It is 30ºC (86ºF) in the Arctic circle as I sit on the air conditioned subway in downtown Manhattan. I am on my way to talk to another community group about climate change and inside I can feel my blood boiling. Every time I turn on twitter these days another apocalyptic weather report pops up, and it is like another layer of hope is peeled away my already depleted stores. And yet here I am – in New York – and heading to another place were people expect hope. They are desperate for hope and I do not to disappoint them, no matter what I feel on the inside.
Often times, I am far from hopeful. Reading that report from northern Finland to me feels like the terrifying hopelessness I experience when my child has a raging fever. It is a sickness in the pit of my stomach. It comes when I have given them all the medicines I can, and still the fever rages on out of control. All I can do is sit and wait patiently to see if the antibodies are strong enough to overcome the infection. I can dampen down the sweats with love, sing lullabies and just pray. Like me, if you have seen your baby so weakened, you find yourself crying out instinctively to a bigger power – hoping, praying, willing that there is someone out there, hearing your cry. You become aware that the forces at work are much larger than you. You try to control what you can and hope for the best.
I am here in the US to launch my book on climate change and parenthood – Climate Generation. It is my best attempt to dampen down the fever which is gripping the planet. Book launches are generally happy affairs, as Bill McKibben acknowledged at the launch in Boston College. The publication of a book is the culmination of much work and heart ache – many weeks and months stolen away from family and friends. It should be a time to be proud of achievement. Yet this is a bitter sweet affair. If I am totally honest, I would rather be anywhere else. I love writing, I love public speaking and I love America. I have dreamed about this moment – coming to the Big Apple and launching a book, my book. It sounds very glitzy, and I can get giddy about being almost famous, about being on the cusp of something big.
But it wasn’t meant to be like this. The book I have published is a far cry from the Anne of Green Gables style novels I dreamed of writing in my youth. It is not a book for the faint hearted and some have told me it should carry a warning. It is meant to disturb. It is meant to shake people out of a false reality into that shocking truth: it is 30C in the Arctic Circle. Not in the future but right now. That is the truth I now occupy with many others and it sucks. Success to me is when I get an email from a reader who says “Thank you for disturbing my peace.” And for each one of those I receive, I endure those who call me alarmist and caution me about scaring children. “Shame on you – frightening little ones.” I politely tell them that my book is not for children and I really hope my own children never have to read it.Hope is never lost forever, but the truth is that it hope and despair co-exist in the climate crisis. Anxiety is never far away. For me, hope springs from the chance encounters which serve to remind me when I least expect it that perhaps there is a larger force at work in our world. That force has been at work in a creative, powerful way, during my trip to the US and elsewhere. I have had so many random, serendipitous, coincidences that these have become the norm. I have met the most amazing people, like the Climate Mamas out on Governors Island, and the many climate activists in socially inclusive parishes like St. Francis Xavier’s and St. Brigid’s in Lexington (below). Such encounters fill me with a glimmer of hope that even at this late stage, humanity has the power to overcome the worst of what we have sown if we join forces. Yet we need to hurry up.
As I exit the Subway onto 6th Avenue the humid heat hits me. The rain is coming and people scuttle around with umbrellas at the ready. New Yorkers live life prepared for what is coming round the corner. The city is a resilient human hive. The human energy is relentless yet even now it is focused on a model of excessive human consumption which seems from another era. As I walk down 6th Avenue I imagine what might happen if that same New York energy could only be harnessed now in the struggle against climate change. The possibilities are endless.
My New York book tour continues until this Wednesday. Join us for We, the Climate Generation – an intergenerational gathering of climate activists on Wednesday afternoon.