economy there is still reliant on oil revenues, which can’t last forever. The economic necessity to produce and sell oil will at some stage have to be offset against the damage and future threat fossil fuel usage poses to the region. It is a dilemma multiple countries and places around the world will have to grapple with. Sadly, the evidence suggests that it is happening far too slowly, completely hindered by a lack of joined up thinking and approach at the global level.


Monday morning and I’m sat in traffic. Not a particularly exciting revelation admittedly. The radio crackles dramatically, like a scene from a noir film, though I don’t necessarily notice the cultural comparison at the time. There’s been an ‘incident’ in Sheffield, which explains why I’m not moving. I illegally fire off a quick text whilst at the wheel to let the person I’m supposed to be meeting know that I’m going to be late. The incident being discussed on the radio is actually a protest by climate crisis campaigners Extinction Rebellion, who have blocked roads in the city, most notably Bridgehouse Roundabout. They move for emergency vehicles and occasionally let a few cars through but their purpose is to block the road, hold up traffic and highlight an issue. Judging by the radio bulletin and later by the social media reach of the story, it has been a successful protest.

Extinction Rebellion is known throughout the world now for their peaceful direct action protests. They occupy physical places, centres of power or centres of fossil fuel use (roads, power stations) and attempt to shut them down. Though their protests are peaceful, they are controversial to some. Is it self-defeating to inconvenience thousands of people through protests? As I sat in my car that day I have to admit to being mildly annoyed, which on reflection seems like a relatively natural reaction. That said I was able to contextualise the situation. A half an hour delay was a pretty minor issue compared to the carnage of a full blown climate breakdown would unleash over the coming decades. Not everyone is prepared to think in those terms and in London there have been instances of violence against protesters, alongside mass arrests in a series of large occupations that occurred in April 2019.

One thing that is utterly irrefutable is that the protests generate headlines, global headlines at that. The group trends on Twitter for days when it conducts a large scale action and it gets people talking. That conversation isn’t always positive in terms of the group and their protests but apart from people on the hard right of the political scene there is usually an acknowledgement that the issues Extinction Rebellion are highlighting are valid and important. Pondering this in my car, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that this is a form of progress, albeit not that which will save the world by itself. More people being aware of the issues can only be a positive outcome. Increased pressure on politicians to act can only be a positive outcome. As was the case ten years ago, and ten years before that, the issue remains of whether there is a collective will among politicians and governments from around the world to act collectively. You’d think something with the simple yet urgent slogan of ‘saving the planet’ would be an easy sell but as mentioned before, humans are a peculiar species indeed.


The Old No.7 is one of the best pubs in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. That is perhaps more impressive than it sounds as just before the financial crash of 2007/08, Barnsley had the highest density of pubs within a town centre square mile than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. The interior is traditional with dark wooden furniture and bar, emphasised slightly when set against the rugged and worn wooden floor. Downstairs is a stone crypt bar with seating areas dotted around the little nooks and crannies. The pub regularly wins awards for its diverse and high quality beer offer. Ales and craft beers abound, as well as strong old-style ciders that make the room spin after a bit of over-indulgence. Saturday evening in there has a very subtle lull, as the football fans sup up and head for home and the evening crowd is just starting to appear. It has the feel of a change of shifts. On one of these evenings a month or two before lockdown I sat with a pint of milk stout, contemplating my options for the night ahead. Sitting alone in a pub is one of life’s great pleasures but it is less fun when the pub is busy and rowdy. At that time however custom was steady and I had chance to grapple with my thoughts, enjoy a pint and do a bit of people watching. Occasionally somebody would arrive who I knew, or recognised and we’d exchange a few words but generally my only part in the conversations at the bar was as eavesdropper. It’s an interesting experience overhearing snippets of chat in a pub. Some might think it an anti-social or strange thing to do but I find time alone in a pub to be incredibly therapeutic and it’s something I’ve been doing since my early 20s.

This particular evening I overheard all kinds of conversational titbits, most fairly mundane. Half snatched stories of characters I don’t know and will never meet. Comment and analysis on the football. The beer heads discussing the malt or hoppy finish to a particular beer. And Greta Thunberg. A group of four or five men in their 50s and early 60s were talking about Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist from Sweden who has become a household name all over the world. A grey haired, slightly balding, rotund member of the group was doing an impression of her, mimicking the accent and quoting the famous ‘how dare you?’ line from one of her recent speeches. It was harmless enough. There wasn’t a hint of him mocking the fact that she has Aspergers and it didn’t seem to be nasty or hate driven. The others semi-laughed, you sensed out of politeness more than actually finding it particularly amusing. Lots of social groups have one of these characters – the showman who isn’t really that funny. What followed was of more interest; a conversation about how Thunberg has raised awareness worldwide about climate issues and whether the things she is demanding are realistic or not.

It is easy to make assumptions or guesses about people you observe in public places and in some respects that is part of the fun. Your imagination can create backstories and scenarios for people you’ve never laid eyes on before. Looking at this group of men, wearing polo shirts, jumpers or jackets, blue jeans and brown shoes I made an assumption that they were regular working blokes who held down decent jobs and liked a pint on a Saturday night. Not a huge leap but also a ridiculous oversimplification of the complex lives they probably all lived. However, it struck me that they were speaking about the climate crisis in sympathetic and engaged tones and that they were outside of stereotypical demographic which Greta Thunberg would normally appeal. It’s easy to look around at the state of the world and see only doom and anxiety inducing gloom but perhaps there are signs of progress. Small signs on the streets of Sheffield or in the pubs of Barnsley. If that is being played out around the world it could just be enough, the first anticipative sparks of the proverbial glimmer of hope.

As I left the pub, flinging my coat on mid-stride, I considered a long evening walk home. I stood outside the pub letting the internal battle between the ideas of walking or going to the taxi rank play out in my mind. The evening was just beginning for some. Loud screeching groups of women totted past on high heels, men walked purposefully from pub to pub and the queue at the cash point ebbed and flowed, in constant flux. I decided to walk; after all, it was warm for the time of the year.