How People Became Numb to Climate Change
The ground cracks as the farmers wait for a monsoon that never comes.
The farmers and their families can’t wait anymore. They pack their few possessions and leave their villages, build shanty houses and join the swelling city slums. In vast parts of the countryside of southern India, all that is left is the cracked earth, and ghost villages.
I want to write about the drought, I want to tell the story of these hundreds of thousands forced from their homes by a climate change that they did not create, and yet are the first to feel. But a voice echoes in my head, What is the point?
I’ve been here before. Three years ago, when I was working with a team of documentary makers in Delhi, I came to Latur in scorching Maharashtra to write about the drought. I saw the empty wells and the fights that broke out when water was delivered to parched neighbourhoods. I met the desolate wife and daughter of a farmer who committed suicide because there would be no harvest that year.
Journalists write about these things a lot. About droughts and heat waves and melting ice caps. We want to believe that if people know these things, they will change their behaviour.
But all evidence points to the contrary.
Because we do know just how much climate change is going to f*ck everything up.
Even Trump knows. He signs agreements about what will happen when the Arctic melts, even as he refuses to write the word climate change in there. Multinationals are preparing for the change that they are driving, hoping to make a profit from that too.
Us individuals might only know it in an abstract sort of a way, but a lot of the fears that govern our lives — getting fired, getting evicted, not being able to pay the bills — are pretty abstract to many people, who still get up every morning to go to a job they generally don’t enjoy. So why, when the abstract fear is utter annihilation, do we manage to ignore it and keep living our lives?
Why do I keep on taking airplanes, eating steaks, wearing jeans?
Well, the horrible fact is that the people suffering the most so far from climate change are not white, and that our racist societies and minds still get more troublex by a single death in Paris or London than thousands in the Indian countryside. I can’t shake the feeling that if this was happening to white people, something would already be done.
Plus, there is the fact that the reality is just too big to comprehend.
And we’ve not been taught how to act in such a situation. We don’t have many models to follow, and we don’t have time to invent one. The people that have found ways of living that are compatible with the planet are either dismissed as being hippies, or else they are indigenous communities dismissed as being “backwards” or “uncivilised”, despite the fact that they hold the keys to the future and for saving civilisation.
So maybe this is what we need more than ever right now: positive journalism, writing about applicable models, and their benefits not just for the planet but for us as inviduals.