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Birth of the Blues: a royal baby for Britain
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Birth of the Blues: a royal baby for Britain

Published in online Scottish Review on 15 May 2019

by Lorn Macintyre


The fact that on at least one radio news bulletin the birth of the British royal baby took precedence over the colossal threat of species extinction, as detailed in the UN's report, is of a significance which may have escaped some listeners.

The threat to humans from global warming is, I suppose, as terrifying to many of us as the First World War was to our forebears. But the difference is that after the Armistice of 1918 the damage by ordnance was repaired gradually, and the visitor to the Somme area can walk a peaceful landscape, with birds singing in the replanted woods, the Thiepval Memorial, the cemeteries, and the trenches retained as reminders, the only evidence (apart from the live shells which ploughs sometimes uncover) that that area of France experienced one of the most ferocious battles in history.

But even if we begin to listen to the scientists about the dire effects of global warming, it seems that despite the actions we take, better late than never, there will be lasting damage to land, the oceans and creatures. It is a prospect that is already causing clinical depression in those anxious about the future that their children and their offspring are facing. It's a mental state that will spread and which Freud could never have foreseen. The threat of extinction calls for a new psychology.

In the coming war against global warming and species extinction – because it will be a war, with believers against the cynics, the latter from big business – there will have to be a realignment of society such as was attempted during the Russian Revolution. The Czar, with his court of sycophants and the sinister Rasputin, lived in luxurious ease while the exhausted peasants starved. This same model of social division and confrontation cannot be allowed to occur in the decades of deprivation to come.

Everyone with a heart welcomes a baby into the world. But what world is Archie, the little prince-to-be, entering? Can we permit the international class (the royals and A-list celebrities) into which he has been born to continue with its self-indulgent lifestyle, while the rest of us are asked to make major sacrifices for the ecological sake of the planet and the survival of its inhabitants, from the playschool child to the insect in the flower? Money is power and influence, and will continue to be.

Is the oligarch whose billions have come from the extraction of oil which has polluted the atmosphere through exhausts, likely to give up his extended cruises on his oil-guzzling superyacht to share in our sacrifices? Will the film star and pop star surrender their private jet to join us in the proletarian cabin of a plane, flights rationed by new international laws of aviation?

It's unlikely. Once fortunes and power have been obtained, by whatever methods, the psychological profile includes a determination never to be poor or insignificant again. Will the royals and their celebrity hangers-on curb their uses of limousines, planes and helicopters? If they don't, then those beneath them on the social scale, the hewers of wood and drawers of water, can hardly be expected to make sacrifices for the survival of mankind and creatures. I predict, not only social realignment, but also social unrest in the coming decades.

When Buckingham Palace was bombed in the Blitz, the Queen Mother said: 'Now we can look the east end in the eye'. Will her daughter's descendants be able to look Britain and the world in the eye when the storm strikes? Royalty, whose activities, however trivial, are reported with such zeal in the media, will have to change and will have to cut the limousine fleet and start wearing the same outfits regularly, because the Rolls guzzles fuel and the sewing machine uses energy, and even the most modest saving is going to be significant.

Archie, the new prince-to-be, if he is spared to live a long life, will feel the effects of global warming within his own lifetime. For myself, and for others of the older generation, we will be gone by the time global warming begins to affect millions. But are those with comfortable pensions and properties, including large lawns that are cut regularly by ride-on tractors and flowerbeds that require hours of watering in time of drought, likely to heed the dire warnings? I fear that many of us, whose generation helped to damage the world and its species by our careless squandering of resources, will shrug and say: 'It'll see me out; these are problems for coming generations'.

My attitude has nothing to do with politics of whatever colour. Global warming and its consequences for us all are beyond politics – beyond royalism, nationalism, republicanism, or communism. The British Brexit dispute seems trivial but also divisive, considering that with global warming all nations will have to come together to agree a strategy because it is the future of the planet that is at stake. The nuclear weapon can only be activated by pressing a button. The global warming button has already been pressed.

We have a responsibility to our children and their children to act, at whatever level we are in society, and that includes resisting to charter a plane for a transatlantic crossing for a 'baby shower' party, as well as turning off a switch. As the home secretary, Sir Edward Grey of Falloden, predicted as he watched a man lighting gas lamps in St James's Park in that poignant evening of 3 August 1914: 'The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime'. In our lifetime we need to start turning them down, and not only in Europe. The party's over for the profligate.

Climate Change Poems

I am a writer, living on the east coast of Scotland, within sight of the North Sea. In recent years the climate has become unpredictable, and there are fewer insects and migrating birds in our garden. My wife Mary is a biologist, with a passionate love of nature in all its forms, and we are concerned greatly with climate change. We applaud the international mobilisation of the young which is taking place, because it is people of my generation, and the generation below mine, who have damaged the environment through indulgence. 
I believe that writers now need to add their voices to the call for action, and to describe what is happening to the environment, now changing dramatically since William Wordsworth the poet wrote about the unspoilt beauty of the Lake District in  England. From time to time in this blog I will add poems, some of  which I have published, which express my deep alarm and sadness.

The Natural World   

Waddling across the floe, the penguin heard the creak
 of the glacier on the move after an age. Its beak 
tested the thinning ice under which it could see
 the sea leopard swimming, searching. But the sea 
was devoid of fish, devoid of the blue whale, 
giant of the deep, hoovering up the krill. 
The penguin saw no point in the migration
 to its breeding ground, where, instead of snow,
 the sun would beat down on the huddled colony.
 The last sea lion had drowned, the last seal
 slithered from the ice, the last albatross 
crash-landed on the melting runway. 
The Antarctic’s melting is all our loss, 
not just creatures that have had their day.     

Mowing in winter   

A month before Christmas and he’s cutting grass. 
The mower he rides on belches carbon dioxide. 
How has this seasonal shift come to pass?
 Above, a monoplane takes a joyride,
 leaving the tainted breath of its trail. 
What have we done to the world, I ask
 as he starts the next machine? His next task’s
 blowing the autumn leaves from A to B,
 though winds will blow them back again.
 His house needs heated these winter nights,
 the thermostat already up to maximum. 
‘I cannot sleep without a light,’ 
he tells me as he fills the chainsaw.
 I tell him we have an obligation
 to conserve on energy.
 ‘It will see out my time,’ he says. 
‘Let the next generation do the worrying.’   

From the collection A Snowball in Summer (see main page)

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